Sunday, December 18, 2011

On being occupied, and the process of occupation...

There was a time, within my lifetime, that "occupied" had meanings ranging from "being used" as in a house or toilet, to "doing something" deriving from the idea of "occupation". The active meaning of the latter has now transmogrified to include the first, so that the idea of "occupation Wall St" and its international derivatives has made a profession of inhabiting a space to prevent its use by others. Perhaps on reflection that idea is not as new as it has been presented. F'rinstance it was a regular family occurance for one member (usually my mother) to complain about the toilet being used as a reading room; a practice that went as far as the old man installing a small bookshelf on the wall behind the toilet so that books were not left on the floor.

So that history has somewhat coloured my attitude to those who have occupied Wall St, or closer to home, Aotea Square. Add to that a strong feeling that it was the wrong people making the wrong protest about the wrong thing and you might begin to understand why the ol probligo has been fairly quiet on the occupy front. OK, and to take the point from a recent post me old mate Al put up, I will explain why.

The wrong people? It is usual in recent times for protest to be led by the young, the idealist, those who want to improve this world for their own benefit. There is nothing wrong with that really, but I do think that the protest should be led by those who have put their faith in a system in expectation that they would gain due benefit for their participation and have been sadly let down as a consequence of their trust.

The wrong protest? The right protest would be against those whose actions led to the loss. The bankers are in part to blame, no question! But I do not believe them to be the reason, though they are part of the cause. The politicians are no more to blame than the bankers. Politicians respond to the same kind of pressures as bankers; to give people what they want. I don't think that individuals are at fault either. So to protest about the "profits made by the bankers" is a waste of time in my book. And that leads to the last...

The wrong thing? The fault really starts with the fundamental nature of our society; the basis of which is measuring societal success in terms of profligance, material and monetary wealth rather than ethic, virtue and contribution.

To which end comes a book review that is very a propos the general theme. Debt (written by David Graebe) is a book which I shall be reading as soon as I can lay my hands on a copy through the local library.
Debt's striking synchronicity with OWS should not overshadow the fact that it's also a formidable piece of anthropological scholarship. The book spans the concept's evolution from the great Axial Age civilizations—adapting Karl Jaspers's label to describe the period between 800 BCE and 600 CE in Greece, India, and China—into the age of global conquest, and finally though its bizarre mutations over the past forty years. As Graeber shows, debt could not have taken the form that it did during the Axial Age without the appearance of currency, but it was also far from being only, or even principally, an economic matter. Debt was originally a moral and cosmological notion, about our debt to the gods (in India), to our parents (in China), or to the cosmos (in Greece, and sometimes in India).

I need to put the idea of debt into the context of my opening argument. Bear in mind here that I am using "debt" in both sides of the transaction; it is an obligation, it is the act of being obliged to another, of owing.

The change that has taken place is from a communal debt to creator, to cosmos, to the principle of personal debt. The measurement of personal debt I suspect does precede currency by some great margin. As evidence of that I can point to Maori who, before European contact, had a strong sense of personal indebtedness which could lead to either death or enslavement as payment of those debts. There was no monetary measurement of either cause nor settlement; cause could include losing mana (societal position) to the "debtor" requiring utu (revenge for the loss and reinstatement) as payment.

In the barter economy, survival would have depended upon ethic and virtue (like simple honesty) in dealings between individuals. Hence an agreement to provide in return for a provision (work for work, work for material object) could also operate without the need for currency.

I suspect that currency was put in place primarily so that those in power - the mafia of the time - could easily obtain a portion of the value of each individual's global indebtedness. That value in return was used to obtain the services necessary to maintain the power to collect; the coertion that libertarians like to hate.

To return to the review -
The guiding principle of Graeber's sweeping global history is that debt must not remain the exclusive property of economic historians, and moreover, that anthropologists are better equipped to take on the issue. The foundational myth on which economics rests, and which Graeber relishes debunking, is the "touchingly utopian" idea that money emerged directly out of primitive barter systems and had only to do with interest-maximizing exchange. Arguing against this from an anthropological perspective, Graeber claims that debt is the basis of society, and as such is inherently ineliminable. He illustrates this point through the example of debt to one's parents: to seek to cancel that debt would be impossible. Graeber describes a system of gift-giving in traditional societies that takes place over time, and involves gifts of slightly more or less value than the ones that preceded them, thus ensuring that everyone is always slightly in debt or in credit to everyone else. This sort of debt, he says, is nothing less than the continual creation of society. It is not so much that we owe something to society, but that society "just is our debts."

But there is also a foundation principle that has not changed in all of that time; from the time of the Axis Wars. It is a principle that I would dearly like to see whether Graebe has picked up on; it is the main reason for wanting to read his book. It is the action that society took against people who did not comply with the "accepted debt" under which they lived. In times past (and I base this on the Ancient Greeks in particular) the consequence of not complying with societal expectations was to be excluded from the protection of that society. That would mean living in what was essentially enemy territory, making and getting as best one could; truth be told it was an effective death sentence.

That prompted the idea that the process of indebtedness has changed indeed, and changed most rapidly over the past 300 years. The bridge at that time between cottage industry to industrialisation saw changes to society, and not least to the processes of economics. That change continues. It is evidenced by the recent (the last 40 years) change toward the "technology based" society.

The debt to society no longer exists. Debt has evolved to the extent that it is now expressed solely in currency terms. Debt is now owed to others, in return for complying with societal expectations.

From the review, it seems that I will not at all agree with Graebe's conclusion, no matter how much I might agree with his rationale.
[Graebe] believes that ... at a moment when capitalism seems unsustainable, the great hope for the future is to turn back to traditional human economies of mutual, loving indebtedness. For Graeber, capitalism is as much a fantasy as any utopian option: "We could no more have a universal world market," he writes, "than we could have a system in which everyone who wasn't a capitalist was somehow able to become a respectable, regularly paid wage laborer with access to adequate dental care. A world like that has never existed and never could exist. What's more, the moment that even the prospect that this might happen begins to materialize, the whole system starts to come apart."

One of the problems of history is that there is no winding back the clock. I do not think that a graceful return to (for example) an agrarian society is any more possible than the Russians or the Chinese have tried to make it. It may come about if there is a cataclysmic close to industrialisation - the kind of cataclysm that made the dinosaurs extinct be it physical disaster or disease.

I think that what I am struggling with is the separation of "capitalism" as an economic process from the underlying engine that "requires" continual growth. To that extent I know that I already disagree with Graebe but I acknowledge that the disagreement could be based upon differing ideas of what "capitalism" is.

If there is an evolutionary step to come from the current and future economic crises it is going to have to start with a re-evaluation of the relationship between society, capital, and the idea of indebtedness. In particular, the idea that societal expectations can be met by possession of material wealth will have to change; the idea that societal wealth can be represented by increasing personal indebtedness will have to change; the idea that there is a free lunch for some may have to go as well.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

On the subject of strange things and ... idle moment at the office desk found this interesting juxtaposition.

Chance? Or intended?

Monday, December 12, 2011

The perturbing case of the missing link...

Now here’s a thing. This article humped into the ol’ probligo’s scanners a short while back, a propos of nothing very much at all. I think it was from following sub-links. Anyhoos, I picked up the address and saved as it is an interesting topic and has some useful potential.

I dropped off the net and then tried to find it again a short while later. Nothing! Search Granny Herald with their own engine. Nothing! Hmmm… something not quite right here! Search again “Nat china cash”; most recent result is 2007. “Nat china donation”; zip! “China national donation”; latest is dated April 2011 about ANZAC poppies in the South Island. Even “Chinese cash nat” (three words from the headline) only picks up an article of 8 December concerning Chinese involvement in forestry CNIF.

Very strange indeed!!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

In the wake of the jonkey...

From Spiegel, by way of ALDaily comes thoughts on the state of politics and, directly from that, of democracy as a political form.

Habermas is an 82 y-o "philosopher" who has some considerable standing in Europe in particular and his name has passed my way on occasion in the past as well.
Jürgen Habermas, 82, wants to get the word out. He's sitting on stage at the Goethe Institute in Paris. Next to him sits a good-natured professor who asks six or seven questions in just under two hours -- answers that take fewer than 15 minutes are not Habermas' style.

Usually he says clever things like: "In this crisis, functional and systematic imperatives collide" -- referring to sovereign debts and the pressure of the markets.

Sometimes he shakes his head in consternation and says: "It's simply unacceptable, simply unacceptable" -- referring to the EU diktat and Greece's loss of national sovereignty.


In the past, there were enemies; today, there are markets -- that's how the historical situation could be described that Habermas sees before him. He is standing in an overcrowded, overheated auditorium of the Université Paris Descartes, two days before the evening at the Goethe Institute, and he is speaking to students who look like they would rather establish capitalism in Brussels or Beijing than spend the night in an Occupy movement tent.


Habermas accepts all this without complaint. He steps up to the lectern and explains the mistakes that were made in constructing the EU. He speaks of a lack of political union and of "embedded capitalism," a term he uses to describe a market economy controlled by politics. He makes the amorphous entity Brussels tangible in its contradictions, and points to the fact that the decisions of the European Council, which permeate our everyday life, basically have no legal, legitimate basis. He also speaks, though, of the opportunity that lies in the Lisbon Treaty of creating a union that is more democratic and politically effective. This can also emerge from the crisis, says Habermas. He is, after all, an optimist.


He rails against "political defeatism" and begins the process of building a positive vision for Europe from the rubble of his analysis. He sketches the nation-state as a place in which the rights of the citizens are best protected, and how this notion could be implemented on a European level.

He says that states have no rights, "only people have rights," and then he takes the final step and brings the peoples of Europe and the citizens of Europe into position -- they are the actual historical actors in his eyes, not the states, not the governments. It is the citizens who, in the current manner that politics are done, have been reduced to spectators.

His vision is as follows: "The citizens of each individual country, who until now have had to accept how responsibilities have been reassigned across sovereign borders, could as European citizens bring their democratic influence to bear on the governments that are currently acting within a constitutional gray area."

(emphasis is mine)

That is based upon a premise that government as a process has changed; that it no longer serves "the people" (as in the catch-cry of old); that the process of government has become the means of perpetuating the careers of the "representatives". There is a strong parallel here with the "statism" cry of the libertarians. There are parallels to the "anti-socialism" of the Republicans.

(Confirmation Bias warning here!)

Very near the top of google (on the very first page) in response to "politic opinion europe economy" comes this -
On the other hand the economic policies exercised by the EU as a whole, with anachronistic, counter-productive, centralized protectionist policies, with an increasingly aging population and with the accumulation of excessive debts at private and public level; left the continent in a position of witnessing too little growth based on too much debt - an unsustainable cycle. The European leadership seeks to address the cancer of debt in all of Europe, both eurozone and EU, by means of issuing more debt. This is in practice what the EFSF is, the "stability bonds" and the ECB monetizing debts will be. There can be no end to the cost once new debt is issued to pay for the old one. Only sustainable growth, emancipated from cumbersome bureaucratic techniques can fix the problems EU is facing.

In another more recent post he concludes -
All this is caused by the denial of the powers of the European (and local) establishment, to accept that the crisis is fundamentally caused by quasi-bankrupt banks and by a single currency that should have never been created, but was produced to satisfy the arrogance of its architects, who thought that they could design an economic project to achieve political ends.

That does beg the question - fairly severely - of the cause of the "quasi-bankruptcy" of European banks. Was it the result of the same lending policies as led to the demise of Lehmanns and the need to rescue several other American banks as well as BOS in Britain? Was it the result of the prospect of default on sovereign debt by PIIGS? He is right in that current policies are aimed more at perpetuation rather than cure.

And at this point I can tie back directly to the Jonkey and his government's policies for the next three years. First contrast between NZ and Europe is that not one of the European governments is proposing the sale of government owned assets. Is this because they do not exist? Someone could help me with that one please.

More to Habermas' point, none of the governments in the PIIGS grouping has said anything at all about the real problems. I like Protos-stavrou's comment on the CAP in Europe - About 40% of the total expenditure of the Europe group is subsidy for a sector that produces 2% of GDP. I mean to say, that definitely comes under the "Say WHAT!!??!!" heading.

It also raises the point made by Whanga-Ray (returning here to the Jonkey) that one of the easier targets for the new government will be universal superannuation. That is likely, but it is also a problem for the Jonkey. The logical solution is to defer the qualification age to, say, 67. There is one major difficulty - that was Labour's policy and has already been put down by Jonkey as not an option. There are some quite attractive alternatives within that major strategy - such as paying less super for earlier take-up, more for later take-up. Will Jonkey sugar the pill? I doubt it.

Whenever the Gnats have talked of reducing government expenditure they have always taken the direct route; first to go are the budget items which will lose the least votes, the items which have received the greatest criticism in the past and so the likes of adult education bites the dust; next in line are those who vote for "them", and so we have the reductions in day-care subsidies, changes to the DPB and Unemployment benefits; then...

There is no question that the Jonkey is almost solely responsible for the ressurrection of Winnie the Pooh. His reported comments (directly attributed to the tea-pot tape and reported by W-t-P himself) that NZ First's supporters were "dying out" have created a multitude of Erinnyes that will be richly deserved for the next three years. To make matters worse for the Jonkey, every step he takes toward monkeying with the rate of superannuation is going to create severe pains in the back seats.

And that comes back to Habermas -
Jürgen Habermas is angry. He's really angry. He is nothing short of furious -- because he takes it all personally.

He leans forward. He leans backward. He arranges his fidgety hands to illustrate his tirades before allowing them to fall back to his lap. He bangs on the table and yells: "Enough already!" He simply has no desire to see Europe consigned to the dustbin of world history.

"I'm speaking here as a citizen," he says. "I would rather be sitting back home at my desk, believe me. But this is too important. Everyone has to understand that we have critical decisions facing us. That's why I'm so involved in this debate. The European project can no longer continue in elite modus."

Enough already! Europe is his project. It is the project of his generation.


And then he's really angry again: "I condemn the political parties. Our politicians have long been incapable of aspiring to anything whatsoever other than being re-elected. They have no political substance whatsoever, no convictions."


And, I guess, that leads down a path toward the "Occupy..." protests of the past few months. The WSJ I think has a recent op-ed talking about "blind campaign donations" of past and the next Presidential election in the US. As I pointed out in my last post, DHC laments the connect between Maori Party and iwi corporations. That is a trend that started decades ago in NZ with the Round Table and similar political "ginger groups" with the last major infiltration coming from the Brethren Church. Forget the "open market" arguments, they are as relevant as climate change in this context.

This from Wiley Post says it all...

Friday, November 25, 2011

Almost the end of The Agony -

I quite enjoy reading Deborah Hill Cone in the busyness section of Granny Herald. Not because I necessarily agree with her POV, but simply because it is often one of the better writes in the paper.

And so it is this morning with her take on elections and electorates. In fact I think that I can sympathise with her personal agony of being an Epsom Saltie.

What caught my eye was her wave in the general direction of one of the elephants currently occupying the room. Hers is the one carrying the "youth unemployment" label.
Billionaire Sir Richard Branson this week wrote a piece warning the British Chancellor he is creating a "lost generation" of young people who will never know work, and advocated some drastic policies.

In this country, it is still too much of a buzz kill to address the reality of long-term youth unemployment of 25 to 30 per cent, or how to transform an underclass of people stuck on welfare.

But she actually closes with a very accurate posit on the nature of NZers and their attitude to elections and governmental retaliation (translate that with the story of the old radio programme earlier...).
We feel the decisions that affect us are taken way above our heads, in so much as they are the operation of large economic forces over which we have no control. This is probably true. But sometimes we do have at least a small opportunity to exert our agency.

Tomorrow is one of those days. I just wish I could vote for someone who has woken up.

Which earns from me a heartfelt "Hear, hear!"

Friday, November 18, 2011

What a storm in a teapot!!

It begins with all of the anticipation - …will he won’t he will he join the dance… - but not a sign of a lobster at all. For two weeks the media waited agasp for their invitation to the event of all electoral events; the expected invitation for Banksie to share a pot of tea with none other than the PM and the acknowledgement that Banksie was in fact a Nat in all but name for electoral purposes. Not only that, but the pot of tea was to come with shared electoral biscotti. In return for an undertaking (always an interesting word that, in circumstances such as these) to provide stable government the PM himself would ensure that his party would not actively contest the seat in which Banksie is standing.

The appointed day arrives. A media scrum is put down in a café on Broadway – another of those interesting coincidences that passes everyone by - the limousine draws up, the Banksie appears magically with entourage who dust the pavement from car to café and Banksie and PM repair to a table for a nice cuppa.

Once the media have played their part in supporting the election campaigns of the two, they are ushered out to press their noses against the windows and wonder just what PM’s talk about over a nice cuppa. Well, one industrious member of their number found out by (inadvertently) leaving his radio-mike in a bag on the table.

Since then, all manner of unprintables and several hundred tumbrills full of printables have been flying through the air.

Quite amazing then that no one has asked what the PM and Banksie were drinking. Choysa? Bell? Twinings? Or did the PM go the whole way and treat Banksie to a pot of Uncle Don's Best?

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Elections 2011 - Fit the Third

Wednesday -

RNZ on Morning Report as I was avoiding the rush traffic between here and there included a “debate” between the leaders of the “minor parties”. Quote of the 20minute duration; Dunny himself with “Tureia is right up to the point where ideology steps in.”.

Thursday -

SMH this morning is trumpeting the fact that the UN has rated Australia only 0.1 points (on a 0 – 1 scale) behind Norway.

After reading through the whole article, one finds (in the very last para) that the top five are Norway, Australia, Netherlands, US, and NZ.

Say what? NZ is in there at number five? That just can not be true!!! After all, NZers are leaving in droves, herds even, for the much greener pastures of Australia in particular. It is (we are told on the hustings) the problem of the economy. This is why we have to lift our wage rates to compete. That is why our productivity is stuffed. We are so far behind Australia that it is not funny!!!

Well, that deserves a “Yeah, right!!” of the first water.

There is a dose of realism that needs to be taken with the sugar. NZ has vulnerabilities internally, and most especially externally.

The internal exposures stem primarily from size; we are the very small branch office in a very large global multi-corporate organisation; we are the very small leaf at the far end of a long branch of an oak tree. The internal threats is one thing that we should be concentrating on over the next three weeks. Decisions made now are going to shape what this country looks like in three and probably fifteen years as well. My greatest fear is that none of the relatively sane parties has the guts and the intelligence to go beyond the application of ideology to the solution of pressing problems.

There is one instance where I think this combination of belly driven common sense is becoming apparent and that is in the form of Papandreou and his proposal to take the Greek economic woes to the electorate. No, seriously; I mean, stop laughing like that!

This article from The Age gives a pretty fair run-down on the choices; the consequences. That it might be “unspeakable” a distinct possibility is exactly why I think Papandreou has taken this course.

If the electorate chooses to turn down the bail-out offered by the EU it will so do in the knowledge (I would hope) of the consequences. That, I submit, is exactly what Papandreou wants. If the electorate is not going to stand behind him and support the economic rebuilding that is needed then why bother making the start. I can well imagine that his political career would end the next day. This is essentially the thesis of Thomas’ “return to the drachma” article.

There are many who paint – with Rolf Harris like speed – terrifying portraits of the result of Greek default on its international loans. It would, we are told, lead to the failure of the Euro, the collapse of most of Europe’s banks and financial institutions.

So, I want to stand back for a moment and look at that. If Greece were to refuse to comply with the conditions imposed by the EU what would really happen?

There is already in place an agreement to write off 50% of Greece’s borrowing. That is being soaked by the banks and financial institutions. The other 50% will largely fall on the same funds sources. But, and no one I have read says this, there is also agreement to bail Greece out to the tune of a very large sum indeed. That, in addition, is being expressed in a way that implies the presence of a very large “AND” that would follow; the agreement to provide further funding down the track with Greece’s continuing compliance with EU restraints. What happens to those agreements and promises should Greece refuse? They immediately become void.

Germany and France, in particular, have promised the greatest part of that funding; most in the form of guarantees but with the provision of immediate cash as well. Hands up those who remember the NZ deposit guarantee scheme that was implemented with almost indecent haste (let’s face it, the response was essential) a couple years back. That is where the Euro zone nations should be putting their efforts if Greece fails to meet their demands.

And, I think, Papandreou would be among the first to say, “Good on yer, mate. Take care of home first.”.

I follows on from that to back at home here where a small number of young and enthusiastic improvers of the universe have joined in the fun and games (that started in Wall St NY) of occupying places. In Auckland they chose Aotea Sq, in Dunedin the Octagon. Their main beef is the power and greed of the major banks. Watching those same major banks taking a bit of a pasting on the fallout from Greece might have them smiling. Hearing that the EU is bailing out those same banks will no doubt add a great deal of fuel to the fire.

I can but wonder how many of those yaeiou will pause for a moment to reflect on the problems that Greece would be facing.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Elections 2011 - Fit the second

No, I did not watch the “Leadership Debate” on the tv last night. I had a few better things to do.

No, I am not sorry. (That is the same kind of answer as “I am not going to raise GST”.)

From the reports, seen and read, I have the impression that it was pretty much as scripted. The Jonkey was not surprised by anything that the Gofer raised, though there is a suspicion that he was momentarily a bit backed up by the delivery. Similarly, there seems to have been no surprises for the Gofer.

And that really is the point. These leadership presentations are not much more than proving to the electorate that the leaders they are voting for are not zombies, are not frothing at the mouth maniacs, can and do hold something that could pass for a conversation. But, as politics keeps reminding us, that is about as far as it goes.

The pundits and propounders are all weighing the outcome as even, favouring whichever side of the divide they sit.

Of course, there are always the likes of Cactus Kate who is trumpeting Brash Donnie’s “triumph” over a hapless tv3 reporter. In that instance the script only ran to two words. Brash Donnie was not able to expand past his robot-like inchantation of “deceitful bastard”. CK herself seemed stuck in a groove to prove the journo’s typo revealed a total inability to spell. Yep, well as I pointed out in a submitted comment there are a lot of suitable alternative epithets. Rather than ascribing to the Chris Christie school of political attack the Donnie could perhaps get a whole lot more benefit from a quiet review of a few of the archive tapes of the master, old Mouldie himself. As for handling unwanted journos, Mouldie’s attack on Tom Scott has to be the pinnacle.

There is a rich vein of commentary in this. It follows the interdependence of politician and journalist; both need the other. In Muldoon v Scott, the dependence was “broken” because Scott became “expendable” to Muldoon. There were far more servile channels he could use and Scott was just too hostile. Personally, I think that Scott was doing his job well and that was to get Muldoon pissed off…

There is a similar conflict in the relationship between Granny Herald and The Speaker just before Parliament rose for the RWC.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Elections - 2011 Fit the First.

I have a real problem at the moment.

Do I vote for the Jonkey, the Nats?

Or do I vote for the Gofer, the Labourlites?

Of the minor parties; ACT has self-obessessd on the occupiers; Winnie the Pooh has ressurrected for the third time; the Greens have taken a jump to the left; Maori will lose their Mana with the departure of Pita and Tariana; Tamahere is making a joke of the idea of mana; the rest are just lost in the wilderness.

The problem is this.

The Nats have not done anything that drastically changes the economy, personal rights or the general state of society. In other words, they have not done much atall at all. That is something that they want to change. After spending three years borrowing in excess (well in excess) of requirements for reasons that were hazy at the time and incomprehensible now they are now suggesting the sale of assets such as power supply utilities so that the proceeds are available for a National Infrastructure Fund.

I guess that makes as much sense as a long-haul carrier selling half his truck so that he can buy a car for the wife.

Labour has just one problem. The Gofer. He sounds too much like an earnest scout master trying his hardest to sell raffle tickets in the local pub. They have a new team. The old guard left with absolutely no regard for succession, or for the continuity of ideas. Bring Back John A!!! The ideas that have come forward thus far have merit. Well, there is only one that has not originated in the powerhouse of the FOL. The Gofer is right about one thing; the minimum age for national superannuation MUST increase to 67, and I would bring the idea forward by about ten years for what he is promoting. Give him credit for what is, so far, the most realistic policy plank put to the electorate.

The rest can be discounted. Totally. I can't even raise the energy to consider Maori for a protest vote. I know the Tai Tokerau Labour candidate and he is not a bad chook. The Nat candidate similarly, with the proviso that he has to support the sale of state revenue earning assets.

Indications at the moment are that public support is on the side of retaining MMP. This is a good thing. I am not going to lose sleep (yet) on that quarter.

Next weekend is for friends; the Monkfish and co have opened their door. Good food, good wine, good company; three that just can not be beat.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A sense of Justice...

...probably not intended for a moment, but I get a strong sense of appropriate justice from the exchange of 1 Israeli held by the Palestinians for the return of roughly 1000 Palestinians held in Israeli jails.

It is not just a passing, fleeting idea. It grows with thought and further threads attach.

Consider, and this is where I started, that the ratio is very roughly reflective of the number of Palestinians killed for each Israeli killed over the past 50 years.

Consider, and this was the second thread, the length of time the Palestinians have been in prison. Consider the opportunity that length of time that the Israelis have had to pursuade, condition, convince (thesaurus alternatives to "brainwash") the prisoners of the benefits of being part of Israeli society.

Consider also that if Israeli justice was right; that these prisoners are the murderers and terrorists that they claim then Palestine is deserving of having them back. I acknowledge that, as the Germans found out in France and other parts of Europe, the murderer and terrorist to an occupying force can be a hero to the oppressed.

As I said, there is a sense of appropriate justice.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Fare thee well, Simon...

At the age of 64 I am beginning to learn how to recognise those who are true politicians, and that vast majority who have not grown out of their kindergarten sandpits. Associated with those latter are the political groupies.

Let me illustrate.

Cactus Kate’s most recent item sings the praises of Tau Henare who in the past few days gave “…an hilarious speech in the general debate where after giving Stuart Nash a tickle up he manages to lampoon Charles Chauvel and his car…”

That has been the norm in our Parliament for as long as I can remember; even to the old man getting heated about Holyoake (the original “Sir Toothpaste”) burbling and pontificating at the perceived inadequacies of Her Majesty's Opposition. Both sides do it. These days all sides do it.

I heard – through the auspices of National Radio – about Simon Power’s valedictory. I have have a regard for him for some years now, in his occupation of both sides of the House. It is perhaps a reflection of his respect for government and the process that he is one fairly conservative MP that the political groupies like CK and the blubberman like to beat up on from time to time.

I want to quote direct from his valedictory

When I first came to this House, I was encouraged to be partisan, an aggressive contributor to the debate, and told that the most important thing in Opposition was to hold the Government to account. That was a view I passed on to others who came after me, and it remains, on one level, fundamentally correct.

Politicians must have a plan. A plan that is in place early, and one they are prepared to lead.

I believe that politics is 90% preparation and 10% execution. At a day-to-day level, politics, particularly at a ministerial level, can quickly deteriorate to the daily management of tasks - dealing with papers, the media, OIA requests, Question Time, Written Questions, expectations from colleagues and your Party; tasks that become all consuming, and tasks that in the end do not improve the lives of New Zealanders at all.

A formative experience in my last year in Opposition triggered a fundamental shift in the way I viewed politics.
As Chair of the Privileges Committee in the last term of Parliament, I had to chair the inquiry into the matter of certain donations to the New Zealand First Party. My view of politics, and how best to participate in it, was altered from that point on. This was a highly partisan issue in front of a parliamentary committee which had a history of being above politics.

I realised then that working with other political parties to reach consensus, where possible, was a legitimate way to advance legislation and to progress an agenda. Not everyone agrees with me on this approach, but I know I'm right.
My experience has been that expanding the decision-making mandate, without sacrificing the kernel of the idea, has improved the quality of the legislative product immeasurably. That means not being afraid to back down, not being afraid to reconsider a position after listening to an alternative view, and, in at least one case, not being afraid to amend a bill on the floor of the House in response to a high-quality debate.

So much of Parliament's time is spent attacking each other, trying to out-manoeuvre each other, and just plain loathing each other. It's an incredible waste of energy and time.

And so, as the current Parliament scraps its way out the doors to the lobbies (so that they can enjoy what is left of the RWC) we have the spectacular of legislation affecting the rights – fundamental rights – of every NZer being shovelled through the House under urgency. The attempts to legalise and authorise police actions that were not necessarily illegal but which ran well outside the running rails of acceptability were just rank. There was no thought given. There was no principle applied. The whole process was wrapped into the web of obfuscation that characterises the jonkey’s idea of politics and more particularly of government.

I have no doubt that Simon Power was absolutely instrumental in implementing the changes that emerged from the Select Committee. Those changes gave at least a nod to the niceties of statute law and proper legislative process.

Simon, you get thanks from me.

And I want to repeat one part of his valedictory for emphasis.
My experience has been that expanding the decision-making mandate, without sacrificing the kernel of the idea, has improved the quality of the legislative product immeasurably. That means not being afraid to back down, not being afraid to reconsider a position after listening to an alternative view, and, in at least one case, not being afraid to amend a bill on the floor of the House in response to a high-quality debate.

That is the fundamental behind the original pressure for the change to MMP. It is the fundamental behind the reason for retaining MMP. It is also the reason why those who oppose MMP want it changed.

When it comes to the vote in November, every elector should remember the Police Surveillance Powers legislation and how it could have happened under a different system of representation.

Monday, September 26, 2011

What the ???? is going on with ACT?

First the legalisation of marihuana...

That has resulted in Cactus Kate thrashing in the undergrowth for something good to say about anything.

Followed by Boscowen fleeing the party...

Implosion time. Will anyone really notice?

Oh, and the teaser on the Herald this morning -

"Vote Brash
Get hash"


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Idle Sunday Observation -

One of the most recent links offered by ALD is to the New Humanist, a correspondant by the name of Johnathon Re'e (there is supposed to be an accent on the first e). He is offering yet another repatitive and boring rationalisation on the relationship between atheists, atheism, and the Christian religion.

Why is it that 99% of the modern atheists (I can not in truth say 100%) follow the well-trodden path of single religious atheism. As he does this, Ree has pointed out the inconsistency of his own argument. His observation that Christians were considered atheists by the Romans of the time follows the single religion path to its source.

When will "atheism" and its promoters be able to take the truth of their own belief to its foundation? The "well-trodden path" (is it the narrow path to heaven of the Christians?) should be the broad highway that excludes all theism. Does Ree's rejection of Christianity reject Bhuddist or Hindu beliefs as well?

Aldous Huxley was brave enough to analyse the common ground between all the major religions (his "Perrennial Philosophy") rather than to express a full atheism. That book should be a required reading for anyone who leaps to print on the subject of atheism. Not only should it be read, it should also be understood and appreciated as one expression of the foundation of all religious belief.

I profess to have no religion. That to me is atheism. I do not need to support or even debate what it means. That it is my belief makes it as valid in every sense as Catholicism, Jaine, Sufism, Bhuddism, Islam, or Southern Baptist.

In no way does that make me amoral. The counter that atheism is the same as amorality does not cut the mustard. I live by the morality of my up-bringing, of the society in which I live. That does not in any way counter my belief, counter the fact that I have no belief in any religion.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Police powers and the law

It is around about now that the truth of what was behind the cancellation of charges against the Urewera 17 is coming to light.

That truth lies in a piece of legislation currently before the House, and being pushed through under urgency.

The legislation has the effect of allowing Police powers they as the law had interpreted them prior to a couple weeks ago; the date of the Supreme Court’s decision that the basis of much of the evidence against the Urewera 17 had been illegally obtained.

My understanding of the general position is this –

First, the Police have been obtaining evidence using covert (hidden) means including hidden video cameras and sound equipment (as distinct from the traditional wire-tap).

Second, the use or even the existence of these methods was not envisaged at the time the present legislation was enacted.

So the interpretation applied by the Police, supported by a number of criminal cases already concluded and appealed (two specific ones have been mentioned), has been that if it is not specifically prohibited then it is legal.

The Supreme Court case – the elephant in the bed – has turned that interpretation on its head. If it is not specifically authorised then it is illegal.

That really does follow White’s (from “The Once and Future King”) ants nest sign changing from “What is not Forbidden is Compulsory” to “What is not Compulsory is Forbidden”.

I have had one instance where my office was used by police for surveillance of a neighbour in some considerable secrecy. That was set up in accordance with a Court Order requiring that the use be provided and specifying the nature of the evidence to be obtained under the Warrant. Seems to me that is exactly the same situation as was followed in the case of the Urewera 17 except for one small but essential fact. In the latter case the consent of the landowner from where the surveillance took place was not sought. Why? For the very simple reason that they were the same people against whom the evidence was being obtained.

Now I can sympathise with the Police in the difficulties this may have caused in their process against the Urewera 17. That sympathy goes no way toward what I see as the centre of my personal objections to what happened.

First up, the police should be required to prove that there is substantial and legally obtained evidence that a crime has been or may be committed. That need not take place before open Court but it does need the Court’s hearing and consent. I do not believe that changes anything that already exists.

Second up, and irrespective of any charges that may subsequently be laid, that process must be revealed to the person(s) being investigated as part of the evidence in Court for resulting charges, or once the police have completed their investigation, or at the latest within a specified time period; I would suggest four years as a long maximum.

Third up, the process is required, essential, to prevent police indulging themselves in “fishing” for evidence against individuals without valid cause.

It comes down to this –

Whatever legislation the Government wishes to implement, governing the rights of Police to investigate and obtain evidence, must at all times be and remain subject to the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.

This dates back as far as June 2002 –

write further to my letter of 23 May 2002 in which I made a submission on Part
II of the discussion paper. This supplementary submission touches upon Parts III
and IV.

While I understand that [the Law Commission is] concentrating on search upon arrest I highlight two related issues in this context:· the merit from a privacy
perspective in delaying more intensive searches until the suspect in the
controlled environment of the police station (and I believe the philosophy of
[the United Kingdom Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1985] PACE s.32 is
consistent with this); and· if Police Act 1958 s.57A is to be amended, through
repeal of s.57A(5), it may also be timely to review the provision in total to
see whether it needs to be modernised to better protect peoples' rights,
including expectations of privacy, consistent with reasonable law enforcement

A general warrant?

In paras 30 and 31 [of the Preliminary Paper 50] the case for a general warrant for investigative techniques is raised. One example is given of a real New Zealand case involving 6 months of Police video surveillance into a person's home through a kitchen window. The merit of a warrant process authorising such intrusive surveillance by warrant for the Police is that the risk of the evidence gathered being declared inadmissible is minimised. The merit from a civil rights and privacy perspective is that the Police must initially justify their case to an independent person and, if the surveillance continues for an extended time, the Police will have to return to the judicial officer to maintain the justification. Conditions can be imposed to minimise the impact upon the suspect and other persons. The Commissioner has
formally recommended that consideration should be given to establishing a judicial warrant process in relation to the use of covert video surveillance in the investigation of offences (Privacy Commissioner, Necessary and Desirable: Privacy Act 1993 Review, 1998, para 2.6 and recommendation 22).

Accordingly, the Privacy Commissioner welcomes exploration of the idea.

However, wherever possible the legislature should expressly consider the means of investigation and craft statutory safeguards warranted by the nature of the technology and the intrusiveness of its application. It has done this in the past in relation to search warrants, interception warrants, call data warrants and computer access authorisations. In such crafted legislation the judicial warrant forms part of a
wider scheme of safeguards rather than the sole protection (e.g. in relation to offence provisions, absolute prohibitions on certain practices with standard conditions on certain others, information retention and destruction, record keeping, notification, audit, compensation, public reporting etc).

That analysis is a good and fair analysis of just how I have always seen the handling of the investigation, charging, and judicial fallout from the Urewera 17 case.

He concludes -

Accordingly, any proposal to claw back the protections in s.21 by omitting reference to unreasonable search, and placing the emphasis only on unlawful search, will make the NZBORA even less effective as a partial implementation of the universal human right of privacy. Tinkering with the Bill of Rights is rare.

Perhaps doing so offers the opportunity to consider including a new article modelled upon Article 17.

It seems clear from Scott Optican's review of the case law ("What is a 'search' under s.21 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990? An analysis, critique and tripartite approach" 2001 NZ Law Review 239) that a central role of judges in the cases under s.21 is to adequately protect privacy. Investigative conduct which can breach reasonable expectations of privacy is frequently likely to be raised by surveillance activities involving no trespass of the traditional kind. If reasonable expectations of privacy are to be protected at all in this area it is undesirable to simply look at the
question of lawfulness in terms of trespass. To limit the section the manner canvassed in the paper would presumably diminish legal protection of privacy.

That would not be supported by the Privacy Commissioner.

Finally, the discussion paper focuses solely upon the use of s.21 in court proceedings,
particularly in challenging admissibility of evidence. For example, para 37 suggests that the reference to unreasonableness ceased to be useful when the Bill of Rights was rewritten so that the courts could not strike down statutes.

However, the NZBORA is also used as a standard in guiding officials who propose, develop and scrutinise new laws including those laws that empower officials to carry
out searches and surveillance. If the test were simply to be lawfulness the mere enacting of a statute conferring such powers would essentially end the matter. It is also useful that there be scrutiny of the reasonableness of such laws. Although such scrutiny could be undertaken in the absence of the NZBORA, the fact is that one of the NZBORA's major current roles is as a standard for pre-legislative scrutiny of bills.

For me, the difference lies between on one hand the police using private cctv footage to obtain evidence in investigating a crime committed, and on the other the police using the same cctv footage to track and monitor individuals who may not have been involved in the commission of any crime.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

On freedom and having free will...

I picked this one up through the new old mates who are running ALD these days.

The experiment helped to change John-Dylan Haynes's outlook on life. In 2007, Haynes, a neuroscientist at the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience in Berlin, put people into a brain scanner in which a display screen flashed a succession of random letters1. He told them to press a button with either their right or left index fingers whenever they felt the urge, and to remember the letter that was showing on the screen when they made the decision. The experiment used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to reveal brain activity in real time as the volunteers chose to use their right or left hands. The results were quite a surprise.

"The first thought we had was 'we have to check if this is real'," says Haynes. "We came up with more sanity checks than I've ever seen in any other study before."

That is the intro. The next bit gets into realms of philosophy whence angels might fear to tread...
The conscious decision to push the button was made about a second before the actual act, but the team discovered that a pattern of brain activity seemed to predict that decision by as many as seven seconds. Long before the subjects were even aware of making a choice, it seems, their brains had already decided.

As humans, we like to think that our decisions are under our conscious control — that we have free will. Philosophers have debated that concept for centuries, and now Haynes and other experimental neuroscientists are raising a new challenge. They argue that consciousness of a decision may be a mere biochemical afterthought, with no influence whatsoever on a person's actions. According to this logic, they say, free will is an illusion. "We feel we choose, but we don't," says Patrick Haggard, a neuroscientist at University College London.

Now I think that is quite an interesting idea.

If only because I can just hear les religeaux piping God hot and strong into the mix.

Further on...
The practical effects of demolishing free will are hard to predict. Biological determinism doesn't hold up as a defence in law. Legal scholars aren't ready to ditch the principle of personal responsibility. "The law has to be based on the idea that people are responsible for their actions, except in exceptional circumstances," says Nicholas Mackintosh, director of a project on neuroscience and the law run by the Royal Society in London.

Owen Jones, a law professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, who directs a similar project funded by the MacArthur Foundation in Chicago, Illinois, suggests that the research could help to identify an individual's level of responsibility. "What we are interested in is how neuroscience can give us a more granulated view of how people vary in their ability to control their behaviour," says Jones. That could affect the severity of a sentence, for example.

(Just wait for Weatherstone to get hold of that idea!).

Sorry lads and lasses. I think it is no more than a measure of how thick the human brain is... the unconcious says "press", and it takes the concious 7 seconds (or 0.7 seconds depending on measure and a lot of other variables) to decipher the message. The concious says "I am going to press in five, four, three..." and the "press" neurones fire up, "two, one, fire!".

Very similar to a launch as Cape Canaveral.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Idle observation -

This comes after dropping in at TF's place and leaving a couple of pertinent (if unwanted) comments.

The post relates to the inability of red-light cameras to give evidence in Court.

I can not help but wonder how that reconciles with him happily marching into a booth in November next year and happily pulling his vote for the Tea Party on a machine.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

As the sun sinks slowly in the west...

... one of the most shameful episodes in NZ criminal justice is quietly coming to an end.

I have no connection with those charged, other than the fact that for two years I lived in a similar community where my father was headmaster at the local school. I was 8 at the time.

That it has taken so long for the Justice system to pull its thumb from its collective arsehole is beyond belief. That it has occurred only 4 months before a General Election only adds to the solid stench of political agendae and unsettled scores.

Firearms charges against most of those arrested in the police raids on alleged military training camps in the Ureweras have been dropped.

But four of the accused, including Tame Iti, will still stand trial on charges of participating in an organised crime group and firearms charges.

The Supreme Court has ruled certain evidence inadmissable at the so-called "terror raid" trial of next year which was set to last for three months.

The groundbreaking decision over-ruled previous judgments from the High Court and Court of Appeal over whether the Crown could use evidence gathered in the covert police operation before the arrests in October 2007.

The Crown has now dropped the Operation Eight prosecution against 13 of the 17 accused, according to a statement just released by the Auckland Crown Solicitor, Simon Moore SC.

Mr Moore said the judgment of the Supreme Court is subject to suppression orders and cannot be reported.

The most immediate question has to be "Why" can this latest step not be reported?
The effect of the delay would be that those accused facing Arms Act charges alone would not be tried for a period of four and a half years from the date of their arrest," said Mr Moore.

"Further, they were remanded in custody for a period of time following their arrest, and they have been on restrictive bail conditions through much of the time since their release.

"Taking these matters into account together with findings made by the Supreme Court about the seriousness of their offending, it is the Crown decision that the continuation of proceedings would not be in the public interest."

You bet it would not, nor will it be, simply because the whole process from the day the AOS stepped onto their bus and drove to Ruatoki has been nothing less than a monumental fuck-up. I will say it. It is so bad that I can not believe for a moment that it was solely the responsibility of the Police. There has to have been another hand. There is only one that could move things in the mysterious way this has progressed.


Which raises the next question. Why has the Jonkey been so slow in making it known to the Police and the Justice system that enough is more than enough.

The secrecy has to end. It might be justified to the time that the last remaining charges are settled.

Then the book must be opened.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

TPPs and all that again...

My previous post (June 18) has been echoed several times since, not by (known) reference by other commenters but by actual events. Readers might like to return and refresh their memories, but essentially I spoke of three factors –
. The US approach to “Free Trade” agreements;
. The role of Minister Tim Groser;
. The desire of US negotiators to make NZ’s Pharmac a key obstacle to achieving a FTA between NZ and US.

I have been slowly catching up with events since early June. Hey!! I is getting older and the enthusiasm and energy resources are very limited; most at this stage directed toward photography rather than current events. Then there was a very enjoyable week that recharged most of the batteries – the ones with remaining functional cells anyway… Hoosoever!

It started – in part – with this article in Granny Herald on June 15
And in reference to United States concerns over the state drug-buying agency Pharmac, which the US sees as anti-competitive, Mr Groser said the New Zealand was not about to negotiate away its public health system.
He said Pharmac was not perfect "and we are always open to suggestions of change, but we are not about to adopt a health system, via a trade negotiation, that allocates resources according to capacity to pay."

Come forward to 4 July and the wording has already started to morph –
Trade Minister Tim Groser has heaped praise on the Government's drug-buying agency, Pharmac, but still refuses to rule out possible changes to the agency as part of future free trade deals.

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said the free trade agreement between Australia and the US had crippled Australia's Pharmaceutical Benefit Scheme, its equivalent of Pharmac.
"They didn't abolish it or its fundamentals ... but they made changes to the way it operates."
The overall effect, he said, was higher costs that were either passed on to consumers or picked up by the Government.

The question is not “What was the effect?”, but “Why was it changed?” The answer has to be that the Aus government decided it was more important to have an FTA with the US and to disregard any cost that might be incurred as a consequence of the changes. Rather than just take Russel Norman’s word for it, a quick hunt around the SMH turns up this op-ed piece from last March

Last year the Rudd government proudly announced it had cut a new and tougher deal with the drug companies, represented by Medicines Australia, which would save the taxpayer $1.9 billion over five years.

…a health economist at the University of Sydney, associate professor Philip Clarke, and his colleague Edmund Fitzgerald, argue the deal still leaves our off-patent and generic drug prices much higher than they are in most developed countries. They quote the example of statins, the cholesterol-lowering drugs, where the patents of the various types have expired or soon will. Statins account for about 16 per cent of the total cost of the pharmaceutical benefits scheme.
They surveyed the wholesale price of Simvastatin 40mg in 10 developed countries and found our price was the highest: 50 per cent more than the next highest country and more than four times greater than the average price.
The lowest price was in New Zealand, which stages competitive tenders between the drug companies. Its price is just a fraction of our wholesale price of $1 a tablet. And even in the US, chains such as Kmart Pharmacy sell that statin for $15 for 90 tablets.
Clarke and Fitzgerald estimate that, compared with prices in England and Canada, the Rudd government's deal with the industry lobby will cost taxpayers and consumers $1.7 billion more over its five-year term. And that's just for the statin group of drugs.

It bears repeating; given the results that Pharmac are achieving why should NZ “fix” something that is working? That question is especially a propos when the drug barons are pushing the US on the other side of the table.
And, from that too, comes the biggest of all –
Will Groser, and eventually the Jonkey himself, be able to put political reality before ideology?

Experience tells me not. The poodle, sorry Jonkey had his tummy well and truly scritched last week in his visit to the Oval Room. Now watch him return home and find all of the things that are "wrong" with Pharmac.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

What is "Right" in politics?

There is a strange flavour to NZ politics, and it is one which could cause considerable confusion to those from outside looking in and it certainly makes (in the ol probligo’s case at the very least) looking outward over the border difficult as well.

Using the American categorisation as a guide, one would get the impression that the right wing – the far right of the Republicans as example – would be pushing for less government and greater freedoms both personal and market.

If I bring that to NZ and look at what is going on at present – remembering that NZ is only 4 months out from a general election – it is something of a shock to find the youngest (ignore the grey hairs and balding pate) and brightest of the far right from ACT promoting consumer protection legislation.

The incredulity rises when some of the content of that proposed law comes to light in the news

Mr Boscawen today said he would introduce a Consumer Law Reform Bill to Parliament before the middle of the year, which he hoped would be passed before the year's end.
The bill, the result of a recently completed review of consumer law, will amend and consolidate several pieces of legislation, one of which - the Sale of Goods Act - is more than a century old.
Consumer protections contained in four acts which are to be repealed will be incorporated into the Fair Trading Act along with some enhancements, Mr Boscawen said.
"The Bill will also strengthen the enforcement powers of Government agencies, allowing faster and more effective action to remove unsafe products from the market."
Under the changes, unsafe good notices and compulsory recalls may be issued "where reasonably foreseeable use of misuse of a product will may or cause injury".
An example of the type of goods being targeted is laser pointers - which police reported have been used in 108 "attacks" on planes, ships and cars over a two-year period.

In those six short paras we find government protection of the consumer, increased powers of enforcement for government agencies, and government limitation of the products that NZ consumers are allowed to purchase.

One of the current batch of Ministers (ad-Ministers?) for whom the ol probligo can easily express a fair measure of respect is the Minister for Trade Tim Groser. He is a List MP (the ones everyone wants to be rid of…) and in my book is certainly worth his salt as Minister. He is very much hands-on in the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations, that belated and largely benighted attempt by the US to re-establish its influence and contact with our part of the world. As such it also gives a marvellous cameo of the political differences between lion and mouse. (Remember “The Mouse That Roared” anyone?)

Trade Minister Tim Groser took a swipe at the protected United States dairy industry last night saying it was time they stopped "looking in the rear vision mirror."

He said the US "must have a trade policy that is more than purely defensive."
Mr Groser made his comments in a speech in Wellington on the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement being negotiated at present among nine countries including the United States.

He also said New Zealand would ditch the TPP if there was any "sniff" that it was turning into an anti-China vehicle.

He had said so recently at a think-tank in Washington, and so had his Australian counterpart Craig Emerson.

To have the minor players making their stance very clear in this way must be anathema to the likes of Kurt Campbell and Janet Napolitano, both of whom found reasons for being late to the opening of the current round back in February.
Mr Groser said the TPP negotiations would not be completed by the time President Barack Obama hosted Apec in Honolulu in November but "solid progress" would be made.

The degree of progress would depend on what happened in Washington on the US' existing trade agenda, specifically whether Congress approved the free trade agreements already negotiated with Korea, Panama, and Colombia.

"The political oil" to facilitate their passing were the payments known as Trade Adjustment Assistance to affected sectors.

"No TAA, no deal.."

Americans reading this might recognise the “political oil” as euphemism for their term “pork”; but I confess that to be a stray shot.

The point here is coming back to a phrase that I heard some years back as a justification for any and most of the less digestible actions taken by the US on the international scene – “in America’s interests”.

The TPP is where “American interests” meets the real world of a strong-willed and somewhat sceptical southwest Pacific. There is no question that NZ and Aus stand together in the TPP negotiations and I doubt very much that stance would be altered in any way if either government were to change.

It should be well known to readers that Australia (as a “reward” for its services in Iraq and Afghanistan) already has a FTA with the US. NZ already has a FTA with China on which the ink has barely dried. The Australian FTA I have discussed in the past, expressing reservations on the long-term benefit ever compensating for the short term advantages taken by the US. That Australia is taking the opportunity of the TPP to voice opinions that run contrary to those of their partner in the FTA speaks some volumes about the medium to long term benefit of their (previously much-vaunted) FTA. And that too is where the ol probligo pulls up. It is (or has been in the past) a matter of FTA dogma that the agreement will run to the favour of the stronger party; and accepted wisdom says that is the US.

What the US is finding in trying to negotiate their TPP (and it was the idea of the US, not the Pacific) is that the minnows have grown some fairly sharp teeth. The composition and structure of those teeth has come from the influence over a long period of years from the US itself, and its various international allies (children?) such as World Bank, IMF, and OECD. A goodly dose of true capitalism in the mix has been of immense benefit as well, no question or debate.

A very primary example, one that is to the forefront in this country is a statement made in the past week or three to the effect that the US did not recognise the validity of centralised pharmaceutical purchasing organisations; that these organisations are considered anti-competitive; and their existence could represent a barrier to progress in negotiations. The diplomatic wording is very careful and somewhat guarded but there can be no doubt that some very heavy barons in the background are pulling one or three strings in the US administration. Essentially the only candidate that fits the statements is NZ’s government operated Pharmac. This is the organisation that handles licensing of medicines for use in NZ, and negotiates the purchase of those drugs for the whole of the public health system.

The criticism centres upon a “lack of transparency” and equally on the inability of the drug companies “to make submissions” to Pharmac – the “closed shop” accusation. Like so many of these things, there is another side to the impression. “Lack of transparency” implies a level of secrecy, something that a losing tenderer would want to penetrate to find out the prices being accepted for specific or even classes of product.

The “closed shop” is a well resourced and independent scientific and medical analysis system, empowered by the government to freely choose the source oand types of medications being used in this country. Locking out the salesmen (which seems to be at the heart of the outrage) not only maintains that independence from direct and indirect influence (called “corruption” in some quarters), it also allows for the hopefully objective appraisal of needs against supply cost. That in itself is a whole topic worthy of future thought.

The incongruity of the US objections is that Pharmac is very closely modelled on an American predecessor - MedicAid.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

On not thinking very hard about anything in particular…

The last post was when? April?

Actually, it is bad because we do have the parliamentary general election coming up; there has just been (well, a couple months back) a by-election resulting from the departure of Pansy Wong; there has been the reasons for her “retirement” as the local MP; there has been the consequential vacancy and by-election for the Council; and there has been a total non-event called “The Budget”. It is not as if “nothing” was happening!

The by-election? Well that went by default almost. There was no contest in truth; Nat begat Nat in the form of one Jami-Lee Ross. He has been a local Councillor since he was allowed to stand, and he is a reasonably non-obnoxious person. Is he likely to go anywhere politically? I can’t say that he has neither nga raho nor personality, but neither does he stand out as a future powerbroker. The size of his win was expected, simply on the grounds of the nature of the Botany electorate. The selection process prior to the by-election was very carefully managed so that the final selection (for the Party) was between Ross and a television gardening personality (who has fortunately been selected for the Blubberman’s electorate over on the Shore). That he is a politician is as much an accident of history as much as his qualification for the post. He has no specialty that he brings to the job other than having been Manukau’s youngest-ever Councillor.

More significant – in terms of the Nat’s selection process – was the fact that the final three or four did not include any Chinese, Korean, or South African. A fact that is remarkable only in terms of the nature of the local population.

Did I vote for him? Probli, seeing that I can not remember who I did vote for.

Where is all of this going?

Well, it really starts with a questionnaire that came through the mail, originating from JLR’s mailing list (that started two Council elections back when I was unwise enough to send him some suggestions for what he could do as Councillor). On second thoughts it may have been Pansy’s mailing list because I was unwise enough to communicate some thoughts on the nature of the real world to her as well. Nothing spectacularly original about the survey – no more than the standard Nat thing with “Botany” printed in the spaces where government forms traditionally have options available. SWMBO got a bit het because it was addressed to me personally, but then it was me that stuck my nose in the nats nest to begin with. I was very magnanimous and consulted her for responses to all of the questions ( :D ) and we negotiated our way through those. The questions I ”enjoyed” the most were to select which of the Nat’s actions on “law and order” I thought were “good things to have done”. The one’s I ticked were (from memory) “Initiatives on P” and “Increased police numbers” – that one even I can remember originated with the Labour lot rather than the Nats, but there is little harm in lily-gilding. The rest – things like penalising boy-racers, restricting gang access to public buildings, increased sentences…- all got the word “Joke” written alongside because that is what they are.

In fact, after two and a half years – almost exactly – that is just how this current government appears. Led by a Jonkey who established the highlight of his first term as PM playing the stand-up comic on David Letterman; abetted by a farmer acting the part of a Finance Minister whose financial management is just like farming - you plant it in the ground and spread as much fertilizer on it as you can afford and being a dairy farmer he has lots of the right kind free; a Police Minister who takes enormous risks in legislating for the destruction of boy-racer cars and preventing gang patches being worn in public buildings; a Justice Minister who is looking to prepare a White Paper that will propose the abolition of the Civil Division of the Justice system on the grounds that no one can afford to use it and because the Small Claims Tribunal is far more effective but who at the same time is totally against any admission that lowering the drinking age to 18 was a horrendous mistake; so the list goes on…

Our present parliament (I initially wrote “government”) is a joke. They are completely devoid of idea. There is already a very strong ordure of the past; the old ideologies of “selling state assets to reduce the deficit” have already been pronounced as the foundation of the Nat election campaign – by none other than the Jonkey and FarmerBill together. This from a government that is overseeing the borrowing of $500 plus million a week, to cover deficit funding requirements of less than $400 million and that latter number includes debt refinancing. The failed dogma of governments past are being heard; of Bolger, Shipley, even Muldoon’s ghost is clattering his chains in the basement of the Beehive. Even sadder, there is not much of a difference between them and The Rest. They are all of a muchness other than the colour of the flag they wave. The far right is being now run by an ex-Nat Leader who failed. The far left has become the plaything of a radical Maori who will be the next Peter Dunny (less the coif, of course!) if he can persuade the whanau to support him rather than the elder put up as his hopeful opponent in the by-election next week. The Jonkey and the Gofferguy play their own Tweedle-Deear and Tweedle-Dumb parts, alternating almost by the hour. The Grass gets Greener by the day, specially now that Tandos has gone. And Dear Old Uncle Jimmy; what would we be doing without him? Auntie Tari steams impressively into future irrelevance while Pita always looks as though any kapahaka group, anywhere, would provide far greater pleasure.

And this is the bunch from which we - the electorate - have to choose our government in about 5 months’ time. From the TV Gardening Guru to Tweedle-Dumb (the political equivalents of Vale and Valea) to the QuizMaster himself who misses not a chance to tick off a vagrant MP who dares enter the House without his permission to wear “inappropriate attire”.

What are the chances that there will be some sensible debate – like how to rescue those who have borrowed far beyond their means and do not qualify for the tax cut lifeline. With all the heat and bebotherment about PIGs and international financial crises NZ seems to stand unique. As far as I can determine, the “National Deficit” (other than the one described above) is something like 20% government borrowing and 80% borrowing for those myriad personal essentials like house, investment property, new second-hand Japanese people mover, and mobile phone. Steenkamp (of RBNZ) tells us -

Gross foreign debt to GDP peaked at over 130 percent in 2008... Banks are responsible for more than 60 percent of total gross foreign debt, which is equivalent to around 80 percent of GDP. General Government debt is a comparatively small portion of external debt. Since bottoming at the end
of 2006 at 8.9 percent of GDP, gross public debt increased to about 13 percent by the first quarter of 2010. On a net basis, public external debt stands at 6.7 percent of GDP and overseas bank debt is 64 percent of GDP.

That being the case, I (for one) can not help but get the very strong and uncomfortable feeling that the past three years of ennui and minimal activity has in fact been a season of planting. The hoped-for fruits are the public fears that the Nats will use in their election campaign; the need to sell public assets to reduce debt; the size of the public deficit and the need to curtail services; our total capitulation to US trade demands because of our future economic dependence on a FTA with them; the “need” to change employment laws yet again has already been announced. The list can go a lot further than that.

The most interesting thing for me, by far, is the plebiscite that will be held on the present electoral system. The original legislation was put in place with a sunset review clause and it may well be that we have run three years past that review. Regulars here will know that I am a strong and fervent supporter of MMP with the only reservation being that the number of list members could be reduced from 100 to 50. Yes, I know and understand that might complicate the mathematics just a little for the bureaucrats; they are after all accustomed to counting and addition rather than multiplication and division.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

What price justice?

The SST today has its front page taken (almost entirely) with the following story...
Grieving parents who lost children to repeat offenders are being stonewalled by "heartless" government departments they won the right to sue.

Lawyers, taking on Police and Corrections, say the families they represent believe they are being bullied in a "David versus Goliath" battle.

The parents of Debbie Ashton and Karl Kuchenbecker have taken action under occupational health and safety legislation, citing the failings of Police and Corrections that led to their loved ones' deaths.

Young dad Kuchenbecker, 26, was gunned down by murderer Graeme Burton in January 2007. A month earlier Ashton, 20, was killed by disqualified driver Jonathan Allan Barclay, who was in the police witness protection scheme at the time.

Both instances, Ashton and Kuchenbecker, were killed by men with prior convictions. Ashton's killer was a repeat drunk driver who had been released on parole and warned that further offences "could result in his being recalled to serve the remainder of those sentences". Kuchenbecker's killer had been paroled after serving 14 years of a murder sentence; he had two further warrants for arrest on other charges when he was paroled, neither warrant was actioned.

The civil action being taken against Police and Corrections Service is (as far as I can gather) based on the application of Health and Safety law. This could result in the Government (through Police and Corrections) paying some pretty hefty fines and copping a criminal conviction if found guilty of negligence and endangering (in this case) the public as a result.

What becomes apparent - as the article points out very clearly - is the justice in this case is clearly on the side of the money, rather than the right.

Given that as a start point, what chance does anyone imagine the Urewera 18 might have in obtaining redress for the tactics used by the Police, the manipulation of the law and in particular the Anti-Terrorism statutes, the Government's use of suppression orders to conceal (from the defendants) evidence and to abuse normal judicial process.

Bear in mind that it is now coming up four years since the raid on Ruatoki. The terrorism charges have long since been dropped on the pretext that the law is "unworkable". The remaining charges are comparatively minor firearms charges, usually dealt with in lower Courts by (in the past) a Stipendiary Magistrate at the highest.

Is there anyone who still believes in NZ justice being free of corruption, political influence, and available to all?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Now it all makes sense...

Thanks Wiley...

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Bernard Whimp is NOT a leech -

Investors are being warned of a fresh round of "shocker" low-ball share offers from companies linked to trader Bernard Whimp.

TrustPower and DNZ Property Fund are warning shareholders off yesterday's unsolicited offers, which are being investigated by the Securities Commission.

In two-page letters, TrustPower and DNZ shareholders are being offered above-market prices for their shares but in the fine print are told they will be paid off over 10 years. They miss out on dividends that would be paid out over that time.


Carrington Securities LP - which bought 2.2 million shares off DNZ shareholders below market price last August, is targeting TrustPower shareholders this time. Energy Securities LP targeted seven large companies shortly after Christmas and is now writing to DNZ shareholders.

TrustPower spokesman Graeme Purches said the offer was a "shocker".

"The worst case scenario is he purchases shares worth $7.17 for $9.40, pays the first instalment of 92c, and then Carrington gets wound up leaving the sellers with the loss of $6.25 per share and no future income from those shares," he said.

I will be blunt.

Bernard Whimp is NOT a leech.

Bernard Whimp is a lamprey eel.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Humour amongst the grief...

One of the "lighter" (the pune will become clear...) moments in the days following the Christchurch earthquake involved TV3 and John Campbell's "news and views" programe.

He had invited Ken Ring along to talk about the predicition of the Christchurch earthquake. (I hope that picks up the cache copy :) ) I openly confess that I missed the interview but did see Campbell's apology the following night ("...I let my personal feelings get between journalism and the audience..."). I have since heard selected portions of the interview courtesy of Mediawatch last night. To that extent I agree with JC's apology; Not good journalism, John.

Since then, Peter Griffen writing in the NBR, has come up with comparison between Ring and another - more famous - earthquake predictor.
The furore over John Campbell’s interview with earthquake predictor Ken Ring this week really exposed a strong anti-science vein running through New Zealand that even we here at Sciblogs, seasoned from hand to hand combat with the anti-vaccination lobby, homeopaths and evolution deniers were surprised at.

As one commenter on Sciblogs put it, Ken Ring’s predictions and his methods have a “pleasant intuitiveness” to them that makes them sound plausible and offer comfort in the face of hard science, often explained in complex, unemotional or even arrogant terms by scientists.

America's quake prediction panic attack
Well, this week’s turn of events reminded me of a 20 year-old Science article I was sent in the wake of September’s earthquake (hat tip to Lynley Hood) that paints some striking similarities between Ken Ring and another earthquake predictor who has long since passed, Dr Iben Browning.

Dr Browning was a self-taught climatologist with a Ph.D in zoology who in late 1989 predicted the serious likelihood of a major earthquake striking the Mississippi Valley during the first week of December 1990.

The media jumped on the prediction and widely publicised them. Why? According to Science:

Browning’s successful scare was based on classic ingredients: a predictor with apparently solid credentials, a prediction method that sounds scientific, and unsupported claims of previous prediction successes.

Does all of that have a familiar ring to it?

Well, it seems that Ring and his believers have really missed the mark!! Why?

Read here...

There are two dates in there... here, I'll give you a hand with them.
The time line provided by the internet forum contributor has sparked concern and criticism alike over the last week.

Feb 20 Nibiru between Jupiter and Mars orbits. 2.48 AU from Earth.

March 4 Nibiru breaks through ecliptic plane for earth change symptoms to increase dramatically. 2.261 AU from Earth.

March 15 Saturn, Nibiru, Earth, Sun, Mars, Jupiter and Uranus are in alignment creating gravity trench for volcano/earthquake/tidal events to escalate (first shaking of Hopi prophecy). First Conjunction. 2.1 AU from Earth.

So, more news next week.

Oh! "Lighter"? Choose between humour and setting fire...

Cultural differences...

I referred in the recent past to Tracey Barnett's column on Kiwis and their attitude to the Christchurch earthquake.

Here it is.

That makes me feel quite humble.


Sunday, March 06, 2011

Racist? Yes? No? Perhaps?

I had an interesting, if brief, debate with a mildly right-whinged character signing himself "PhilBest" in the course of which he opined that -

I strongly object to the stereotyping of white NZ-ers, as Habersham also helpfully pointed out. "We" are not "racists". "We" did NOT "defraud" Maori (except in minor cases provable in court). "We" abolished slavery before anyone else. White Europeans biggest problem now is that we are the world's worst suckers for a guilt trip, and a certain proportion of our number, the Neo-Marxist intellectuals, have re-written history to exploit this.

Last Saturday night on Maoritv was an NZ doco entitled "Lines in the Sand". Now, I very much doubt that someone like PhilBest would be in the market to watch Maoritv, and even less likely to choose something that had an element of knowledge and fact to it.

So, let me start by giving my wholehearted recommendation that should this programme ever appear on free-to-view television (sadly an unlikely prospect but stranger things have happened...) it should be a "MUST SEE".

It is a brief - to some it will be very selective - history of Maori "in" NZ since WW2. It is constructed around one person and her life, and she has her own special part in the drawing of lines in the sand. The idea behind the title comes from "the line in the sand"; the principle that such lines can not or must not be crossed; and the times when those lines are crossed; the consequences of the breaking of new ground.

It starts with an ever-so-brief glimpse at the 1978 hikoi for recognition of Maori as an NZ language, the 1981 Springbok rugby tour, the woman (sorry I can not remember her name) who broke all the rules with her "Kia ora" greeting on the official Post Office telephone lines, through to the 1999 All Black rugby tour of Britain.

Those with far better memories than I might remember why that particular tour gained an element of notoriety and it had absolutely nothing to do with the game or players. The traditional singing of the national anthems prior to the game caused an almost deathly hush when Hinewehi Mohi sang the NZ "God Defend New Zealand" entirely in Maori. While this was in part because very few there knew the (Maori) words, there was a far greater element of shock because NZ Rugby was (and still is) one of the most conservative sections of NZ society. It is not as if the dual-language version had never been used at similar (non-rugby) sports events. Netball for instance had been using the dual Maori-English version for about 5 years prior. If I recollect, it was first used at the Christchurch Commonwealth Games in 1974.

And it is at this point that I link back to PhilBest, and to Habersham.

What is the real state of the racial relationships between Maori and (European) pakeha? Is Habersham right? We are not a racist nation? I have to agree that at some levels he is right. There is a lot of intermarriage between the two sides; no question. There are a great many on both sides who work alongside of the other race with great respect for their knowledge and ability. The list goes on...


There are other aspects to the relationship between Maori and pakeha that are not as sweet. Likely the primary examples, certainly those most to the forefront in the past month or so, are Waitangi Day (for those who do not know, our equivalent of Independance Day), and the on-going debate over the ownership of foreshore and seabed. It does go a great deal deeper than that though.

One of the "lines in the sand" was Don Brash's State of the Nation speech to Orewa Rotary

"Two weeks ago, Don Brash delivered "the state of the nation" address to the Orewa Rotary. The main thrust of that address - certainly as far as the media and the public are concerned - involved the vexed question of Maori / Pakeha relationships and the long succession of government policies intended to "benefit Maori", to "favour the disadvantaged", the whole litany of political double speak that comes with pork barrel politics. Do not for a moment think that this is a one-sided position. It might seem that way to many given the special relationship between the Ratana Church and the Labour Party (who just at the moment happen to be "in charge"). In truth as many or more of these policies originated with the National governments as from Labour governments.

"So, we have Don Brash "rescuing the National Party" (which had been polling in the low 20% of total vote since the last election - effectively a rudder-less rowboat with only one oar) with a speech which promoted the idea of "one rule for all".
So, we get back to the "product differentiation" that Donny-come-lately Brash has successfully created. The "one rule for all" (I still know nothing about the rest of his speech, it is as if that is all that he said) idea seems to have taken hold quite nicely within the electorate. If you say it out loud, and often enough it has the kind of ring to it that appeals, in the same way as a referendum asking "Do you believe in Law and Order?" might.

Until today, when the Sunday paper has pointed out (in yet another "the king has no clothes" revelation) that what Donny Brash has said is "a xerox copy" of one Pauline Hanson in her electioneering for the "One Australia Party".

There is the connection I was missing.

What a frightening prospect it creates...

To a very great extent that debate is still rumbling deep in the seismic world of NZ politics. It surfaces (quite frequently as it happens) with minor tremors in the more right-winged part of our political world; as witnessed by the current debate on foreshore and seabed; the debate over the nature and extent of Maori representation in Parliament and in local government; and in the writing of many of those people whose ideas follow the same lines as PhilBest. And, as I say that, I am thinking as well "There is fault on both sides here."

The "one people" principle behind the debate is - as evidenced by PhilBest, but he is not guilty at all of its formulation in this guise - that it is "right" as long as "one people" are all like me. The same might be said of those on the Maori side who pick up on the "We are now one people" statement made at the signing of Te Tiriti. Strangely perhaps the statement of "He iwi tahi tatou" came not from the Maori side, but from Hobson ("As each chief signed, Hobson said "He iwi tahi tātou", meaning (in English) "We are now one people".[17]" Claudia Orange on the signing of the Treaty taken from Wikipedia). So, to that extent the attitudes of the pakeha side seem not to have progressed all that much from those of the paternalistic condescention of the early colonists. PhilBest in his comments presents other aspects of that same paternalism which is sad.

It reflects too the attitude of the colonists right up until WW1 that - as had happened so many times before - the "stone-age culture" of the Maori would die out in a fairly short period of time as the people themselves died out and the population dwindled. Micheal King wrote this period very well in his "Penguin History" which I recommended PhilBest should read.

A vox-poll in the street on the question "Were Maori deprived of their land and authority by theft or valid contract?" the response on the pakeha side would likely come out much in line with PhilBest's -

"We" did NOT "defraud" Maori (except in minor cases provable in court).

Again, I can not say he is entirely wrong. What did in fact happen has been well documented by those "left wing liberal historians trying to rewrite history"; the reason why I recommended Michael King to him and the likely interest of AU in PhilBest as Prof History...

For the truth is, to those who read and understand, quite different. When I was a teenager, Parihaka Lookout in Whangarei was just the name of a hill. There was no obvious statement of how the name was given, or why it coincided with that of a little known village in Taranaki. Since the 1970's, through the work of a large number of people including the likes of Michael King, Claudia Orange, the iwi of Taranaki, to the pop-group Herbs the name of Parihaka and its place in NZ history is generally well known.

Parihaka was a market garden village; much like Pukekohe has been to Auckland. The biggest differences being that Parihaka was owned and developed by the local Maori and they were actively and successfully exporting their products to Sydney. King and Orange have both documented the history of Parihaka in considerable detail. It is well worth the read.

This was not an isolated incident. In other parts, militia and mercenary troops (some of them Maori settling old scores) were engaged in similar tactics in order to "acquire" good farming land for settlers.

To come more up to date, I don't know if PhilBest would count the saga of the Raglan Golf Course as "fraud" or "theft". I guess that the difference really lies in one's point of view. Land taken prior to WW1 for "defence purposes" was granted to the Raglan Golf Club in the 1960's instead of being returned to its owners. It took some 35 years for compensation to be negotiated for the loss.
Personally, I count that as a theft, a misappropriation. It is not a fraud in the strict sense of the word.

Or perhaps he might like to consider the occupation of Bastion Point by Ngati Whatua. The Waitangi Tribunal short history is concise and easy to read - written for school projects - so PhilBest should have little difficulty understanding it. He might like to watch the television film of the eviction just to satisfy his curiosity in re-written history of the Maori and race relations in New Zealand.

Both of these events were featured as "lines in the sand".

The point here is that "racism" as many in this country see it - the discrimination of the Southern States of the US as the predominant example - does not exist. So to that extent I agree with PhilBest. There are no separate toilets for Maori, no laws requiring segregated seating in public transport.

On the other side, there is a very subtle form of racism. It is evidenced by the kind of statement in his opening salvo -

If the people of a stone age culture really does want to preserve their traditions, then they simply cannot expect to share in the benefits of modern life. MOST of the PEOPLE of any given race or culture, given the chance, vote with their feet, and "westernise" just as fast as they can. Radical spokesmen can deny this all they like, but it is true.

So, you can either be Maori and live in the stone age or you become pakeha and share in the "benefits" of our society.

It is a racism that borne of a very simplistic way of thinking. It paints in black and white; lithographic black and white and not grayscale. It parallels GWB's horrendous "you are either with us or against us"; "you are either pakeha or you are not part of our society".

So to those many whose ideas of our society and its inter-racial relationships parallel those of PhilBest (I can not single him out as he is but one of many), I have to say -

I do not, I can not, agree that racism is totally absent in this country.

It is not the overt racism upon which I believe PhilBest and his ilk base their belief.

It is the product of cultural paternalism, the belief that "we are better than you". It is a fundamental cultural arrogance.

It is the product of cultural deprivation; the 19th century belief that inferior cultures would in time "die out"; a process that was encouraged to hasten the demise of the inferior culture. (As an aside, by far the best illustration of this in action comes from Australia; the second best comes from South Africa.)