Thursday, December 24, 2009

La Carboneria

The stage is not red, but deep crimson
marked with memories etched into its face
Three chairs stand, green beneath grand portraits
evoking the power of those greats

If you look you can see how she stamps, the bailaor
where she stands, how she fills the stage
her rutted tracks command the corners
pentrating layers of paint and board

How many million hammer blows
made those grooves?

Before the middle chair is a basin
shallow on the right side, deeply scarred on the left
The cantaor stamps but does not stand there
except in wild moments, or to accept applause

On the right the guitarrista sits
the crimson is polished to a glossy shine
A cascade flows from the glowing corner
a plateau above the field of love and pain

Historical and timeless this flamenco
the story of a people in movement and song
expressions of tragedy and defiance that transport me
to whom they can never belong

Santa Cruz, Sevilla

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

London climate change demonstration on Saturday

I met up with green economist Derek Wall at Hyde Park to listen to speeches from Green Euro MP Caroline Lucas, the Bolivian Ambassador and others. Caroline was excellent, speaking about the Green New Deal, climate justice and the need for a grassroots direct action campaign to spur politicians to move beyond carbon markets to real action. All the greens seem to think she has a very good chance of winning Brighton in the next general election.

There was a relatively small crowd at Hyde Park but by the time we had reached Parliament it had swelled to a huge crowd. Newspaper estimates say 30,000 but as usual I think this underestimated. It was a most interesting juxtaposition marching through Mayfair, but the crowd was very well behaved. Police were few and discreet, having come under much criticism recently for their policing of demo's, especially since killing one man during a 'kettling' maneuver.

Some people have set up a Climate Camp in Trafagar Square apparently, so I plan to head down. In the meantime, here's some pics:

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Los Angeles

Behind enemy lines

Everywhere I go in Los Angeles I am reminded of America's essentially militarist nature. From the stealth bomber display in Exposition Park to the special rates at the circus for seniors, students and military personnel, the armed forces seem to underpin American society. And of course it is the young men and sometimes women of these Latino, black and poor white ghetttoes that I am bussing through that serve as the cannon fodder for that military machine.

The TV news over the last few nights has been dominated by three such soldiers, convicted last year of the summary execution in March 2007 of suspected guerillas in Iraq. CNN acquired videotapes of their interrogation, and the main thrust of their defence, and the media comment has been that the blame for those murders lies with the top brass. Not because they have been encouraging summary execution, mind you, but because soldiers in Iraq have recently been issued with instructions that when they detain suspected insurgents they need to provide some evidence of the alleged crime when they hand them over to be locked up: photos of the scene, eyewitness accounts, phyical evidence and things of that nature. Criticism has rightly (if lightly) touched on the lack of training on how to collect evidence and the reasonableness of expecting soldiers in the field to collect evidence of criminal activity in the middle of a war zone. This, of course, is the consequence of refusing to treat your opponents as POWs instead of criminals. However, the greater focus has been on the frustration of soldiers who detain Iraqis they suspect of being involved in attacks on US troops, only to see them released and back on the streets some time later. The few proponents for the policy given a voice on mainstream TV reply that you just can't lock people up indefinitely without actual evidence of criminal activity – although it need not be to the standard of 'beyond reasonable doubt' it would seem.

“When is the dividing line between armed conflict and murder crossed?” CNN asks rhetorically, arguing that it is understandable for US soldiers to march detainees into a gully and shoot them in the back of the head if they think that they are likely to be released if taken in for detention. They cite the release of some 75,000 of the approximately 86,000 people detained (roughly from memory) as evidence that the frustration is valid and that the evidence gathering policy is too onerous. The possibility that those people were released because there was little reason to think they were actually involved in attacks on US troops, beyond being in the vicinity when panicked troops were rounding people up, did not come up much in discussion.

The interesting thing as an observer was to see the studied avoidance by those both for and against the new policy of the principle underlying problem. These people are not criminals engaged in violent crime, in the normal sense of the word. They are guerillas fighting a foreign occupying army with whatever pitiful weapons they have at their disposal. Whatever you think of Saddam Hussein, Al Qaeda or the tactics being used, that is the essential reality. You either set up concentration camps for vast numbers of civilians on the basis that they are involved in or support the insurgency (a fine tradition begun by the British fighting Boers in South Africa and perfected by German and more recently Serbian forces in Europe) or you figure a way to get the hell out with as little loss of life and face as possible. I guess that is where the US administration is at, but CNN et al have not quite caught up with the play.

Why do museums make my legs ache?

Its weird – I can walk for a reasonable length of time on the street or on a track, but wandering round a museum or art gallery for a couple of hours just kills me. Fascination battled fatigue and aching limbs today at the California African American Museum where we wandered a small but engaging display of African American history in California. Some very fine art works by Faith Ringgold and Willaim Pajaud particularly moved me, as did the photographs, film, music and spoken poetry covering the bebop and beatnik movements. The sheer creative outpouring and entrepreneurialism of black americans in those periods was inspiring, as they invented new art forms and musical styles and established and took control of their own venues. All this was brought to a rapid and seemingly deliberate end as the city decided to 'assist' poor black people by bulldozing whole blocks of Fillmore in San Fransisco, the area at the centre of this vibrant cultural spring, and relocating people to the suburbs.

A particular gem for me was coming across the name of Bob Kaufman. I've read a bit of Ginsberg and Kerouac, but hadn't heard of Kaufman until today. What I heard of his work was wonderful, although much of his poetry was spontaneous public performance and never recorded. Apparently much of what survives is due to his wife hurriedly writing down his words as he orated at a restaurant or bar or in private, although a cache of writings was found miraculously preserved in the attic of a building that burned down, although the entire place was otherwise destroyed. Great stuff, and a museum worth visiting.

We also visited the Getty Centre, an architecturally very interesting space with an impressive collection of works. Poor Pirimaia found it hard going (tips on how to make visits to art galleries more interesting for 6 years olds most welcome) but after spending over an hour on the bus to get there we weren't inclined to rush. In any case the collection was worth spending time on, ranging from painting and pastels / watercolours to tapestry and French decorative arts of the 1700's to sculture and a guide to forging bronze. The exhibitions richly demonstrated how European art developed over the last few hundred years, although without delving into contemporary work. My only critical comment is that it was a shame to visit yet another gallery which seems to be based on the theory that only European heritage art is worthy of collection and display. We largely suffer from the same myopia in New Zealand, and although do we have a heightened awareness of Maori artforms since Te Maori we still seem to ignore the rich artistic traditions of the vast majority of the world.

Monday, November 23, 2009

More on the ETS, the Maori Party and Hone Harawira

There is blood in the water. The emission trading scheme now looks like nothing more than a bait ball for hungry sharks, and the feeding frenzy is on. The National / Maori Party scheme will hand around $110 billion from New Zealand taxpayers to businesses while doing nothing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Federated Farmers, not content with the bulk of the fishy proceeds, wants to vacuum up the whole damn lot. They are calling for the Government to scrap the entire scheme without offering a proposal they would support, other than taxpayers picking up 100% of their tab. With all this, it's hard to blame corporate iwi leaders for wanting to get a feed as well. They are currently negotiating (we hear) to plant native trees on conservation land and grab the carbon credits.

The problem arises, of course, because the Government's proposed changes to the emission trading scheme are so contrary that they subsidise the polluters – farmers and industry – and punish the foresters. Maori forestry owners are doubly penalised because many of their forests were planted before the Kyoto agreement was signed and so don't get carbon credits. It doesn't seem impossible to come up with a scheme that actually reduces emissions and treats (pre and post Kyoto) forests fairly, but both National and the Maori Party seem more interested in getting special treatment for their respective powerful lobbies than doing something for the planet.

This has been described in The Guardian (UK) as the worlds “most shameless two fingers to the global community” from “a country that sells itself round the world as 'clean and green'”. New Zealand got a pretty sweet deal in the Kyoto agreement, agreeing to hold rather than reduce our rate of greenhouse gas emissions. We have continued to plead for special treatment ever since, even though we have one of the highest per capital emission rates in the world. Expectations on what will happen at next month's climate change negotiations in Copenhagen vary, but I think that New Zealand can expect to be shamed and embarassed. We certainly deserve it.

Which brings me to Hone Harawira. I've always seen 'motherf***er' as a very literal term describing those who despoil the Earth. Reading his email I don't think he was making a statement about all white people, and while I don't know if he uses that term the same way, it does actually describe quite a lot of colonial history. His words were rash and unwise, but may not have been so shocking if people more fully understood our own recent past, such as the 'scorched earth' policies inflicted in Te Urewera or the bloody invasions of the Waikato.

That's why I can't help feeling that there is more to the Maori Party's attempt to oust him than meets the eye. It has been obvious for some time that Hone is uneasy about the Maori Party's relationship with National and their voting record on things like the emission trading scheme. However, stories have been circulated in the party that Hone is actually upset because he didn't get a ministerial post. What is surprising is that a number of people seem to actually believe it. It looks suspiciously like a deliberate attempt to undermine his credibility in the party, prior to attempting to remove him.

Hone is almost certainly the leadership's most challenging MP, but it would be a grave mistake to think that ousting him would solve the Party's problems. A number of Maori Party activists are also finding the party's current direction difficult to swallow and might view Hone's departure as proof that there is no place left for them in the Maori Party. The Party has always had a difficult challenge in balancing heterogenous Maori interests, and now seems in danger of forgetting that sweet fruits come from healthy roots.

(from myy Waikato Times column 20 November 2009)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Telling it like it is about meat

Lord Stern, author of the most comprehensive economic analysis of the impacts of climate change and former chief economist of the World Bank has told The Times that people need to become vegetarian to combat climate change.

Some people have been saying this for years. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation published a report in 2006 called 'Livestock's Long Shadow', which states that the meat industry is “one of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems" and that "urgent action is required to remedy the situation". Pastoral farming contributes around 18% of global GHG emissions - more than transport, and is probably the biggest sectoral contributor to water pollution. In NZ, of course, pastoral farming contributes around 50% of our GHG emissions.

To put that into perspective, Gidon Eshel and Pamela Martin of the University of Chicago have calculated that a vegan driving an SUV has a smaller carbon footprint than a meat eater on a bicycle.

Seen in this light, the claim that NZ farmers 'feed the world' is really a bunch of disingenuous crap. Intensively growing animal protein is enormously profitable, but is ecologically destablising and destructive. It also produces a fraction of the food that growing plants would produce. In my view New Zealand needs start planning how to move to a more plant based economy rather than continue to argue that we can't cut GHG emissions (or improve water quality) because there are very limited ways to reduce emissions from livestock. I have a very effective method: reduce their numbers.

This is heresy in this country, and in the UK too, it seems. The meat industry has reacted with outrage and disbelief to Sterns suggestions. Kind of like the way the British arms industry reacted to the campaign to ban land mines.

Good on Stern - I admire his willingness to speak up on this very sensitive issue. Interestingly he didn't go so far as to suggest veganism. I don't know about the UK, but here in Aotearoa the dairy industry is a lot more of an environmental problem than meat. Still, its a very good start.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Unified African delegation at Copenhagen to demand reparations

From The African Executive:

The 12th Ordinary Session of the African Union Assembly of Heads of State and Government held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia adopted a historic decision on climate change the key elements of which include:

a) That the global carbon trading mechanisms that are expected to emerge from international negotiations on climate change should give Africa an opportunity to demand and get compensation for the damage to its economy caused by global warming and underlines the fact that despite contributing virtually nothing to global warming Africa has been one of the primary victims of its consequences.

b) That Africa needs to be represented by one delegation, which is empowered to negotiate on behalf of all Member States, with the mandate to ensure that resource flow to Africa is not reduced.

Fantastic. A single African delegation whose mission its to hold to account all those nations that continue to spew CO2 into the atmosphere with virtually no regard for the enormous number of deaths this is causing and will cause in the poorest of countries. GO AFRICA!

Article on Sue Bradford in todays Herald on Sunday

Matt Nippert has written an article about Sue Bradford in todays Herald on Sunday that is rather predictable. The only interesting element from my point of view is the possibility of Sue running for the Auckland council. I had heard the rumour before, but thought it unlikely because of her comments about returning to grassroots politics. In the article Sue appears careful to say positive but non committal things about the possibility, so it looks like I may have been wrong. She would certainly be a great person to have on there and I sincerely hope she does get elected if she decides to stand.

I also make a brief appearance, when Matt has me commenting that the Greens internal structure and semantic peculiarities (calling the party whip a 'musterer') have led to a lack of cohesion. This is not actually what I said. In fact I do think that the Greens message has been somewhat incoherent for a number of years, but as a result of the inability (or unwillingness) to operate as a team not because of its structure. It has been more a question of leadership style IMO.

The section 59 campaign was a good example. Matt quotes an ex Green staffer calling it a propaganda disaster, and I agree. Sue won the legislative battle, but at significant cost to the Greens and Labour. Some may say that Green voters don't support baby bashing anyway but this misses the point - I met many people at the time who were potential Green voters who were confused and unsure about the legislation. Some of them were fiercely anti-smacking, but they were unsure about how the law would affect ordinary parents. Leaving it to police discretion was not a satisfactory answer - especially if they had personal experience of police prejudice or racism - and to make that answer just sounded reckless to them.

If the Greens had taken a collective approach to both strategising and delivering on that strategy, I think it would have been a far superiour campaign. Instead I recall being brushed off when I asked how to respond to some of the concerns that had been expressed to me - what might have been an opportunity to collectively think about messaging was seen, I suspect, as irksome negativity. MPs usually campaigned in isolation and Sue is particularly hard to shift once her mind is decided - this, of course, is part of her strength.

Matt is a good journalist, but I felt that he avoided getting into a deeper layer of Green politics and a more substantial discussion of where the tensions are in favour of reiterating the same superficial dualisms of Sue the radical and the Green drift rightwards. I for one am uncomfortable with purported media quotes from Russel saying that the role of the Greens is to save capitalism from itself, but rightwards is not the inevitable trajectory of the Greens. The green alternative to the materialism of socialism is not the materialism of capitalism, but something much more profound.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Speech on the State Terror Raids - 2 years on

From my speech to open the 'Explosive Expression' art auction to raise funds for the defendants, Thistle Hall, Wellington 17 October 2009

I don't think it is necessary to recite the events of 15th October 2007. The details are well covered on the 'October 15th solidarity' website. But what I would like to do is reflect for a moment on the implications for us today, two years later. These are well illustrated by the main story in todays Dominion Post. The cover has a huge article with photo, based on a “rare interview with a serving member of the Armed Offenders Squad”. In case you missed it, there is also the whole of D1 and D2 - the front page and second pages of the Insight section. This coverage highlights the increasingly difficult objective that the police now have in relation to these charges, which is to come out at the end of these trials without more serious embarrassment.

You will recall that the case began with a triumphant trumpeting of how police has busted a major terror ring. That has now been reduced to some illegal firearms charges, although there has been a late attempt to construct some flimsy 'criminal gang' charges. We are yet to see what evidence the police will even be able to bring to court. And now, just as the country seemed to be forgetting all about this embarrassing case, the October 15th solidarity committee has pu tit all back on national TV! So clearly, these article in the DomPost are not a coincidence. They are a police fluff piece, a propaganda fight back.

The other police objective is to drain as much of the resources as they can from the activist community. Every activist in the room has seen this tactic before. Police have unlimited funds to take prosecutions – not just for the legal team but for police appearances in court, transport and all of the machinery of the legal system. The defendants, on the other hand, appear in court at a huge personal cost, both financial and otherwise. They have to get to hearings, they have to accommodate themselves and feed themselves while they stay in Auckland, they have to transport themselves to and from court, plus there is the time and the enormous amount of emotional energy burned up in these cases. The depositions hearings recently concluded took about 5 weeks, and the trials will take much longer. That is why is event is so crucial, both in terms of demonstrating solidarity and support for the defendants and in helping in a practical, financial way. The money raised tonight will not go to pay lawyers, but will be spent on meeting those basic needs.

The second thing todays paper illustrates is the continued collusion between the police and the mainstream media, particularly Fairfax. When the arrests were first made public, I clearly recall the general public mood being one of suspended disbelief. It all seemed a bit unlikely and people were waiting to see what the evidence looked like. Even the general accusations of guns, napalm and terror training manuals being flung around by Helen Clarke and others did not really convince people. The illegal publication by the Dominion Post and other Fairfax media outlets of highly selective, misleading and sensationalist extracts of surveillance transcripts changed all that. Even some people with a history of supporting activism were moved to make public comments hostile to the defendants. That those extracts were unattributed only served to tar all the defendants with those allegations.

When the Solicitor General prosecuted them for contempt of court over those extracts the High Court decided in favour of Fairfax. The Court said that Fairfax should have instead been charged by the police for breaching both court suppression orders and those provisions of the Crime Act against disclosure of intercepted communications, stating that “we are at a loss to understand why these breaches were not prosecuted”. I'm not at a loss. They were not prosecuted because those leaks benefited the police. I do not have any evidence to prove that the police actually gave Fairfax the nod, but it seems likely to me. Today's articles are simply an extension of that cosy symbiotic relationship.

We can take these articles as proof of a successful week! The State terror raids have been put back on top of the public's mind. The initiative has been seized and regained. A creative and imaginative response to attempted State intimidation has been effected. Solidarity and trust have been enhanced. In supporting this auction tonight you are supporting the defendants and their communities. You are also supporting the right to do activism. You are defending the space to do activism. We need that space now more than ever before, so please bid generously tonight. Bid extravagantly. Bid irresponsibly. It is your civic duty!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Is Keith's republican bill avoiding the real issue?

I would love us to become a republic. Watching some historical films about the English monarchy and the parasites that surround them has re-inspired a powerful republican sentiment in me. It is not that I dislike the Windsors, but they are the result of more than a thousand years of inbreeding and (sometimes fatally) hostile family dynamics. Who on earth would want them as our Heads of State?

If Green MP Keith Locke gets his way, we will all get a chance to vote on it. His private members bill – the Head of State Referendum Bill – is set to be debated in Parliament and, if it passes, would force a public referendum to decide between three options for our Head of State: keeping the Queen; someone elected by the people; or someone selected by 75% of Parliament. If no option gets more than 50% of the vote, a second (run-off) referendum will be held featuring only the two most popular options.

I don't want the bill to pass. I do very much want it to pass a first reading and go to select committee. The people of New Zealand deserve an opportunity to have a say on whether we want royals or not, and the select committee public process would be a good start. In addition, it will spark a national debate in a constitutionally illiterate nation. That status is not surprising since most school don't teach civics education or even much New Zealand history, but it is shameful.

For all that, New Zealand will not, and should not, make such an important constitutional change by way of a private members bill. Keith is well intentioned but his bill is deeply flawed. It is a hasty fix – like slapping a plaster on an acid burn. What we need is slower and more considered debate, because the issue goes well beyond whose face is on the coins. The Queen (acting through the Governor General) can dissolve Parliament or refuse to assent to legislation for example, but she does not act because to do so would put her position in jeopardy. An elected President may feel that they have a democratic mandate to use those powers, causing a huge shift in our careful constitutional balancing act.

More importantly it is the constitutional thinking that underpins the monarchy that needs challenging – the peculiar British notion of the indivisibility of sovereignty. Many nations recognise that different functions of sovereignty can be exercised in different places – hence the sovereign status of various Indian nations as Indigenous people, and of individual States in the USA, or the very localised decision-making in Swiss Cantons. This is also what the Treaty of Waitangi promises in article 2 – the tino rangatiratanga (autonomy) of hapu. Keith's bill says that Treaty obligations would remain unchanged, but this ignores the bigger possibility to develop a constitution that truly reflects the partnership foreseen in the Treaty and our place in the Pacific Triangle. The highly centralised notions of power that dominate New Zealand political thinking are great for the rich and powerful but act against the interests of both Maori and Pakeha communities striving to maintain social and ecological stability in the face of the corporate steamroller. Just ask the people trying to stop iron sand mining or electricity transmission lines.

David Nielsen, in the 'Radical Rethink' lecture series run by Continuing Education at Waikato University spoke about possible responses to our environmental and social problems, and referred to the need for a 'cosmopolitan democracy' that recognises and empowers different levels of governance at a global, regional, national and local level, but whose fundamental principle was based on supporting and encouraging local autonomy. That is where we need to take the republican debate, in my view. Swapping the Queen for some other toff means nothing to me.

(from my Waikato Times column 16 October 2009)

NB I am speaking at the 'Radical Rethink' lecture series on 27th October at 6.30pm, AG.30, Gate 8

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Latest ? Nigerian scam

I got an email from my friend the other day saying that he was on a contract in Africa working on HIV and youth education issues across three countries, and had had his bag taken with all his passport, money, credit card etc. He was getting temporary travel papers from the embassy, but it would take about 4 days and he owed about $2500 to the hotel and had no money for food. Could I transfer some money and he would pay me back when he got home?

Well, I've had a few people try to scam me but this was from a friend who might well be in this position. I've been stranded in foreign countries before under similar circumstances and both know how desperate a person feels, and also that the story sounds quite feasible eg the embassy in my experience provides papers but won't help with money.

It read a little stilted, but maybe stress?

Anyway I decided I'd better ring his family and see what they knew and check out Western Union, which is how he asked me to transfer the money. The woman at the Travelex, when I told her the story, said that I should beware - she had had another similar case a month before and it had turned out to be a scam. Someone had used an internet station somewhere and their webmail log-in had been cracked and used to access that persons full contact list.

I rang my friend's mobile, and he answered from his house near Wellington. It wasn't his email, he assured me, although he was aware of the problem and was trying to get hotmail to sort it out.

I almost fell for it, because it appeared to be from someone I knew, so beware. Anyway now I'm seeing how long I can string my new Nigerian friends along for.

Monday, September 28, 2009

My thoughts on Sue Bradfords resignation

Sue Bradford announced last week that she is leaving Parliament, citing disappointment at losing the co-leadership contest. It's an honest statement and she is to be admired for that. She did not add that she is unhappy at the direction the Green Party is headed, but there is no doubt that she would have steered a very different course from that intended by the current leadership. Perhaps she saw little place for herself in the new, unaligned, Green Party.

Sue was a sometimes controversial figure, but there is no doubt that she has played a key role in the early development of the Parliamentary Greens. She has also played an important role in Parliament, but that is all about to change. Despite her brave face, life after Parliament will be hard to adjust to. Once gone, she is unlikely to get any support from the Greens during this difficult transition, and I hope that her personal support system is strong. She will need it.

Her stated desire to get back to the grassroots is most welcome. The Green Party has often been criticised for sucking the energy out of the grassroots movement and expending it on getting people elected. Green MPs are useful to have in the House, but the Green Party does need to consider how it returns nutrients to the soil from whence it sprung. Shedding leaves from the top is one way of doing that. With her considerable knowledge base and extraordinary capacity for work, Sue will certainly build some humus in the community. I wish her well.

The question of where this leaves the Party is interesting. With both Sue and Jeanette stepping down early the Greens caucus will soon include David Clendon and Gareth Hughes. David is a small business advisor and works with the Sustainable Business Network. He has the potential to build much stronger links with small business and new business and this, as I have said before, is crucial to enlarging a uniquely Green constituency, one that is so poorly served, practically and ideologically, by both Labour and National.

Gareth is a young and creative climate change campaigner. He will strengthen important connections with the growing movement around climate change, especially its energetic and passionate youth activists. He will also bring experience with e-organising and campaigning methods that will help cement the Greens reputation as the most innovative and tech-savvy party political campaigners. The crucial issue will be whether the Green caucus is capable of supporting him well in an environment that is hostile to young people and innovative thinking. It will be a test of the co-leadership's ability to create a strong team that looks after its players, something the party has not really managed to achieve in the past.

Along with new MPs Kennedy Graham and Kevin Hague, David and Gareth signify a change in the Green Party's political orientation and flavour. The Old Left element of the party, once so influential, will be scarcely represented once Sue has left. Keith Locke, considered by many to be the archetypical communist, is actually nothing of the sort. While he is the oldest member of the Green caucus, his mental youthfulness and his sense of empathy have prevented him from becoming sufficiently doctrinaire. With this new influx, the Green Party is likely to become a more emphatically 'green-wing' party than has been possible in the past.

Does this mean that the Green Party will become less radical? I doubt it. The Green Party, for all its hype, has never been particularly radical. Sue has enjoyed a well deserved reputation for militancy, but this is hardly the same thing. Militancy is a strategic position. Radicalism is about the fundamental goals, and whether the solutions being offered address the root causes of the problems at hand. Sue Bradford is known and respected for her work around poverty, but her solutions have largely focussed on such things as benefit rises, workers rights and more state support for the community sector. These are worthy and important goals, but State munificence and higher wages cannot substitute for genuine social and ecological connectedness, nor for reducing resource consumption.

The departure that does threaten to deradicalise the Greens, in my view, is Jeanette Fitzsimons. Although she is not militant, she possesses a dangerous mind (dangerous, that is, to the status quo). She has spent considerable time thinking about what the fundamental causes of our ecological and social disintegration are, and the contradictions and difficulties we face in attempting to address them. Of course articulating this in public is a risky business for politicians and while Jeanette was not always effective at painting a broad green vision in the public mind, it always looked like she saw one. It may not be the role of a political party to advocate truly radical solutions, but unless the Greens continue to think about them they risk being shipwrecked on the shoals of immediacy.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Fear factor politics and the Maori Party

Parliament must have seemed like a bad episode of Fear Factor this week, at least for Maori Party climate change spokesperson Rahui Katene. Following an excellent performance in the first stunt – the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) review – she found herself having to eat a maggot infested corpse without vomiting for stage two. I don't think that it is to her credit that she succeeded.

I doubt she was alone in wanting to vomit at the Maori Party's support for the new ETS. It must have been an interesting caucus meeting that made the decision to support watering down New Zealand's climate change policies, and I doubt it was made by consensus. When the Maori Party caucus decided to take a position contrary to numerous public statements by Katene, including the insightful comments that she wrote for the ETS review, it looked from outside like a political back-stab. It would seem that the mana of the Maori Party's relationship with National has become more important than the mana of their own MPs.

The scramble to pull her minority report from the ETS review, after the report had already been voted and agreed, just added to the humiliation. It would be pointless to speculate whether she was told to pull it, or whether it was her own decision once she realised that her position was being undermined, but the fact that it was unsuccessful did not help. It would seem that it was during leader to leader discussions that the Party agreed to support an ETS full of everything they had opposed in the past. If that is the case, the more interesting question is whether the co-leaders were unaware of the positions she had staked out in the report and in media interviews, or whether they just didn't care.

The internal dynamics of the Maori Party may be interesting, in a reality TV kind of way, but far more significant is what this will actually do to the environment. The answer is worse than nothing – it will continue to spur the growth in New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions. The whole point of an ETS, or carbon tax as the Maori Party has said they prefer, is to get the 'price signals' right. Under our current economic system it is often cheaper and easier to pollute than to be clean. Proper price signals make it cheaper to not pollute, by incorporating the cost of pollution into products and services.

The ETS being put forward by National and the Maori Party will not do this. While it does finally put a price on carbon from next year, it limits it to $25 a tonne, ensuring that it remains ineffectively low. In addition, for the first two years big polluters only need to pay for half of their emissions. Most importantly, the scheme will be based on the intensity of emissions, something previously opposed strongly by the Maori Party, with good reason. An intensity based scheme may drive more carbon efficient production, but will almost certainly increase the overall level of emissions. It's like trying to overcome alcohol addiction by moving to spirits – a more efficient way to cirrhosis of the liver.

The government is counting on increased forestry plantings to counter our high emission levels, but the even further delayed entry of New Zealand's biggest emitter – agriculture – makes it likely that yet more forests will be cleared for dairy farms. The price cap on carbon also makes forestry less attractive. The crazy thing is that any gains the Maori Party won for poor people from their about-face would be better paid for by fully charging polluters and using that money. A potential win – win has been turned into another loss for the earth.
(from my Waikato Times column 18 September 2009)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

more on dogs and culture

You have to laugh when Pakehas tells Tongans to respect the culture of New Zealand, especially when it comes to eating dogs. Putting a dog into an earth oven is part of the culture of this land. This is, after all, Polynesia.

Don't get me wrong – I'm personally no more likely to eat a kuri than I am a pig, but when the Minister for Agriculture, and meat farmer, David Carter gets self righteous about Paea Taufa (humanely) knocking off his pitbull terrier and cooking it, I can't help snorting aloud. Maybe the Minister is trying to ingratiate himself with the animal rights people in a bid to pave the way for resuming live sheep exports, but what a bunch of arse. Actually I reckon that Mr Taufa should be commended.

Not so much for preempting the potentially serious problem of a dog that was trying to bite the neighbours, although that alone should give the hysterical cause to pause. No, I think that in this time of recession and ecological crisis, with the NZ economy dependent on an commodity producing agricultural sector that is (with a few notable exceptions) environmentally reckless if not vandalistic, and as we accelerate into the last few years of the Oil Age, any tendencies towards self sufficiency should be encouraged. For incorrigible carnivores, dog eating may be the way of the future.

Actually guinea pigs and rabbits are probably a better source of meat. They can be kept on small areas of lawn and are far more efficient at converting grass to protein than cows or sheep. They are cheap to buy, easy to breed, and (I imagine) simple to dispatch. And as well as the economic and environmental arguments, I reckon there is a moral question too. No one should eat meat who isn't prepared to kill the animal and butcher it themself.

I don't imagine the people down at Turangawaewae preparing the feasts for the coronation week are squeamish about butchering. Mind you, I don't imagine they are eating guinea pig either. Lots of ordinary pigs, cows and sheep, though, will be going through those kitchens as workers toil to feed the thousands of people descending on Ngaruawahia to pay their respects to King Tuheitia. I suspect that David Carter will not be there, honouring the culture of New Zealand. In fact most Pakeha New Zealanders will be only dimly aware, at best, of this major event in the Maori calendar.

So whenever I hear Pakeha complain about dog eating, or burkas or people squatting on the lav, or object to hearing foreign languages spoken around then, I can't help reflecting on the fact that after more than 160 years of us being in this country, most of us have only the most perfunctory idea about Maori culture, Maori language, Maori values or Maori aspirations. We live in a parallel universe, it seems, yet one so close to us that we bump shoulders with it every day.

Part of the reason, I suspect, is because most Pakeha don't really see ourselves as part of an ethnic group with a culture of our own. We see culture and ethnicity as words to describe other people's quirky ways and how they differ from the norm, as defined by us. Think 'ethnic food' and it is more likely to be dog that springs to mind than lamb and mint sauce. Maybe that's why the whole Maori Flag debate is so important. In some ways recognising one is an easy symbolic gesture for the Government, but it's a powerful one all the same. It says we are not one homogeneous people, and we are no longer scared of that basic truth.

from my Waikato Times column 22 August 2009

Friday, July 31, 2009

IPCCC doesn't stand for Ignoring the People at the Climate Change Consultations

Governments are not very good at asking the people what they want. Understandable I guess – they don't do it often (triennially) and they don't really think that they should have to.

By people I don't mean corporate lobbyists, of course. I've never been sold on the idea that a company is a legal person. If they were people, even the Australian banks in this country would be paying tax. Anyway the corporations that fill the political parties' election coffers always get their say, regardless of which way the election swings.

No, by people I mean the ones the whole political and economic system is supposedly for. Politicians have this strange notion that because they can cobble together a majority of MPs in Parliament they have a democratic mandate to enact all their policies, even the obscure ones. Actually most voters probably have only a vague knowledge (at best) of party policy, beyond the headline issues. For people who only see a choice between Coke or Pepsi (as Russel Norman famously called Labour and National), why bother to compare all the food additives?

Now I'm not suggesting that we should all be consulted to death on every policy. In fact the select committee process is pretty good for getting people's views on most issues before Parliament (or would be if our schools taught civics education so that people knew what a select committee actually is). But I do think the public should get a say on the big questions. By which I don't just mean sex, drugs and smacking children.

What I mean is things like New Zealand's 2020 greenhouse gas emissions target. 2020 is only a decade away, but the implications of that target are going to be significant for the next hundred years. Climate change is a watershed issue with a dividing line, in my view, is between those that cannot imagine anything much different from the status quo, and those who recognise that the status quo is a dead end, down which we are rapidly accelerating.

So I congratulate the Government on holding public meetings to talk about climate change. At the Hamilton one I saw a clear majority for a strong, I would say responsible, target. It could also be described as the most scientifically defensible target. Unfortunately the Minister for Climate Change Issues, Nick Smith, has already misread the economics and stated that reducing our emissions by 40% , as is being called for at public meetings, would cost NZ about $15 billion a year, or around $3000 per person. This is simply not true.

The NZIER report he is quoting does not actually say that. In fact it contains so many arbitrary assumptions that it does not say much of anything that is informative. First of all, it assumes that whatever international commitment we adopt, the Government won't change any policies to help us meet them and that our actual greenhouse gas emissions will reduce by the same rate regardless. This means that the estimated cost differences between weak and responsible commitments are based on the price of simply buying emission permits on the world market.

Secondly it assumes that regardless of the cost of buying carbon permits, no new technologies will develop and no more forests will be planted. This is an unbelievable assumption for an economic analysis to make and deeply flawed. Thirdly, it uses a 'worst case scenario' of $200 per tonne of carbon to work out the costs at a 40% commitment, but uses $100 per tonne to work out the costs for smaller commitments. When these three factors are combined, the report looks intellectually dishonest but very useful for propaganda purposes.

It is worth examining what it would cost to reduce our emission by 40% from 1990 levels, and how it could be most cost effectively achieved. But lets not fall for the old lie that There Is No Alternative (to mugging our grandchildren).

(from my Waikato Times column 31 jULY 2009)

Friday, July 3, 2009

Medical marijuana bill defeat an indictment on NZ MP's

I have a friend who wakes up every morning and wants to vomit. Most of the day he wants to vomit. Food often makes him actually vomit, and he sometimes vomits blood. The doctors have given him some pills for the nausea but they are hard to keep down. There is one very effective inhalant that his specialist has recommended, but he is not allowed to use it.

Another friend is tetraplegic. That's like paraplegic but with all four limbs incapacitated. He lives in constant pain. The doctors gave him morphine and other pain killers, but he won't use them because he becomes like a zombie when he does. He doesn't have much quality of life, as you can imagine, so anything that gives him some is very welcome. He found a herbal remedy that takes the edge off his pain, makes it manageable and gives him some get-up-and-go. Apparently a lot of people with spinal injuries use it, but when my friend grew some the police arrested him and a judge locked him in Mount Eden prison.

The medicine in both these cases is called cannabis. Whatever people think about the recreational use of cannabis, I find it difficult to believe that anyone thinks sick people should suffer needlessly. Yet they are. Many sick people around New Zealand have tried everything the doctors can offer to no effect, and they know for a fact that cannabis is the only thing that works. They are not asking for a Pharmac subsidy. They are just asking us to please stop arresting them.

This week the Parliament was given a chance to vote on a proposal to do that. It would have allowed sick people to use cannabis for specified illnesses, if they had the written support of their doctor or a specialist. Metiria Turei's private member's bill provided for verified medical cannabis users to register with the Medical Officer of Health and police and get a Medical Cannabis Identification Card. This would exempt them from criminal prosecution for cannabis use, so long as they abided by the conditions.

The bill could be tidied up I'm sure. Police would have comments about potential snags and loopholes, doctors might disagree about the list of specific illnesses. That is what the select committees process is for. Unfortunately no one will get a say because Parliament voted overwhelmingly to keep prosecuting sick people for therapeutic use of cannabis.

Its hard to say why. The debate was full of the usual drug hysteria but I know for a fact that most MPs don't believe those old tired lies. I have had too many tell me privately that they agree with allowing medical use, even as they indicated that they would have to vote against it. No matter how necessary, humanitarian and cautious the bill, they don't want to be seen to be “pro-drugs”.

I can't resist commenting that this doesn't prevent them attending drug glamourising events such as the Air New Zealand Wine Awards. Drug samples are handed out with abandon at Beehive functions, and Associate Minster of Health Peter Dunne has even received money from multinational drug dealing company British American Tobacco (I'm sure it wasn't a bribe because it was only 100 pounds and surely no politician could be bought that cheaply).

That's a diversion though, because this particular debate is not about the usual drug hypocrisy. It is simply about the State denying very sick people the right to use their medicine. Double standards frustrate me, but the disinterested and vicious cruelty of New Zealand's MPs this week has angered and disgusted me.

(from my Waikato Times column, 3/7/09)

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Bain found not guilty - how about something for the rest of the wrongfully imprisoned

David Bain has just been found not guilty for the 1994 murder of his family in Dunedin– a series of killings he was convicted for in 1995. He spent 13 years in prison and it was only after a massive and dedicated effort by supporters, in particular Joe Karam, that his initial conviction was quashed and he was free on bail to be retried.

There is a lot of speculation about whether he will get compensation. I'm not going to add my thoughts. What interests me is the many other people in prison for crimes they did not commit. Former High Court judge Sir Thomas Thorp, in his 2006 report into miscarriages of justice in New Zealand, suggested that as many as twenty people might be wrongfully imprisoned for serious offenses in New Zealand. He cited work in 2002 by Bruce MacFarlane, the then Deputy Attorney General of Manitoba, on what factors make a miscarriage of justice more likely.

MacFarlane listed four predisposing factors: public pressure for a conviction, unpopular defendants, lawyers turning the process of trial into a game, and noble cause corruption - that is, persuading witnesses to alter their testimony, or planting evidence, because police genuinely believe that the person charged is guilty.

He also listed eight direct causes. These were: eyewitness misidentification; police mishandling of the police investigation; inadequate disclosure by the prosecution; unreliable scientific evidence; using criminals as witnesses, such as jailhouse informants; inadequate defence work; false confessions; and misleading circumstantial evidence. He said that these factors are present throughout the Commonwealth jurisdictions. There is no doubt that they are present in a number of cases in New Zealand. Personally I believe that the convictions of Peter Ellis and John Barlow also need to be reviewed, but to go further, I am convinced that Scott Watson is entirely innocent of the killing of Ben Smart and Olivia Hope in the Marlborough Sounds in 1997.
Whether he will get a chance to show it is another matter. Wrongful convictions are incredibly difficult to overturn, because of the design of our appeal system. Once a jury has convicted, appeals can only be, by and large, on points of law. There are good reasons for this, but it does mean that substantive problems do not get picked up in some cases.

The last resort in such cases is a petition to the Governor-General for a retrial or for a pardon. These are handled internally by the Ministry of Justice and the process is ad hoc and entirely unsatisfactory. That's why justice Thorp's main recommendation was for an independent Criminal Appeals Review Office, as exists in Canada and the United Kingdom. Many prominent lawyers, the Criminal Bar Association and the Law Society have all echoed Sir Thomas's call, especially in the wake of the Rex Haig and David Doherty cases. Parliament's Justice and Electoral Select Committee backed the idea after it looked into the petitions calling for an inquiry into the Peter Ellis case.

Justice shouldn't rely on the unpaid, some times personally costly, efforts of supporters to bring these stories to light. It's time a Criminal Appeal Review Office was introduced in New Zealand.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Tax changes we need

It was the classic politician's trick – John Key promised you a tax cut and delivered a tax review instead. Inquiries, discussions, investigations and reviews: the refuge of scoundrel governments everywhere.

It's not technically a Government tax review of course. Its a Tax Working Group. But since Treasury seems to be the brains behind it, you'd be forgiven for thinking it's a political animal. I don't know how important the promise of a tax cut was to National winning the election, but going by the column inches that the media devoted to it, you'd have to conclude very.

I suspect it was actually more a diffused sense of irritation that really put paid to Clark's Labour government, and anyway, National has to be commended for pulling back from any rash pre-election promises in the face of a global recession. Still, a tax review is a useful way of saying that it's the thought that counts, and they are still thinking about it.

Actually, this might turn out to be an astoundingly cunning plan, because there is a way that this review could provide a ticket to tax trimming of titanic proportions. Looking at the mug shots though, I'm not sure that the working group has the imagination.

The last tax review was the McLeod report of 2001. More than anything that report failed to take notice of the most basic 21st century reality: there are environmental limits to the economy, and they are coming up quick. There is an urgent need to transform the economy onto a sustainable footing.

One way to help do this is to make sure that environmental costs fall on those causing them. That rarely happens today. If a business can pass on costs to the environment, and therefore to the community, it usually will. This is what people mean when they talk about environmental externalities – costs fall on people external to the business causing the damage or depletion.

There are a number of ways to stop this corporate freeloading (internalise the externalities). One is to add a tax equal to the unpaid social and environmental cost. That's the kind of thing a carbon tax does – it takes the cost off taxpayers and puts it on those causing the problem. This means that the true cost is being paid, leading to less environmental bads and more environmental goods. It should also go hand in hand with cuts in income tax (that is the bit that Cullen left out of the carbon tax proposals).

The Tax Working Group is made up of corporate notables, including Rob McLeod who chaired the last review. The group has already been criticised for its uniformity, but what worries me is that there don't appear to be any environmental economists (or accountants) among them. Gareth Morgan is on the group and he seems to like nature, and is knowledgeable on things like climate change, but I haven't yet heard him connect tax policy with the environment. It would be a real tragedy if the working group is so full of 'taxation experts' that it cannot see beyond technical refinements.

Finance Minister Bill English certainly understands the benefits of internalising environmental externalities. It is one way that National could demonstrate better environmental credentials than Labour, by showing how a market based approach to solving environmental problems can be more effective than regulation. When the Greens signed their Memorandum of Understanding with the Government a month or so ago, tax policy was unsurprisingly not on it, but I'm hoping that the Greens aren't too sidetracked by the shenanigans in Mt Albert to raise the topic.

Because while I harbour fantasies of a cunning and secret plot hatched between National and the Greens to green the NZ economy, I'm not holding my breath. I am, however, hoping that sooner rather than later we get a government that understands that environmental concerns must be more than a clip-on to pretty things up after the big decisions have been made. We have to make the environment integral to our thinking at all stages, and we have to start now. Let's hope this tax review won't be another missed opportunity to do that.

(from my Waikato Times column today)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

I spent most of last week at the tangi of Ngahuia's koro Percy Marunui Murphy. The tangi was in Murupara at Rangitahi, the marae of Ngati Hui hapu of Ngati Manawa.

As well as getting the chance to hear more about the life of this extraordinary man - decorated Maori Battalion veteran, first Maori Mayor and entrepreneur - it was also an opportunity to get to know people from the town. Murupara has a pretty rough reputation, and features among the most deprived areas of the country, but I found a warm and generous people with a lot of get up and go. In particular the students of Te Kura Kaupapa o Tawhiuau were outstanding and huge respect must go to all the administrators and kaiako. I also heard about a number local initiatives, such as the organic community gardens, all examples of people working to build resilience and self reliance in the face of adversity.

Murupara used to be a thriving little town, but the forestry sell off of the 80's left most of the town out of work. Young people either face long term unemployment or they leave their ancestral lands to find work elsewhere. The people I met over the week showed me that there is still plenty of potential though.

I also learned a bit about making a hangi - not exactly a vegetarians dream but good mahi all the same.

Friday, May 1, 2009

what's up with Kiwibank?

At the risk of sounding like 'grumpy of Waingaro' I have to ask what decade Kiwibank thinks it is in?

Actually, its kind of ironic because I was just talking with one of my economics lecturers about some of the obstacles to increased productivity in NZ - which I think in this case was econ speak for bloody annoying stupidity that wastes everyone's time.

Anyway, the story is that I went to deposit a cheque into my 6 yr old daughters savings account. It was a birthday gift from her grandparents, who live in England.

The woman at the desk seemed to think this was a significant challenge and requiring of rigorous scrutiny. So, the cheque needed to be countersigned by the recipient. Well, ok, Pirimaia does know how to write her name, but, y'know, its hardly a consistent mark of authenticity. Anyway, why?

"Oh, well you are not the person it is made out to, so the recipient has to endorse it to show that you're not misusing the cheque".

"But I'm trying to put it into HER account. I'm not trying to put it into mine".

"Well, you are doing the right thing, but its just in case you're not"

So they rang head office for advice, to deal with this unsolvable dilemma presented by a father trying to put a cheque, made out to his daughter, into her account. The resolution was that as a guardian, I could countersign the cheque!!!

So I can't just put it into her account, but if I sign the back, I can?

This operation took about 45 minutes. It was one of the more bizarre and pointless exercises of the day (yeah, I don't have to go to question time anymore). I wonder how often Kiwibank has to deal with situations like this, because I would have thought it's pretty common.

So I'm going to boost my personal productivity by moving her account to TSB.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Selling off the bases

Who would sell off their house and then rent it back from the new owner? Well maybe if you can't pay the mortgage, but what sensible person would liquidate an asset to take on a bill?

That is what the Government is proposing to do with our military bases. Announcing the first defence review since 1997, Minister Wayne Mapp and ACT's associate Minister Heather Roy said both parties support 'public-private partnerships'. PPP's are usually about getting the private sector to help build things, like the Orewa toll road. This is more like flicking off public assets to your mates.

It kind of reminds me of the Big Sell-Off of the 1980's and 90's. That, of course, is part of ACT's raison d'etre, but I didn't think Wayne Mapp was that kind of guy. He's too cuddly, like Mole from 'Wind in the Willows'. Still, while Wayne Mapp was not an MP when National took office in 1990, much of National's front bench were key players in the liquidation sale. Whether or not Mapp is an ideologue of the same ilk, he is certainly a compliant team member. His willingness to be appointed 'Political Correctness Eradicator' by Don Brash clearly demonstrated that.

Is it just a coincidence that the review panel includes the chair of the Business Roundtable? Rob McLeod is an strong advocate for more private sector involvement in those things usually provided by democratically accountable bodies, such as town planning, education, health and roading. The review of taxation that he led in 2001 notably called for special low tax rates for foreign firms and capping taxes for the super rich. It also let corporations off the hook for their environmental costs, by ignoring ecological taxation issues. His appointment is a pretty clear indication of what the Government wants out of the review.

Now maybe I'm just not economically savvy enough to understand why selling off capital assets is a good thing. I don't understood the wisdom of currency speculation and futures trading independent of the needs of actual production either. Bundling up sub prime mortgages and selling them as securities never made sense to me, even when they were making money rather than knocking holes in banks. I guess I'm unsophisticated.

Certainly too unsophisticated for the influx of Aucklanders into Hamilton last weekend. Like many of my friends I had to flee the city to escape the V8's. I realise that watching car racing is popular, I just can't figure out why.

Much more interesting to me are the attempts by Hamilton City Council to green the V8's. As an MP when Hamilton was first proposed to host the race, I met with then Mayor Redman to talk about how we could make the V8's less damaging. The council had been working on a number of ideas already and we were able to come up with some good proposals.

Last year, the council spent most of its efforts 'baselining' the event, to understand what the full environmental impacts were. It wasn't so much the races themselves as the travel of spectators, the rubbish, water runoff, energy uses etc. This year I look forward to seeing the council publicly report on what it did to actually reduce those impacts.

I'm a simple small businessman, but it seems pretty obvious to me – liquidating capital, whether built or environmental, is a recipe for failure.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Deep ecology workshop

I spent the weekend at Solscape in Raglan, an awesome eco retreat run by two really lovely people, Phil and Bernadette. They were the hosts for a deep ecology workshop run by Daniel Nepia and Finn Mackesy. For those who have not heard of it, it is a process developed by Joanna Macy and John Seed to address the despair and burnout among environmental activists, but it has application to anyone who wishes to have an experiential emotional reconnection with the natural world and who seeks to reconnect with their inner wisdom and power. Hence it is also called "the work that reconnects'.

As a participant, I found it to be a very powerful series of processes that took participants out of their ego seperateness, deep into their inner world to experience and express their authentic emotional reaction to the state of the world we live in. The facilitators used various tools to empower people with their own wisdom and reconnect them with nature, culminating in a 'council of all beings'.

Daniel and Finn have been the only people running deep ecology workshops in the North Islnd for a number of years but now they are seeking to train new facilitors. That means that opportunities to participate will increase over the next few years. If you get a change, I totally recommend you go.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

House bus - exterior

Thought I'd post some photos of my house, because it's road legal (got a COF) and the roof line is about to change drastically.

Housebus interior

We bought it as a school bus, removed the seats, stripped it to the frame and rust proofed it. We removed and resealed the winows, insulated it, relined with ply and built it from scratch - of course all the walls are non square and have curves in them!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A greenwing response to private prison debate

Most people probably don't care who runs the prisons – as long as it includes flogging - yet few issues highlight the political divide so well.

The Right believes that any business can be run more efficiently by the private sector and prisons are no exception. The Left believes that some things are not like any other business, and jails are one of them. Only the State should be allowed to lock people in cages.

The problem with the second argument is that the public prison system is a shambles. The problem with the first is that corporations have proven just as good at messing things up as any Government.

Having said that, I think the best run prison the country has seen was the Auckland Central Remand Prison (ACRP) when it was run by Australasian Correctional Management (now Geotech) - a private prison operator. OK, it was a brand new (Government built) facility. It didn't take sentenced prisoners, so the dynamics were quite different, and its contractual obligations were different from those of public prisons.

What impressed me, though, was the needs assessments on new inmates, at a time when the infamous Integrated Offender Management System was barely functioning in the public system. What also impressed was the leadership of its outstanding General Manager Dom Karauria.

As an aside it is interesting that a number of experienced Maori managers have done well with Australian private prison operators. They don't seem to face the same institutional barriers, or maybe Australian prison companies just value a Maori perspective.

Even so, it is hard to escape the suspicion that ACRP was a kind of loss leader for Geotech. The usual experience of private prisons internationally is somewhat different. It is a huge international industry, dominated by a small number of very large players. Few of them are free from allegations of abuse and mistreatment of inmates in at least some of their facilities.

In addition there is the corrupting influence of the private prison sector on public policy. The huge money to be made from locking people up ensures a powerful lobby aimed at expanding the size of the teat. Media debate around law and order issues is already sensationalist and shallow – imagine the effect of adding big money to the mix.

There is a third, Green, option between big money and big state. In this context, it means going back to 1989, to the most comprehensive assessment ever done on the NZ prison system. The Roper Report made a number of important findings and recommendations, and it has been ignored by Governments both Right and Left ever since.

Criminals could not be rehabilitated, it said, if they had never been habilitated in the first place. It recommended small scale habilitation centres, with intensive, often confrontational, therapy to address the causes of offending. Sentenced prisoners would be assessed for suitability and people not suitable, or trying to play the system, would stay in a general prison.

The Public Prison Service is not well suited to running these kinds of operations. Neither is the multinational prison industry. They are both better at running sausage factories. Habilitation centres are suited to relatively small commercial and community operations, and they offer enormous scope for effective and innovative programs. They allow Tangata Whenua, Pasific Island or other groups to address particular cultural or religious needs. The tragedy of the public vs private prison debate is that this kind of solution gets lost in the fray.

(reprinted from my Waikato Times column)

Friday, February 27, 2009

Where to now for the Greens?

The political press has come a long way since 2005. When Rod Donald passed away it seemed that, for the media at least, the only good Green was a dead one. Overnight he went from being naive and dangerous to an astute political strategist, without whom the Green Party was finished. The inconvenient healthiness of the party has been a warning to tea leaf readers ever since.

So it was good to see a more circumspect reaction to the resignation of Jeanette Fitzsimons as Green co-leader. Speculation has turned, not to the demise of the party, but to its next steps. In choosing between Sue Bradford and Metiria Turei the party has an important strategic decision to make. Members know that the party's fortunes do not rest on one person alone, but that the wrong choice of successor would be most unfortunate.

It is a good time to be choosing. Jeanette's announcement may have been hastened by an inconvenient leak to the Sunday Star Times, but it's clear that she had been planning for some time to announce her resignation around now. It leaves plenty of room for a good leadership contest, with time to mop up any fall-out before the next election.

The challenges before the new co-leader will be considerable. The contest itself will be long and hard. Green leaders are chosen by the membership rather than, as in most parties, by just the MP's, but it is a delegated vote. This means that the sympathies of branch office holders, as well as the broader membership, are crucial in a tight contest.

The challenges once they become leader will be greater. Jeanette is widely respected and highly regarded, with a strong appeal among both fiery militants and cautious reformers. She brought intellectual weight to the Greens, with solid hard work along with the ability to be quick on her feet.

But the Greens don't need just more of the same. Jeanette and Rod Donald were in many ways a perfect match. Rod: the brilliant tactician and media fiend,, the team builder, the warm and charismatic attractor. Jeanette: the strategist, the intellectual steel, colder and more formidable. Since Rods death that balance has not been found. The question is not so much who can fill Jeanette's shoes, as who can do the best three legged race with the smart but brash Russel Norman. Someone strategic rather than tactical, but warm and charismatic, an attractor and uniter.

There are two things that the Greens need to do to become powerful rather than just necessary. The first is to build a team. The Green MP's have proven to be effective campaigners in their separate areas, but struggle for a coherent message. Ask anyone what they stand for, and the reply (once you get beyond “the environment”) is liable to be a grab bag of discrete issues rather than a clear philosophical position. A co-leader who can pull the threads together rather than just fight their corner could unlock enormous synergy.

The second thing needed is to describe a distinctly Green political space to attract a new generation of environmentally minded unaligned voters. Until the Greens redefine the main political divide, away from 'Capital / Labour' to 'Sustainable / Unsustainable', they will always be fighting on someone else's ground. There are few votes to be found left of Labour, as the Alliance found out, and even those will mostly disappear when Labour in opposition seeks to claim them back.

The strategic direction of the Greens over the next decade will determine whether the last election result was a spring tide or a symptom of their sea level rising. In that sense, this co-leadership contest is crucial.

(printed Waikato Times 27/2/09)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Tsvangirai sworn in as ZImbabwean PM

Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has been sworn in as Zimbabwe's PM by Robert Mugabe. According to Al Jazeera the stalemate over control of ministries and the security forces was settled by an agreement which saw Mugabe and Tsvangirai name co-ministers to the Home Affairs ministry and the creation of a new National Security Council.

It seems to me that whoever is the nominal co-head of the Home Affairs ministry, factional loyalties will determine how effective Tsvangirai and his colleagues will be. Mugabe was kept in power by the loyalty of the security forces and the war of independence veterans. Tsvangirai's demand that all political detainees be freed before Wednesday's ceremony was ignored by Mugabe's government and it's hard to think that this is not an indication of how things will run.

On the other hand, some recent reports indicate that even among the security personnel, the collapse of the Zimbabwean economy and the subsequent food crisis (and now the health crisis following the outbreak of cholera) is having a toll. That loyalty may be fragmenting.

Here's hoping that Mugabe's support is splintering enough to allow Tsvangirai the space to get some things done but I'm not holding my breath.

Catherine Delahunty big up yaself

I didn't get to watch it, but I have just read Catherine Delahunty's maiden speech. It was magnificent. Full of poetry and love, full of fire and anger, she stood up in the House to challenge power and privilege in her own fearless, peerless way. She will be a formidable presence.
Catherine, we've had our ups and downs, we've had our disagreements, but I give thanks for your being in the world. JaH blessings and I-tection as you walk this path.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Ill conceived criminal law? Just the usual thanks

After having a laugh at Clayton Cosgrove below, I thought I'd better go have a look at what he is talking about. Two bills stuck out.

The first is the Gangs and Organised Crime Bill. Going by the press release, it seems like a typical case of throwing good legislative time after bad. Justice Minister Simon Power says "“By doubling the sentence for participation in a gang we are reflecting the culpability of those gang leaders who organise the manufacture and distribution of methamphetamine, and we are addressing the low rate of successful convictions".

Eh? It appears that selling P is a worse crime if you are a Mongrel Mob member than if you are an evil sociopath with no friends. Not quite sure why. Nor am I sure why doubling the sentence will increase the number of convictions. (The release says that "of 339 prosecutions there were only 19 convictions" which I guess highlights either how poorly thought out the original legislation was or how incompetent the police are).

They ARE lowering the threshold for the police to get warrants, from investigation of offenses attracting 10 years to ones attracting 7. Of course if this is about targeting P as the Minister claims then this is irrelevant because manufacture and sale of P has a maximum of life.

Actually, it is already very easy for police to get warrants if they have a scrap of evidence to base an application on. The police always moan to politicians that the reason why they can't get on top of gangs is because they are hobbled by pesky laws protecting civil rights. So politicians give police more powers, and shortly thereafter the police are back with the same complaint. That is how civil rights are consistently and continuously undermined. Just have a look at the new campaign to give police yet more powers over boy racers.

All in all, much as it grieves me to agree with Mr Cosgrove, it looks like political theatre gone bad. Sir Graham Latimer got it right when he said that the quickest way to destabilise gangs is to legalise cannabis.

The other bill is about DNA samples.From the press release:

"It allows police to collect DNA from people they ‘intend to charge’, and to match it against samples from unsolved crimes. At present, DNA can be collected only with consent, by judicial approval, or by compulsion where people are suspected or convicted of an offence punishable by more than seven years’ imprisonment, or another specified offence"

So it is about giving the police the right to take DNA from anyone they wish (I intend to charge you....when I've got some evidence) and to use that for a fishing trip through the DNA database.

"And any misuse of profiles will be subject to the full extent of relevant law and civil rights protections, and the police will develop guidelines to avoid any arbitrary or unreasonable application of this power".

Just like they did with Tazers, MoDA search without warrant powers, pepper spray right? Somehow I don't feel comforted.

Cosgrove forgets he's in opposition

Scoop is running a press release apparently from the New Zealand Government, headlined "National is writing law and order bills on the run". It's from Hon Clayton Cosgrove, Labour's law and order spokesperson.

I don't know if he snoozed right through election, or simply can't conceive of a world in which they are not the Government anymore, but you'd have thought someone would have picked up the mistake. The amusing thing though is seeing Clayton Cosgrove, author of boy racer legislation, saying things like "National appears more interested in political theatre than constructive debate". I remember very clearly watching Clayton's performance in the House and 'constructive debate' was not his MO! In fact his primary strategy for building political support is to kick anyone he thinks is unpopular.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

SIS - saving us from ourselves

The SIS has been getting some uncomfortable attention recently. Late last year saw the exposure of informant Rob Gilchrist, who had been spying on various activists groups - including targeting my own office when I was an MP. While he was run by the Police Special Investigations Group, it would be surprising if the SIS were not recipients of information gathered by him, and some suspicion fell on them at the time.

(Actually, it wouldn't be that surprising if they saw nothing from it. The various branches of the US 'intelligence' services and law enforcement are renown for their infighting and sabotage of one another)

More recently attention has been on the files kept by the SIS on Green MP Keith Locke since the age of 11. A number of people have expressed outrage about surveillance of a sitting MP (although unsurprisingly not Kiwiblog and friends).

It is true that SIS surveillance of an MP both undermines parliamentary democracy and cuts across his work as foreign affairs spokesperson for the Greens. It is especially bad in that 55 years of files have turned up no evidence of illegal activity or anything other than a strong social conscience and a determination to do something to make the world a better place.

In my mind it highlights a fundamental polarity. Some people see it as totally legitimate for the SIS to spy on people who disagree with the government. They see the order of things as basically good, and anyone wanting to change things in any fundamental way as subversive and dangerous. Of course they are right - such people are threatening to the vested interests that benefit from the status quo.

Others see it as illegitimate for the 'intelligence' machinery to target people simply because they are active in making change. As long as they aren't plotting armed insurrection, basically, they should be left alone to go about their democratic business. This view sees dissent as the lifeblood of democracy, not its nemesis.

Part of the problem seems to be the limited world-view of many in the intelligence community. Judging by the simplistic and naive analysis of information that appears standard (though its hard to really tell because access to such analysis is obviously limited) any radical thinking does appear subversive rather simply critical.

Of course it really boils down to whether you think the state is there (or should be) to preserve the status quo on behalf of the powerful and wealthy, or there to represent the interests of the people. I don't think we can get past the fact that MPs, cops, judges etc currently swear allegience to the Queen. They are not allowed to swear either to the people of New Zealand, or to our most important constitutional document Te Tiriti o Waitangi. As one who will be happy to see the Crown of England melt in the fire, I guess I'd better see what the SIS is keeping on me!

Adventure on the High Seas

For all supporters of Sea Shepherd, the Centre for Cetacean Research has kindly posted photos of the Steve Irwin ramming Japanese whaling ship Yushin Maru No.2 in the Antarctic.

I guess the purpose was to garner sympathy, but I suspect that it will just provide wallpaper for activists laptops. It certainly isn't reasonable to ram other people's boats, but I think that many people now believe that the time for reasonableness is over. Certainly Japans tactics in IWCC meetings has firmed up the resolve of anti-whaling activists.

Given the way some in New Zealand still see trashing the environment as appropriate behaviour, I wonder when we will see a more militant form of direct action returning to these shores.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Culinary imperialism?

Campell Live had a story tonight about Elly Maynard. She is the founder of Sirius GAO and is campaigning to ban the eating of dogs in the Philippines.

I've seen some video about the dog trade that still makes me shudder. Admittedly that was from China, but the footage on Campbell suggested that it's pretty horrendous in the Philippines too. Elly is raising money to buy dogs being sold for food so she can rehabilitate them, and pressuring the Philippine Government to ban the eating of dogs. I find it hard to support her.

If people want to give money to buy and rehabilitate dogs that's their choice, but I'm not sure that artificially stimulating the market like this is a wise way to go about stopping the practice. It is just going to raise demand and make it even more profitable – a sure way to guarantee that it continues either legally or illegally.

Secondly, I really find it objectionable for a New Zealander to be campaigning to ban the eating of dog, simply because in NZ culture we don't eat dog, we keep them as pets. We do eat cows, sheep, pigs, chickens and a host of other animals. Just because Elly Maynard has pet dogs doesn't give her the right to decide the culinary practices of Filipinos.

Now I'm basically a vegetarian. I find the eating of pigs, for example, just as objectionable. They are easily as intelligent and as sensitive as dogs. I don't understand why Elly Maynard thinks eating pigs is ok, but eating dogs is not, nor why she thinks she has the right to dictate to Filipinos what they can eat in their own country.

In any case banning the trade will ensure that treatment gets worse, not better. In my mind the focus should more properly be on the terrible conditions that the dogs are kept in, and the cruel way they are killed. If the trade was properly regulated, with animal welfare standards, then cruelty could be addressed without forcing Filipinos to give up a traditional food.

Actually dog is a traditional food for many people. A number of peoples in Europe have a history of eating dog. Similarly in Asia and in Polynesia.

The real question in my mind is, why be campaigning in Asia when the treatment of pigs and chickens in this country is equally vile? Not to mention vivisection.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Rastafari reasoning in Christchurch

I am in Christchurch for a few days, taking part in a spoof of Gordon Ramsey's 'Hells Kitchen" for Childrens TV show 'What now'. There's no real cooking involved, just kids slapstick humour but its kind of fun.

I got to catch up with DJs Nazarite and Dubwise when they played their regular wednesday gig at the Dux. It was upfull to sit and reason with the brothers, who I haven't seen for maybe 6 or so years, and to catch up with news of Papa Levi, who has just put out a new album. Ben the Nazarite hooked me up with a load of new CDs to check out, but I'm really looking forward to the release of the album Dubwise is working on, featuring a heap of top Jamaican and other reggae stars, including some up and comers like 'Elephant wise', a Kenyan brother living in Australia.

I&I were reasoning about how pleasant it would be to see I&I come together for an Aotearoa grounation - to fully establish who I&I are in these islands, to focus on our commonalities rather than our differences, and to begin to look at how I&I can organise and work together.

Blessings to the Rastafari community on the World of Jah website, especially Elders like Ras Flako for the inspiring words pointing I&I forward.