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)