Why public transport?

datePosted on 06:00, January 28th, 2009 by Anita

In the last few weeks I’ve been seeing many signs of improvements of public transport infrastructure: in Wellington the new trolley wires on my way into town, on the train to Palmerston North all the maintenance work being done along the track, apparently the Auckland train infrastructure has been having a spruce up, and of course the Johnsonville Tunnels. Even some of the most backward regions of no public transport and thinking about it. I reckon it’s wonderful to see, and (for a change :) it makes me miss that last government, and particularly the Greens influence.

Late last year the Greater Wellington Regional Council kicked off a consultation exercise about the basis on which fares are set. On bus trips while looking at the posters advertising the consultation meetings I wondered about why we actually have public transport, and why it’s so important. For me the point has always been twofold; firstly it gets me places, secondly it is so much more environmentally friendly than private cars. For others it’s keeping congestion down, or being able to go out for a drink after work.

Winston Peters, however, has reminded me of the most important role of public transport. Since the arrival of the Super Gold card off peak buses are full of the over 65s; visiting friends, going to the Bot Gardens, picking up a grand daughter from school, going shopping, visiting a neighbour currently in hospital, chatting to strangers on buses. A couple have said they’re getting out more, seeing their friends and family more. One told me she’s eating much better now that she goes to the greengrocer at the Mall a couple of times a week rather than buying frozen veg from the dairy.

The point of public transport is inclusion – anyone can catch a bus, anyone can visit the doctor, anyone can see their friends and family.

The Police brought this on themselves

datePosted on 16:05, January 27th, 2009 by Anita

Why are so many of us making so much noise about the investigations into Halatau Naitoko’s death?

There are three things that are influencing me:

  1. The Police have a history of failing to properly investigate their own, and even of covering up for colleagues. 
  2. There is a recent history of the Police undertaking disproportionate investigation and action on firearms charges against activists, and I’m still pretty riled by it.
  3. Their employees have behaved dishonourably in so many ways in recent memory and the Police have not apologised or truly addressed the actions.

Does this mean there was necessarily anything wrong with the Police’s action on Auckland’s Northwestern motorway? No

Does this mean there was necessarily anything wrong with actions of the individual AOS members? No.

Does it mean I am even remotely comfortable with the Police determining what investigation will be undertaken, how it will be undertaken and who will do it? Hell no!

The reality is that the Police brought this storm on themselves, by having behaved so badly in the past they have damaged our trust in them and they have made little attempt to rebuild it.

Several years ago I knew a man who had worked in the AOS for many years; a good and honourable man. When I heard what had happened on Friday I had two first instincts, the first was to imagine the officer who had pulled the trigger and think of the man I knew and feel for the officer’s pain and guilt. The second was to think “Oh here we go, let’s see how fast the spin kicks in and how fast and deep they bury the investigation”.

The individual officers who were there on Friday deserve and have my thoughts and sympathy. I can’t imagine the pain and guilt they are feeling right now, and I am so very grateful to them for everything they do to keep us safe.

The Police organisation, however, deserves every piece of cynicism and distrust I direct its way.

One of the right’s many complaints about Owen Glenn’s contribution to Peters’ legal fees was that Glenn’s not resident in New Zealand; he’s not even eligible to vote here. Like Glenn’s donations to Peters fees and the Labour party, the controversial Vela donations were from a source unable to vote: the donations were from companies not people.

Donations from not-voters are common in New Zealand; a quick read of the 2005 donation return shows that far more money was donated by things than by people. That doesn’t include the corporate donations carefully crafted to avoid disclosure (e.g. British American Tobacco’s donation to the Nats).

It begs the question – why, if we let anyone and anything buy influence, don’t we let them vote as well? If Sky City can fund political parties, shouldn’t they get to vote too? And the pharmaceutical companies? And the banks? And the tobacco lobby? While we’re at it, they’re bigger than the average person, shouldn’t they get more votes?

It’s obviously ridiculous, as is allowing anyone or anything which cannot vote in our elections to buy political influence.

Principle II: Democracy is for voters – if you can’t vote, or won’t be able to when you turn 18, you shouldn’t get to buy political influence, end of story.

[edited to clarify the first para – Anita]

A while ago I saw somewhere on the sustainability/edible gardening part of the net I hang out in something that said:

  • If you can, grow it yourself
  • If you can’t grow it yourself, buy local
  • If you can’t buy local, buy organic

I can’t find it to point to, so instead I’ll link out to the 100 mile diet, and this on Relocalise.net  :)

There are many good reasons to eat homegrown, local or organic (including taste – homegrown sweetcorn beats the sweetcorn from the market, and the market sweetcorn beats the supermarket corn hands down), but my reasons are sustainability and peak oil.

The Police Officer or the Police?

datePosted on 06:00, January 26th, 2009 by Anita

Idiot/Savant puts forward the case that the Police Officer who shot and killed Halatau Naitoko should be charged:

Look at the precedents: hunters kill their mates in tragic accidents fairly frequently. They are usually made to stand trial for careless use of a firearm, or in cases where there is clear negligence, manslaughter. Some are discharged, some are convicted, some end up on home detention, some (in very serious cases) end up in jail. We do this, despite the tragic circumstances, because we as a society have decided that people who play with guns need to exercise the utmost care and responsibility when doing so.

To take a different set of analogies, however, sometimes when someone kills with a vehicle they are charged, sometimes it is the employer that is charged when it is clear that it was the practices of the employer that was at fault. Perhaps this is a case where the Police should be charged with having work practices that led to a death.

When there is a bad outcome of a Police action it is sometimes the fault of the Police, sometimes of the individual officer, sometimes both, but by focussing on the individual Officer we allow the Police off the hook. It seems to me that there are times when the Police plays on that focus on the individual to move the spotlight away from their poor culture or organisational practices.

Having just skimmed the Health and Safety and Employment Act and the Crown Organisations (Criminal Liability) Act it appears that the Police could be prosecuted (although I may have become very confused by the nature of “person”s). If so, then if the death was caused by a Police practice there is an opportunity to hold the Police to account without needing to prosecute the individual Officer for their employer’s mistake.

Bullying Fiji

datePosted on 18:02, January 25th, 2009 by Pablo

The ongoing diplomatic fracas between New Zealand and Fiji stemming from the peaceful coup staged by Vice Commodore Frank Bainimarama and his military allies two years ago has taken on the aspect of farce. Although the Commodore is the personification of a petty despot, in equal measure vainglorious and arrogant, in this stoush he may actually be right. The reason is that New Zealand’s approach to his rule is hypocritical, neo-imperialist , short-sighted and and heavy handed in application.

The 2006 coup was precipitated by the multiple failures of Fijian “democracy,” specifically pervasive corruption rooted in a system of ethnic preferences and disproportionate representation. The Fijian military is a classic example of an “arbitrator” or “mediator” military in a mass praetorian society, so it is always the default option when political conflicts come to a head and threaten social stability. Such was the case in 2006, and the justification for the coup was to eliminate corruption and revamp the political system in order to eliminate the sources of patronage and preference that are the root causes of its endemic malaise. As it turns out, although the military intervention has been condemned by New Zealand and Australia, many Fijians and other island states see it in  a more favourable light. Even those who view the military intervention as a political setback recognize that it is not just a military matter but in fact an internal political conundrum that is for Fijians to resolve.

Condemnation from Anglophone outsiders is seen as a colonial vestige that is counter-productive and a violation of Fijian sovereignty. It is seen as hypocritical because New Zealand enjoys trade and diplomatic relations with countries such as The United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Iran, countries with less than stellar human rights records (and in the case of the two Arab states, oligarchical rule), and yet says nothing negative about them. Since the Fijian human rights record is demonstrably better than that of New Zealand’s Middle Eastern partners, it appears that New Zealand is being both precious and selective when it accuses the Commodore of  trampling on Fijian civil  liberties, or when it refuses visas to relatives of the military leadership while at the same time welcoming with open arms and blind eyes diplomatic representatives of authoritarian regimes far more repressive than Bainimarama and company (remember, for example, the warm receptions given to Pakistani president General Musharraf  and various Chinese delegations in the past few years).

From a practical standpoint, the public posturing between Fiji and New Zealand amounts to a diplomatic failure for the latter. For whatever reasons, quiet diplomacy has been abandoned in favour of pubic sniping between the two governments. Being the larger opponent, New Zealand comes across as a bully, one that kowtows to larger authoritarians but then vents its spleen on a smaller state just because it can do so without adverse economic consequences. Hints at Australian-New Zealand military contingency planning should things in Fiji take a turn for the worse only serve to fuel Fijian military paranoia and local resentment at what is seen as post-colonial neo-imperialism on the part of the Antipodean Anglophones.

As things stand, the diplomatic row amounts to an impasse. Given the stalemate, perhaps it is time for New Zealand diplomats to look more closely at the reasons for the coup, the nature of Fijian political debate in its aftermath, the utility of other interlocutors in the region and at opportunities for dialogue in pursuit of common ground rather than engaging in a negative-sum bilateral tit for tat that ultimately proves fruitless in terms of  facilitating the restoration of Fijian democracy . It may be unpleasant to have to deal with the Commodore on his terms, but then again, that does seem to have impeded New Zealand’s relationship with other authoritarians on a host of issues far less important than democracy promotion.

Electoral finance: the principles I – Transparency

datePosted on 06:00, January 25th, 2009 by Anita

In the run up to the election there was massive hypocrisy in the right complaining about the Electoral Finance Act while simultaneously amping up the fuss around New Zealand First finances; complaining about the exploitation of loopholes that the EFA they so hate was supposed to close. So I thought I’d use this as a an opportunity to look at the principles that should underpin our electoral finance rule one by one.

One of the most serious issue raised by Jones, Glenn, the Velas, and the Spencer Trust (not to mention National’s Waitemata Trust, Ruahine Trust, and so on) is transparency. People voted for NZF (and National and Labour) without knowing who was paying their bills, without being able to assess what the funders might be expecting in return.

Would the same people have voted for NZ First in 2005 if they’d known it was being funded by Bob Jones and the racing lobby? Perhaps, but they didn’t in 2008 once they knew. National if they’d known about funding from the tobacco, pharmaceutical and insurance industries? Perhaps.

But perhaps they would have looked closer at the policies and made a decision about whose financial interests they were voting for.

What would NZ First do for the racing lobby? We have an answer.

What will National do for tobacco and pharmaceutical companies now they have the cabinet benches? We’ve already got a pretty clear idea about what they’re offering the insurance industry: profit from a privatised workplace accident compensation model, and the Herceptin decision is positioning for politicians making decisions on drug funding.

Perhaps knowing who’s bought influence would help us weigh up what to do with our votes, and it sure would help us keep the bastards honest! 

Principle I: Transparency – it is vital for democracy that we, the voters, know who is behind the candidates, who is paying their bills, who is pulling their strings.

Crime and punishment

datePosted on 06:00, January 24th, 2009 by Anita

Somewhere in all the tough-on-crime rhetoric we seem to have missed out the step where we talk about what prisons are actually for. Do we have prisons to keep us safe, to rehabilitate, to deter, or to punish?

In theory we have them to keep us safe, no more no less. In practice some victims of crime and some onlookers want vengeance. I believe they have no right to vengeance, they have a right to have things put as right as possible (recognising that many things cannot be put right), and they have a right to be safe; but there is no right to punish, no right to inflict pain for that selfish purpose.

So why should prisons be any different? They should serve the purpose only of protecting us and only as a last resort because simply by incarcerating someone we do huge damage to them and those around them.

If we used prisons only when absolutely necessary to to keep us safe

  1. Far fewer people would be locked up – only those that we had no other way of keeping us safe from.
  2. There would be minimal restrictions on those people – if the community will be safe if the person has a TV, they should be able to have a TV, if the community will be safe if they see their children in a friendly inviting environment with toys three afternoons a week, then they should be able to do that. The restrictions we place should be only those that are needed to keep us safe.

Yet we have many prisons full to bursting with people who would do no damage is set free, or who we could be kept safe from in other ways. The people in those prisons (and their families) suffer restrictions which are totally unnecessary.

We have a prison system based on vengeance and punishment, is that who we want to be?

[I have struggled with this post and rewritten it several times, the word “prison” bothers me. I believe that what we should have, for the handful of people who we can’t be safe from without some kind of restraint, is so unlike our current prisons that I don’t know what to call them. 

I thoroughly recommend Maia’s posts about prisons at Capitalism Bad; Tree Pretty, she says it so much better than me. All I know how to say is that we have no right to seek revenge]

What do they mean by private healthcare provision?

datePosted on 06:00, January 23rd, 2009 by Anita

In a number of threads people have brought up the idea that our existing publicly provided health system is fundamentally flawed and should be replaced by a privately provided healthcare system. Every time I read that argument I want to make a single (bold face) point:

The vast majority of our healthcare is provided by private providers.

The vast majority.

Take me for example, I see my GP (private provider), I have blood tests (private provider), scans (usually a private provider), take medication (private provider) and see a number of specialists (my main one is public but occasionally other public or private specialists). All except the specialists are private providers at least partly funded by the government.  One specialist is a public provider entirely publicly funded.

The only surgery I ever had was in a private hospital fully funded by the government.

So why, if the current health system is so broken, does anyone think that private provision is the answer?

I can see three possible reasons National and Act are arguing for “private health provision”:

  1. Transfer the last of the public money to the private sector to create private sector profits for shareholders.
  2. They don’t mean “private provision” they mean “private funding”, they actually want to cut the government spend and rely on individuals funding their own healthcare. Advantageous for the wealthy (who already have health insurance and would benefit from the tax cuts), disastrous for the poor who can’t afford private cover or care and don’t get tax cuts from the Nats.
  3. Ideological blindness.

Two are awfully cynical and the other requires a level of stupidity I don’t believe they have, any other offers?

Since last year’s election there has been a lot of talk about the tenability of the relationship between the Māori Party and National.

On the one hand National’s hard right policies will hurt many Māori voters; how much damage can the Māori Party let their electorate sustain from their parliamentary partners? What concessions can the MP gain that will outweigh the effects of National’s privatisation and their transfer of wealth from the poorest to the richest?

On the other hand the Māori Party is dominated by, to quote John Tamihere, the “relatively wealthy, educated elite” just as the National Party is the party of the Pakeha wealthy educated elite. Like peas in a pod, perhaps these two parties of the elites are made for each other. Interesting analysis on this possibility is available all over the media (e.g. The Herald) and blogs (e.g. Against the current). The analysis, good though it is, has tended to overlook the fact that while the Māori and Pakeha elites have many things in common, their cultural differences are significant too.

One of the areas often discussed as common ground between the parties is provision of social services: both want to transfer service provision (and the funding for it) from the state to “the community”. It looks like an agreement, but what do they mean by “the community”?

National’s view of community social service provision is to pay a small number of large corporates or NGOs to provide bulk social services, just like the big companies they’ve worked for in the private sector. The Māori Party, quite differently, imagine many small iwi, runanga and hapu based providers, with perhaps some provision by Urban Māori Authorities. To the Māori Party the key to community provision is local targeted care by traditional Māori structures.

This cultural gulf recurs throughout the apparent policy agreements between National and the Māori Party. Another example, National wants to privatise health care provision by offering it to large privately owned hospital providers like those Michael Woodhouse lobbied for in his years in the NZ Private Surgical Hospitals Association and the NZ Private Hospitals Association. The Māori Party wants to strengthen and develop the many Hauora built by iwi and hapu throughout the country, just like the one Hone Harawira helped set up in the Far North.

That may be the final ideological divide: the difference between a “community” consisting of corporates and their shareholders, and a “community” of iwi and hapu.

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