Get off my lawn, you damn kids

datePosted on 08:15, August 26th, 2009 by Lew

exurbiaI will be scarce around these parts for the next few weeks because I am trading my beloved south coast for the one to the north-west, having bought a house in the ‘burbs. Three bedrooms and a garage, a character doer-upper with good bones which we got for a good price, our own half-gallon quarter-acre pavlova paradise. On Friday I suppose I will officially be middle-class, as if I wasn’t already. Before I know it I’ll be caring about things like whipper-snappers tagging my fence and rates and tree-pruning restrictions. Before then, I have to figure out how to move house with an increasingly mobile and ingenious nine-month-old.

This will require some significant changes, including acclimatising to what in NZ terms is a very long commute (by train, although I might consider carpooling since I’ve heard good things about the GWRC scheme). I will likely have much less time to write here, and elsewhere. But I will still be around.

L

Bipolarity, unipolarity and the coming USBRIC world.

datePosted on 20:05, August 25th, 2009 by Pablo

The lack of informed public debate on New Zealand foreign policy, to include its international security policy, is equaled only by its seemingly directionless drift under National. On the one hand National has embraced the idea of shifting its trade focus–which as Lew mentioned in an earlier post has once again become the basis for all foreign policy–towards Asia (and increasingly the Middle East). On the other hand, National is attempting to reforge its security ties with the US and Australia as well as regional partners like Singapore. It continues to pay lip service to the UN multilateral ethos, but in practice appears less committed than the Bolger, Shipley and Clark governments to supporting the multinational cause in places that are not of immediate import to economic prosperity. This has even been reflected in its approach to regional issues in the southwest Pacific, where the expansion of Chinese economic and military influence has been met with diffidence rather than focused attention. All of this suggests that even if the foreign policy bureaucracy understands the complexities of international relations in the present moment, its current political masters do not.

I shall elaborate on the implications of a growing Chinese presence in the South Pacific in a future post. For the moment what I propose here is to outline, in a highly simplified fashion, the broader contours of the changes undergone and ongoing in the international political system, with an eye towards situating New Zealand in that fluid context. In so doing, perhaps a clearer picture of the need for foreign policy direction will emerge.

The Cold War was characterised by a tight bipolar balance of power, in which nuclear-armed superpowers and their allies aligned themselves along a communist/anti-communist axis that divided the world into peripheral and shatter zones depending on the probability of direct confrontation. Collective security via superior counter-force was the basis for mutual deterrence under the so-called “balance of terror” principle, which was premised on the shared belief that conflict in shatter zones had a high possibility of escalation into nuclear war. Central Europe was the most vital shatter zone, so conflict avoidance was the overriding principle in that theater. Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America were peripheral to the core interests of the superpowers, so they became the sites for proxy wars and unilateral interventions in which weapons were trialed and tactics refined, but in which no immediate possibility of superpower confrontation existed. Some places were so remote, they only served as monitoring stations or way fares for the big players. Depending on the technologies available and their spatial location , a few peripheral countries could be accorded special interest by the superpowers. On that score, New Zealand and Cuba were exemplars of each side of the continuum, respectively.

As oil increased in importance as a strategic commodity, the Middle East was increasingly defined by the US and its allies as a shatter zone, which helps explain the reduction in direct inter-state conflict between Israel and its Soviet-backed neighbours (Egypt, Syria and Jordan especially) after 1973. It was not until the demise of the USSR that the so-called “secular nationalists” in the Middle East adopted a more pro-Western stance, but the dye had been cast on their position more than a decade before.

The fall of the Soviet bloc ended the bipolar balance of power and began a decade of unipolar domination by the US. No country or combination of countries had the military or economic power to confront the US on either or both grounds. Russia descended into post-Stalinist chaos; China was still in the early stages of embracing capitalism. East and Western Europe integrated, but the process was fractious and economic, demographic and social differences precluded the emergence of a truly “unified” Europe as a political and military actor. Post-colonial despotism abounded in Africa, and if Latin America democratised, it did so largely amid conditions of economic stagnation. East Asia prospered by remained politically divided amongst itself. Under such conditions, and coupled with major advances in telecommunications and the global opening of markets, the US imposed a form of pax americana in which the only types of conflicts feasible were of the low-intensity variety in failed or peripheral states. Inter-state conflict was replaced by pre-modern ethnic and religious conflict, and nation-building and peace-keeping in failed states became the raison d’etre of military forces in the loosened post-Cold War alliance structures as well as for a host of other middle and small powers. New Zealand was one of them.

As it turns out, market globalisation and technological change were the source of both US strength and weakness. While the US focused resources on the so-called “Revolution in Military Affairs” and fourth generation warfare in which the element of human will is supposedly trumped by technological capability, market forces pushed both technological advancement and consumption in a host of previously underdeveloped states. In the measure that these states welcomed foreign capital and investment, both the input and output sides of the supply chains flourished within them, and they developed increasingly advanced economies of scale. Foremost of these are what are now known as the “BRIC” countries: Brazil, Russia, India and China. Through an astute mix of good government policy, size and resource base, national ambition and foreign investment, these countries have emerged (or re-emerged in the Russian case) as nascent great powers. The US, for its part, overextended itself militarily in response to 9/11, where it is confronted by irregular, decentralised non-state actors fighting asymmetrically so as to negate US technological superiority and reduce both the tactical and strategic confrontation to that basic element of will. Although US technology still affords it clear battlefield advantages, it cannot on its own prevail decisively or quickly against well-prepared and ideologically committed irregulars fighting on their home soils. Under such circumstances, in which a long-term war of attrition is fought on mostly unconventional grounds, irregular actors can force strategic stalemates that for all intents and purposes are political defeats for the militarily superior adversary. That is because the logistical and human costs of engaging in such long term military adventures without resolution erode the will not so much of the troops engaged in them, but of the civilian support base at home that votes on matters of policy. Such is now the situation in Afghanistan, as it was previously in Iraq.

Since 2003 the US has entered into a slow economic decline, fueled in equal parts by the W. Bush administrations fiscal policies, the costs of its wars and the failure of a large swathe of the US business community to recognize and adapt to the changes in the global system of production and exchange post 1990. Conversely, not saddled with military burdens comparable to that of the US, the BRICs have directed their national energy and resources into economic development. The results are impressive. In the last decade the individual BRICs have increased their yearly GDP by an average of nearly ten percent and collectively have advanced their growth rates by more than 50 percent when compared to 1990. They have all survived the recession of 2007-09 and currently display growth rates in excess of 4%/yearly on average (the US is predicted to have an average growth rate of less than a 3 percent for the next five years). Barring some human-made disaster, the upward economic trend for the BRICs shows no sign of abating for another  decade. The same cannot be said for the US, regardless of its recent rebounds. In an economic as well as military sense, the tide seems to have turned against US unipolar dominance.

All four BRIC nations are major sources of consumption. Russia remains the most vulnerable economy because of its dependence on fossil fuel exports and criminal influence in policy making, but even so has reconstituted a significant measure of its military capability and battle tested it in Chechnya and Georgia. China and India have become technological incubators, value added export platforms and, most recently, purchasers of advanced weapons systems under slowly opening forms of elite rule. Militarily, China is constructing nuclear submarines as well as an indigenous aircraft carrier amid a major expansion of its entire range of force; India is modernizing and expanding both its sub and carrier fleets as well as it land and air wings. Both countries have nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them at considerable range from a number of platforms, and both have been aggressive in asserting their military presence abroad (as has Russia). Of the four countries, Brazil is the least focused on military expansion, although it too has upgraded both its offensive as well as defensive capabilities. In no case can the US stop this progress by the use or threat of force or economic sanction. The result is that the world is now evolving into a multipolar system in which US power is balanced, in the first instance, by the BRICs, and in the second instance by the interplay between the BRICs themselves and with other middle powers such as France, Germany, Australia, Indonesia, Japan, Iran, Malaysia and the UK.

Emergence of the BRICs and the move towards multipolarity has further accelerated the loosening of Cold War alliance structures and increased the profile of smaller or emerging national actors such as South Africa and Singapore, which in turn has pushed a general reconfiguration of diplomatic, economic and military relations within the multi-tiered international community. Needless to say, the US will not disappear from the scene or be conquered anytime soon. What the emergence of new powers and changing international dynamics does mean is that it will have to share space with the new great powers: enter the world of USBRIC multipolarity.

Such change should be welcomed. The situation remains fluid but from a historical standpoint the move towards multipolarity is encouraging because it promises an era of greater peace once the multinational-balances and attendant blocs have been sorted out. Unipolar systems have historically been the most unstable type of international order because absent universality of values one-sided domination breeds resentment and challenge. Bipolar systems are stable (as the Cold War demonstrates), but  stability rests on a the precarious assumption that both rivals share the same form of rationality when it comes to strategic perspective, and that cannot be guaranteed over time. In a situation in which 3 or more powers contend for power, balancing becomes the pivot of the system because it serves as a hedge against single actor dominance. Here the actions of national elites matter less than the systemic response, which pushes the determinant logic out from the national (unit) level to the international (systemic) level. Hence small number multipolar systems are considered to be the most stable type of international political community.

Closer to home, the questions that arise are as follows: is NZ cognizant of these shifts and does it have a coherent foreign policy and international security strategy to ensure that it can take advantage, or at least not be disadvantaged by them? Is the current approach to trade, security and diplomatic affairs conducive to advancing the national interest over the long term, or is it more of an opportunistic hodgepodge of traditional and new perspectives and relations that do not account for the fundamental nature of the afore-mentioned shift towards USBRIC multipolarity? That, dear readers, I shall leave for you to ponder.

Preventing the success that we celebrate

datePosted on 13:41, August 25th, 2009 by Anita

On the 1st of April this year I got a nice cheery tax cut because, according to our National ACT government, people like me on the top tax bracket are the hardest working and most deserving. As a private sector worker earning a good wage, paying my mortgage with some to spare, and barely noticing the recession I suspect they’d say I was exactly what success looks like to them.

Oddly, though, under the current policies of this government I’d probably still be on the sickness benefit able to work only 5-10 hours in a good week.

Not so long ago, due to health and crime circumstances beyond my control, that’s exactly where I was. Getting me back on my, “successful”, feet was a combined effort of systems, organisations and people; a genuine welfare system. I was fortunate to receive good welfare support from the benefit system, counselling through ACC’s sensitive claims, awesome care from the public health system, support from a state sector with a commitment to equity and workplace reintegration for people with chronic illness and disability, an open accessible education system, and a first class public transport system. Not to mention the variety of public servants in a wide range of organisations with the time and mandate to help me through.

How many of those systems will survive the current policies? How many face cuts that make the services useless or impractical? How many of those good people have been made redundant by the state sector cuts? Or overloaded by work from their departed colleagues? Or operating under new “guidelines”?

National and ACT may laud people like me who succeed in their eyes, but they’re taking away the small pieces of  support that make our success possible.

So the next time you see the politics of envy rhetoric, think of me: given a tax cut I didn’t need and wishing that every cent had been put into the services that we all rely on when things go wrong.

Sexual abuse recovery rationing by the ACC

datePosted on 10:04, August 24th, 2009 by Lew

This morning the New Zealand Association of Psychotherapists delivered an open letter to the Minister for ACC asking him to explain and justify the proposed changes to ACC’s sensitive claims policy. This issue was covered by Anjum last week and is now picking up steam.

Briefly, the proposals (which are due to come into effect in September) would change both the nature and amount of entitlement of treatment to which sexual abuse or assault victims are entitled. The changes represent a move from a therapeutic model mostly operated by psychotherapists and counsellors to a symptom-management model mostly run by the mental health system. Victims’ entitlement to treatment will generally be reduced to a maximum of sixteen hours, essentially meaning that many victims of the most severe abuse will not be fully treated. In addition, victims will need to explain themselves to as many as three different assessors in order to access this limited treatment, with each assessment a form of revictimisation. As if that wasn’t enough, knowing that many cases simply will not be treatable in the mandated 16-hour timeframe, some psychotherapists have indicated that they will refuse on ethical grounds to begin the work, knowing that they cannot finish it, on the basis of the ‘first, do no harm’ principle which underscores their practice as clinicians.

This means the already-high barriers to effective treatment of sexual abuse trauma are about to get higher. In effect, they are being rationed so as to exclude the ‘worst’ cases who require the most work (and therefore the most cost) to treat. However the revictimisation of repeated assessments and the uncertainty of treatment form a strong disincentive – not wanting to open a wound without being sure it can be closed, many people will simply not seek treatment, and many counsellors will simply not be able to provide it on ethical grounds. This chilling effect will lead to sexual abuse being pushed further underground and the problem fading from the public view to a greater extent than it already is, with potentially catastrophic long-term social consequences. At last count, sexual abuse cost NZ about $2.5 billion per year including the costs of crime, imprisonment, drug and alcohol, other health issues, unemployment and the cycle of abuse which an absence of treatment sustains. For the cost of a few million dollars in treatment, how much will that be allowed to increase?

The most absurd thing is that these are cuts to front-line services for victims of serious crime; the very thing the government said it would be increasing. ACC’s Sensitive Claims Unit costs $30m or so annually to deliver $20m of front-line services, and these cuts will shift that balance much further toward the back-office by relying more heavily on already-overworked case managers and the top echelons of the practice – psychiatrists and clinical psychologists who currently do 10% of the work – rather than the relatively cheap and numerous psychotherapists and counsellors who do the other 90%.

For the inevitable conspiracy theorists, this also isn’t a matter of psychotherapists feathering their nests – for most, ACC work is a small part of their practice, and not an especially lucrative part of their practice, since most can charge (much) more on the open market than what ACC will pay.

Expect this to be a fairly big deal in the coming weeks. It is an issue which is deeply embedded in many policy fields: justice, victim’s rights, human rights, child abuse, crime, drug and alcohol abuse and mental health are just a few. It’s not going away, because sexual abuse is not going away.

L

Disclosure: I was involved to a small extent in the process around this open letter. I have family members on both ends of this issue – both providing and receiving treatment. You probably do, too, even if you don’t know it.

Hide-ing to nothing

datePosted on 09:06, August 24th, 2009 by Lew

Two topics in this post, because I don’t have time to fully develop them.

First, John Key must not ignore the anti-smacking referendum. Although the question was leading, the result was decisive and will embolden people like the Copeland/Baldock/McCoskrie axis of evil to drive the stake deeper into the heart of NZ’s traditional social liberalism. Tinkering with guidelines won’t mollify them, and won’t stop the electorate from listening to them because it doesn’t address the substantive point about the status of a light smack in law. What will do that is the Borrows Amendment. With a view to neutralising further attacks on the discipline legislation, I think the government should adopt and pass the Borrows Amendment with due haste, and put the issue to bed (without its dinner). It’s a mutual-second-best solution, whereas the repeal as passed in 2007 was not and will not endure.

Second, Rodney Hide’s position on the Auckland mana whenua seats is consistent and his behaviour is responsible. The (proposed) mana whenua seats in the Auckland case aren’t the same as the Māori electoral seats – they’re appointed, not elected, and this gives him separate grounds to oppose them. It is not inconsistent that he favours entrenching Māori electoral seats if they exist, but not of implementing any more such seats, and not implementing any seats which aren’t elected. He’s being responsible in clearly signaling his intentions in a fairly measured way. He’s not trying to exercise any more power than he has, but simply saying ‘my resignation will be a cost of making this decision, just so you know’ and requiring John Key to consider whether that cost is worth it. In addition, he’s working with Pita Sharples on the issue rather than taking a reflexively oppositional approach. Finally, this is strengthening his core political brand. It’s smart politics all around because whether he gets his way or not, he comes out of this looking good.

Update: A third thing – eternal guest-poster r0b at The Standard continues to go from strength to strength.

L

“One percent”

datePosted on 21:55, August 19th, 2009 by Pascals Bookie

Why the leak?

That’s one of the questions raised by Scott Cambell’s barnburner of a story.

“Clearly we are at a crossroads. The ACT Party has threatened to end its relationship with National if we allow Maori seats on the super city. Despite multiple arguments in support, its mind cannot be changed.”

That’s from an email “sent to National’s 58 MPs by one of its own senior members”, which TV3 has a copy of, but have not put on the interwebs as far as I can tell. (natch)

Hide denies threatening to “end the relationship”, saying “What we have done is state our position very clearly – we would be opposed to any reservation of seats for a particular group.”

Curiouser and curiouser.

Scott Campbell, who is obviously in a far better position to know than I, says that in an ‘all-but-done’ deal there will be no mana whenua seats.

But an all but done deal isn’t done yet, and someone wrote this email and someone, (possibly the same someone), leaked it. We can assume they did so for a reason.

If Hide didn’t make the threat, then why would a senior National Party member tell caucus that he did? If he did make that threat, why is he backing down from it?

Whatever the answers to these delicious questions, this is clearly a tough test for John Key’s big tent coalition strategy, and for two of his coalition partners.

Personally I hope Hide’s bluff gets called. Or maybe that’s already happened.

Update:
The ‘senior’ National Party member is … Tau Henare. Hide confirms that if the seats are in, he’s out as Minister of Local Government:

He told the Herald last night that he had made it clear to Mr Key that he could not remain as minister if the legislation included Maori seats on the council.

“But it wasn’t by way of a threat,” he said.

Mr Hide said he told Mr Key: “Just to be absolutely clear, you have got our support for supply and confidence but as a minister, as the Act leader, I couldn’t be responsible for introducing to the House a bill that would have reserve seats in it.”

…a principled position.

Still leaves Key in the position of having to deal with at least the appearance of an ultimatum.

Voting for participation

datePosted on 21:20, August 19th, 2009 by Anita

It is rare in NZ that we get a chance to participate simply because people campaigned for that chance, and this referendum is one of those chances. 300,000 people signed a petition and hundreds of people carried those petitions around, arranged for people to sign them, and for them to be returned, counted and presented to Parliament.

I don’t agree with their opinion about smacking, but I agree with their attitude to democracy and participation.

So this is your chance. If you haven’t voted in the referendum yet, do it now! Votes  posted on Thursday (early enough for collection) will be counted.

The hits keep coming

datePosted on 11:11, August 18th, 2009 by Lew

Tara Te Heke has been reading from the Ayn Rand playbook with her idea of a DPB party. Classic troll, and devastatingly effective. There are some truly vile things being said there, and in amongst it, the earnest lunacy of a 3,000-word biblical anti-sermon apparently intended as a sort of Turing test. There’s so much baying on the thread that I’m not sure if anyone has come up with the quote about democracy being two cannibals and a vegetarian voting on what to have for dinner, but it can’t be far off.

The thing I can’t wait for is DPF getting back and answering his doubters, haters and watchers. Whatever else it is, this guest post experiment has been wonderful theatre.

L

Resentful reactionary ethnocentric cultural protectionism

datePosted on 18:55, August 17th, 2009 by Lew

Buy Robyn Kippenberger an atlas, and a history of New Zealand. The chief executive of the RNZSPCA was on The Panel (audio; starts at about 06:15) this afternoon talking about the killing and eating of dogs, as opposed to other critters. Quoth Ms Kippenberger:

I think it’s generally agreed that we have companion animals in European countries, and we don’t eat them. […] I guess that New Zealand is a country that is largely European, and Māori, and none of us eat our dogs. And we’re also … and that’s the main culture in this country. […] I mean, if you want to eat dog, then go to Viet Nam, or go to China, or indeed, maybe go to Tonga.

In the immortal words of that noted killer and eater of critters, Barry Crump: hang on a minute mate. I have a few questions for Ms Kippenberger. In no particular order:

  • Who’s this ‘we’ you’re presuming to speak for, again, and who gave you the right to speak for them?
  • Since when was New Zealand a ‘European’ country? It’s in the South Pacific; the same part of the world as Tonga, incidentally.
  • Given that Māori brought dogs with them to Aotearoa for the express purpose of eating them, how exactly is it culturally offensive for Māori?
  • Upon what basis do you define ‘New Zealander’ as excluding Chinese, Viet Namese and Tongan people?
  • Why do you presume to go on the radio and talk about matters on which you are clearly not informed (viz: geography, Māori history, cultural identity and multiculturalism)?

She goes on:

What we’re saying is, it’s culturally insensitive to do it here. Other cultures tell us what is culturally insensitive to do in their countries. I don’t think that it’s anything other than giving people the heads-up that if they live in this country, actually, we don’t like what they’re doing if they do that.

The underlying discourse here is something along the lines of:

The whole world is PC and everyone gets to have their meddling way, telling us what we can and can’t do, so us whitebread suburban honkey hand-wringers are going to take this chance to draw a line in the sand, to the north of Asians and Islanders, and to the south of Māori (but not Māori as they actually are; but only as we feel like we are supposed to think of them, as rather like us, only brown).

(My words, not hers).

Yes, many New Zealanders object to the killing and eating of pets, particularly dogs. But liberal, multicultural society is quite capable of handling these differences internally. The SPCA is not an agency of cultural arbitration; as Ms Kippenberger has so aptly demonstrated, it is not equipped to be such an agency. Even the CEO doesn’t have the skills or inclination to come up with any better argument than assimilative monoculturalism, and can’t even get the most basic facts and logic of that feeble and reactionary argument right. Its mandate should be limited to those things it knows about – advocating against cruelty to animals while they’re alive, for example. There’s no argument here that the animal was treated cruelly, so the SPCA has no business being involved.

Animal rights and welfare activists should be likewise angered by this. Ms Kippenberger, who ought to be a champion of your cause, has demonstrated that it is led by fools whose attitude to cultural difference is ‘go back to the Islands’.

L

Voodoo justice–compassion or condescension?

datePosted on 14:13, August 17th, 2009 by Pablo

The news that five Maori family members were given community sentences and spared jail terms after being found guilty of the manslaughter of their niece, who they believed to be possessed by demons, during a prolonged exorcism ritual that involved repeated eye scratching and waterboarding (a term now unfortunately part of the popular lexicon) of the victim (who it turns out was mentally ill rather than possessed), has caused a predictable stir in judicial and political circles. Pundits on the right lambaste the apparent double standard applied to Maori in this instance, where gross ignorance, superstition and stupidity cloaked in the garb of “traditional beliefs” is given a cultural pass when it comes to adjudicating personal and collective responsibility for the lethal consequences of said beliefs. The argument goes that any Pakeha exorcism resulting in death would have seen those responsible incarcerated, and that ignorance is no excuse is the eyes of the law. There is truth to this view, as there have been prior instances of bible-bashers (here meant literally) being jailed for abuses against individuals suspected of possession or other religious transgressions. There is also the issue of relative justice, in the sense that people involved in assisted suicide or drugs offenses have received jail terms rather than community service (ie. their crimes were less heinous  than this one). From this vantage point, the light sentences handed down to the defendants on grounds that they did not realise the consequences of their actions and thought that they were doing good for the victim is an astonishing act of judicial double-standards rooted in over weaning political correctness. The bottom line, in this view, is that is is condescending, patronising and just plain wrong to let Maori off lightly because they may have “traditional” beliefs the lead them to commit acts that others could not get away with. After all, “traditional beliefs” are not always correct, civilised or appropriate, because if they were then NZ society and the law would approve of foot-binding, genital mutilation and ritualistic whippings as acceptable practice for those who ascribe to them.

On the other hand, some progressive pundits and cultural relativists see in the decision a wise act of compassion by a judge who believed that the family had suffered enough with the inadvertent death of Janet Moses at their own hands. In this view it serves no purpose to punish them with jail terms because they are already acutely aware of the mistake and have a life long punishment to serve as a result of it. They and society would be better served by having them do community service and learn more about their own cultural heritage so as to not distort traditional beliefs regarding makuto and its treatment.

From my perspective, the main trouble is that in democracies the law should universally apply, and that application should apply universally in sentencing. If ignorance of the law is not an excuse for violating traffic regulations, then surely it is no excuse for manslaughter. Yet in heterogeneous societies comprised of an assortment of pre-modern, modern and post-modern beliefs espoused by indigenous, colonial and post-colonial groups, it may be impossible to apply the “justice for all” standard in ways that do, in fact, ensure so. I am thus left with mixed feelings about the verdict and sentence. On the one hand, the actions of these individuals are inexcusable; on the other hand, they were acting in good faith when they committed them. What then is a fair sentence in this case?  Are some groups entitled (that word again!) to different standards of justice based upon their belief systems? For the moment I am left with the uneasy feeling that ignorance may not be bliss, but for some it makes for a better defense.

123... 747576... 101102103PreviousNext