Act says: solve everything by privatising everything

datePosted on 09:38, January 14th, 2009 by Anita

Roger Douglas was on Morning Report this morning, once again banging on about how we should privatise more stuff to save ourselves. I was interested to hear him complaining that National led government isn’t doing what he said they should, given that they clearly are. They have plans for

  • privatising more health provision
  • private prisons
  • increased funding to private schools
  • private competition in work accident insurance
  • privatisation of many local government services
  • private provision of social welfare services

Exactly what is Douglas concerned National is unwilling to privatise?

“You don’t throw a cup at your brother!”

datePosted on 06:00, January 14th, 2009 by Anita

Last week I was standing in a cafe queue in front of some mums talking about their children, one said “I told him ‘I don’t care who started it, you don’t throw a cup at your brother!'”

With that rather heavy-handed allegory I start another post about Gaza: I don’t care who started it; it’s not ok to bomb civilians, fire missiles into towns, or invade and start killing innocents.

Every time someone criticises Israel’s actions they get slammed for being anti-Semitic, pro-Palestinian and/or for standing up for terrorists. When someone criticises Hamas’ actions they get attacked for being blindly pro-Israel, a lapdog of the US and/or for standing up for terrorists.

I don’t know whose fault the current situation is, I don’t know the ins and outs of all the wars, the politics, the negotiations, the ceasefires and truces and the breaches, the overt ties, the covert ties and the financial ties.

But I know that I don’t care who started it and that it’s not ok to use the lives of innocents as leverage in a political power game.

P.S. Maia has and interesting post about why innocence should not be required for us to care.

The case for increasing NZDF presence in Afghanistan

datePosted on 16:22, January 13th, 2009 by Pablo

If not already, within the next few weeks NZ will be asked by the US and NATO to increase its NZDF contribution to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission in Afghanistan. NZDF are currently serving in their 13th rotation as a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Bamyan Province in Central Afghanistan (under US regional command). They also have officers deployed as liaison elements at Bagram Air Force Base, bringing the total to approximately 150. In its contribution to the ISAF mission NZ is comparable with other small states such as Estonia (130), Latvia (70), Albania (120) and Slovakia (130) and Macedonia (140), but falls short of most of the other members of the 41 nation ISAF coalition (Australia, for example, has. 1100 soldiers deployed in that theater). The questions are whether NZ should contribute more troops, in what role, and can it afford to do so both politically and economically? Most progressives would say no to all three. I beg to differ.

The answers should be yes, combat and combat support as well as PRT and yes. The reason is that rather than a (neo) imperialist intervention, the mission in Afghanistan is a multinational nation-building effort in the wake of state failure. That state failure was brought about by the medieval theocratic Taliban regime, whose record on human rights and support for external terrorism made it arguably the most oppressive regime of the late 20th century.  Under the “responsibility to protect” doctrine elaborated by the UN in the wake of Rwandan and Serbian ethnic cleansing in the 1990s, the international community has a duty to protect populations from the depredations of their rulers as well as from others. As a supporter of the UN mandate, NZ subscribes to this philosophy. It is thus obligated to be involved in Afghanistan and the NZ progressive community should welcome its involvement. Read the rest of this entry »

I do not mourn the passing of the 5th Labour government

datePosted on 06:00, January 13th, 2009 by Anita

The fifth Labour government was a disappointment, an embarrassment, and a litany of opportunities lost. Many good things were done, even the occasional great thing – but right now I can only look back with disappointment.

For nine years with had a “left wing” government, a Labour government, which:

  • put a refugee in solitary confinement for 10 months, despite never telling him what he was accused of
  • employed a senior police officer for nearly four years despite him admitting to the sexual exploitation of vulnerable teenagers and publicly supporting convicted rapists
  • put in place financial support for the children of workers, but ignored the plight of our poorest and most vulnerable children
  • drove a 50% increase in the prison population
  • failed to bring stability to our abortion rules; leaving our bodies to the whim of the next government
  • did not give workers back the right to strike
  • drafted and passed amendments to the Immigration Act removing rights of appeal and allowing the use of secret evidence
  • drafted and passed the Terrorism Suppression Act, a piece of legislation which cuts deeply into our fundamental rights
  • condoned and supported the October 15 raids in which the Police invaded and harassed innocent communities
  • passed legislation preventing courts deciding who should own the seabed and foreshore
  • put NZ troops into Afghanistan and Iraq
  • released an wonderful disability strategy, and completely failed to implement it
  • failed to address climate change in any meaningful way

Don’t misunderstand me, that Labour government was hugely better than its predecessor (and has every sign of being better than its successor) but it could have been so much more; we deserved so much better.

Tonight I will light a candle for a journalist

datePosted on 18:10, January 12th, 2009 by Anita

Last Friday Lasantha Wickrematunge – an outspoken Sri Lankan journalist, husband and father – was stabbed and shot to death, his state-sanctioned killing will never be prosecuted.

I could write a list of journalists who have been killed, tortured, arrested or deported by governments around the world, but the list would be too long. I could write a list of all the courageous journalists out there still speaking truth to power. I could try to explain why journalists matter, but instead I will light a candle by water and be thankful.

Instead I will leave it to him, to the piece titled And then they came for me published in his paper on Sunday

No other profession calls on its practitioners to lay down their lives for their art save the armed forces and, in Sri Lanka, journalism. In the course of the past few years, the independent media have increasingly come under attack. Electronic and print-media institutions have been burnt, bombed, sealed and coerced. Countless journalists have been harassed, threatened and killed. It has been my honour to belong to all those categories and now especially the last.

People often ask me why I take such risks and tell me it is a matter of time before I am bumped off. Of course I know that: it is inevitable. But if we do not speak out now, there will be no one left to speak for those who cannot, whether they be ethnic minorities, the disadvantaged or the persecuted. 

Make a difference: Give blood!

datePosted on 12:00, January 12th, 2009 by Anita

You may have seen in the media the the blood supplies are going through their summer dip as regular donors are on holiday and collections drop.

So if you can give blood, or you’re not sure please ring the Blood Service and do it!

NZ Blood Service contact details

They take lots of people who think they may not be able to give blood (they take me, my chronic health condition and all my meds), blood is so precious and it’s a real chance to save a life.

P.S. If you are a regular donor at work but think that summer may have meant you’ve missed a donation get in touch and do it!

The case against legalising marriage

datePosted on 06:00, January 12th, 2009 by Anita

During the Civil Unions debate I kept arguing, in private settings, that we shouldn’t legalise same-sex marriage; that it was the fourth best option and we should actually be aiming to delegalise all marriage. Anjum’s post at the Hand Mirror about why the 2 year separation period is nonsensical reminded me of why we shouldn’t let the Crown be in charge of our marriages.

Marriage is a family, societal or religious bond. It belongs to the people who get married, and their family, their friends, their communities, their congregations and their God(s). Why should any of us be required to ask the Queen for permission (or Anand Satyanand, or Lockwood Smith, or John Key, or Brendan Boyle depending on your view of the constitutionality)? Isn’t it a marriage when we get married, not when we send a form to the Queen (etc etc)? Isn’t it up to us, our friends and families, our communities and churches to decide what marriage means, not 80 people in 1955?

If I ever chose to get married, I would do so in a ceremony appropriate to my culture, community and faith. We would stand before our family, friends and community and ask them to bless and care for our marriage. We would make promises of marriage to each other, and the people around us would witness and support that. Isn’t that what it takes to make a marriage?

Europeans behind the Confucian Throne

datePosted on 22:06, January 11th, 2009 by Pablo

There is  state in Asia  that is a remarkable story of modern economic-political success. From its origins as a post-colonial, post-war, disease-ridden ethnic enclave in swampland fronted by a primitive deep water port ringed by brothels and opium dens, its has transformed itself, under the tutelage of one imaginative (albeit authoritarian) political genius into a paragon of  Asian developmentalism. In its socio-economic scope and depth, it rivals the conquest of the American West, minus the ethnic cleansing. In its self-conscious championing of its alternative to liberal democracy, it stands unequaled.

But there is a dirty secret to this country’s success, one that even national leaders will not admit. It is European complicity in fostering its one-party regime’s rise and continuity. Without Europeans (mostly British and Germans, but including Australians, New Zealanders, US, Dutch and French nationals amongst majority contributors), this Asian dragon would collapse in a week. That is because, at around 10% of the population, Europeans are the skilled labour that staff upper management in private and state enterprises, ministries and other cultural-educational institutions that are the foundation upon which the national “miracle” rests. They are, in other words, the silent partners in this story of authoritarian success, because while the local elite keeps the political order in check, the Europeans supply the brain power to grow the economic base. The local skilled labour force is too small to do so by themselves.

For their troubles, these Europeans live extremely well. Most make six or seven figure salaries, with full subsidies of their (exorbitant) rents, cars, maids and school tuitions at private foreign curriculum schools (there are over two dozen foreign schools offering  American, Australian, French, German Japanese and Chinese curricula, among others) . They shop in Western-oriented supermarkets and malls, and they socialize with the most Westernized elements of native society. They need not learn any of the local dialects, because the language of the powerful is English. Many middle aged European men display a penchant for young(er) Asian wimin, so as far as they are concerned their cultural “immersion” is complete. As far as the government is concerned, the more such immersion, the better. Put another way, these Europeans individually and collectively benefit from their participation in the authoritarian project.

The irony of this arrangement  at least twofold: Expat Europeans accept the regime’s argument that liberal democracy is unsuitable for the country given its conditions, and that in fact liberal democracy is a decadent political form that has been surpassed by the more efficient local model, which is based on purported Confucian values. Given that almost 30 percent of those native to the country have no cultural affinity with Confucianism, that is debatable even at home. The irony extends to the fact that this new Asian alternative to liberal democracy structurally depends on expats from the very countries that it considers “decadent” and chaotic.  What is not debatable is that Europeans come to this place to enrich themselves, remains silent in the face of  a host of undemocratic indignities visited upon the locals, and even dare to talk about how “safe” the place is in contrast to their home countries (at least if you do not talk politics). They accept the regime’s logic that stability, efficiency and steadiness of governmental purpose trumps open voice and unfettered grassroots participation in the political process.

A number of prominent New Zealanders have transited through this Asian success story on their way to greater things at home. Upon their return to NZ some have entered politics, with others prominent in business. What does it say about these people that they would choose such a place as a launching platform or stepping stone for subsequent careers in NZ? Why should they purport  to speak for all New Zealanders in either private or public life, given their active complicity in an authoritarian project that rejects the fundamentals of New Zealand’s socio-political order? What does it say about average New Zealanders that they would allow themselves to be led by such people?

At the very least we should hope that these repatriated opportunists are mere hypocrites that toed the authoritarian line while in Asia, rather than their having accepted the argument that liberal democracy is less preferable than a developmental dictatorship when it comes to political efficiency and social stability (to say nothing of crime). If the latter were to be true (that these returning expats actually believe in the Confucian developmental alternative to liberal democracy) and we add to this the influx of Asian immigrants who retain belief systems rooted in the Confucian values extolled by the authoritarian developmentalist model,  that combination of views could signal a change in the terms of political debate in a “harder” direction, or at least could arguably signal a retreat from the egalitarian ethos that is at the heart of NZ social and political culture.

To be sure: Many, if not most Asian immigrants to NZ seek to embrace the NZ socio-political ideal rather than reject or modify it. Moreover, they are not the only ones who may have legitimate reasons to see a need for more efficiency in government, safety on the streets and stability in the social order. The point here is that the returning expats from Asian developmentalist states and others may see utility in a “harder” approach to the NZ conundrum. Phrased differently: the imposition of market steerage of the NZ economy was done in a “hard” way (at least for a mature democracy). Is social and political retrogression in pursuit of the Confucian ideal at the hands of these repatriated expats and their internal allies not that far off?

Why Gaza not Sri Lanka?

datePosted on 07:00, January 11th, 2009 by Anita

The fighting in Sri Lanka’s civil war has intensified again. This is the war that has killed 70,000 and displaced hundreds of thousands. The war with the ceasefire that failed in 2007-2008. The war in a Commonwealth country. The war with its roots in the British legacy. The war with the internationally brokered ceasefires and peacekeepers and observers.  The war with the complex confusing history and only shades of grey.

The war that we don’t see on the news.

New Zealand has more than 7,000 people who identified as Sri Lankan in the 2006 census, while only 1,599 identified as “Israeli/Jewish/Hebrew” and 2,607 who identified as Arab (and not a subset – we don’t ask for Palestinian).

We exported NZ$168 million of goods to Sri Lanka in the 2004-5 year. To Israel the value was NZ$16.85 million in 2007.

Sri Lanka is closer, more people in New Zealand identify their cultural heritage as Sri Lankan, and we have more trade ties with it. Yet Gaza dominates the news and the bombing and shooting and civilian deaths in Sri Lanka go unremarked.

I happened to be in Sri Lanka when the the war stepped up in 2007. I was check pointed and searched and patted down more times than I can count, I had conversations with Sinhalese and Tamil, with parents, grandparents, children, soldiers and police. I saw guns and fighter planes and armoured vehicles and sandbags – and vegetable gardens and elephants and children playing in the sea.

I write about Sri Lanka because I know about its war, but there are others we are ignoring too. What is it about their victims that make them not worth our time?

The Rationale of Hamas Rocket Attacks

datePosted on 14:25, January 10th, 2009 by Pablo

There is much argument about who started the latest Gaza conflict. Many believe that the Hamas rocket attacks on Israel were the precipitating event, and that Israel has the right to respond. Perhaps that is true. Many question why, during a supposed truce, Hamas would have continued to stage rocket attacks on Israeli territory. The reason, in my view, was both tactical and strategic.

Hamas demands the illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land be withdrawn before any durable peace can be achieved. It believes that it has the right to armed resistance against illegal occupation of its land. Israel demands that the rocket attacks stop before talks on a land-for-peace swap can begin. Hamas militants believe that to cease their attacks will be a tacit surrender to Israeli demands. They also believe that stopping the attacks are a sign of acquiescence on the terms of  any deal. Thus the rocket attacks are designed to frame any discussions in a way that is favourable to Palestinian interests. They are, in a word, part of a “moderate-militant” negotiating strategy by which the attacks are designed to give Hamas’s political wing more room to maneuver when negotiating the terms of any land-for peace agreement. Anyone familiar with negotiations understands the principle: you drive a hard bargain and settle for something less. In this instance the bargain being driven has an armed edge.

There is more to the picture. The reason that rocket attacks are used is that since 2006 no successful suicide bombing attacks have been carried out in Israel (although many have been thwarted). Given the heavily fortified nature of the border, rocket attacks are the only way to make the militant point. Moreover, the point is not only being made to the Israeli authorities. It is also, and perhaps more importantly, being made to the Hamas moderates who make up the bulk of its political wing, and who are the potential negotiators on the Gazian side (since Fattah represents the Palestinian community in the occupied West Bank). Thus the rocket attacks served episodic notice of militant conviction on two fronts, internal and external, with the internal message to the political wing being “sell us out at your peril.”

Regardless of whether this explanation of the rationale behind the rocket attacks is correct or not, one thing is now clear: the rocketeers seriously underestimated Israel’s determination to eradicate Hamas’s militant wing while allowing its political moderates to live to negotiate anther day ( I elaborate on this and some other aspects of  the conflict over at www.scoop.co.nz in an essay titled “Who Benefits from the Gaza conflict?”). That process is now taking place.

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