Joe Hendren

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Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Bush Administration: Historical parallels with 1930s Germany

Via About Town, No Right Turn cites a 'great article' by Jim Peron of the Institute for (classical) Liberal Values The Ugly Side of America. Peron is alarmed that his country has been taken over by fundumentalists and divided into competiting extremisms, and sees some historical parallels.
And although I've been proud to be an American for most of my life that pride is shattered. My friends will tell you that I annoyed them by telling them about all the great things about America. I loved the spirit of liberty that made up America and that is embodied in the Constitution. Today I fear that is all dead. It's been pushed aside because of a president who campaigns on fear. He terrorises people into supporting him. If "terrorism" isn't enough he has other bogey men to trot out - hence his campaign against gay people. His whole re-election strategy is built on fear. And when people are afraid - even people who love liberty - they start making excuses for tyranny.

That is what worries me about America. I go back historically to Weimar Germany and see the same type of polarisation and fear. The Weimar Germans were separated into warring camps of extremists. Extreme Left versus the Nationalist Right dominated Weimar politics. People were afraid. Each side feared the other and feared what would happen to their nation if something wasn't done. America is setting itself up for the same "solution" that the Weimar Germans sought.
While I share Jim Peron's concerns over the rise of fundamentalism in US politics and Bush's manipulation of the fear of terror for political ends, his example of Weimar Germany is a poor one.

The polarisation of German politics occurred because the previously prevailing liberal free market economics fundamentally failed. The key economic malaise during the 1920s and 1930s was unemployment and ‘Milton Friedman’ style economics consistently failed to address this problem. The continuation of such policies after the stock market crash simply made things worse. While free market ‘fundamentalists’ may argue this was due to the ideas of Saint Freidman (and the like) not being applied in full, this ignores the key point that during the 1930s economic liberalism was justifiably discredited.

In Germany people were looking for alternatives, and this explains the increase in support for the Nazis and the Communists, who both rejected, to varying degrees, the old liberal economic orthodoxy. In New Zealand the electorate dismissed the policies of the United/Reform government with the election of Labour in 1935. The free market remained in retreat for half a century. It is a sad irony that the ‘free market’ was resurrected as the ‘only alternative’ (sic) to deal with a similar depression during the 1980s and 1990s. The ‘intellectual façade’ of conservatism during the 1980s was a façade indeed – a central claim of the new right of ‘there is no alternative’ was a logical error and its prescriptions had already been demonstrated to be counterproductive during the 1930s depression.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary 'Fundumentalism' means 'the strict maintainence of the ancient or fundumental doctrines of any religion or ideology'. So while Peron is absolutely right to note the rise in religious fundumentalism in the state of America, it also could be said that the Institute for (classical) Liberal Values (ILV) demonstrates an ideological fundumentalism to free markets, in that it appears to believe such artifical creations can do no evil.

ILV, a thinly disgused cheer squad for a faction of the Act party, includes on its board such lumanaries such as Rodney Hide and Lindsey Mitchel. The later promotes himself as a campaigner for the abolution of the Domestic Purposes Benefit, an initiative that came from the development of the welfare state from 1935. So in a sense the ILV and their ideological buddies continue to oppose the policy framework that finally lifted the world from the 1930s depression.

Germany in 1933, after the Nazis gained power, offers a far better comparison with the polarisation and fear engineered by the Bush administration. Following the Reichstag fire, the Nazis claimed they needed new laws to deal to the ‘terrorists’. The Reichstag fire decree has an uncanny resemblance to the Patriot Act. Bush also appears to share the fascist rejection of reason in favour of ‘instinct and will’.

At present I am reading Eric Hobsbawn’s ‘Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century’. In attempting to explain how the capitalism of the US and the communism of the USSR became allies in the fight to defeat fascism, I think Hobsbawn comes up with a very interesting thesis. Both the “liberal democracies” (UK, US, France) and the USSR were founded on the ideals of the enlightenment and the French revolution. Fascism rejected these ideals in favour of an even more traditional order, and thus these ideals formed the basis for the anti-fascist alliance in World War II.

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Friday, December 24, 2004

TV: Phone in Polls and 'Loud' Advertisements

Found a couple of interesting discussions over at ReinventingTVNZ

1. The Fallacy of Phone in Polls
It pleased me greatly to read on Span's blog that someone has finally lodged an official broadcasting complaint over the presenters drawing inappropriate conclusions from the ‘results’ of phone in polls.

Despite their veneer of democracy, phone in polls are a form of plutocracy, a mere ‘democracy of disposable income’.

In the context of this complaint, it would be very interesting if someone asked a parliamentary question asking how much income TVNZ gained from the use of such polls. It may be harder to get such information out of a private broadcaster such as TV3, but the exposure of the TVNZ figure would be a useful thing to bully them with. At 99c a call (at least) it probably represents a nice little earner. It would also be interesting to find out how many phone numbers calling the Close Up at 7 polls were registered as coming from Parliament Buildings! I bet it’s more than a few.

It may be going a bit far, but it has concerned me for a while that these polls may lead to an erosion of people’s expectations of democracy. If phone in polls become an accepted way of gauging public opinion, and Susan Wood's comments on such polls encourage this, how long is it before it is suggested that such polls may be a way to ‘encourage participation’ in more serious polls over local body issues, even elections themselves?? Free and fair would not even come into it, and such polls would be at the mercy of a cynical public relations industry.

And who started this scourge of democratic plastic? As I remember, the first programme to heavily push phone in polling was….Big Brother. So I blame Big Brother.

2. The Ads Are Too Bloody Loud
I have always wondered why TV advertising usually seems louder than the programming. As it is annoying, I assumed it was a deliberate ploy to make people pay more attention to the ads. I find Sky One an especially offensive offender, as even its station promos seem 'loud'. Even with the lightening use of the mute button, I often find the sudden two second long blast of sound uncomfortable. It’s the sudden change, not the volume that is the problem.

Apparently this effect is caused by advertising producers applying a form of ‘audio compression’ so there is more sound power in the range where the ear is most sensitive, in order to increase its audible impact. The broadcasting standards authority in Australia is apparently looking at this issue. Our broadcasting authorities should look at it too.

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Thursday, December 23, 2004

The Fog of Iraq

This morning I watched ‘The Fog of War’, a documentary film comprising of an extended interview with Robert S. McNamara, the secretary of defence under the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.

For me, McNamara’s discussion of the importance of ‘empathising with the enemy’ was the most interesting part of the film, especially as his ‘lesson’ has direct relevance for the US shambles in Iraq.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis John F. Kennedy was lucky enough to have someone at his side that knew the Soviet Premier Khrushchev well, and was able to predict (accurately as it turned out) the kind of compromise that Khrushchev needed in order to defuse the crisis without the need for war. Athough he may not be a household name, Tommy Thompson, the former US ambassador to Moscow may have saved more than a few households.

McNamara: “We must try and put ourselves inside their skin and look at us through their eyes, just to understand the thoughts that lie behind their decisions and their actions.”

Later in the film McNamara makes a very interesting comparison between the outcomes of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the War on Vietnam.
“In the Cuban Missile Crisis, in the end I think we did put ourselves in the skin of the Soviets. In the case of Vietnam, we didn’t know them well enough to empathise. And there was total misunderstanding as a result. They believed we had simply replaced the French as a colonial power and we were seeking to subject South and North Vietnam to our colonial interest, which was absolutely absurd. And we, saw Vietnam as an element of the Cold War. Not what they saw it as, a civil war."
The Bush Administration and the mainstream media have made no effort to empathise with Iraqis, and demonstrate a glaring ignorance of their history. As I have written before the consistent dismissal of the Iraqi opposition as terrorists, insurgents or militants, often with a suggestion of a possible connection to Jordanian extremist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, actually tells us very little. But the use of empty verbs does make it easier for those supporting the occupation to create the impression that any “violence” (but never US violence) is somehow without reason, or simply an attempt to ‘disrupt elections’.

In the Boston Globe, Molly Bingham writes why elections won't quell Iraq resistance.
The composition of the Iraqi resistance is not what the US administration has been calling it, and the more it is oversimplified the harder it is to explain its complexity....My objective is not to romanticize the fighters or their fight, but merely to better understand what our realistic choices are in Iraq and the Middle East.
Even a cursory glance of Iraq’s twentieth century history reveals a long struggle to gain and retain Iraqi independence, first from the Turks and then from the British. Even on the basis of recent history, it is reasonable for Iraqis to fear that the US will act like another colonial power, as the Americans have set up permanent military bases and have opened Iraq up for unrestricted US investment and repatriation of profits (read plunder). Halliburton now has effective control of the oil, thanks to ‘reconstruction’ contracts, and is very likely to be looking to ensure this control remains permanent.

I think the left has been a little unsure of itself in deciding whether or not to support the Iraqi resistance, largely because many have felt unsure about exactly what they were supporting. But a first step is to give up the erroneous impression, created by the occupiers, that the ‘insurgents’ represent a uniform group with the common goal of hating democracy. Attempting to ignore the resistance is a more common response. More understanding and empathy is required.

Much of the resistance sprung immediately in response to the illegal US invasion. Given the resistance is a nationalist response to the invasion, it seems safe to assume that no elections will be regarded as legimate while Americans remain in control of the political process.

Empathy is something the left usually does well. So lets have more of it.

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Monday, December 20, 2004

Maharey as Minister of Teritary Education - A Barnyard Fable

I am surprised that Maharey has lost tertiary education at this time. He well may be remembered as the Minister for Tertiary Education who spent a lot of time dreaming up strategies to weigh the pig, and not enough time feeding it.

When Maharey did provide a few more scraps of feed, they were usually accompanied by quite lot of waffle. Pigs find waffle a bit dry - they prefer a nice juicy carrot or an orange peel.

The previous operator of the pigpen allowed far too many private pigs into the public trough, and Maharey only told the private pigs they could only have as much feed as they did the previous year, when a much higher fence was required in order to prevent many public pigs from starving.

Maharey continued to focus on the pigs that he expected to produce the most bacon at the works, instead of the pigs that promised to produce healthier offspring in the future. The boars in the registry pigpen continued to get the best rations, and gave more and more feed to the two notoriously fat pigs, Saatchi and Saatchi.

Piglets with fat parents continued not to get their own allowance, even if they no longer ate out of the family trough. Maharey increased the weight limits slightly, but cut $25m from piglets that had long left the pen or had found their legal partner in mud. Maharey also refused to feed piglets over Christmas, unlike any other animal in the land, unless they could find some scraps from SJS or charity. This is despite promises he made the piglets before he became master of the pigpen.

It was rumoured that a mean spirited duck was really in charge of allocating feed to the pigs. The pigs recently heard the duck is going to take charge of the pigpen from now on. Birdlike cries of ‘Clark Clark Clark’ across the farmyard make some pigs think there is an even more powerful bird bullying the duck.

After 5 years of trickle down feeding the pigs and piglets are beginning to feel rather sow. Piglets are considering more than a squeal next year – some are considering an occupation of the barnyard to force the duck to listen.

(yes, I am in a slightly silly mood - I need to get some sleep zzzzz)

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Monday, December 13, 2004

Principles of Magna Carta still needed today for Zaoui and those at Guantanamo

In Runnymede field in 1215, King John was forced to sign a document designed to prevent abuses of royal power, the Magna Carta.

While the vast majority of the Magna Carta dealt with immediate issues of concern to the traditional English aristocracy, it did contain one important principle – that there existed a body of law independent of the King, and the King could not act outside the law. In retrospect, the charter was a logical progression from Henry II’s legal reforms, as it made the only family then exempt from the law subject to the law.

The Magna Carta enshrined the right to freedom of movement, and placed a prohibition on imprisonment without lawful case. A sentence could not be conferred until lawful judgement by peers.

I find it amazing that in the case of Ahmed Zaoui in New Zealand and the incarceration of the alleged terrorists in Guantanamo Bay, we are still battling with the arbitrary power of kings some 800 years after the Magna Carta was first signed. The war on terror is no excuse to do away with fundamental constitutional principles.

In another irony, John only became King after his brother Richard the Lion heart fell to an arrow on his return from another war against Islam, the crusades.

An urgent review of the Immigration Act 1987 is required, as the right of the inspector general of intelligence to issue ‘Security Risk Certificates’ without a requirement to inform the accused the reasons for imprisonment, comes awfully close to a simple abuse of executive privilege. Denying Zaoui the reasons for his imprisonment made it impossible to mount an adequate defence and thus denied him the right to a fair trial of his peers. How long should someone be in prison before it is asked ‘hang on, is this arbitrary imprisonment’? While Zaoui’s request for Habeas Corpus failed, it again demonstrated that the issues surrounding this case have been with us a long time.

Of course Guatánamo Bay is worse, as those held there and in other like US prisons are denied legal process completely. Appointing military lawyers is not good enough, as anyone accused of a crime should be able to choose their own lawyer. No American king, notably George W. Bush should be able to call someone a terrorist and lock them up for an undetermined time. Those held in Guatánamo can only be called alleged terrorists until an adequate trial is held to ascertain their guilt. I expect to return to his issue in a later post. Interesting Guardian article about Magna Carta and Guatanamo Bay. The world needs more Runnymede and less Rummymede!

Of course King John did not keep to the bargain, and as a result the Magna Carta was reissued a number of times, most significantly in 1297 when the Hammer of the Scots, Edward I ran out of hammers.

With the Ahmed Zaoui decision I was pleased to see the Supreme Court fulfil one of its most important functions - acting as a break on the actions of the executive (the crown and cabinet). But ultimately it is up to us to hold our Kings and Queens to account. Making a protest is an act of loyalty to the principles in which ‘liberal democracies’ are founded.
"Clause [29] No Freeman shall be taken, or imprisoned, or be disseised of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any otherwise destroyed; nor will we pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful Judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the Land. We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right." (Magna Carta, 1297 version)

The Magna Carta, along with sections of the Bill of Rights Act 1688, The Act of Settlement 1700 and the Habeas Corpus Act of 1640 (+ 1679 + 1816) are incorporated into New Zealand law by the Imperial Laws Application Act 1988 (and previous enactments) (Source : The New Zealand Legal System, 2ed, McDowell and Webb)

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Friday, December 10, 2004

Robson bites like a big fish

Perhaps in response to my posting on the 11th of November, where I questioned whether the Progressive Party's campaign for corporate tax cuts was being funded by corporates, it is possible this blog may have gained mention in Matt Robson's latest email newsletter. Of course, someone else may be asking the obvious questions too, as just like Robson's reaction, it does seem fishy.

"I'm happy to tell a snide ex-colleague that the billboard money isn't Parliamentary funding nor from corporates, but donations from Progressive members and supporters."
"Ok, Matt, but what about the three large newspaper ads in all the major papers? Those cost a lot more than a few billboards. Are you saying the Progressives got no corporate funding at all? Did any wealthy businessmen in favour of corporate tax cuts get out their personal cheque accounts to become 'Progressive party supporters'?

Might I suggest a way we can clear up this matter once and for all, that could even help the Progressive party promote its policies.

I note the Progressive party has a policy of 'full disclosure' of political donations over $250. This is a fine policy party hopped from the Alliance. Under current electoral law, parties only need to declare political donations over $10,000. This limit is clearly too high. One only needs to think of the dodgy trust scheme run by the ACT party in 1996 - this allowed ACT to receive huge donations split into anonymous $10,000 lots. For some strange reason, the rich funding the scheme did not want their name associated with the ACT party.

I call on the Progressive party to follow their own policy and make a full public declaration of all donations made to the party over $250 over the past year. It would be a principled way to promote their own policy, and it would put to rest any rumours of recent corporate cheques.

If they do so, and they are clear of corporate or corporate linked cash, I would consider a retraction and would celebrate it as a victory for parliamentary accountability. But I doubt they will, as the Progs have consistently shown they won't stand up for anything that will stand in the way of Jim's ministerial LTD.

I looked up 'snide' in the dictionary. Apparently it means 'derogatory or mocking in an indirect way'. Me? Taking the mocky out of the Progs? :)

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Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Treatise on value - what-a-yer

Commenting on the phenomenon that is blogsphere, Span is concerned that there appear to be more committed bloggers on the right than on the left. This is based on SageNZ analysis of the blog stats, separated by political alignment. Its interesting, but certainly not the final word on value.

Personally I am not too worried. Those on the right often emphasise quantifiable increases in production, often at the expense of quality. I suspect only a right winger would attempt to judge the value of blogs purely based on numerical posting frequency, site hits or comments received.

Sadly the State Sector Act 1988 judges our public service in a similar fashion, artificially in terms of 'outputs'.

I often suspect this emphasis of the right is driven by a simple form of logical positivism, which holds that if something cannot be measured it cannot exist or is not worth worrying about. It’s like reducing 'intelligence' to a score on an IQ test. It’s not a very effective philosophy of science, just as choosing a school on a basis of a league table is not very effective either.

Although I would like to post more frequently, I am not about to work in a blogging sweatshop where the arguments will fall to pieces like a cheap pair of shoes :)

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Friday, December 03, 2004

Two teachers per classroom?

I was talking to two teachers tonight (ok one was my mum) and the idea of having two teachers in every classroom came up.

The more I started thinking about it the more I became convinced that this is a good idea. Many teachers, especially those working in low decile schools, often report their job has been reduced to behaviour modification, day in day out. While they are dealing with the 'challenging' kids they no longer have time to teach the children in the way they want to teach.

How could this work? Imagine that teacher one is in the middle of a lesson. If Kid A (with apologies to Radiohead) causes a disruption teacher two could go over and quietly talk to Kid A, or remove him/her from the class, while teacher one continued. If the goal of the disruption was attention seeking then Kid A has already lost.

There is also a case that two teachers in each classroom would be better for the students. Different students may respond better to each teacher, just as teachers could develop specialities in their areas of strength. I suspect we all had at least one teacher with authoritarian instincts, who used the fact they were the only adult in the room to be a bit of a bully. With another adult in the room this would be less likely to happen. Each teacher could provide relief for the other, allowing an increase in non-contact time, meaning that teachers with a full time class would be less likely to have to stay until 6-7pm most nights doing paperwork.

The only catch is that this would be a expensive policy. As of April 2004 there were 23,973 primary school teachers (excluding principals) in New Zealand on an average salary of $53,579, meaning it would be an additional $1284 million to have two teachers per class. To do the same for secondary (18878 at $57,121) would cost an additional $1078m. This assumes that the two teachers would have the same qualifications and experience and this is probably not necessary.

Perhaps a more realistic option would be to have three teachers assigned to two classes which would be half a much, at $642m and $539m respectively. It would probably have most benefit in primary schools, as primary classrooms are largely based around one teacher and because as I understand it secondary teachers currently get more non-contact time.


(Figures from Teacher Payroll Warehouse and Parliamentary Questions 5527 5528)