Joe Hendren

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Monday, October 31, 2005

Why should public sector CEOs get 15% pay increases, when their staff struggle to keep up with inflation?

In a report released this week, State Services Commissioner Mark Prebble complains that state sector chief executives continue to be underpaid. Despite recently gaining significant percentage increases, those poor public sector CEOs are lucky to take home a $400,000 salary. Does that mean foodbanks now catering for those in a tailored suit and tie?

It is sad that Prebble does not appear to have sympathy for the public sector workers below the level of CEOs, some of whom went on strike last week, in the hope of obtaining far less extravagant pay claims from their public service bosses.

Kevin List of Scoop takes up this issue in the latest 'A Week of It'. I was pleased to see Kevin pick up on a National Union of Public Employees press release from Wednesday last week, featuring a friend of mine, Lynda Boyd. She was commenting in support of Child Youth and Family workers, forced to go on strike after receiving an abysmal wage offer that did not even allow clerical and administrative staff the chance to keep up with inflation.

"At a time when the State Services Commission is talking about pay hikes for public service Chief Executives it is ironic that workers dealing with some of the most vulnerable and challenging people in our society have to take strike action to try and get a decent pay rise. ItÂ’s wrong when frontline workers earning between $10.60 and $12.60 are being offered rises of 3% at a time when public sector CEOs are getting salary increases of 15%,"” said Lynda Boyd of the National Union of Public Employees.

Well said Lynda :)

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Sunday, October 30, 2005

Privatised police are a bad bad idea

When Helen Clark appointed Annette King as Minister of Police, I was reasonably relieved - as I thought she would be unable to do much damage in this portfolio.

It appears I was wrong.

King now says she is willing to discuss the introduction of private police, using private contractors to do police work.

While advocacy of part-privatisation may be surprising from a "Labour" minister, it has got to be remembered that King is on the right of Labour's caucus, and was close to Roger Douglas during the forth Labour Government.

The proposal has been slammed by Police Association President Greg O'Connor, who quite rightly points out that merely using private contractors is "not going to make things any cheaper". Any extra police are "still going to have to be paid for". Using private people is "not going to solve anything."

There could be significant issues regarding conflicts of interest, especially where 'police' could be conceivably in the pay of somebody else at the same time they are undertaking investigative work. They also might be concerned where their next pay check is coming from after they finish their current 'police' contract.

New Zealand's lax accounting requirements allow a company to appoint the same accounting firm to be both its auditor and its tax/accounting policy adviser. The auditors end up auditing their own work. While it may be claimed there are 'chinese walls' within the auditing firm to prevent information being passed within these two functions, they leave open the perception of compromise.

Now imagine the same accounting firm is employed as a police private contractor in a fraud case. Even the presence of 'the great wall of China' could not prevent perceptions they could have a vested interest in favour of finding 'not enough evidence to prosecute'

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Saturday, October 29, 2005

New leftie blogs

While some established blogs appear to have gone quieter over the past month, some new leftie blogs have suddenly jumped out of the woodwork.

Over at Capitalism Bad, Tree Pretty, Maia provides a feminist perspective on current events and industrial issues. With 'Feminist of the Day' she celebrates the contribution of people who have improved the lives of women and humanity in general.

Len Richards envisages a newsoc where a co-operative basis for organising human life will put human needs before profit-driven greed. Instead of the 'market' deciding, people should decide through democratic participation at all levels (Hat tip Span)

With the VUWSA presidency soon to pass into the safe neo-Marxist hands of Nick Kelly, Jeremy Greenbook is now the Aucklander at Large. I don't think Jeremy's new blog has been inspired by that ancient so-called-3D-movie, Gorilla at Large, but I have been known to be wrong :)

Following his campaign for Labour in Rakaia in 2005, Tony Milne now posts his thoughts on I See Red. With his blog Tony looks to explore the emergence of the 'majority diversity coalition of 21st century New Zealand'.

Maria Von Trap discusses politics and current events alongside some 'slices of life'. Some of her travel stories are wee gems! Rest assured, there appear to be no Julie Andrews WAVs hiding behind Maria's URL, so there is no need to far, so far away to run.

With Progressive Essays, C Simmons shares his thoughts on 'socialist and progressive politics'.

SNAP provides an anarchist perspective on political and industrial news, courtesy of the Wildcat Anarchist Collective of Wellington. In a recent post Sam Buchanan says the anarchist critique of the Green party is less to do with their participation in elections, and much more to do with their acceptance of capitalism (Hat tip NRT).


Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Sundown towns: Just how deliberate was institutional racism in the US?

On the subject of the history of race relations in the US, The Washington Post carries an interesting review of a new book called 'Sundown Towns' by James W. Loewen. Loewen argues that thousands of American towns kept themselves 'whites only' through deliberate policies between 1890 and 1960, aiming to drive out any black population and discourage any potential citizens of the "wrong" colour. These measures included "legal" ordinances banning the hiring of blacks or renting/selling them homes, informal "visits" warning visiting African Americans that "they must not remain in the town".

Such towns often posted signs at their city limits, carrying warnings such as "Nigger, Don't Let The Sun Set On YOU in Hawthorne", as one California town did in the 1930s.

Around 50 towns used mob violence, with many more relying on the threat of violence Loewen reports.

I think this helps to demonstrate how racial segregation in the US was not just 'the way things always had been', but a deliberate policy to legalise outright racism in the first half of the twentieth century. If this is so, perhaps we should not be as hesitant to use words like 'apartheid' to describe the situation existing in the US at that time.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Thank you Rosa Parks

One December evening in 1955 one black woman in Montgomery, Alabama refused to give up her seat to a white man on a segregated bus (Hat tip NRT). This simple action led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the start of the civil rights movement in the United States.

Rosa Parks died on Monday night (US time) aged 92.

Thanks to the work of Rosa and her legal team, Alabama's segregation laws were overturned by the Supreme Court. The bus boycott created a stage for a local preacher, Martin Luther King, who would later assemble the 'March on Washington' and demonstrate public support for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a legal guarantee of equal rights to Americans of all races.

Despite the inspiration she provided to others, Rosa suffered personal hardship in the immediate aftermath of her arrest. She was found guilty of violating the segregation laws and fined $14. She lost her job, and her husband quit his job after his boss ordered that no mention be made of "Rosa" or the legal case. Concerned for the safety of supporters as well as themselves, following a number of death threats, the Parks moved to Detroit in 1957, where Rosa worked as an aide in a Democratic congressman's office.

"Rosa was a true giant of the civil rights movement," said U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), in whose office Parks worked for more than 20 years. "There are very few people who can say their actions and conduct changed the face of the nation, and Rosa Parks is one of those individuals."

Thank you Rosa for demonstrating the power of non-violent direct action. Thank you for standing up against injustice and making the world a better place for us all.

More at No Right Turn.

Update: Bayprairie at OurWord has complied some interesting background to the bus boycott. While Rosa was 'the spark that lit the fire', Bayprairie points out that the movement to desegregate the buses in Montgomery began earlier, largely instigated by Jo Ann Robinson, a black college professor.

PS: You may have to log in to see the Washington Post report. (its free)

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Question time is going to be bizarre

As ministers outside cabinet, Winston Peters as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Peter Dunne as Minister of Revenue will answer oral questions on behalf of the government.

Peters now expects to ask supplementary questions of other ministers, while serving as a minister himself. So we could have the bizarre sight of Peters defending the foreign affairs record of the government, only to be followed by Peters later asking a question to the Minister of the Environment attacking New Zealand's commitment to the Kyoto Protocol. I would imagine New Zealanders will end up being a touch confused, as will the ambassadorial staff of the various embassies when they are asked to summarise the position of the New Zealand government on issues of interest to their home governments.

Until I took another glance at the Parliamentary Standing Orders I had not thought it was possible for a minister to ask questions of other ministers. But the section entitled "Questions to Ministers and Members" does not seem to prohibit this, given that ministers are also members of parliament. I can imagine that Margaret Wilson, the likely candidate for Speaker, will have to make a fair few interesting rulings in the first few sitting days of the new parliament.

As Green MPs have been appointed as Government spokespeople on energy efficiency/solar panels and the Buy Kiwi Made campaigns will this mean they will also answer oral questions on behalf of the government? I assume standing order 370 would apply.

370: Questions may be put to a member (not being a Minister or the Speaker) relating to any bill, motion or public matter connected with the business of the House, of which the member has charge.

The first few days of Parliament are going to be interesting indeed!

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Friday, October 21, 2005

Big Business: Helen's real coalition partner

Fran O'Sullivan in the NZ Herald (Hat tip Cathy) alleges that Helen Clark and senior ministers sought the advice of senior business CEOs on the makeup of her new cabinet and a more pro-business direction for her third term in office.

"While television journalists traipsed about the Beehive after self-important minor party leaders as coalition negotiations deepened, Clark was carrying out parallel "coalition" negotiations with an arguably more important constituency: NZ business."

Clark is understood to have invited:

"Ann Sherry (Westpac CEO and chairwoman of the Government's Innovation Advisory Group); Theresa Gattung (Telecom CEO and GIAB member); Mark Weldon (NZX CEO), Fonterra chiefs, Craig Norgate (Rural Portfolio Investments managing director and GIAB member); NZ Institute CEO David Skilling, Rob Fenwick (Council for Business Sustainability); Michael Barnett (CEO Auckland Regional Chamber of Commerce); and a group of energy sector players convened by Wellington lawyer Mai Chen."
... "The CEOs were whisked to her ninth-floor office for individual consultations with Clark, her chief of staff, Heather Simpson, and Finance Minister Michael Cullen. Other ministers from Clark's inner circle such as Pete Hodgson and Trevor Mallard were brought in as required."

I wonder if there were any similar meetings with trade union representatives, poverty campaigners, environmentalists or community groups? Surely it would have been more appropriate to hold such a meeting prior to the election, or subsequent to the formation of the government? Or are we leading to a situation where dosh leads our democracy?

Now I have no problem with business leaders meeting with the Government to discuss policy issues, so long as their level of access to Ministers is no different to that offered to any other individual or other group in New Zealand. But I believe it is highly inappropriate for big business to have a say in the formation of a government. This should be the exclusive domain of voters and those they elected to be their representatives, with 'apolitical' public servants providing constitutional advice where necessary. Even inviting business leaders into such a meeting gives them the impression they have more power than they are entitled to.

What is Helen scared of?

Does this help explain why the Green party attempted to improve relations with the business community with a well intentioned, but ultimately ill fated meeting? Was it your idea Helen?

Now what would have happened if I, or any other voter rang Clark's office and requested a meeting to discuss the formation of a the new government. "Hi Helen, could I give you some advice on who you should put in your cabinet?" I would expect to be told to noddy off until the politicians had completed their negotiations.

Fran also talks to business leaders "speaking on background" who take delight in Clark appointing more pragmatic (read right-wing) ministers into economic portfolios and report they expect Clark to be "'much more pragmatic' about economic reality". Yet they give no grounding to their metaphysical speculations, leading me only to recall the words of David Hume about 'sophistry and illusion'.

It seems the third term of this Labour-led government will be driven by a greater sense of cash consciousness.

PS: Now I admit I do take anything written by Fran O'Sullivan with a touch of salt, given her history of strong "advocacy" journalism on issues such as free trade with the US, joining NAFTA and taking trips abroad "courtesy" of the free trade lobby. It may not directly influence her writing, but its not a good look. I get the impression Fran is no fan of Helen's either.

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Musical Cabinets #2: Peters, Goff and Foreign Affairs

Interesting to see Phil Goff appointed as Minister of Trade. He is expected to take over the Trade Negotations job when Jim Sutton retires.

When Winston Peters was first appointed to the Foreign Affairs job Clark said Peters would consult directly with her over his work in the portfolio, and there would be no Labour MP working as an associate to Peters. But Goff's new job as a Minister of Trade, seemingly a separate portfolio to Trade Negotiations, is an associate Foreign Affairs role in all but name.

Jim Bolger, in his book 'A view from the top' explains how he attempted to put a break on Peters during the coalition negotiations in 1996, when Peter's position of Treasurer was split off from the Finance portfolio.

"Winston Peters, as ever seeking maximum flexibility, was reluctant to agree to a clear division of responsibilities. Bill Birch with his clear insight into Peters knew that precise guidelines were needed if the new arrangments was to work. We therefore produced and published those guidelines."

Perhaps Clark would be wise to do something similar!

While I have previously argued that the principle of cabinet collective responsibility needs to be weakened further, the idea that Peters and Peter Dunne as Ministers outside cabinet are only bound by collective responsibility in their portfolio areas is simply bizarre.

Demarcation problems suggest themselves. Most immigration issues have foreign affairs implications, so given a choice between defending the humanitarian foreign policy of the government and bashing refugees, which way will the Italian suit sway? (I think we all know)

I fear these arrangements have been designed to accommodate the policy whims of personalities, rather than principled differences of opinion between parties. It would have been far better to use the existing arrangements allowing parties to 'differentiate' on matters of policy principles, and drop Clark's assumption these processes should only be used 'rarely'.

Peters will be in charge of overseas aid, and the thought fills me with dread. Peters the humanitarian? Tell that to the Tampa boat people. The Greens will not relish the fact Peters will oversee the increase in official development assistance, a policy the Greens negotiated out of Labour as part of their promise to abstain. Although Peters infamous "flying squad" immigration policy is absolutely ghastly, Frog may find one line useful.

"Become more creative in humanitarian efforts by increasing overseas aid budget as a more efficient means of meeting humanitarian obligations. Effectively targeted aid places less strain on our domestic infrastructure" (my emphasis).

Of course, being Peters, he wants to use aid as an excuse not to take refugees, but a promise to increase aid is there nonetheless, even if it is for entirely the wrong reasons. On Tuesday Peters said a major aim in his new role was to channel more aid to the South Pacific - "the neighborhood and theatre in which we live", which reflects NZFirst policy.

Goff and fellow right winger Clayton Cosgrove have both been appointed as associate finance ministers alongside Mallard. Apparently they are going to be a 'razor gang' looking for ways to cut government spending to pay for Peter's policies. I hope Helen uses this as a tactic to make the 'Gillette three' unpopular, they can suggest cuts, people will be upset, giving Clark the opportunity to come in and rule out the more ruthless of their proposals.

PS: Given Goff's inaction over the cricket tour to Zimbabwe, could he be our next ambassador to Harare?

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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Musical cabinets #1

Some thoughts on Helen's cabinet reshuffle. More to come.

The cabinet was meant to be announced yesterday, but was delayed until today. Its possible one, or a number of ministers were not happy with the jobs Helen allocated to them. I wonder who they were?

Michael Cullen: Keeps Finance, gains Tertiary Education

It is likely interest free student loans will be Labour's flagship policy this term, at least when they are talking to their left, so it makes sense for the policy to handled by a senior minister. National and Act will continue to attempt to construct inflated costings using dubious assumptions, because they would prefer to keep charging students 7% interest on their loans and use this money to give themselves tax cuts. Cullen's expertise in the finance area will help deflect these self interested claims. Labour will want all the glory it can get from this policy for itself, which is why Jim never had a chance at gaining the tertiary education portfolio.

I hope Cullen has not be placed in the tertiary education portfolio to design a tertiary education savings scheme, as such a policy would be a complete betrayal of Labour's social democratic heritage. On 17th of May this year Cullen claimed to be the "strongest supporter of the tertiary savings scheme". Instead Cullen should aim to universalise allowances and bring fees down. I hope Cullen will keep an eye on university accounts and ensure they are not using over inflated marketing budgets as an excuse to raise fees.

Jim Anderton: Loses Economic Development, gains Agriculture, Biosecurity and Fisheries

This stinks of a demotion. Jim is only ranked number three in the cabinet for the sake of appearances and the maintenance of ego. Anderton gained none of the major portfolios, so its safe to assume Jim got the scraps off the table once Helen had distributed the major portfolios to other senior ministers. I could say Jim is now the Minister of Animal Effluent, Nasty Diseases and Smelly Fish, but I won't, because that would be a touch too irreverent, even for me :)

Jim keeps an associate role in health and picks up an associate role in tertiary education. As the tertiary education role is officially an 'associate education' role, this would make Jim the associate of an associate minister! But to be fair I could see Jim make a worthwhile contribution to the trades and apprenticeship area with his experience in economic development, so I would imagine his job will be focused on skills development and such like .

Steve Maharey: Drops Social Development, becomes Minister of Education

I just hope Steve doesn't attempt to use any of Anthony Gidden's faddish techno-babble on 5 year olds. Children might ask "In which episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer can I see a 'stakeholder society'?". Teachers will be exasperated when asked what the 'third way is' and may have to rely on the wise words of former British Labour MP Austin Mitchel when he was asked for a definition: "Its such a mess. It's like defining a meringue." (Sunday Times, 27/09/05

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Monday, October 17, 2005

Is Maxim Director Bruce Logan also a plagiarist?

Last week the Press sacked one of its regular columnists following a letter to the editor which demonstrated that Alexis Stuart was guilty of plagiarism, directly lifting some of her wording from an article earlier published by her father, Maxim Institute director Bruce Logan.

Paul of About Town has uncovered many more examples of Stuart's 'liberal' use of the cut and paste. While Stuart and Logan endlessly talk about values, neither appear to possess basic journalistic values such as acknowledging your sources. Paul demonstrates several examples where Bruce Logan also appears to be guilty of using the words of others as his own. Like father, like daughter.

An absolute first rate piece of work Paul! :)

Meanwhile, Comrade Tweek has proclaimed Bruce Logan as 'Tweek of the Week' (17th October 2005). Entirely deserved I must say.

Update: After checking the dictionary it does not appear 'plagiarising' is a word, so I changed some of my wording above. But I was interested to note that our word 'plagiarism' derives from the Latin word 'plagiarius', meaning 'kidnapper'. Kind of an ironic association, given Maxim's emphasis on traditional family values and defending the right of parents to wallop their offspring. 'Plagiarius' is all about kids after all!

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Nazis: Well established baggage of the far right

David Neiwert has written a useful post debunking the ridiculous line of argument that the Nazis were leftwingers because they had the word 'socialism' in their name (Hat tip My Blahg). While I normally would not give the time of day to such claims, they do have a habit of reappearing from time to time among the blogs, so I thought I would bookmark David's post for future reference.

Neiwert explains how modern proponents of the "Nazis were socialists" claim are, in fact, falling for (and repeating) Nazi propaganda from the 1920s. Hitler and Mussolini did the classic bait-and-switch:
"They convinced working-class people to vote against their own self-interest by clever use of propaganda techniques and pretending to embody their values, but then screwed them over from one end to the other once they had obtained power. Sound familiar?"

By the time they gained power, Hitler and Mussolini were "unquestionably" on the right wing politically, acting to abolish trade unions, collective bargaining and the right to strike. As gangs of brownshirts continued to kill socialists on sight, the Nazis ensured the first people sent to the concentration camp at Dachau in 1933-34 were socialist and communist political leaders.

David sees an obvious reason for the popularity of this line of argument among the right.
"It's a convenient way of smearing the left for conservatives, as well as shedding their own well-established baggage from the far right."

In a similar vein, I have often thought it is more than a little ironic for right wingers to accuse those who oppose the war on Iraq of being 'appeasers' of Saddam, as 'appeasement' largely represents baggage for the right. Prior to the start of the war in 1939, support for the policy of appeasement was most widespread among right-wing conservatives.
According to historian Eric Hobsbawn:
"Many a good conservative felt, especially in Britain, that the best of all solutions would be a German-Soviet war, weakening, perhaps destroying both enemies, and a defeat of Bolshevism by a weakened Germany would be no bad thing"*.
British Intelligence services continued to concentrate on the 'Red menace' to such an extent that they did not abandon it as their main target until the middle 1930s.

Only the communists were consistent in their opposition to fascism. Winston Churchill deserves credit for being a lone voice within the Conservative party with his opposition to Hitler, though it must be added that Churchill also expressed support for Mussolini prior to the war.

Soviet leader Joseph Stalin desperately wanted an anti-Hitler pact, but western powers remained very very reluctant - this was one of the factors that led Stalin into the bizarre and fateful Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of 1939.

* Eric Hobsbawn, 'Age of Extremes'. p. 151

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Sunday, October 16, 2005

Key refuses to rule out a challenge to National leader Brash

In my post yesterday I highlighted recent ructions within the National party, and suggested these little public flare ups may indicate some National MPs are already beginning to prepare for the day Don Brash loses the leadership of the party.

In the Sunday Star Times today Ruth Laugesen suggests some of Brash's colleagues are measuring him up for a body bag.

Following reports "plenty" of National MPs would like to reduce the influence of Murray McCully on Brash, Mr McCully has now signaled his intention to step down from the role as 'Parliamentary Assistant to the Leader of the Opposition'. This is not a clear victory for McCully's critics, as the lack of a fancy title is not likely to reduce his access to Brash.

According to Laugesen, McCully is giving up the post because he wants to put some distance between himself and Brash, so he is free to prepare the ground for the next leader. So even McCully might be joining the game of bullrush out Brash's door.

Laugesen suggests McCully would back John Key when the time comes.

In a recent interview with Helen Bain, John Key refused to rule out a challenge to Brash in the next three years. "These things are something you consider when you get nearer the time" (in other words, I can't wait for the opportunity).

"I have no intention of challenging Don, but you can't ever rule those things out. I'm supporting him and it's genuine. There is no grand master plan behind the scences, like we go after him after six months," Key said (if there was a master plan, do you think I would tell you?).

But Key also said there might be "other circumstances" in which his intentions might change, although they were "not on the radar' (In other words, I might do something if our poll ratings drop, or Don demotes me or one of my mates).

It is also possible Bill English could mount a comeback. In a recent speech on the Treaty of Waitangi many noted the more respectful tone English took towards Maori, in contrast to the sloganeering of Brash at Orewa and during the election campaign. While Brash says he backs the speech, it is yet to appear on the National party website.

Given another go at the leadership, English may attempt to fashion a more 'thoughtful' image, more in keeping with his strengths. When English was leader, some suggested it was McCully who attempted to coach English away from this, in favour of a more typical (nasty) Nat approach. While English is often painted as more of a centrist within the Nats, this does not take into account his views on education, which are close to the radical right prescription of the two-seat Act party.

English does not owe Brash any favours, especially given the clumsy fashion in which Don undermined Bill's leadership of the party before mounting a formal leadership challenge against him. The continued clumsiness of Don in itself suggests an orderly change of leadership in the National party is not likely to happen. Its going to get messy. In the next few months will we see another National MP seek to undermine Brash (other than the cat-burning Brian Connell), allowing John Key to take over as a 'compromise' candidate?

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Saturday, October 15, 2005

Are National MPs starting to organise against Brash?

There is ongoing speculation "plenty" of National MPs want to reduce the influence of veteran adviser Murray McCully on leader Don Brash. This is reported to include senior figures such as Lockwood Smith and Simon Power.

McCully currently works as a "Parliamentary Assistant' to the leader of the Opposition.

One source said Mr McCully, who is MP for East Coast Bays, had been part of several strategy teams that had presided over election losses. His abilities were overrated and had at times played a role in poor decisions, the source claimed.

"Plenty of us are unhappy with his influence," the source said. "He has a huge influence over Brash and we still can't understand why. If Brash doesn't start to listen to the broader caucus then he won't survive."

Although Brash won a routine caucus reaffirmation of his leadership following the election, not even Brash is sure whether he will lead National into the next campaign. Those with leadership aspirations, together with those with an axe to grind are now jockeying for position in case an alternative leadership candidate emerges.

Some MPs were unhappy with what they saw as McCully's role in the demotion of MP Katherine Rich from the welfare portfolio after she refused to support the more extreme aspects of Brash's beneficiary bashing.

National insider DPF warns this is about the tenth time since the 1993 election he has heard speculation about the imminent demise of Mr McCully (which in itself speaks volumes about the popularity of the man within the party!). But the real issue here is not whether McCully stays or goes - the moves against McCully have more to do with Brash remaining National's leader.

Some MPs are looking to McCully to be the fall guy for the election loss, others see him as being close to Brash and the type of operator who would work out pretty quickly if someone was 'doing the numbers' within the caucus. The first stage of a palace coup is to take out the palace guard.

More significant, however, is Simon Power wish to gain a major portfolio instead of continuing as Whip of the National Caucus. It is a convention of New Zealand parliamentary politics for the Whip to unquestionably follow the will of the leadership, even internally. This suggests a reasonable explanation for the reason Power does not want to remain as Whip - he wants a free hand to faction against Brash.

Power once held the undemanding portfolio of Defence, only to be fired by Brash for making a hash of it by saying National's foreign policy would be to support our close allies, Australia, the United States and Britain, without reservation, "when and wheresoever our commitment is called upon" (fired for telling the truth perhaps?).

In the Press today Brash makes the position of McCully a confidence issue, warning that those critical of McCully may not get the job they wanted as a result. This barb is clearly aimed at Power.

The latest TransTasman newsletter says McCully attempted to brush off the criticism of his influence over Brash but "has revealed he believes the matter is being pushed by former party golden boy Simon Power". Rakaia MP Brian Connell, better known for his wish to throw cats into fireplaces, is also named as an MP keen to reduce the influence of McCully.

In the event Brash is removed from the leadership (or more likely, Brash is 'convinced' to step down), it is possible the moves against McCully and the change of Whip will be seen as the first steps in the political death of the Don.

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Thursday, October 13, 2005

All axes to the bigotry of Stuarts

Russell Brown quotes an internal Press email informing staff Alexis Stewart's would "no longer be writing her fortnightly column for The Press, because of concern that has been raised about the originality of some of her material in her most recent column".

The editor of the Press, Paul Thompson goes on to explain how a correspondent to the Press noticed that the some of the wording used by Stuart in her last column was identical to an article written by the Maxim Institute's director Bruce Logan. Mr Logan is Alexis Stuart's father.

The gist of the email quoted by Russell also appeared in the Press today, as a response from the editor to the following letter.

Alex Stuarts column (Oct 4) was a revelation. The same old Maxim Institute propaganda masquerading as personal opinion, but more cogent than usual. Both style and content reminded me of Bruce Logan. You know Bruce, the MI's director who wrote a similar article in the Northland Age (Sept 8). In fact, so similar some of it is identical. For example, both wrote: "Diversity is not a value, its a description of reality. One cannot display diversity as a value, let alone a virtue. Neither is community a value - how does an individual display community?...Excellence is an outcome; it is certainly not the possession of human character." Either Alexis wrote Bruce's article (unlikely), Bruce wrote Alexis's (sic) column (possible), or Alexis cribbed from Bruce's article and did not acknowledge her source (possible). Whichever, just how many mouthpieces for the Maxim Institute does the Press need - or is it want?
Lynn Williams

Thank you Lynn Williams, you have done Christchurch Press readers a huge favour.

For several months Alexis Stuart's columns have attracted a great many letters to the editor - many have questioned the need for the Press to print Stuart's nasty, simple minded and ill informed bigotry. Others have felt to compelled to write in to point out where Stuart has made obvious errors of omission, and worst of all, simple errors of fact.

Perhaps the Press continued to publish her columns because they attracted 'controversy'. I am glad they have finally realised not all 'controversy' is good 'controversy', especially when it turns out their columnist is not only a charlatan - she is also plain lazy.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2005

German grand coalition is formed despite Germans voting for a left wing government

It looks like the new government of Germany will be an "grand" coalition of the SPD and the centre right CDU/CSU parties, led by Angela Merkel as Chancellor.

This is a defeat for the current Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who pushed to keep his job in the advent of a grand coalition being formed. It now looks likely he will decline a cabinet post in favour of semi-retirement and the chance to spend more time with his daughter.

While cabinet positions are yet to be finalised, it appears the CDU and its Barvarian sister CSU will have eight cabinet posts - Merkel as chancellor, a minister of state at the chancellery, and the economy, interior, defence, agriculture, education and family ministries. The Social Democrats are also expected to have eight ministers in the new government, with the social democrats gaining foreign affairs, finance, justice, labour, health, transport, environment and international development.

The irony is that a majority of Germans actually voted for a centre-left government. A total of 51.1 percent of Germans voted for the three parties to the left of the center, the SPD, the Green party and the newly formed Left Party. Only 43.9 percent voted for the conservatives and the free-market liberal Free Democrats (FDP).

It is a shame the animosity of the SPD and the Greens towards the Left party have denied the German people what they voted for. While it has been widely reported that all three parties rejected any sort of deal, recently many Left party MPs said they would consider supporting a SPD/Green minority government if the SPD would make changes to its neo-liberal agenda. Oskar Lafontaine, the Left Party's designated parliamentary group leader, praised the SPD and Green party agendas and also implied that his party could possibly work with them. Sadly, the SPD and the Greens have only responded with more sniping.

The newly formed Left party, itself a coalition of disenfranchised former SPD members and the PDS (the party that grew out of the communist party) gained 54 seats. With their support the SPD and the Greens could continue to govern with a heathy 40 seat majority in the 614 seat parliament.

Larry Elliott, economics editor of the Guardian, argues the inconclusive vote in Germany is a rejection of the neo-liberal policies pursed by Gerhard Schröder, and would be pursued with even more vigour by Angela Merkel.
"The strong showing by Oskar Lafontaine's Left party is indicative of the deep suspicion German voters have of what to them smacks of a wholesale introduction of the neo-liberal US economic model. Put simply, Germans don't buy the idea - touted by both Mr Schröder and Ms Merkel - that the way to safeguard Germany's post-war social democratic model is to dismantle it."

The mere fact that the SPD would prefer to form a coalition with the conservatives says a lot about the present direction of the SPD. With Merkel as Chancellor the right wing of the SPD will continue with the neo-liberal reforms they wanted to do anyway, and may attempt to blame Merkel for any fallout.

But it is the new Left party that has the most to gain from the CDU-SPD grand coalition. Only a few days ago, the left wing of the SPD were telling Schröder they would never work with Merkel as Chancellor. SPD deputy parliamentary leader Ludwig Stiegler, has refused to vote for Merkel and influential SPD leftwinger Andrea Nahles warned on Thursday against a deal where the SPD traded the chancellery for cabinet posts and policy concessions, which is exactly the kind of deal the SPD have made today.

In order to be Chancellor Merkel still needs to survive a secret ballot of MPs. It is possible a large number of SPD rebels could ignore the whip and vote for Schröder or another SPD candidate. In this situation the Left party could also tactically vote for Schröder, along with the Greens and give Merkel her first taste of defeat.

Nils Diederich, a professor of political science at Berlin's Free University, told the Guardian.
"If the SPD voted for Merkel this would be tantamount to the party shooting itself in the foot. Some 4%-5% of the SPD's core voters would desert it. They would join the Left party instead. It is going to be extremely difficult for the SPD's leadership to sell Mrs Merkel to its own supporters."

With the Greens also set to go into opposition I hope they can mend fences with the Left party. Especially when Oskar Lafontaine claims he could "sign the Green's election manifesto as it is. It's not far from the party that I currently represent". If the Greens and the Left party touted the dream of a coalition without the SPD, this could provide a strong incentive for the SPD to move back in a real Red/Green direction. A lesson for New Zealand perhaps :)

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Monday, October 10, 2005

Do corporates get away with murder?

In the UK unionists and victims of the Hatfield rail disaster are dismayed the culpability of engineering firm Balfour Beatty (BB) has been limited to a £10m pound fine. On October 17 2000 a King's Cross to Leeds train came off the tracks at 115mph after a rail disintegrated, killing four people and injuring 102.

While Trade Union Council general secretary Brendan Barber welcomed the severity of the fine, he joined others in calling for tougher corporate manslaughter laws.

"The families of those killed will still feel cheated that no senior executives are to face punishment as a result of their safety crimes. The government urgently needs to address [the fact] that all the courts can do is to fine a company. What is necessary is both a new offence of corporate killing, with a wider range of penalties available, and new legal duties that make directors directly responsible for the health and safety of their staff and customers."

The Old Bailey judge put Balfour Beatty's failure at the "top of the scale", saying he regarded "Balfour Beatty as one of the worse examples of industrial negligence in a high-risk industry I have seen". While Justice MacKay was highly critical of the company, he cast out corporate manslaughter charges bought against Balfour Beatty, most likely due to the difficulty in securing convictions under present legislation.

Perhaps it says a lot about the company that BB did not admit breaching health and safety rules until the corporate manslaughter charges were dropped.

I would be interested to look into whether New Zealand has a 'corporate manslaughter' charge on its statute books and if so, what kind of burden of proof is required. New Zealand could come up with its own shady looking lineup of irresponsible corporates. As a couple of examples, the former Tranzrail and forestry company Juken Nissho have long records of heath and safety convictions - including incidents leading to deaths on the job.

Back to the BB case, the judge also voiced his own criticisms of the way the UK railways were privatised.
"The elimination of one of the indefensible features of the 1996 privatisation is now gone - the separation of the track from its maintenance - is now gone. Perhaps that is one good thing resulting from this disastrous affair."

In 2002 Tranzrail contracted out track maintenance to Transfield, who by most accounts maintained a better relationship with unions and did a better job than the privately owned Tranzrail ever did (that would not be hard). Following the renationalisation of the rail track in September 2004, the Government set up a new Crown agency to oversee the ownership and maintenance of the rail infrastructure on its behalf - OnTrack.

Given the clear warning the Balfour Beatty case represents, it is probably a good thing OnTrack decided to bring the maintenance work back in house, following a tendering process it is obliged to carry out under the agreement it made with Toll Holdings. Best of all, OnTrack purchased part of the present contractor, allowing staff who maintain the rails to transfer to OnTrack while maintaining their present terms and conditions of employment.

The Guardian - Hatfield victims and unions call for new corporate killing law
The Independent - Balfour Beatty fined £10m for Hatfield disaster

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Thursday, October 06, 2005

New Bruce Jesson collection

I am really pleased to hear a new collection of the work of Bruce Jesson is soon to hit the shelves.

"To Build a Nation" includes a wide range of the late Jesson's writing, from 1975 onwards, including many of his Metro columns and his later reflections in "The republican" and "NZ Political Review". Such a collection is long overdue IMHO.

Jesson was a highly economically literate writer of the left, and used his knowledge of economic history to critique the 'free market fundamentalism' that has plagued his country since 1984. In a touch of irony Bruce warned in 1975 'what a disaster' it would be if the free market fundamentalists ever gained control in New Zealand.

While the current Labour-led government say they are more sympathetic to economic development and other government intervention in the market, I strongly suspect Bruce would call their bluff and correctly criticise Labour for fueling the fundamentalism, while claiming to do otherwise.

If you continue to listen to the audio stream of Linda Clark interviewing Tim Howard about the Philippines, sit through a track of Fat Freddy's Drop, for the next item Linda goes on to review Jesson's "To Build a Nation" with John McCrystal. Although Mr McCrystal gives Bruce a sympathetic review, I got the impression John did not know a great deal about Jesson apart from his reading of the book. I wish the website would allow you to fast forward through an audio feed!

The Bruce Jesson Foundation is hosting an official launch of the book tomorrow at 6pm, in a very appropriate venue - the debating chamber of the Auckland Regional Council.

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Tim Howard on Human Rights Abuses in the Philippines: Radio link

This morning National radio interviewed Tim Howard, one of the New Zealanders who took part in an international solidarity mission to the Philippines in August this year. The team found considerable evidence of human rights violations, 'professional' assassinations and forced disappearances, carried out by the military and intelligence arms of the Philippine government against their own people.

The interview is available via a stream on the xtra website, but have to put up with 5 minutes of Linda Clark's blathering before she talks to Tim.

Also see my earlier post The forgotten second front of the War on Terror: The Philippines.

Tim will be hosting a session about the Philippines at the National Peace Workshops on Sunday 23rd of October. Another Kiwi member of the International Solidarity Mission to the Philippines, Mary Ellen O'Connor, will be intervied by "Earthwise" on Saturday 08 October at 9am on Christchurch Community Radio, PlainsFM 96.9.

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Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Avoid the sports news for more politics

As a regular viewer of TV3 news I sometimes find myself a little bored when the sports news comes on. I really enjoy the cricket and sometimes the soccer, but I am afraid all the endless analysis of rugby and motor racing and the like bores me.

I find it an irony politicians are often accused of being experts at 'saying nothing', when the All Black coach gets away with saying a lot less, uttering meaningless nonsense such as 'it was a game of two halves' and 'rugby was the winner on the day'.

I don't think its the sports news itself - its the timing. When I am getting my daily fill of televised politics, the sports news sometimes feels like an interruption before the 'real news 'continues on Campbell Live. Noam Chomsky suggests one of the reasons spectator sports are encouraged by the dominant institutions is that it occupies the population, and keeps them from trying to get involved with things that really matter :)

But never fear friends, I found a solution. At 6:30pm on weeknights Southland TV hosts the excellent 'DW-World News'. Its a bit like a German equivalent of BBC World, and yes, it is in English. Lately I have been able to enjoy extended coverage of the German elections and coverage of international news leap years ahead of anything on TV1 or TV3. Each edition includes a special indepth report - allowing much more satisfying coverage of an issue.

Last night Deutsche Welle-TV looked at the two sides of Germany on the 15th anniversary of reunification, following the paths of two industrial towns, one in the west, one in the east. Some Westies complain too much public spending is sent to the east, while a far greater proportion of East Germans are without jobs (18%; double the rate of Western Germany).

This made me wonder two things - do German politicians attempt to use 'the east' as an excuse to cut public spending in the west, and are some of the complaints about high public spending in the east just a veiled form of beneficiary bashing?

DW World News - 6:30 weeknights, Southland TV (Sky Channel 90). Recommended!

Cricket PS: As the sole kiwi representative in the World XI playing Australia tonight, Dan Vettori turned out to be the absolute star with the ball. Vettori took four wickets for 33 runs, including one maiden. Playing in a team alongside Flintoff, Kallis, Akhtar, Muralitharan and Pollock, gaining the standout figures of the innings is no mean feat.
Cricket PS2: Brian Lara just got a duck. Boo! :(

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Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Good riddance Rogernomes

I am pleased to hear George Hawkins and Paul Swain will not be seeking cabinet posts in the new Labour-led Government.

Apart from being a expert bungle of a Minister, George is clearly identified as being on the right of Labour's caucus, and was Roger Douglas' personal pick to take over as MP for Manurewa in 1990.

According to former Chair of the Rimutaka Labour electorate committee Nick Kelly, Paul Swain opposed the creation of Kiwibank inside the Labour party, on the grounds the state should not be involved in banking. Kiwibank is now a huge success, exceeding even its own expectations of customer growth. Swain now appears to have changed his tune, and opposes the sale of Kiwibank to the private sector. Labour now rather dishonestly claims credit for Kiwibank on the campaign trail, despite the fact the bank would not have got started without the Alliance in Government between 1999 and 2002. Labour continues to place Rogernomes in high positions.

I strongly suspect the announcement today that Marian Hobbs, George and Paul will not seek cabinet posts will not be enough to "renew and refresh" for 2008. They were only ever junior ministers anyway. That said, Labour do have a couple of years to complete more of a spruce up.

Removing leftovers from the 1980s such as Trevor Mallard, Jim Sutton and Annette King would be a good start. King is known to have had a 'close' relationship with Douglas when she was a backbench MP. Removing Sutton, an arrogant free trade fundamentalist from the Trade negotiations portfolio would send a signal Labour would be more willing to listen to the concerns of the Green party regarding free trade deals, even if it did not result in significant policy concessions.

If Helen really wants to be brave, she should remove Phil Goff - as a Minister in the 1980s he introduced student fees, making him at least partly responsible for legitimising National's later agenda.

It is a shame Taito Phillip Field hasn't taken my advice to take himself out of the running for cabinet - hopefully his colleagues will use their caucus vote to do it for him.

This is not to say that Labour's current line-up of MPs lacks talent. The promotion of Tim Barnett to the cabinet is long overdue. Not only is he one of Labour's more principled MPs, during the last six years Tim has managed to get more legislation successfully passed (directly or indirectly) than most junior ministers. His advocacy of the Civil Union Act and the Prostitution Law Reform Act are significant achievements.

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Saturday, October 01, 2005

Brash finally admits he lost

At a press conference this morning National leader Don Brash finally conceded the right lost the 2005 election.

"I formally concede, on behalf of the National Party, that we did not win enough seats to secure a mandate for the programme we put before the people."

I guess two weeks late is better than nothing. I guess there might be some quarters in National none to happy with Brash's performance on election night. While Brash admitted on September 17 that he could not claim a victory, "I'm certainly not conceding defeat". But Brash's claim that he would be working to secure a majority for a National led government was a victory speech in all but name.

On the Monday following the election, the desperation continued:
"While we haven't at this point been able to declare a victory, we can at least say very substantial progress has been made and it's certainly possible that we may yet be able to form a Government. So I'm not feeling depressed at all."

Will Brash now be haunted by the Ghosts of Moore?

Ironically, the speech Brash made today would have been a far better election night speech, in that it admits the obvious point - Helen Clark is in a better position to form a government - yet it still leaves open the possibility of Brash forming a government in the (unlikely) event Helen Clark is not able to do so. Today, Brash finally admitted the obvious.

"Both United Future and New Zealand First have made a commitment to talk first with the larger of the two main parties, so the ball is unambiguously in Helen Clark's court at this stage to try to put together a Labour-led Government."

So unless Brash suddenly gained some benefit from remedial lessons in basic addition - he knew that two weeks ago.

It also ought to be remembered that Brash suggested Labour should donate him a Labour MP as speaker to allow him to form a more stable government. Now that the boot is on the other foot, will Don Brash offer Labour a speaker from his own ranks - or was Don just being a desperate hypocrite?

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