Wednesday, November 30, 2005

MSP on trial for anti-weapons protest (Tuesday 29 November 2005)
Morning Star

SCOTTISH Socialist Party MSP Rosie Kane will appear at Edinburgh Sheriff Court today and on Thursday in relation to a protest outside the Scottish Parliament that saw the road blocked by a mock-up of a Trident submarine.

The protest took place on March 10 2005 and ended when police moved in to cut out the protesters who had chained themselves inside the submarine. A total of 10 protesters will appear in court, all of them members of the Trident Ploughshares organisation and Scottish CND.

Ms Kane will plead not guilty, citing international law that rules weapons of mass destruction such as Trident as illegal because of the non-discriminatory way in which people would be killed if they were to beused.

"Instead of putting 10 people on trial, Scotland should applaud the anti-nuclear protesters for the tireless campaign that they have waged over the years to disarm the British state's weapons of mass destruction," she said.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Life without Arnold

When I was a kid in the 1970s, I used to watch Happy Days. In the mid 1970s, programmes such as Happy Days, Get Smart, MASH and Doctor Who were compulsory viewing. Back then on the black and white television that my parents owned, John Pertwee’s Doctor fought plastic figurines with squeaky voices, while the Fonz remained a minor character next to Richie Cunningham. Star Wars was still some way in the future, and a large great white shark was just about to make its starring debut in a film titled appropriately enough as “Jaws."

I was reminded of my 70s childhood with a posting by Tristan of ‘About Town’ about the death of Pat Morita at age 73 over the weekend. While Tristan and people of his age associated Pat with Mr Miyagi of the Karate Kid, I had more vivid and older memories of him as Arnold, owner of the restaurant and youth hangout ‘Arnold’s’ on Happy Days. (By the time that he appeared as Mr Miyagi, I had become a rather cynical teenager in the 1980s and, as a result, the Karate Kid was completely lost on me).

I am quietly saddened by Pat Morita’s death. Coming, as it did, on top of the deaths of a number of other memorable ‘pop’ icons from my childhood; people such as James Doohan, better known as Chief Engineer, Montgomery Scott (Scotty) of the star ship Enterprise, Don Adams or Secret Agent 86 of Control and Bob Denver, first mate Gilligan of the ‘Minnow’. With every one of their deaths, it seems as if a small part of my childhood slips away with its memories of a seemingly happier time when ice blocks were only 5 cents, a 20 cent mixture would last an afternoon and when it only cost 95 cents to go to the pictures.

Of course, it wasn’t all ‘coming up’ roses as I was also reminded yesterday as I was listening to a music review from Jim Page of the Washington Post, in which he named 1974 as the worst year for popular music. He noted the following songs, ‘The Night Chicago Died’, ‘Billy, Don’t be a Hero’ both by Paper Lace (shuttering begins), ‘You’re having my Baby’ by Paul Anka (longer shutter), Seasons in the Sun by Terry Jacks (violent shuttering) as candidates for songs that needed to be buried in a dark vault and best forgotten. From the vantage point of thirty years later, I can honesty agree with him (when you are 7 or 8, most songs are just fun). Of course, from the same vantage point there are also a number of other songs that I would also willingly send into the darkness of any vault.

However, the 1970s with its bad songs, its purple, orange and brown coloured clothes, its television shows and its actors like Pat Morita and Don Adams is dead. It is gone and they are gone. They exist no more except in television repeats or in photographs or in my memory.

I feel that a little part of me has died as well.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Tweek of the Week (25 November 2005) pickings indeed…

George W and his best friend, Tony Blair rate a mention. Firstly, for the admission that George and Tony had discussed George's desire to take ‘military action’ against the Al Jazeera network and, two for a man who can declare war on others and singluarly force economic ruin on his nation, he appears to be incapable of opening a door. Tony gets another mention for letting his Attoney General lose on the British media and threatening them with the Official Secrets Act if they revealed George’s dirty little secret (about the bombing, not about the door).

The Catholic Church get an honorable mention. They have just released a report (21 paragraghs long) in which the Church justifies its decision not to allow active (or indeed passive) gays in the priest hood. This is despite a book by Father Donald Cozzens that 40 percent of priests were estimated to be gay. It’s good to know that under the enlightened leadership of Pope ‘Ratzinger', the Church continues to march boldly and fearlessly into the past...a lot like the New Right.

Then we come to our own little piece of paradise. Winston, a man who irritates the hell out of me, but yet also provides endless entertainment, is proving to be as good a Minister of Foreign Affairs as he was a Treasurer and Deputy PM. Hot on his success at APEC, Winston is now off to Chogm (being held at Malta) before going to visit the British Minister of Defence. Why? Who can say? Certainly, it's not the media, who Winston has been at pains to avoid...probably, because of their treason.

But, in the end, there can be only one 'tweek', or in this case, two. Reports reached me yesterday of two irrant schoolyard bullies who reside in Parliament. It’s not often that I side with Tories, but I agree with Tau Henare’s objection to the Speaker in relation to the disgusting display provided by the Minister of Immigration, David Cunliffe and his friend, Trevor Mallard in relation to a question asked to the Minister by National MP, Patsy Wong; after which Cunliffe mimicked Wong’s accent and Mallard apparently suggested that she take an ‘English language course’.

Well, Wayne Mapp doesn’t need to worry about these two. I wonder if they tell fat chick jokes as well in the House???

Bullies are bullies and they should not be tolerated in the school yard, in the workplace ...or in Parliament.

Tweek(s) of the Week – David Cunliff and Trevor Mallard

Thursday, November 24, 2005

The Sin(s) of Cheapness

It’s seldom that I agree with Matt Mcarten, but I did last night as I watched the Starbucks strike and picket in Auckland.

Starbuck workers, who are represented by the Unite Union, which Mr Macarten ‘leads’ undertook the first strike by Starbuck workers ever, in relation to their conditions of work and their princely rates of pay (mostly $10 per hour) or as one Starbuck worker said the price of approximately 2 cups of Starbuck coffee.

Mcarten made the point that despite Labour’s oft repeated claims that it was protecting workers rights, this was not the case. He noted that the Government was ‘considering’ raising the minimum wage at some point during the next parliamentary term, but was otherwise non committal over the issue. It’s interesting to note that movement in the past in this area has been the result of parties other than Labour making it an issue, the Alliance and the Greens in 1999 and 2002 and (ironically) New Zealand First and the Greens in the recent election.

The lack of protection for low paid and causal workers made me think about the lack of protection that similar workers have had in the past and I was reminded of the low paid and ‘causalised’ working conditions in the late 19th Century. The pitiful wages, long hours and poor conditions led to a public outcry and caused a Dunedin Presbyterian Minister, Rev. Rutherford Wadell to deliver a famous sermon entitled ‘The Sin of Cheapness’ to his parishioners in his church on Walker Street, now Carroll Street, in Dunedin.

When Rutherford Wadell gave his sermon in 1887, he was referring to the ‘sweating’ conditions and low wages of those who worked in the various clothing factories in Dunedin and elsewhere in New Zealand’s 19th Century Victorian society.

Wadell’s comments as well as the comments and reports of others about the conditions of work in Victorian New Zealand led directly to a Commission to investigate these allegations. That Commission concluded that ‘sweating’ was occurring and detailed the detrimental effect such conditions were having on workers (mostly, women and children). As a result, legislation was introduced to ensure that conditions were improved. Further reforms in this area were enacted with the election of the Liberal Government in 1890.

Despite Labour’s 'cooing' about higher wages and increasing protection for workers, nothing much has changed as people employed in casualised, low paying jobs are aware. Under existing Employment legislation, causal workers are not provided with much employment protection, and as a result their wages and conditions remain pitiful. This is exactly the point that Rutherford Wadell was making in 1887. New Zealand’s minimum wage is also well below that of Australia’s, a point that has been made repeatedly by Mr Macarten and later, by John Campbell on ‘Campbell Live’.

If Labour was as bold as its political predecessors, it would move to ensure that workers like those at Starbuck got higher wages and improved conditions by immediately raising the minimum wage and getting rid of the discrimination in legislation that casual workers face

Sadly, I don’t think Labour is that bold - Go the Union!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

A Meeting Of Like Minds

Apparently, there was a minding of like minds yesterday. Individuals from the New Zealand Treasury and the IRD met with members of ACT, National Party members, members of the Business Round Table, the Maxim Institute and a number of other Right Wing thing tanks to talk about the recent Treasury Report and other issues that have arisen since the election. Not surprisingly, there was a consensus about the need to cut state expenditure and flatten the tax rate.

At least, the Right are very open in terms of their agenda, which is a continuation of the economic direction of the 1980s and 1990s. It also gives credence to the view that the recent reports from Treasury are ‘ideologically biased,’ with ACT commenting that the recent Treasury Report was ‘like reading the ACT manifesto.’

The New Right have never given up on the idea of the complete restructuring of the economy and society based on their own narrow set of economic and ideological perspectives. To them, the present Government, as weak in ideals and as tainted by its own Right sympathisers as it is, is a mere blip in the economic radar.

The New Right are not going to give up, regardless of how many election losses are suffered by their respective parties in parliament, nor by how overwhelming the evidence is against their theories. They are completely convinced that they are right (pardon the pun). In effect, they have their own version of historical materialism, only in this version, free market capitalism prevails.

Monday, November 21, 2005

It’s Hard to be Winston

Hard on the heels of Winston’s recent disagreements with the media at the APEC Conference, comes his allegations about the New Zealand Herald being treasonous. It appears that a recent Herald editorial poured scorn and derision on Mr Peters recent meeting with United States Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice. Mr Peter’s argument appears to be that the Herald did not print his (and one can only assume the correct) account of the meeting with her. Their incorrect reporting or rather editorial basis against him is, he alleges, treason.

I understand that during war, allegations of Treason could see people being imprisoned for long periods of time or even executed. Winston obviously must be upset that people who say nasty things about him are allowed to go free…it’s just a pity that there is not a war on.

Mr Peters must be more than aware that such a state of affairs would never have happened in Benito Mussolini’s Italy…even during peace time.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Tweek of the Week (18 November 2005)

Another week, another Tweek…

The contenders this week…

Well, we have George and Co hitting back at the Democrats and others in relation to the increasing quagmire that is Iraq (You go Girl Friend!!). We have the French Government considering implemeting draconian laws from the 1950s, as Paris and other towns in France burn (hint: De Gaulle just declared a new Republic when things got too hot for him in the 50s). We also have Tuariki Delamere, a blast from New Zealand First’s past, who could be facing up to 10 charges of fraud. Then, there is the ongoing and strange saga of our new Foreign Minister, Winston Peters which appears to have gained international comment as well as unfortunate local references to Mothers-in-Law.

However, at the end of the day, the one that really tipped my fancy was the rather strange saga of the ACT Party bus. It appears that two young teenage girls having seen the bus abandoned and laid up in a Wellington backyard took it for a joyride, not once, but twice. It was made easier by the fact that the ACT people responsible for the bus left the keys in the ignition.

Important note to ACT people – Do not leave keys in the ignition if you do not intend to use the bus for the next few years…

(Tweek of the Week - The People Responsible for the ACT Bus)

Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Whimpering Treasury….And Other Eerie Tales of the New Right

One cannot but help feel sorry for Treasury. After the glory days of the 1980s and early 1990s, they have been cast once more into the gloom and twilight of the New Zealand economic scene, only emerging now and again to cast dubious reports about the shape and the direction of the New Zealand economy and to scare small children.

It appears that there is an assumption from the popular media, and I am going to be generous to Mark Sainsbury and Co and say that it is only an assumption, that Treasury provides high quality, non-bias advice to the Government. Last night on ‘Close Up,’ Sainsbury was asking why the Government was not going to take the advice from Treasury in relation to its suggestions to cut the top rate of personal tax and reduce government spending. Obviously, Sainsbury noted, since Treasury was saying this, shouldn’t the Government be acting upon it?

This approach adopted by the ‘Fourth Estate’ appeared again this morning on ‘Breakfast’ with an interview between Paul Henry and (sigh) Gareth Morgan. I understand that Maia on Capitalism Bad, Tree Pretty has made postings about her dislike of Gareth Morgan. However, he does more than ‘suck.’ He is very useful to the New Right in that he offers a respectable, but yet extreme point of economic view, which can be trotted out to simply justify economic rationalism to the masses, who largely don’t understand or appreciate economics. This morning was no different, with Morgan starting his analysis by stating that no economist would disagree with the Treasury report.

John Maynard Keynes once observed that if you put 12 economists in a room, they would not agree with each other. Economics, he noted, is not a science; it is a social science with a range of different views and perspectives which tend to determine the economic direction that you take. Some economists start from the perspective of Neo-liberalism, others from neo-Keynesian and still others from Marxist or other radical traditions. What Morgan meant of course was that no economist who agreed with his line of economic thought would disagree with the Treasury Report. And, that is how the Treasury report needs to be approached.

So, are some New Zealanders highly taxed? Yes, some New Zealanders are, but the wrong ones. As a result of tax changes in the mid 1980s, New Zealanders now face a barrage of direct and indirect taxation. Personal tax rates dramatically increased for those on lower incomes. Prior to 1984, beneficiaries did not pay personal tax, after the tax changes in 1986, they did. Tax is deducted from their benefit prior to them receiving it, this is in addition to paying indirect taxes such as GST, they and other low income workers actually faced a tax increase in this period going from virtually nothing to 19 cents in the dollar.

But the real issue is not tax, as New Zealand is not a highly taxed country in OECD terms, the real issue is that New Zealand workers get paid low wages and have bad conditions in comparison with most other Western workers and it has been the economic philosophy pursued by agencies such as the Treasury over the past two decades that is responsible for this state of affairs.

Michael Cullen is very correct when he refers to the Treasury report as an ‘ideological burp,’ it is and it follows in a direct line from previous ‘ideological burps’ from Treasury, such as ‘Economic Management’ in 1984 and ‘Government Management’ in 1987 as well as briefings to incoming Governments in the 1990s, all of which suggested curtailing state spending, benefit cuts etc.

I want to add, that I feel that there is nothing wrong with promoting a distinct ideological agenda, after all the Government should receive contested advice from which to base its policy approach.

The problem with the New Zealand Government is that the advice it receives from Treasury is not only shoddy, but also non-contested. The last time that there was a major state agency that was capable of providing an alternative economic analysis to Treasury was in the 1980s, when the Ministry of Works Planning Department was in existence. It was the old MoW that provided a detailed alternative (Keynesian) report to Treasury’s 1984 Report ‘Economic Management’, which basically said that Treasury’s briefing was seriously flawed. It was the same Planning Department that was first up for the ‘chopping block’ in the Treasury inspired ‘cull’ of state agencies and departments. Treasury for all its posturing about competition really hates it when it comes to contested advice.

The fact is that Governments can choose to take or ignore Treasury’s advice. Governments are, as Muldoon famously observed, elected to govern. In the end, they do not govern on behalf of Treasury, but on behalf of the people who put them there – that’s why parties have policies and programmes. Treasury has an opinion based on its economic and philosophical perspectives which influences its intrepretation of data, unfortunately, others have opinions based on theirs. Treasury needs to get used to being ignored more…

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

It’s Not As Red As You May Think…

I’ve been reading ‘A People’s History of England,’ by A L Morton, which was published in 1938 by the New Left Book Club. The New Left Book Club did a line of books covering a range of topics including; politics, history, philosophy, economics, sociology etc for distribution to its members to stimulate debate and discussion in left wing circles.

The interesting thing about the New Left Book Club was that it demonstrated that the Left used to be very vibrant in terms of ideals and philosophies. There was very vigorous debate as to the shape of a ‘socialist’ society. While, some writers anticipated the state playing a dominant part in society, as a means of shifting the balance toward workers and away from capital, there were others who argued that in fact the state itself posed a problem.

However, what tied all of these debates together was the hypothesis that workers, and the community as of large, created the wealth that capitalists took as their own and that only by redistribution (or the elimination of capital) could society truly be free. Freedom, therefore, was not measured by the ability to earn money, but by freedom from earning money and, hence, freedom from the fear of being in poverty.

Mid 20th Century Social Democracy, even though sneered at by revolutionary socialists, accepted that wealth and power did need to be redistributed in society. Their solution was that the state needed to be an active player to ensure that monetary and social gains from capitalism were distributed out to people in the form of higher wages, benefits etc.

The reason that I make these points is that there appears to be reversal in the manner by which even ‘Social Democrats’ now perceive themselves. This was brought home to me in the various debates over the Workers Charter in which various people made the point that it was too radical. The point is that these claims did not come from the Right, but from people supposedly on the Left. Sadly, the modern Labour Party (and the Left) has been very slow to acknowledge a series of principles that it would not have given second thought to endorsing 30 years ago.

Margaret Thatcher once noted that she would be happy if she fundamentally changed society. And, it appears that she and her various acolytes have done so. They have managed to turn back the clock so completely, that we are now discussing the same issues that people were discussing a little over a hundred years ago. But, this turning back has been more far thorough, with the hegemony even affecting the way in which socialists and social democrats perceive themselves.

No where was the right shift in political hegemony more apparent than with the Alliance. I think that it speaks volumes when a party that promoted what was essentially a conservative social democratic agenda was seen as being dangerously left wing by people on the Left.

‘In the Strange Death of Liberal England” written in the early 1930s, George Dangerfield noted that the ‘new’ Liberals of the late 19th and early 20th Century perceived themselves as being radical socially, but also of being economically responsible. He notes that the Liberals did endorse an extension of the State to promote and protect some of the rights that they had promoted – limited state pensions, health care, unemployment insurance – but, that any restructuring of the economy needed to be underpinned by responsible economic theory (a point of view that was shared by some people in the Labour Parties at the time as well).

However, it became very apparent that the Liberals could not have their cake and eat it too. As Dangerfield notes, the Liberals could not extend their agenda because it increasingly conflicted with the needs of capital, against which they were not prepared to advance any further. This led to radical Liberals joining or supporting Labour as a means of promoting further change.

In a recent speech, Michael Cullen made noises about ‘Modern Social Democracy.’ In effect, what he was really referring to was resurrecting the ‘new’ Liberalism of last century, with which Modern Social Democracy has more in common. ‘Modern Social Democracy’ or The Third Way as it has been dubbed, does not really seek a radical change in the way that society might be organised as it is not designed to redistribute either wealth or power. It accepts that the current economic structure (the free market) is correct so long as it can be merely tweaked. It wants to be socially just, as long as it remains economically responsible, which means being economically conservative.

In a past posting on his blog, Tony Milne asked as to whether New Zealand was becoming like Sweden. I think, apologies Tony if I have you wrong, that he was referring to the idea that Labour like the Swedish Social Democrats was becoming the ‘natural party’ of government (hmmm…I’ve heard that phrase somewhere before and used by another Party…nah…it’s gone…). The Swedish Social Democrats, in coalition with other left parties, have been in government, aside from several very short terms in Opposition, almost continuously since 1932. In that time they have dramatically changed the hegemony of Sweden to the extent that the Social Democrats lost significant votes to the Left Party in 1998, when they mooted changes to the nature of the Swedish Welfare State. The hegemonic change in this country has been quite far reaching too, but it has come from the opposite ideological direction.

Philosophically, the modern Labour Party is as close to social democracy as white bait is to a mature fish...

PS: ...Sorry, I meant alligator....

Monday, November 14, 2005

Tweek of the Week (14 November 2005)

It has been another hard choice for a ‘Tweek of the Week.’

We have George W Bush and the Republicans now saying that even though they were wrong about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, they did not mislead the American public over the matter. Hmmm… unfortunately, it appears that the evidence would suggest otherwise…although, it could be that George is simply just an unthinking dupe for others? Hopefully, Impeachment might be a welcome Christmas gift…it would certainly put George out of his misery….

Then, we have the ‘Governator.’ Big Arnie (now Republican Governor of California) suffered badly in the past week, with all four of his referendum proposals going down to substantial defeat in a popular vote. Apparently, his lack of panache as a legislator have caused splits in the Californian Republican Party, with some Republicans now openly stating that he should go, least the position fall to the Democrats (or the Republicats – I can never seem to remember as they appear very similar). It’s just a pity that he can’t blow his detractors away as he does on the screen…

However, I was talking with my good friend Joe Hendren, after Rod’s funeral last week, and Joe mentioned to me Peter Dunne’s blunder in relation to the cellphone…Hmmm…

I logged onto the United Future website and was informed that “…Peter is one of Parliament's most respected MP's. His intelligent calm common-sense is a much sought-after quality in Parliament….”

It appears that Winston may have competition for the prize of having an over-inflated ego and an inflated sense of self importance…the man is completely crass and richly deserves a ‘Tweek’ (as well as a kick up the ….).

Peter Dunne - Tweek (and Crass Human Being) of the Week

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Living By Each Other’s Happiness – RIP. Rod Donald

I’m still stunned by Rod Donald’s death. I met Rod when we both had the experience of being on the Alliance National Council in the mid 1990s. He was there as co-leader of the Green Party and later as an Alliance/Green MP while, I was there representing the Otago/Southland NLP.

Rod and I differed on a number of issues, although we agreed more than we differed and I was sorry to see him and the Greens depart in 1998. Of course, I’d seen him many times since then, the most recent being at a Banks Peninsular Candidates meeting during the recent election, after which he came over to our little group and cheerfully addressed us all as ‘Comrades’.

I liked Rod and I couldn’t believe that he had died. In a way, even though I’ve been told many times now via the radio and on television, his death still seems unreal.

I was musing over a speech that Charlie Chaplin made in ‘The Great Dictator', it was Chaplin’s first (and I think only talking role) and a section of Chaplin's famous speech reminds me of Rod.

“We all want to help each other. Human beings are like that. We want to live by
each others happiness – not by each others misery…”
Humantarian values are sadly lacking in today's society and Rod belived in those values.

I will miss Rod and I know that the Progressive movement in New Zealand will be weaker because of his passing.

Late Spring Holidays

Comrade Tweek has been on holiday. Yup, even hard working members of the proletariat deserve holidays some times – God bless good Queen Helen….

I always find it incredibly difficult to write about my holidays. Visions of school essays titled ‘What I did during my Summer Holidays’ come into my mind. Like people are interested in beaches, travelling etc. Though, apparently, some are and, while I like reading well written travel books, my own travels don’t really fascinate me all that much.

It’s like writing about my love life or relationships. I have never tried to foster them (my relationships) onto people and my own observation as to the dire state of my love life seems only really relevant to me. I could write a complete column on my previous relationship and how I discovered that she was an admirer of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi’s and how that, as well as her views on genetic selection, led to us breaking up in short order….and how this short affair has clouded my mind as to women…but, only it hasn’t…I made a bad choice and got out of it.

I’ve always considered that there are more important things happening in the world than my personal wellbeing of course that could just be me and I could make some comments in relation to the difference between the genders…only, I don’t believe that there is that much….

A lot of this is because I’m a serious person and I like having serious conversations about serious issues, triviality was never my thing, although over the years, I’ve got better at it…

So anyway, I have returned and now I’m all set for Xmas…