Sunday, February 20, 2011

What price freedom?

A wave of popular protest sweeps through the Middle East, threatening the autocratic regimes that have ruled for decades. In Tunisia and Egypt, the regimes have been toppled; in Bahrain, talks are about to commence; in Libya, a military backlash has been threatened; and protestors have also been active in Yemen, Jordan, Syria, and Iran. All shout the same war cries - "Freedom!", "Human rights!", "Give us our dignity!"
They want nothing more than the ability to exercise the same rights that we in the West take for granted. They want freedom from the governments which, in the cases of Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Jordan at least, our governments have supported and maintained. They want to be able to determine their own future.
Who are we to stand in their way?

Consider this, though:

What are the possible consequences of revolution?

As we saw in France after 1789, in Russia in 1917, in Brazil in 1930-2, in Spain after 1934, in Paraguay in 1947, in the Sudan, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Portuguese Guinea, Yemen, Bangladesh, Egypt and many other new states in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, and perhaps most relevantly in Iran in 1979, one revolution is not enough. In all these instances, which are but a few on the historical record, a popular uprising (sometimes supported by the military) ousted an unpopular regime, and was then itself defeated within no more than a few short years as a fringe group took advantage of the turmoil and anarchy and took power for itself. The end product was a harsher regime, a reign of terror in some cases, or a vicious civil war.

I fear the same for the Arab world.

There is so much to take advantage of. Many of those who have initiated the protests are well educated, secular, and comparatively well off. They have protested for more rights and a bigger slice of the pie, just as white collar activists have done throughout history. The protests have been swelled by common workers, the poor, the totally disenfranchised, who have nothing to lose and everything to gain from a transition of power. In most of these countries, political opposition has been banned, and so the only organised opposition has come from Islamic parties that have survived by becoming community organisations - parties such as the Muslim Brotherhood. They are well placed to lead the second revolution, to get rid of the secular and progressive educated elite which is barely more popular than the previous regime.

In a world where America has been villified, where people are all too aware that life could be better, and where the word of the mullahs and other radical Muslim preachers carries more authority and weight than any other, the power vaccuum which is left by the departure of these autocratic regimes can only be filled by one source. Unfortunately for those of us in the West, this source considers our way of life inimical to its own.

In the West, most of us accept and desire a free, secular, progressive democracy as being the only way to live in a fair (or fairer) society. Outside of the small educated elites and professional classes, many of the people in the Arab world do not identify with this world view. The rise of radical fundamentalist Islam over the past two decades has been coupled with a power which the fundamentalist Christian groups in the West can never realise. Why? Because in the West, everyone is educated. We teach freedom, respect, tolerance. Such values find any fundamentalist or extreme perspectives to be repugnant, and so we turn from them, and place our support in the centre, with the moderates. But in the Arab World, a place where close to 50% of the population is below the age of 20, the lack of anything other than the most basic education means that the bulk of the population is ignorant, and can be easily manipulated. They have not made a free choice to accept or follow a blind and narrow interpretation of one of the truly great religions; they simply do not have the ability, the sophistication, nor the will to challenge it. This makes them ripe for manipulation by those who hide behind religion, those who profess belief in a faith which supposedly abhors the actions they conduct in its name.

So this is my fear. Yay for the people of the Arab World, and yay for freedom, but unless I'm very much mistaken any "freedom" they receive may be shortlived. That's why I'm glad to see the Egyptian military take control after the protests which ousted Mubarak. From what I've seen, most of the leadership desires to model itself on that of the Turkish army, which views the military as the defender of the republic. In Turkey, religious fundamentalism is also on the rise but to a large degree it is blocked, and held in check, by a secular military.

A theocratic state can never be a free state.

And a crescent of theocratic states running from Tunisia to Iran can never see the West as anything but an enemy.

We live in interesting times. Let us hope that we, and the common people of the Arab world - those who care not about politics or enemies but about food, water, and a roof over their heads - survive them.

That's my two cents to sense.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Auckland Super-City Mayors Compared

Several people have commented to me that they have no idea who they're going to vote for in the upcoming elections. I'm yet to receive my voting forms but I've spent about 12 hours over the last four days trying to find out what the candidates stand for, and I've summarised my findings below in an easy to follow, categorised package.

I've chosen six key policy areas to compare: Auckland's Assets, Infrastructure, Local Government, Public Transport, Rates, and Water. I've also put what I consider to be their political leaning (left, centre, right) or any overt party Affiliation, and any Other information I deemed noteworthy. The idea is that, with this done, I can allocate points to each candidate on each policy - 1 point for something I agree with in principle, and 2 points for something I really approve of - and the candidate with the most points will win my vote.

Some of the candidates either have no policies at all, seem to have nothing that fits into the above categories, or have not made much of an attempt to publicise themselves, so I've not included them here. My information below is a summary, in my own words, of what the candidates have provided to the NZ Herald or on their own websites and/or Facebook pages. If you think I have interpreted any particular policy incorrectly, or if you find a policy which I've left blank, please let me know and I'll amend this accordingly. I've tried my best to use the candidates' own words or what they seem to intend, rather than using my own ideas.

BTW if anyone knows how to put a table into these blogs I'd appreciate a heads up - this looks much better on my Word document as a table and it's much easier to draw direct comparisons on key issues.

Oh, and it's in alphabetical order by surname - seemed the most logical way to organise it all!

Note: PPP = Public Private Partnerships; CCO = Council Controlled Organisations


Aileen Austin

Affiliation - None (sounds like a conservationist)

Assets - Guardianship for future generations

Infrastructure - Maintain existing infrastructure

Local Government -

Other - Wants to defend "the NZ-Kiwi way of life"

Public Transport - "Sensible" self funding solutions

Rates - GST off rates

Water -


John Banks

Affiliation - National

Assets - CBD Rail loop, develop Waterfront

Infrastructure - Reduce street signage, improvements for pedestrians, invest in CBD improvements and develop world class infrastructure

Local Government - Promote local board funding and powers

Other - Current Mayor of Auckland

Public Transport - Another harbour crossing,; more development for buses, rail, ferries and an integrated network

Rates - Savings within 3 years

Water - Consumer choice vital


Marlene Barr

Affiliation - None (leftist?)

Assets - Council to oversee assets

Infrastructure -

Local Government -

Other -

Public Transport - Focus on improving Public Transport

Rates - Budget will be carefully examined

Water -


Len Brown

Affiliation - Labour

Assets - Maintain public ownership; roll out free entry to pools etc across the city

Infrastructure - Develop a high speed broadband throughout the city as a high priority, focus on developments to enhance the export and tourism sectors

Local Government - CCOs need to work for the community; bring in Maori seats for Council

Other - Current Mayor of Manukau

Public Transport - Fully integrated Public Transport system linking road, rail, ferry and air

Rates - Examine the possibility of a “Poll Tax”

Water - Maintain public ownership


Penny Bright

Affiliation - None (Left)

Assets - Keep in public hands

Infrastructure - Maintain at current status

Local Government - Keep out the unelected CEOs of CCOs

Other - Anti-corporate, Anti-SuperCity

Public Transport -

Rates - Decrease

Water - Council run not corporate


Hugh Chapman

Affiliation - None (leftist?)

Assets -

Infrastructure - Reduce traffic congestion; rejuvenate Manuaku harbour

Local Government - Local Boards should consult and listen to residents & work with CCOs; More role for Local Boards in community expenditure and planning

Other -

Public Transport - Elevated passenger transport systems; a 10 year plan to integrate Public Transport

Rates -

Water -


Colin Craig

Affiliation - None (rightist)

Assets -

Infrastructure - Keep costs down – no big spending or borrowing for major infrastructure work until after the recession

Local Government - Each local area is to be empowered; binding referenda will be held on major issues for the Super City

Other - Organiser of the March for Democracy (protest against the anti-smacking law and government's response to referndum) 2009

Public Transport - Anzac Centenary Bridge as harbour crossing; radical improvements to Public Trasnport required

Rates - Local Boards to set their own rates; keep rises to a minimum

Water - Opposes long term corporate monopoly on water


Vinnie Kahui

Affiliation - None (leftist)

Assets - Retain in public ownership

Infrastructure - Make it easier to develop sustainable buildings

Local Government - Effective engagement with communities essential

Other - Bring more events to Auckland – V8 Super cars, film and TV crews

Public Transport - Make it more effective, efficient, eco-friendly and cheaper

Rates - “Sort them out”

Water - Public ownership


Alan McCulloch

Affiliation - Leader of One NZ Party (Centre-Right)

Assets - Public ownership

Infrastructure -

Local Government - Return to local Mayors for each of the regions; replace CCO directors with publicly elected officials

Other - Former Mayor, East Coast Bays.

Public Transport -

Rates - No overall rates increases

Water - Public ownership


Steve McDonald

Affiliation - None (Centre-Left?)

Assets -

Infrastructure -

Local Government - “meaningful consultation” between Mayor and the Council and Boards– empower local boards

Other - Has served on Henderson community board for 2 terms

Public Transport - Needs shaking up

Rates - Don’t rate people out of their homes

Water -


Vanessa Neeson

Affiliation - None (rightist - married to former National MP)

Assets - “I even know how to defeat graffiti”

Infrastructure - Build social capital through PPPs

Local Government - Maintain a tight relationship with CCOs

Other - 18 years as Waitakere City Councillor

Public Transport - We need a first class Public Transport system

Rates - Remove GST from rates

Water - Water provision should be first class


Simon Prast

Affiliation - None (Left)

Assets - No sale of public assets

Infrastructure - Funded by regional, national, and private sources

Local Government - Local boards to be fully incorporated into democratic practice

Other - Actor and Director, wants to make Auckland the First City of Pacific-Asia

Public Transport - Efficient, effective, affordable Public Transport solutions needed; a new bridge; Airport-Britomart rail link

Rates -

Water - Public ownership


Raymond Presland

Affiliation - None (rightist)

Assets -

Infrastructure - We need buildings and places we are proud to show off.

Local Government -

Other - Retired businessman – worked in farming and textiles

Public Transport -

Rates -

Water -


Annalucia Vermunt

Affiliation - Communist League

Assets - All assets to be owned by the Public

Infrastructure - Public Works organised to provide public housing, health clinics, child care etc

Local Government - No cuts to Council services; bring in Maori seats to the Super City

Other - There is plenty of wealth in Auckland to provide for what the workers need

Public Transport - Public Works to provide the Public Transport required by workers

Rates - Opposes GST on rates but no actual statement about rates

Water - Opposes water taxes and corporate interest in water


Andrew Williams

Affiliation - None (Centre-Right)

Assets -

Infrastructure - Complete key regional infrastructure

Local Government - Properly resource and empower local boards

Other - Current Mayor of North Shore City

Public Transport - Fully integrated Public Trasnport system; another harbour crossing

Rates - “Don’t Waste the Rates!”

Water -


David Wilmot

Affiliation - None (right)

Assets -

Infrastructure - No more “lolly projects” until we get back in the black

Local Government -

Other -

Public Transport - More roads not rail; Public Transport is a dead duck and a waste of money, private automobilisation needs more support

Rates -

Water -

Sunday, August 22, 2010

How do we stop crime?

There's been some conversation on my Facebook profile about how to stamp out crime, specifically in light of this recent NZ Herald article about New Zealand's thriving underbelly:

I linked this article to my profile and made the following comment:

"Several answers immediately occur to me here. 1) Tighten up on our anti-money laundering legislation (already being done); 2) Tighten border control and increase customs staffing so that EVERY package coming into NZ can be searched; 3) impose the death penalty for drug traffickers, to be conducted within 6 weeks of the sentencing (appeals must be heard within 4 weeks of the first trial); 4) compulsory drug rehabilitation for anyone caught using illegal drugs no matter what age, rather than prison, and a minimum non-parole sentence of 25 years hard labour for recidivist offenders."

While a couple of respondents agreed, several others expressed a sentiment that this was reminiscient of a Nazi-style criminal justice system, and one used a derivative of Blackstone's formulation ("better that ten guilty persons go free than one innocent person should suffer") in decrying the death penalty altogether.

This belief has long been with us; in Genesis God announces that he will spare Sodom (or was it Gomorrah? Sorry, I'm too lazy to look this reference up!) if he can find but 50 righteous people; obviously he can't, so the whole place turns to salt. Exodus 23:7 tells us that "thou shalt not slay the innocent and righteous". So this kind of thinking has obviously been around for a while. Benjamin Franklin expanded on Blackstone's idea when he proclaimed that it was better for 100 guilty people to go free than for one innocent to hang. Voltaire and Rousseau also had ideas along this train of thought, as, I believe, did Burke. In fact, one might say that the entire foundation of our Anglo-Saxon jury system and the western liberal justice structure is based around the preference to let the guilty walk rather than coop up the innocent. Here in NZ we have had Arthur Allan Thomas, David Bain, and now John Barlow who have been convicted of murder, served a long stretch behind bars, and then freed or even exonerated. So it is a very topical as well as an emotional issue.

In a perfectly robust state where the police were completely above suspicion, the death penalty would work well. Unfortunately, though our police force is still very honourable and incorruptible as a whole, we do know that on occasion individual police officers have planted evidence to secure a conviction. This will always haunt the debate about the death penalty, and we do need to think about how to ensure that the right person is being executed. The article cited above was mainly to due with drugs, and how Asian crime syndicates have overseen a massive increase in money laundering, drug importation and sale in this country since the advent of P. In China, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Indonesia, to name several examples, they would face the death penalty for importation; here, they face a relatively small fine, a few years in prison, and deportation. As we've seen with cases like that of Shanelle Corby, however, proving that someone is actually guilty of importation rather than being an innocent patsy can be difficult.

There is one thing which is much easier, however. Drug tests. This does not prove importation, but it does prove consumption. If there were no users, there would be no traffickers. Yes?

In Sweden, they recently took a new look at prostitution. Rather than making the sale of sex illegal, and turning the prostitutes into criminals, the Swedish government made the purchase of sex illegal - hence hitting the people whose demand for prostitutes was fuelling the sex trade. I see this as the fundamental reason behind why drug use should remain illegal - if not for the users, drugs would not be a problem. Look at the situation in Mexico at the moment, with many thousands of casualties caused by the drug war being waged by the under-resourced government against drug warlords and cartels who are funded directly by American drug users.

My thinking is simple. Death for traffickers, where guilt can be proven beyond reasonable doubt. But is this enough? That's why I advocate compulsory rehab for anyone convicted for using drugs - rehab to be done in a secure rehabilitation facility which houses other drug users but no other types of criminals, a residential facility where families can also stay to be close to their loved ones and help them through (or receive rehab themselves - lets face it, many of those using drugs are simply following in the footsteps of family members.) People convicted a second time would have the book thrown at them, for fuelling the drug industry. A choice of 25 years minimum non-parole period, hard labour, or a nice, clean death within 30 days with a $50,000 payment to their family (which will still save the taxpayers millions of dollars per inmate).

While no one likes to see innocent people suffer, we all need to get over our obsession with individual rights and start thinking more clearly about collective responsibility, safety, and security. As I wrote on Facebook, is it not better for an innocent person to give their life for the security and safety of their country, their people, their nation, rather than allowing ten or a hundred guilty people to live and potentially cause even more pain, hurt, and suffering to many more innocent people? Surely none of us can deem our own person as being more important than the community as a whole? If the part that we play in providing collective security is that we must die for it, then, to borrow from John F Kennedy, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.

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