Steven’s great fall

Atop the wall he sat until today when the former “fixit” man in the National Party caucus failed in his leadership jump and smashed on the floor of parliament. No-one can fix him, and no-one wants to. In bitterness the egg-head, dick-head of National is too hard boiled to endure opposition. Or is it soft-boiled? I don’t care.

The greatest moment of this fragile career, and Joyce’s undeniable legacy was taking a dildo in the face at Waitangi. I repost the gif for your pleasure.

All the best Steve, it’s hard to hate someone who takes a sex toy so well.

The end of Bill

He resigned. And retired. Such is the nature of MMP that as a list MP he will be replaced by the next person on the National Party List. No by-election to worry about.

It’s not like the writing wasn’t on the wall since October last year when he realized he’d lost the election by winning it. Of course, a plurality ain’t a majority, and 44 seats is not enough to govern.

Since then Bill English has had plenty of time to think, and so has his restful caucus. The media reported that it wasn’t a question of if he would go, but when. Journalist Jane Bowron wrote a piece recently saying that he would go, but not yet. He said, “hold my beer,” and quit today.

Not surprising that this was coming, and it looked imminent judging by the omens on his twitter feed:

Two dinosaurs, and a knife wielding Amy Adams to boot.

 

Road to nowhere. Directionless. Nowhere to run too.

So, the one time PM who has been in parliament for my entire lifetime has bowed out. It is not for me to eulogise him, I’ll leave that to the Hooton’s and Hosking’s. This is definitely the right time to go, opposition is no fun when you are up against a pregnant PM who can do no wrong. Besides, the Prime Ministerial pension plus whatever salary comes with the certain board position will be a nice distraction for the chap who once put spaghetti on a pizza.

Burden of Proof

In the United States, over 90% of all criminal cases are settled by plea bargain. That is, the defendant agrees to plea guilty to a lesser charge with possibly more favourable sentencing before the case goes to trial. This practice means that the evidence in the case is never tested. That the constitutional right to a trial by a jury of one’s peers is not exerted, and the presumption of innocence is perfunctory at best.

Plea bargaining in its widespread form is a perversion of justice. It implies that guilt or innocence is negotiable, and many minority defendants innocent of crimes nevertheless plead guilty because they see no chance of defending themselves against the leviathan of the state justice system.

In New Zealand

In NZ, there are no statistics collected of plea bargaining. However, there is evidence that the practice is even more widespread. In 2016, district courts concluded 135,003 cases, but only 2,407 were jury trials. 98.2% of the cases are not put to the test. Without statistics of plea bargains actually being collected I am hesitant to put complete faith in my simple calculation, but can confidently estimate that more than 90% of criminal cases are disposed of without jury trials.

Driving this trend is the harsh cuts to Crown prosecution budgets by the former National-led government. In the past Crown solicitors were paid per-day, and it was argued that this incentivised them to extend trials as long as possible. They are now bulk funded, and in 2012/2013 the overall budget was cut by 25%. Thus, cases are prosecuted as fast as possible, and full trials avoided if at all possible.

It is argued that a more efficient system is better because justice is dispensed more promptly. This is against a background of criticism that the system needs to be more victim focussed. I argue that the former is incorrect because of the purpose of the court system being to ascertain proof of guilt, and this precludes efficiency. Thoroughness is by definition time-consuming. The latter point about being more victim focussed is a logical fallacy. The crime is focussed on the victim. The court system is and should be focussed on the alleged perpetrator. Blurring this distinction harms both victims and perpetrators by denying both what they really need. The victim needs support, and the perpetrator needs their guilt proven.

Also, during the years of inappropriate reform there has been an exponential rise in the prison population, leading to overcrowding and poor management of inmates. The prison system is in a state in which it cannot transform into something more humane because it is under constant strain. Effort is instead put into expanding prisons. Corrections and Justice go hand in hand, so reforms to one effect the other.

What to do?

The prison population in NZ is disproportionately high by international standards, and therefore a constraint in the number of convictions, and more sentencing options not involving incarceration could be a start. It would certainly be within the ability of Parliament to affect such reforms through legislation. But that would not be enough. Nor would reversing the previous government reforms be enough.

A complete and seismic shift is necessary. If the public were of its own accord to form a body to design a better system without reference to the status quo, and then force the government to enact it, a revolutionary step would have been achieved without bloodshed or loss of order. A public body of this kind would be superior to parliament in democratic legitimacy, and would lay a framework for further constitutional reform. Anyway, this is the only way to achieve real change. It must come from the bottom, not the top.

 

 

 

 

 

references:

http://equaljusticeproject.co.nz/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/symposiumpaper.pdf

https://www.justice.govt.nz/justice-sector-policy/research-data/justice-statistics/conviction-sentencing-statistics/

Year Two begins…

It has begun with a partial government shutdown, and it will end with an election. The GOP control of the entire federal government has translated to little legislative advantage, and the democrats are on their way to storming back into the majority of both houses of congress. However, the chaos presidency is unpredictable and relishing the scent of victory against him would be more than midwifing hubris.

Should there be an upset win for democrats it seems likely that the old Congress will be called into a lame duck session so they can pass some last ditch legislation before the democrats can be sown in next year. So there is yet more misery to look forward to.

365 days, 2608 (un)presidential tweets, one supreme court appointee, a criminal tax law change, the erosion of healthcare, unbanned travel bans, gutting of federal environmental regulations, the steady rotting away of infrastructure and education, and total embarrassment around the world. Harvey Weinstein is finally toppled for his grossly inappropriate behavior and a legion of boorish cads from entertainment, the media, and politics disappear into the long brewing cesspool they made. But the president paid hush money to a pornstar to silence her about their 2006-? affair and nothing changes.

The president had himself spanked as the naughty boy he is with a magazine bearing himself, his wife and children. This is just the start of year two. By the end of year four I don’t think we’ll recognise the USA.

The Public are the Enemy? 

Yesterday there was a blockade of the weapons expo being held at the Westpac Stadium in Wellington. Contractors and dealers of things that kill were meeting with representatives from the defense force — something that has happened every year since 1997.

Most years this revolting expo has been held at Te Papa, but in 2015 it was at the TSB Arena, and there was a blockade organised by Peace Action Wellington was stormed by police who arrested 27 people. All charges were eventually dropped. The event was taken to Auckland last year.

But this year it was back and a new venue was found, the Westpac Stadium! How cunning of those wily defense force bosses, they chose a strategically difficult location, one that would require many hundreds of protesters to disrupt.

Peace Action Wellington, and the worthy organisations supporting them, were not outdone. Protest they did, and blockades of every known entrance to the venue occurred throughout the day. But the police were many, and they were brutal.

boyfriend Rei.jpg

14 people were arrested yesterday, including my boyfriend, who I watched from cellphone footage being dragged, throttled, stepped on, and abused by police. They had a cane because of their disabilities, and the police snatched it, broke it in half, and threw it over a fence.

cop dragging the Rei.jpg

It is a chargeable offense to raise a hand to a cop, but not the other way around. They own violence, and they deal in it with relish.

I wasn’t on the scene yesterday, as the cowards on social media who joked that the busloads of weapons dealers should have rolled right over the protesters, were not. But I know now where I stand, much more clearly than before yesterday. It is with the people who reject violence, who love peace, and are willing the lay down before the wheels of an unjust system. A system created and upheld by the perverters of human dignity.

 

All photos are taken from stuff.co.nz which I hope is okay. If it isn’t, they can eat my entire ass and choke. Seriously though, I am not profiting from this and the link from the article is below, so be cool. Be cool.

https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/97713861/peace-action-blockades-westpac-stadium-arms-industry-forum

Cynical Rot

This is a response to the torrid commentary in NZ media in general, and in particular to an opinion piece by Finlay Macdonald that was posted on RNZ on August 9. You can read his piece here.

Of all the disgusting articles posted about Metiria Turei’s resignation, Finlay Macdonald’s contribution is particularly mean-spirited. He argues, in short, that it wasn’t the offense at the centre of the controversy – lying to Work and Income – that was bad, it was Turei’s own handling of the affair. Further, he charges that it was absurd that she should resign on the basis that the public scrutiny of her family was unbearable, because, as he puts it:

“Having invited scrutiny of her private life… If it is not too blunt to ask, what the hell did she expect?” – Finlay Macdonald on Metiria Turei.

That sent a chill to my occipital lobe, perhaps because it is self-evidently victim blaming language. She was asking for it, she should have known what would happen, bad Turei! I say this is absolutely and stunningly wrong, not only in moral terms, but as a basic political analysis.

The layers of irony in Macdonald’s piece might be funny if they were not so overdrawn. I almost expect a disclaimer that the article is a clumsy satire on media commentators becoming so saturated in parliamentary politics that they are more hack than human. At least, they have either forgotten the human element, or simply deny that it exists.

This is deep cynicism, to actually convict Turei of the heresy of not being cynical. Of not acting as a cold and ruthless political machine. Of having the temerity to be hurt when her family is bullied and harassed for nearly a month by the media, and attacked online by political opponents, and troglodytes with nothing to say that isn’t intended to hurt.

The crux of Macdonald’s argument, and I think it encapsulates the thinking of many on the centre-left, is that the damage done to the Green Party, and the left in general, is the sole responsibility of the former co-leader. Here, I smell the sterile odor of a whitewash, the clean-up crew from the political centre heaping as much rubbish onto the most prominent Māori leader the left has. All to spare their dream of a gentle change of government from centre to centre. Nevermind that it is mere weeks since Labour was itself in turmoil, no, Turei might have spoiled it all.

Therefore, if the result of the September election is that Jacinda Ardern is not Prime Minister, fault can be dumped on Turei for fatally compromising the campaign. Forgive my cynicism, but I think it is distinctly less rotten because unlike Finlay Macdonald, I don’t expect or desire politicians to act cynically. I don’t think it is ever desirable to put the world-weary in command of even a slice of the world.

The truth might actually be that Metiria Turei didn’t know what speaking up about her experience on the DPB in the 1990s would do, but that she genuinely believed it worth taking the risk and standing up for the powerless.  Doing so is worth losing support today, even her own position, and maybe even the election. Is it worth changing the government if the price is shutting down such an important debate about dignity in the welfare system? I don’t think it is, frankly.

However, I’m glad to say that the debate isn’t going away. This particular elephant has been in the room a long time and Metiria Turei has turned us to face it. That she paid a heavy political, and personal price should not be thrown back in her face. The tragedy is that New Zealand politics is a little more cynical.

 

 

 

NZIFF: Final Portrait

Righto, not having written a blogpost in a while I will keep this fairly terse. The New Zealand International Film Festival is on in Wellington, and if you are in a position to attend a screening I strongly recommend that you do. In fact, don’t even check what you are about to see. Get a ticket for whatever and enjoy the surprise; independent cinema won’t hurt you. Now then, on to what I saw today:

Final Portrait (wri/dir: Stanley Tucci, starring: Geoffrey Rush, Armie Hammer) is a character study of Swiss-Italian artist Alberto Giacometti (b. 1901 – d.1966), set in Paris in 1964.

Giacometti, a draftsman and sculptor as well as a painter, is particularly known for his  style of rendering the human form in long, gaunt, monochromatic shapes. Coincidentally, my father showed me some of Giacometti’s work only a matter of weeks ago, and it was the first time that I actually took note of who he was. Therefore, seeing Final Portrait was, for me, a perfect elaboration from that introduction.

Geoffrey Rush is just as brilliant as I expected, playing irritable, chain-smoking, eccentrics is hardly a leap for him, but few could have done it better. Rush captures the look of Giacometti; the muttering bleakness of his spirit, and all the idiosyncrasies to be found in painters. I don’t have the knowledge to verify to accuracy of the portrayal, but to do so would be a mistake in my view. It would be beside the point. Let me explain.

James Lord (played by Armie Hammer), was Giacometti’s biographer, and in the movie he is enduring sitting after sitting in the hope of getting a finished portrait of himself to take back to New York, where his fiancee is waiting for him. The days pass by, and progress is slow. Giacometti sits opposite Lord in the studio and watches him, getting him to move his body by miniscule amounts, stopping work frequently crying, “fuck!” Sometimes packing up having only added a few strokes to the picture. As the sessions wear on, Lord’s morale is worn thin, and he despairs that the painting will never be finished.

Giacometti also despairs. That he can’t finish anything. He says to Lord, “When I was young I thought I could do anything, when I grew up I realised I can do nothing.” This may not be mere fatalism, but an expression of the existentialist view that modernity is vacuous. That it is without meaning. In the face of that, Giacometti searches for meaning in his subjects – in James Lord.

The painting itself, and the act of painting it, is cathartic for both Giacometti and Lord. The film, with it’s wit, and its excellent supporting cast (Clémence Poésy (Caroline), Tony Shalhoub (Diego Giacometti), James Faulkner (Pierre Matisse), Sylvie Testud (Annette Arm), is a much easier watch than Mr. Turner was, which is the best film I can compare it with – in terms of being about an artist.

Unfortunately, I have exhausted my analytical ability, and to continue to slip on the keyboard would be a waste of my, and your time. For art lovers this is not a film to miss.

That’s all for now.

 

 

Keeping the Flames

In a particularly beautiful part of the Netherlands, just outside the town of Sint-Oedenrode, a local teenager looked out the window to see American paratroopers drop into the field just outside the family house.

It was September 17th 1944,  and Martin (referred to as Opa to his family and so I shall too from hereon) was in the middle of the largest airborne operation ever attempted. An audacious assault meant to bypass the fortifications of the Maginot and Siegfried lines on the French and Belgian borders with Germany. The Netherlands had been under Nazi occupation since May 1940. Had Operation Market Garden succeeded the Dutch would have been liberated earlier, but also victory in Europe day could have been before Christmas 1944.

Martinus Alphonsus van Rooy, now 88, recounts the experience of having World War Two so close at such a pivotal age.  “I still don’t like the Germans,” he murmurs reflectively.  it was clear by 1944 that the Nazi war machine was slowly collapsing.  The initial surprise of Market Garden confused the enemy, so when they came after the paratroopers they thought they were after the British.  Even so the SS put Opa’s family against the wall of their house and demanded to know where the “tommies” were.  The SS left soon after empty-handed.

The Americans had asked for cans to hang on wires which would rattle and alert them to intruders at night.  They had dug in; coming out in the day and disappeared at night. Over the next week Opa and his family were strangely poised, living with World War Two happening out the window.  At one point an older SS man came to the house looking for somewhere to sleep. He slept in the kitchen. Opa’s sister took the man’s rifle and wouldn’t give it back.

The German morale was evidently poor, and they were spiritually a spent force.  “The Germans didn’t want to go to the Eastern Front. Oh no, they didn’t want to fight the Russians, they were scared [of them].” Opa recalls witnessing gunfights between the Allies and the Nazis, and got as close as to be in real danger when a hand grenade went off nearby. He remembers that the Germans were genuinely surprised, “They thought the British were above where they were.” The Allies had landed over such a wide area in order to create a corridor for ground forces in France to advance through. This did have the effect of surprise, but made the operation vulnerable to counterattack. The German Panzer divisions were able to defeat the operation, but it was to be their last victory of the war.

As the days passed the Operation became more and more futile. It depended on speed and surprise to seize the key roads and bridges forming a corridor from Eindhoven to Arnhem, which the British XXX Corps would use to bypass the fortifications of the Maginot and Sigfried lines (reinforcing the border between Germany, France, and Belgium). This was an audacious attempt to bring the war to a close before Christmas 1944.

Today, Operation Market Garden has disappeared from memory as the events of D-day and the Battle of the Bulge which burn more brightly have taken attention. They were gruelling, and devastating operations, but they were victories, and much more satisfactory stories for Hollywood to tell.

On this ANZAC day, I think it is worthwhile to seek out the lesser known tales from military history, not least because we are steadily losing those that can tell them first hand. Now in his late eighties, the teenage boy from Sint-Oedenrode who saw the flash of guns and felt the shock of a grenade, recalls his experience with a twinkle in his eye.

Trump’s list of broken promises

What is that crunching underfoot? The shards of Trump’s broken promises. The shattered dreams of those who voted for him, and are stuck between a bloviating moron and the hate of dejected democrats. 

Let no-one get away with saying that at least Trump is doing what he said he would do if elected. It simply isn’t so.

Trump’s promises before and after the election – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-37982000

Vile Maxims 

Adam Smith wrote that the ‘masters of mankind,’ who at the time were the manufacturing owners in England, pursue their vile maxim: “everything for ourselves and nothing for other people.”

Noam Chomsky has written at great length about how this is as true today as it was when Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations. I cannot possibly improve on the case the great professor makes in a mere essay, but simply draw out a few strands and hold them closer to the light.

There’s something very wrong about the world we live in. People tell me that the problem is deeply rooted in human nature. That we cannot possibly change it, that greed and self interest are as much a part of what makes us human as our opposable thumbs and brain size. Greed makes people abuse welfare. Greed makes people steal and use drugs. And greed makes massive financial institutions wreak havoc on the world economy behind their responsibility and demand (and get) a bailout from the taxpayer. The first two cases in which greed informs behaviour are harshly punished. The latter is not.

This is not news to anyone. Even the most reptilian neo-liberal accepts that corporate greed is negative (or perhaps they don’t, I am not particularly interested in knowing). If only because it makes the corporate interests lobby governments to pervert the free market to their own ends. But the masters of mankind have us tied up in the belief that Human Nature cannot be changed. If greed is not good then at least it is ineradicable. That way the masters can continue their plunder of the world while the rest of us toil for less and less.

I don’t think greed is necessarily a part of human nature. In fact empirical evidence taken from the myriad forms of human society demonstrates the weakness of the human nature claim. Pre-european Māori tribes engaged in inter-tribal warfare (that increased dramatically after Europeans brought the musket), but Māori society was remarkably stable, and quite immune from the pressures we like to worry about. Like individual property rights.

Our society is built to be greedy. That is capitalist nature, not human. We built the society, and we can fix it. How do we do it? A violent Revolution? I am not at all sure that storming the proverbial Bastille is the way to go. Instead, I want to look at the ails of society, which is what Marx and Engels were concerned with in the very first place. Deny and disagree with their conclusions if you wish, but their analysis of industrialization was deadly accurate. You don’t have to answer for Stalin if you invoke Marxist theories, just as supporters of Bernie Sanders do not have to answer for Trump. I say that as a throat clearing for any vocal critics.

What needs to happen now is the lower 90% of people who would have been known once as the proletariat, has to reclaim the power they once had as factory workers to unionize and agitate against the bourgeoisie. Over the years the means of production have been outsourced and the working class thereby disempowered. A sweatshop worker in China cannot hold Nike to account, multi-nationals assume the privileged of being neo-states in all but landmass. Financial regulation and deregulation espoused by the frightful hack Alan Greenspan established the new proletariat dubbed the ‘precariat’ because the working class is now characterized by insecurity. Zero-hour contracts, no health insurance, fire at will policies, the erosion of welfare so that the worker who predictably loses their job cannot pay their rent or their bills. All for ourselves and nothing for other people, the vile maxim sits at the heart of this filthy Society.

But it is based on a lie. This is not a zero sum world. Advances for some people are not necessarily imply detraction for others. If you are fortunate to be thriving in this Society I do not want to injure you or harm your prospects. I want to meet Society work for more people, like trans and non-binary people. The poor, the ill, those abandoned by Society and kept in cages. The first step is to listen to these people, the second is to make concessions. In order to get to that place it needs to be accepted that workers have rights and must be able to agitate for better conditions. They can continue to represent themselves better than any demagogue hoisting the red flag.

Lastly, security needs to be attained in all its complexity, not just in physical terms when considering domestic and international terrorism. The American Dream was about individual security. A family sustaining itself without government interference. That dream is dead as long as workers are precarious on the edge of oblivion. So be cautious when dubious and smug politicians talk about the economy. The word they actually mean to say is plutonomy, and growth for 0.1% does not strengthen the economy overall. But it does invite them to lavish parties on expensive yachts and stroke them in just the right way.

Instead of citing particular pages, much of this essay is based on Noam Chomsky’s Who Rules the World. Additional reading from The Meaning of Marxism by Paul D’Amato.