Red Alert

Archive for December, 2009

The next decade… how to pronounce it?

Posted by on December 31st, 2009

I just did a google search on news results for pronouncing 2010 twenty ten or two thousand and ten. There were 2,744 results and rising.

I don’t know whether a consensus has already been reached. I just listened to the radio news in the car on the way home and heard both versions in the same bulletin; one from a journalist, and another from a person being interviewed.

I think we’re confused. I personally lean towards twenty ten, but have been saying two thousand and ten and two thousand and eleven for a while.

A decision will be reached, but confusion may reign for a while. What do you think?

We hope to have the ability to do polls on Red Alert in 2010 (however it’s pronounced). For now you’ll have to vote through your comments.

Happy New Year to you all.

Update: Radio NZ, the BBC and a bunch of other media have decided on twenty ten.

New Year reflections

Posted by on December 31st, 2009

Is New Year’s Eve time to be serious?  I suspect most people think it’s time to celebrate, and that’s what I am about to do.

So, I’ve resisted the urge to come up with a New Year’s “best (or worst) of” list on this blog, but there are plenty around.  Unfortunately, I’ve had to turn to other countries and the Huffington Post takes the prize for the best politcal ones I’ve seen so far.  But if you have any, please share (or make up your own)  :

Wall Street’s Ten biggest lies of 2009

The dumbest quotes of the 2000’s

The 12 weirdest right wing conspiracies of 2009

And many more. Go have a good laugh if you aren’t already out celebrating New Year’s Eve – and if you are, have a good laugh anyway.

See you in 2010.

Filed under: humour

Labour’s position on internet censorship

Posted by on December 31st, 2009

There have been requests for an elaboration on Labour’s position on internet filtering following my previous post two days ago. Here’s what I sent to Tech Liberty lobbyist Thomas Beagle in late July in response to his request about where Labour sits on censoring the internet.

In November 2008 the Labour Government introduced a programme of test filtering on a trial basis blocking access to the approximate 7000 websites, known to deal with exclusively child sexual abuse imagery.

At the time, the Hon David Cunliffe said “The programme intends to contribute to the safety of the public’s online experience by preventing inadvertent access to this type of objectionable material. It also intends to contribute to international efforts against the production of and trade in child sexual abuse imagery.

There are no plans for the programme to be expanded to other types of illegal material.”

He also stated that New Zealand had no intention of following Australia’s legislation of mandatory filtering by ISPs. New Zealand’s response to undesirable material has been an emphasis on education, as demonstrated by Netsafe. The Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act had no legislative authority for website filtering, he said.

The previous Labour Government action was in response to a proposal from ECPAT NZ, part of a global organisation which aims to eliminate child prostitution and pornography and the trafficking of children for sexual purposes.

There were clear guidelines around privacy protection. The system had been successfully trialled in Sweden.

ISPs joined the programme on a voluntary basis. Labour’s policy hasn’t changed.

I believe there is a need for further discussion within our caucus on these matters. My view is that a voluntary, opt in system for ISPs to a contained filtering programme focussed solely on child sexual abuse is about as far as you’d want to go. I’m keen to learn more about why some of you believe filters don’t work.

Thanks Helen

Posted by on December 31st, 2009

Helen Clark ONZ. Well deserved. Congratulations.

Elley on national’s testing

Posted by on December 30th, 2009

Warwick Elley has been a leading expert in testing in NZ for at least thirty years.  He gives an easy to read explanation of why Tolley’s folly will fail in todays Herald.

I want high standards and clear precise reporting to parents. National’s testing won’t help either. The minimum change should be a proper trialling using a sample of schools while others use NEMP or Asstle.

Elley is not alone. Four other experts comments have previously been discussed on Red Alert.

Act on Act

Posted by on December 30th, 2009

Former Act MP Deborah Coddington gives her view on the failed Act coup:

The “Politician Wally Award” goes not to Rodney Hide but to the Act MPs who tried to dump him as leader. Hello? Heather Roy, Roger Douglas and John Boscawen – Hide’s the only reason you’re in Parliament, plus the only reason Act still exists, despite his stuff-ups and yes, they’re huge. I’m Hide’s least favourite person but the three coup plotters – who should be sacked except Act has no one credible to take their places – seriously underestimate his intelligence, his extraordinary ability to recover from disaster, and his single-minded determination to achieve his goals (think weight loss, going alcohol-free, winning Epsom).

You have a man down, you lift him up and carry him a while, not press his nose into the mud and think you can take his place. Heather Roy as leader and Roger Douglas as deputy? As they say on Facebook – LMAO.

Fancy having to rely on  the swing vote of John Boscawen to survive. Not that I am getting close to feeling sorry for Rodney.

But remember Douglas has the experience of coups against Rowling and Lange. He knows that if at first you don’t succeed then try, try again.

And I’m sure he will.

Censoring the internet… will NZ follow Oz?

Posted by on December 29th, 2009

Some worrying developments are occurring across the Tasman as Australian Communications Minister Stephen Conroy presses ahead with his plan to censor the internet after Government-commissioned trials found filtering a blacklist of banned sites was accurate and would not slow down the internet.

Conroy announced he is making it mandatory for internet service providers (ISPs) to block a secret blacklist of “refused classification” (RC) websites for all Australian internet users.

Legislation to implement the scheme will be introduced before the federal election next year.

The announcement, made in the week before Christmas, has infuriated the Australian online community and spurred a campaign called No Clean Feed calling for a blackout. Another campaign by Get Up is also running. Trevor alerted us to this last night.

The campaign has echoes of the copyright campaign launched here in early 2009 to draw attention to the impact of Section 92A on ISPs which would have been required to cut off users’ internet connections based on accusation of copyright infringement.

The NZ (National) government, after much urging, eventually pulled its finger out and re-worked Section 92A. Legislation is to be brought before Parliament early next year. It requires vigorous scrutiny as copyright is a touchstone issue in the digital era. The NZ legislation is being watched around the world and will impact on other jurisdictions.

NZ, under the previous Labour Government, also introduced a test filtering programme blocking access to the approximate 7000 websites known to deal with exclusively child sexual abuse imagery.

Previous Labour Comms Minister David Cunliffe stated at the time that NZ had no intention of following Australia’s legislation of mandatory filtering of ISPs. NZ’s response to undesirable material has been an emphasis on education, as demonstrated by Netsafe.

In Australia, Stephen Conroy’s proposed laws go a lot further. While initially promoted as a way to block child pornography, the censorship policy has been extended to include a much broader range of material, including sites depicting bestiality, sexual violence, detailed instruction in crime, violence or drug use and/or material that advocates the doing of a terrorist act.

He has some strong arguments; that the filtering scheme will not affect speeds on the internet, that the only material being blocked is Refused Classification (RC) material that is already illegal; that there are mechanisms in place for correcting mistakes; and that the filter is not a silver bullet answer to protecting Australian children.

All laudable arguments. There are some points I’d like to make though.

Firstly, any material relating to child abuse is illegal and abhorrent. We support a system that enables ISPs to block this material. We support more work around exploring the best ways to do this.

The NZ system currently works on an “opt in” basis. It’s not mandatory. There are strong arguments against mandatory filtering which must explored. It doesn’t cover encrypted traffic, file sharing, email or chat which is how much of this material is circulated. And motivated people will find ways to circumvent a filter using proxy servers or encrypted tunnels.

Then there’s an argument about to what extent censorship is acceptable in a democratic society. If the censorship goes beyond child sexual abuse, where does it stop? Political sites? Who decides on what gets censored? And how transparent and accountable is that system?

A mature society should largely be able to self censor and know why it’s important. Yes there must be rules. And they should be enforceable. But preventing the sickness of proliferation of child sexual abuse imagery through a voluntary opt in agreement amongst ISPs is one thing. Establishing a blacklist of banned sites that is kept secret from the public and widens beyond child pornography is another.

Last week in Australia, former High Court judge Michael Kirby criticised the Federal Government’s internet censorship agenda, saying it could stop the “Berlin Walls of the future” from being knocked down.

In the last week an anti-censorship protest site was taken down by the Australian Domain Name Administrator (auDA) sparking outrage and claims of political censorship.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has allegedly lost thousands of twitter followers in the last few weeks over this issue.

Does this matter?

The online community is vast and spans geography, ethnicity, socio-economic differences, occupations and political affiliations.

But there are strong views on both sides and there are genuine concerns about the amount of unacceptable content available online, especially to our children. Nobody finds that palatable. The question is, what do you do about it?

There must be a line where common sense and the common good prevails. Governments are there to govern after all, by setting and implementing standards.

It seems to me that it’s best to deal with the facts. If you’re going to have a filter, will it work? Will it capture the material that you have identified needs capturing, will the people trafficking in this material be able to circumvent it? And what impact will it have on the ISPs? Will mandatory filtering work better than voluntary filtering?

All questions also relevant to the copyright debate. I wonder where our government sits on these issues right now.

A Kiwi who should be famous

Posted by on December 29th, 2009

My nomination for Alyn Ware to be one of Radio NZ’s Summer Noelle Kiwis Who Should Be Famous.

Ministers get pay rises despite freeze

Posted by on December 29th, 2009

In November 2009 John Key argued that MPs and Ministers need to lead by example when it came to tightening our belts:

“As I said in January when I raised the issue with the [Remuneration] Authority, it is only right that in these changing economic times, as ordinary New Zealanders tighten their belts, MPs and Ministers must also play their part”.

However despite the rhetoric, a few weeks before Christmas, four of his ministers got a pay rise thanks to Key’s new funding regime for ministerial residences, with more of them set to benefit as they enter the new system over the next 12 months.

Based on a comparison of their previous claims and their new allowances, all four of the first ministers to enter the new regime get a tax free pay increase. Pita Sharples gets $173 per week, David Carter $204 per week, and Maurice Williamson $84 per week. It’s harder to calculate the fourth minister, Nathan Guy, because he only recently seems to have started claiming.

All of them are in the same residence that they were in as MPs and in the early part of their ministerial tenures. They previously got a parliamentary allowance based on receipts to a maximum of $24,000. They now get $30,000 with no need for receipts.

Even more ridiculous, if any of them wants to really pump up their allownace all they need to do is move house. Then their new tax-free allowance increases from $30,000 to $37,500, even if they moved into a house that was actually cheaper than their present one!

At a time when John Key and his colleagues have frozen wages for others, it’s a bit rich for them to then grant themselves a new housing allowance that amounts to more than some ordinary Kiwis would earn in a year.

NZ e-campaigning 2008

Posted by on December 29th, 2009

VUW study. Haven’t read it yet. Hat tip DPF.

Aussie anti censorship campaign

Posted by on December 28th, 2009

I’m sure Clare and others will know more about this but it looks like a debate in Aussie on internet censoring.

Too precious to mine

Posted by on December 28th, 2009

Last night at Smitty’s Bar and Grill in Whitianga I joined David Bennett (National) and Catherine Delahunty (Green) on the TV show Back Benches.

One of the issues we discussed is the potential mining of land protected because of its high conservation value under Schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act.  The Government is undertaking a stocktake of this land which includes all DOC land, coastline and most offshore islands north of the Kopu-Hikuai Rd in the Coromandel.  On November 27 Gerry Brownlee indicated his view that mining should be allowed in this currently protected land in the Coromandel.

I, like many others, believe the Coromandel is one of the most beautiful and environmentally significant parts of New Zealand.  The peninsula includes a vast array of different environments from mountains to the coast.   The natural environment is a major drawcard for tourists and a major factor in local residents’ quality of life. Mining would potentially threaten the mountains, coasts, islands, water catchments and native forests that make this area the special place that it is.  All mining- underground or opencast has negative impacts.  Gold mining which is what is of interest in the Coromandel has consequences such as hazardous waste, damage to unstable areas, water pollution, impact on the landscape (even underground mines require roads), damage to habitats of native fauna and flora not to mention the disruption of noise, vibration and heavy truck movements.

In relation to economic development in places like the Coromandel it is important to compare the value of mining to that generated by tourism.  Across New Zealand the figures are $1.6 billion versus $21 billion.   Tourism relies on the preservation of the natural environment.

At Back Benches last night there were many people wearing Tshirts with the slogan ‘The Coromandel  is too precious to mine’.  They are members of the Coromandel Peninsula Watchdog.  I want to acknowledge the determination and commitment of this group which has fought to protect the Coromandel for 25 years, as they say “to ensure the unique wilderness heritage that the Coromandel offers is not lost to the short term exploitation of minerals”.  This National government has certainly got Watchdog members understandably worried and on alert.

Of course it is not just the Coromandel threatened by this review of Schedule 4.  

As we count down to 2010 it may be worth thinking about the things that are precious to us as New Zealanders.  In my uninterrupted 30 seconds Last Word last night I spoke of the Government’s plans to destroy our world class no fault ACC scheme.  This important piece of our social infrastructure is too precious to become a privatised insurance scheme. 

What does this National Government value?

Prescription no longer required

Posted by on December 28th, 2009

After spending a bit of time in the garden over Christmas, I found myself in need of a prescription cream to treat some recurring eczema on my hands. Alas the doctor’s surgery is closed so I went to the pharmacy to see what they could offer as an alternative. Turns out I no longer need a prescription. The pharmacist explained that as a result of the $3 limit on prescription charges, many more pharmaceuticals are now available as pharmacy only medicine, no prescription required.

The change has come about as a way of side-stepping the $3 price limit. But of course for someone like me with an occassional health need, if it means one less visit to the doctor then even if I pay a slightly higher price for the product, I’m still better off. So the lesson in all of this for me has been to check with the pharmacist before going to the GP. Apparently there are quite a few products that no longer require a prescription.

Filed under: health

Not just another year

Posted by on December 28th, 2009

One thing that has surprised me about the usual end of year wrap-up stories that we’re getting is the lack of acknowledgement that this isn’t just the end of the year, it’s also the end of the decade. The end of the first decade of the new millennium even. Thinking back to all of the frenzied excitement the turn of the millennium produced, I’m surprised the end of the decade is passing without anyone seeming to notice.

A few weeks ago Newsroom published their Top 10 news stories of the decade. I was going to blog on it at the time but never quite got around to it, so I saved it for the no-news-period between Christmas and New Year. Their Top 10 stories were:

  1. 2000 – New Zealand successfully defends the America’s Cup
  2. 2001 – Fonterra Co-operative is formed
  3. 2002 – Labour’s Helen Clark defeats National’s Bill English in a landslide
  4. 2003 – Peter Jackson wins 11 Oscars for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
  5. 2003 – NZ bans smoking in bars.
  6. 2005 – NZ selected as the host for 2011 Rugby World Cup
  7. 2004 – Don Brash delivers the now infamous Orewa Speech on Race
  8. 2008 – Sir Edmund Hillary dies at the age of 88
  9. 2008 – NZ passes an emissions trading scheme
  10. 2008 – Winston Peters is defeated

They also published a list of their Top 10 international stories:

  1. 2000 – Bush v. Gore case decides the U.S. Presidential Election
  2. 2001 – 9/11 Attacks
  3. 2002 – Euro currency debuts
  4. 2003 – Space Shuttle Columbia Explodes
  5. 2003 – War in Iraq
  6. 2005 – London Bombings
  7. 2008 – Financial Meltdown/ Economic Crisis
  8. 2008 – First African American president – Barack Obama
  9. 2009 – Michael Jackson’s death
  10. 2009 – Outbreak of Swine Flu

Funny to think that we started the world started the decade led by Bill Clinton and Tony Blair (who was hugely popular at that stage), terrorism was something that happened in Northern Ireland, and travel around Europe required a calculator or a high level of numeracy for all of the currency conversions that were required. It’s been quite a decade…

The future of social democracy

Posted by on December 28th, 2009

English historian Tony Judt has a powerful essay in the latest New York Review of Books which is a must-read for anyone interested in the future of the Left. Titled What is Living and What is Dead in Social Democracy? it starts out considering the old question why there is no socialism in America and then takes the reader through a history of social democracy in twentieth century political thought, ending with a call to action that should stir even the most jaded Labour heart.

He frames the twentieth century’s contest of ideas around Hayek and Keynes. And then charts the rise of the post-war welfare state. Its great success, here in New Zealand and in the US, the UK and everywhere it was tried, was the reduction in social and economic inequality. The great paradox of the welfare state was that its success undermined its own appeal. The generation that remembered the 1930s was the most committed to hanging on to progressive taxation, strong public institutions, and universal social services. Those who came later began to forget why they had sought such security in the first place. Remember NZ in the 1980s anyone?

The next three decades saw the rise of neo-liberalism, a reassertion of the Right, which set about the conquest of the political high ground in every western society and the dismantling of the institutions of the post-war social democratic compromise. Read it and weep: the flattening of tax scales, winding back of social assistance, privatisation of the functions of the state. And no big surprise, the return of high levels of inequality.

There is a great discussion of privatisation in which he contrasts the British approach to the railways with that taken by the Italians and the French. In 1996, the year before the UK privatised rail, they boasted the lowest public subsidy of rail in Europe per capita (9 pounds). The French subsidy was 21 pounds, the Italian 33; a differential reflected in the quality of the service and the state of the infrastructure.

The French and the Italians have long treated their railways as a social provision. Running a train to a remote region, however cost-ineffective, sustains local communities. It reduces environmental damage by providing an alternative to road transport. The railway station and the service it provides are thus a symptom and symbol of society as a shared aspiration.

Judt isn’t sentimental about social democracy. It was after all, the era’s belated response to the dilemmas of capitalism, and as he points out our problems are rather different. He thinks we are entering a new age of uncertainty, with climate change and the volatility of our globalised world economy posing a threat to peace and prosperity of comparative scale to the ones faced by our forebears in the early years of the twentieth century. The challenges might be different but we should look to the ways our grandparents’ generation responded. Social democracy, the New Deal in the US, and the first Labour Government’s reforms here in New Zealand were direct responses to the insecurities and injustices of the time.

The task of the Left says Judt is to remind people of the achievements of the twentieth century, along with the consequences of our heedless rush to dismantle them. If social democracy has a future it is as a ‘social democracy of fear’ – the fear of what we have to lose. The Right on the other hand has inherited the modernist totalitarian impulse to destroy in the name of a universal project.

A social democracy of fear is something to fight for. To abandon the labours of a century is to betray those who came before us as well as generations yet to come. It would be pleasing – but misleading – to report that social democracy, or something like it, represents the future that we would paint for ourselves in an ideal world. It does not even represent the ideal past. But among the options available to us in the present, it is better than anything else at hand.

Looking back on 2009, we in Labour have done a fair bit of fighting to defend the gains of the past: opposing regressive tax cuts, cuts to education, health and ACC, and the privatisation of prisons. We’ve outed Key as the leader of a do-nothing government content to sit on its hands while tens of thousands of Kiwis are thrown out of work. We’ve put inequality back on Labour’s agenda, and signalled that ending child poverty will lie at the heart of the next Labour Government’s agenda.

And I like to think that we have revealed a few of the green shoots of a new social democratic politics. First, we defended an emissions trading scheme that actually could have reduced the economy’s long term reliance on carbon. It will come back. Second, we signalled an end to the 1984 consensus on monetary policy, that will I hope lead to an economic policy focused on Kiwi firms, jobs and economic resilience.  Third, in opposing the Government’s corporate stitch-up of the Auckland super city, but supporting the Royal Commission’s vision, we have recognised the possibility of strong regional government as the driver of democratic progressive change in our biggest city. Fourth, Labour’s advocacy on open source software and social media hints at the possibilities for new technology to open up more inclusive and democratic political engagement.

Tony Judt’s essay is a great read. It is based on a lecture he gave at New York University on October 19 which you can watch here.  A year ago Judt was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease, a neuro-degenerative disorder. He is now a quadraplegic and can only breathe with the aid of a machine. It didn’t stop him getting up in front of an audience and delivering a 90 minute tour de force.

Dillon on Drug Cheat Cropp

Posted by on December 27th, 2009

Mike Dillon racing editor of the Herald on Sunday has published book based on Lisa Cropp’s drug use.

As Dillon says of methamphetamine:-

It’s perfect for jockeys – it creates massive doses of energy, suppresses appetite and can eliminate itself from a detection zone in as little as 22 hours, compared with a minimum of 20 days for cannabis.

Dillon provides a good timeline in the main article which shows how Cropp delayed justice for years, won races worth millions of dollars and broke the NZ record for the most winners as she lost case after case all the way to the Supreme Court.

The danger of driving around the country from meeting to meeting and then riding half ton horses at great speed with about twenty others while on meth is way beyond what is acceptable.

Dillon’s piece makes it clear that the racing authorities and journalists were aware of Cropp’s behaviour over a long period and did not have a way of stopping her.

It does raise the question of whether that type of evidence should be available for prosecution for drug use and/or driving offences as well.

Social media and people power

Posted by on December 27th, 2009

It’s the time of year to be contemplative. Colin James’ piece in the Press yesterday invoked us to remember the conundrum of Christmas, the darkness and the beauty of  humankind, and invited us to promote the good of humans and not to trade in the bad.

Optimism, I hope, is my nature. In that spirit, here’s two other pieces to contemplate. I hope you’ll read them.

They are each about the emerging power of social media and how it is being used (and could be used) as a force for change by groups of people who feel oppressed. Disturbingly, how it can also be (and already is) used as a means to oppress and restrain.

Both pieces are about the balance of power between citizens and the state and how technology is fueling social movements. Both are published in Prospect Magazine.

1. How dictators watch us on the web by Evgeny Morozov. A disturbing account which argues that while the internet is meant to help activists, enable democratic protest and weaken the grip of authoritarian regimes, it doesn’t—in fact, the web is a boon for bullies.

2. The net advantage: Media guru Clay Shirky responds to criticisms in Evgeny Morozov’s piece on why dictators benefit from the web. Despite pitfalls, he says, the internet remains a positive force for democracy.

The points I’d like to make are: I believe that people who work together will inevitably find a way to make change. Even if they are at the vanguard of a movement that takes a long time to be effective. That those with power will try to fight back and use any means to do so. But ultimately change cannot be held back when enough people want it.

That direct engagement between governments and people are crucial. That people want to know they are listened to and that making government (the state) too distanced from the population results in fracture and disharmony.

And that we, in New Zealand, are very fortunate to live in such a stable democracy. But we too have a lot to learn. We can learn from these struggles and choose to promote the good.

The passing of Rev Sonny Ng Shiu

Posted by on December 27th, 2009

It is with incredible sadness that I report the passing of one of Pacifika’s great men in the Reverend Sonny Ng Shiu. Sonny died tragically in a car accident on Christmas eve. Sonny was a paster at the local CCCS church on Riverbend Road, and very active in the local Pasifika, and general, community. He was instrumental in galvanising the local effort to provide much needed supplies to Samoa after this year’s tsunami. Sonny visited Samoa straight after the disaster to provide help and support.

Sonny was a great Labour supporter. He organised for local Pasifika community members to meet with myself and Phil Goff on 3rd December and spoke eloquently and passionately. I met with Sonny for the last time on 22nd December when he came in to ask for sponsorship support for a member of his local community to become a JP.

Sonny leaves behind a young family, a grieving community and a very wide circle of friends in Hawkes Bay, around New Zealand and in Samoa.

We send our deepest sympathies to the family of Rev Sonny Ng Shiu. Rest in peace Sonny – the Labour family and friends will miss you very much.

Yes I did get up that early, but it was August!

Posted by on December 27th, 2009

Sunrise at New Brighton Pier

I have had feedback from recipients of my Christmas card this year inquiring whether I had taken the photograph myself – yes I did.  It is Sunrise at New Brighton Pier on August 2, 2009.  I have decided to share it on Red Alert, so you can all enjoy the beauty of the electorate I have the privilege to represent .    And for those who have asked about whether I have had any training, well a certain Minister would call it a ‘hobby class’, but I did attend an Adult Education class at Papanui High School a few years ago and it has excited a passion for photography that far exceeds my natural talent!  I will try and share some of my holiday snaps with you.  Seasons Greetings!

Are we still banned?

Posted by on December 26th, 2009

Remember the Supreme Motor Lodge – the story is here.