Posts tagged ‘John Key’


The political caricatures of old have taken human form, but they’re still nothing like us

09.05.2015

That’s another British General Election done and dusted. I haven’t followed one this closely since the 1997 campaign, where I was backing John Major.
   Shock, horror! Hang on, Jack. Haven’t the media all said you are a leftie? Didn’t you stand for a left-wing party?
   Therein lies a fallacy about left- and right wings. I’ve never completely understood the need to pigeonhole someone into a particular camp, when I would say most people on this planet hold a mix of views from both sides. Now that politicians are not unlike caricatures—there has been a “rightward” shift where the policies being adopted by some are so outside economic orthodoxy that they look like what their Spitting Image counterparts would have uttered back in the day—this holds more true than ever. We know what subscribing to certain parties’ views fully and completely is like: we risk looking loony, and, if taken too far, we risk becoming loony.
   But the spin doctors and advisers aren’t in to transparency. They are into their talking heads conveying what they feel the public responds to, hence Mitt Romney, once an advocate of universal health care in his own state, becoming an opponent of it when he ran for president; or, for that matter, Ed Miliband’s insistence on the ‘budget responsibility lock’, to demonstrate that he had a handle on the economy, when Economics 101 told us that austerity isn’t a good way to help the economy along and Miliband began sounding like Cameron lite.
   My support of Major in the 1997 General Election, which went against the prevailing view at the time, was down to several reasons. Unlike Cameron, Major didn’t practise austerity, but he did practise conventional economics with the government going more into deficit through increasing spending during the early 1990s’ recession, knowing the stimulus to be affordable, and knowing it had to be paid back once the economy was healthy again. It is interesting to note Sir John’s own goal while campaigning for the Tories in this General Election, when he said at the Tory Reform Group annual dinner, ‘We need to acknowledge the fact we have a pretty substantial underclass and there are parts of our country where we have people who have not worked for two generations and whose children do not expect to work.
   ‘How can it be that in a nation that is the fifth richest nation in the world, that in the United Kingdom we have four of the poorest areas in Europe? I include eastern Europe in that question.’
   How indeed. The John Major who was prime minister will have answered that easily, and his own record illustrates just why he avoided such consequences in the 1990s that Cameron was unable to.
   The second reason was that I really believed the ‘classless society’ speech, and if you have read his memoirs, or even biographies written about him, then there was a real personal experience woven into that. Critics will point at the fact the speech was written by Antony Jay (Yes, Minister) or the fact that Britain invented To the Manor Born and such sitcoms, but, generally, why should only certain classes have the ability to excel and do their best? Everyone should have that opportunity, and the measures implemented under the Major premiership, while not as far to the left as traditional socialists would have wanted, struck a good balance in my view in an immediate post-Thatcher period. We should always be wary of sudden shifts, whether they’re swings from the left to the right, or vice versa. A pragmatic approach seemed sensible.
   Third, it was precisely that Major was not a Thatcherite, even if Margaret Thatcher might have believed him to be when she made him Chancellor of the Exchequer, a job that he wanted most of his political life. But what we had in his very shrewd opponent in 1997 was Thatcherism, or at least monetarism. As we know from Tony Blair’s and Gordon Brown’s early move in allowing the Bank of England to be free of political control, their belief that this would avoid boom-and-bust cycles was not realized. However, the evidence does show that the freedom has coincided with a period of low interest rates and stable inflation, but equally one can credit the work of the Tories in handing New Labour a booming economy in May of that year. As Major noted at the time, it was rare for a government to lose while the economy was improving, but the Labour campaign, ably assisted by biased media at the time, and the easy pass Blair got from the British establishment despite being very, very vague about his policies, was hard to beat. All he had to do was utter ‘Change’ and ‘It’s about New Labour, new Britain.’ It hid, to those of us watching the General Election and the year before it, New Labour’s Thatcherite aims. I am not even that sure what Blair, Brown and Peter Mandelson were doing in the party to begin with.
   This might be contrasted with a Tory party weakened through allegations of sleaze (and we know now that no party is any less sleazy than the other, but it depends on when you are caught out) leading Major to fight a campaign largely alone with the occasional publicity boost from the Spice Girls. No matter how specific the PM got, it didn’t matter. (Or, as I had told many of my design classes at the time when I was teaching, the Conservatives’ Arial was no match for Labour’s Franklin Gothic, a typeface family that, incidentally, was used by Thatcher in her 1983 election campaign, and by Labour in New Zealand in 1999 and 2002.) It was frustrating to try to discern what Labour’s specific policies were from Down Under, watching the General Election campaign with keen interest. And those lack of specifics worried me from the start, which explains why when I ran for office, I issued a manifesto early in the game. I liked being first, even if the electorate didn’t put me there.
   Whether you agreed with Labour or not, and many would argue that the Blair and Brown years were not stellar, the divisions in their party—which I imagine we will see reemerge in the next few days—indicate that even within there is a great deal of polarization. The Thatcherites are in there, except they are called Blairites. And while Sir John put his weight behind his party out of loyalty, and from his earlier political years witnessing how ‘Labour isn’t working’ (the Wilson–Callaghan years must have been formative for him given his age), his comments at the dinner are telling on just where modern Conservative economic policies under George Osborne differed to his own and those of Norman Lamont. If people are suffering, if they aren’t getting their shot at the ‘classless society’, then is the place any good? If the class divide has grown, contrary to Sir John’s own views, and weakened Britain as a result of the contraction of economic players in it, then even the “right” can’t support that. To me, I thought conservatism was letting everyone have a shot, and about solid, national enterprise, and this century hasn’t given me much faith that that applies very widely.
   Labour might have campaigned on that and on preserving the NHS although having listened to Miliband, I was never totally convinced. Perhaps, I, too, had concerns about Labour vagueness, and until this General Election I had not followed the Shadow Cabinet closely enough to know the thinking and histories behind the players. That area, I will leave to others to comment. In some respects, the caricature comment I made above applies to Labour, too.

Contrasting the Tories this time with the party I knew a bit better through observation—the two terms of John Major—I feel they are very different. And, sadly, I draw parallels with the National Party here at home, where people attempt to compare incumbent John Key with Sir Robert Muldoon (1975–84), and I simply cannot see the parallels other than the colour of the branding.
   Sir Robert resolutely believed in full employment, the rights of the unemployed, the state ownership of assets, energy independence, and his ability to fight his own battles. Had attack blogs been around then, he wouldn’t have needed them. I do not agree with everything about his premiership, and his miscalculation of public opinion over the Gleneagles Agreement and the environment is now part of history. However, his terms are still being misjudged today, with an entire generation happily brainwashed by both the monetarist orthodoxy of the 1980s and a prime-time documentary (The Grim Face of Power) aired after his death (probably to avoid a defamation suit) to belittle his legacy. (The contrasting documentary made many years later, Someone Else’s Country, was buried on a weekend afternoon.) We did not have to wait months for a telephone, nor did we not have cars to buy; yet the belief that the electorate has a collective memory of only five years means we haven’t a hope of comprehending fully what happened thirty years ago. But to those of us who pride ourselves on a decent memory, and I believe if we seek public office we must have one, then things were never as bleak as people believe. He was sexist, yet I do not believe him to want to preside over a divided New Zealand, and his own books reveal a desire for unity. Unfortunately, looking at a man born in 1921 through the prism of 2015, plenty of his sayings look anachronistic and passé, but once context is added, the New Zealand we look at today looks more divided.
   We, too, have an underclass that has emerged (those begging for change weren’t there two decades ago, nor were so many food banks), through economic policies that have weakened our businesses. Both major parties deserve criticism over this. For a country where experts have said we must head toward technology to end our reliance on primary products, other than software patents, we have had a strange record over intellectual property with a prime minister who was against certain copyright amendments before he was for them (and voted accordingly). A New Zealand resident who adopted the same rules over copyrighted materials as Google and Dropbox has been indicted by the US Government—that’s right, I am talking about Kim Dotcom. It’s a reminder that we haven’t done enough for our tech sector, the one which governments have said we should aid, which can help our overall economy.
   We are hopelessly behind in how much technology contributes to our economy, and we have done little to support the small- to medium-sized businesses that form the backbone of our economy. Instead, we have been selling them short, welcoming ever-larger multinationals (who usually pay tax in their home country, not ours) and giving them more advantages than our own. Since when has allegiance to these foreign players ever been part of politics on the left or on the right? If we are to support businesses, for instance, we should be negotiating for our own milliard-dollar enterprises to make headway into new markets. Xero et al will thank us for it. Globalization is as much about getting our lot out there so they can pay tax back here. Politicians should be patriotic, but toward our own interests, not someone else’s.

Therein lie my many posts about the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement on my Facebook. It is precisely because I support business that I am against a good part of what has been leaked so far. (I am aware that many trade agreements are negotiated in secret, so there is nothing new there.) It is precisely because I believe in a level playing field for Kiwis that we should be careful at how we liberalize and in what sectors and at what pace we should do it. The curious thing there is that the substantial arguments (obviously against it) have come from the “left”, or friends who identify as being left-wing, while some who have identified as being right-wing have bid me an indignant exit from the discussion by attacking the players and not their utterances, and yet somehow the lefties are branded the woolly, emotional wrecks?
   As I wrote last year, ‘All I want are facts, not emotional, ideological arguments. On the evidence for me, things are leaning toward the anti side. I come from the standpoint of the market being a man-made construct and people are not numbers.
   ‘… [T]here are cases going on with tobacco companies where they are using IP to argue that plain packs are contrary to trade agreements. So where do you draw the line with public health versus a foreign enterprise profiting? I’d like to see healthy people not taxing the system, and plain packs were a foreseeable development IMO for a tobacco manufacturer. [I know this is an argument that is typically trotted out, but I use it since there is at least one case out there.] A wise tobacco company would have acquired businesses in other fields (as some have done), just as Coca-Cola, seeing the tide turn against sodas, have bought up water, energy drink and juice businesses. It’s wise investing, and it’s progress.
   ‘There is nothing wrong with the notion of a trade tribunal but what has been emerging from the leaks are ones where corporations can be compensated for loss of profits based on, say, plain packaging. If a government is democratically elected to implement such a policy, and corporations have always understood investments to be subject to the laws of the land (including the risk of divestment in some), then should their rights trump that of the citizens? This is the danger here, and this is the heart of the sovereignty argument.
   ‘Another example is with software patents, which our country has voted to do away with. It’s been shown that that would spur innovation.
   ‘The tendency is that TPPA is against these moves, although given the secrecy we do not know for sure. But reading other IP provisions it does not take a big leap of the imagination.
   ‘… Do I believe in global free trade? Absolutely. But I also believe in making sure that people have the means the buy the stuff I sell, and to me this treaty (based on what has been leaked) does not ensure that. I also believe in social responsibility and that citizens have their basics looked after so they can participate in commerce. I am pro-innovation, especially in smaller enterprises where some great stuff is taking place, and we have reasonably robust IP laws already and conventions that govern them. I’m not saying I have a complete alternative that replaces it, but some of the work we have done at the Medinge Group touches on these issues.’
   One argument in favour is: if we are not party to this, then does this mean we will get shut out of it? I’m not entirely sure we will in that we are already one of the freest markets in the world, although I welcome arguments and past examples. In the areas I know well, the absence of a free-trade agreement with the US, for instance, have never hampered our firm exporting there, but I realize for our primary producers there have been obstacles. But do such agreements mean unimpeded access when it’s so easy, even under WTO, to erect non-tariff barriers? And why should corporations’ rights trump citizens’, as opponents are quick to point out?
   ‘At the end of the day,’ to borrow a phrase, all human systems are imperfect. And the market is just as human as any other. My belief is that your own citizens, and their welfare, must be placed first, and we should support our own people and our own businesses. The political caricatures that certain parties have now rendered into human form don’t necessarily appear to understand this, certainly not by their actions. This is at the crux of the arguments that I saw from Labour supporters in the UK General Election, and to some extent from those who opposed National and ACT in our one last year. Labour’s loss here, too, in my view, can be placed on a leader who himself came across as unsubstantial on TV as his opponents; and his refusal to resign can be contrasted to the behaviour of Miliband and Nick Clegg yesterday. He could have always pulled a Nigel Farage.
   The sooner we get away from notions of “left” and “right” and work out for ourselves where we’d like our country and our world to head, we will start working together without these false divisions. I might add that “being Asian” in this country is yet another false division. No wonder most people are sick of politics, politicians and “politics as usual”, because most of us cannot be bothered pigeonholing ourselves. We just want to do what’s decent and honourable and have the chance to get on with it.

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Posted in business, globalization, media, New Zealand, politics, technology, UK | No Comments »


Little Big Man was antiestablishment, as is big man Little: straight talk is what Labour needs

28.11.2014

The Hon Andrew Little MP has had a good first week as Leader of the Opposition. Some are saying what a breath of fresh air this straight-shooter is.
   He’s been an MP for three years. And in the context of Labour, which has factions within, that’s a good thing. A guy who isn’t tainted by the system, of favouring one lot over another, or of having got into the role by playing games.
   He’s also learned not to pick fights that are a waste of time. While some on the left would have attempted to drag on the PM’s latest gaffes over Inspector General of Intelligence and Security Cheryl Gwyn’s findings, Little is looking like a leader by saying: ‘It’s time to say game over, John. Front up, admit the truth, tell New Zealanders. Say sorry and we’ll all move on.’
   He even acknowledges that once upon a time, the Prime Minister ‘was once a reasonably straight shooter but no longer.’
   That outsider’s perspective that Mr Little has is going to stand Labour well, and already New Zealanders are seeing that it won’t be “politics as usual”.
   Same-again politicians, as both left and right have seen, can be very dangerous to our system, with their tendency to be more and more disconnected from everyday voters.
   Labour might have its first pragmatic leader in years. That début address made good watching, and this is a guy who claims public speaking is his weak suit.

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Posted in leadership, New Zealand, politics, Wellington | No Comments »


Brand Kim Dotcom: what has changed?

22.09.2014

Equal access: an audio recording of this blog post can be found here.

It’s disturbing to see so many Kim Dotcom jokes post-General Election, with plenty of Kiwis happy to ridicule the bloke because of Internet Mana’s terrible showing in the polls, and the loss of Hone Harawira’s seat.
   Yet not too long ago, the overall public perception was that this was a guy hard done by the authorities, with the criminalization of his alleged copyright infringement and the victim of illegal spying that forced a law change, by an all-too-eager-to-please New Zealand government trying to impress the FBI.
   I thought it was above us as New Zealanders, first, to kick a guy when he’s down, and secondly, subject him to ridicule when absolutely nothing about his legal position has changed.
   However, the perception now is he’s a foreigner—not only that, a German owner of a copy of Mein Kampf against whom we should now display a heightened level of xenophobia once reserved for Basil Fawlty’s hotel guests—who had interfered, along with some other foreigners, in our political processes.
   I’ll admit that my first impression of this hard-partying, fast-driving playboy with his Mercs wasn’t a positive one. But as news of what he had allegedly done came to light, and the US still refusing to let him see all the evidence so that he can defend himself, my thoughts about him changed.
   Since the legislation was enacted, I’ve been involved twice in DMCA allegations against our firm—though I send out dozens of take-down notices each year—and the standard procedure that we follow, as do Google and Facebook, is pretty clear. If you find it, we’ll remove it. But till you tell us about it, we don’t know. In Dotcom’s case, as with Google or Dropbox, there are so many files that they don’t know. Further, there are privacy laws preventing his former company from looking into what you’ve stored on his servers.
   So here’s a guy that, as far as I can see, is doing the same thing as the big players when it comes to copyrighted materials. I’ve no comment on the racketeering, money laundering and fraud charges, as I simply have no facts on them—and I don’t think he has, either, with the secretive processes the US prosecutors have used. Thank goodness our judiciary remains independent.
   Thanks to him, we’ve learned that the GCSB has been spying on him and other New Zealanders illegally, prompting a law change that applied retroactively. And that is important for us as New Zealanders to realize. We should be concerned about the misuse of a government agency, and we should be concerned that the US has been taking the lead on our copyright laws, including the “three strikes” amendments that the Prime Minister was for before he was against, and before he then decided to vote for anyway.
   Put yourself in Dotcom’s shoes: you’re a guy who is running a business in the same way Google and Dropbox are, and you’ve been pissed on by the country you call home with illegal activity, an armed raid, and a government who has taken all your stuff and has frozen your assets.
   You can shrug your shoulders and let them keep pissing on you, or you might just want to take the fight back to the minister in charge of the GCSB—the Prime Minister—and who knew or did not know about you or your name.
   You might just want to bankroll a political campaign and find the easiest way in there to get some hard facts about what is going on, so you can simply bloody defend yourself.
   I said then that this was the oddest marriage and it felt doomed, but maybe it was the one option he felt was available to him.
   Most didn’t complain when Bob Jones did it with the New Zealand Party—and I don’t accept that that was for the public good—or when he said he wanted to field a bunch of contestants in the local body elections in 2010 here in Wellington. Nor did we complain when Colin Craig decided he would use his own cash to bankroll his own party.
   I’m not a fan of money influencing politics—certainly not corporate donors wanting to extract favours from candidates—but if these guys want to sink some cash into the country in which they reside to make a change, then that is their choice.
   Sure, this is a convicted criminal who probably shouldn’t have been let in in the first place, but the fact is we did let him in, he is now a New Zealand resident, and he is entitled to do the same things other New Zealand residents can.
   And to all those who complained that here is this one foreigner living here who involved three other foreigners in his backfiring ‘Moment of Truth’ last week (embedded above), I take it that you all have never commented, and will never comment, on the politics of the countries that Dotcom, Assange, Snowden and Greenwald are residents of.
   I don’t know Kim Dotcom and we have exchanged only a couple of Tweets over the years. I can’t tell you if I think he is a good bloke or not. I believe that Kim Dotcom is out for Kim Dotcom, rather than the New Zealand public, but that’s his prerogative. But I can tell you I’m grateful for some of the stuff that has come out because of his case—you don’t need Nicky Hager to put any slant on it, the facts are on the record, from both his and the government’s side, so you can make up your own mind. Maybe ‘brand Kim Dotcom’, as he put it, was poisonous to Mana, which he has apologized for—but not long ago, ‘brand Kim Dotcom’ was heroic for revealing to us that things weren’t fair in our nation.
   The fact remains that he is a New Zealand resident who is innocent till proved guilty, that he has been denied the sort of due process you and I could have if we have been accused of the same crimes, and if he didn’t deserve the xenophobic, toxic remarks before, he doesn’t deserve them now. Honestly, folks, I thought we were better.

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Posted in branding, business, culture, internet, New Zealand, politics | 11 Comments »


I thought political division got you nowhere in New Zealand

23.08.2014

A week and a half ago, I appeared on Back Benches to talk about Winston Peters MP’s “two Wongs” joke, and confined my comments to that.
   My response, ‘There are still people who enjoy watching Rolf Harris, just as there are still people out there who enjoy listening to Winston Peters.’ And, ‘We have a politician here who says he does not believe in race-based laws, and yet everything he utters is race-based … Can’t he walk the talk?’ His is a passé joke, and of course there’s no way Mr Peters would have heard it in Beijing—since the Wong surname does not exist in Mandarin.
   It’s a shame he resorts to this old technique because I find myself agreeing with a number of his statements when it came to the Dirty Politics revelations. And had I more time on Back Benches, I would have explored this further.
   There were three MPs on the show, Annette King (Labour), Scott Simpson (National) and Russel Norman (Greens). Ms King and Dr Norman were up front enough to call the joke racist, while Dr Norman went so far as to call it ‘unacceptable’ and ‘disgraceful’, while Mr Simpson merely passed it off as ‘Winston being Winston.’
   Mr Simpson’s dismissal is in line with his Prime Minister’s, who called it ‘a stunt’. And it brought back the PM’s unflinching reaction to Paul Henry implying back in 2010 that the then-Governor-General, Sir Anand Satyanand, did not ‘look or sound like a New Zealander’.
   That has been covered here before, but I read comments at the time that John Key’s predecessor, Helen Clark, would have taken Henry to task over the comment.
   I plainly don’t notice someone’s colour and I suspect most people do not, but I do notice accents, and Sir Anand sounds exactly like what you would expect from an Auckland Grammar alumnus: if linguists were to pin down just where he was from, I’m fairly confident they would find it was Auckland.
   Once I can forgive. The PM was in the heat of an interview in 2010, he had his points to make, and it’s very, very easy not to answer the question put before you. In the YouTube clip, I didn’t directly answer one of Damian Christie’s questions.
   But twice? This is not ‘a stunt’, this is something that goes to the heart of the casual racism that occasionally gets spouted in this country. It has no place in Aotearoa, and in election year, you would think that the Prime Minister, wanting to capture votes from Kiwis of all stripes, would take a rival to task over it. Politicians in the past aimed to paint an inclusive New Zealand, not one where people are cast out by race or, as we have seen post-Dirty Politics, by whether they are on the left or on the right.
   Author Nicky Hager is now, according to the PM, ‘a screaming left-wing conspiracy theorist’ for writing his book, one where the allegations have been carefully written to avoid legal action, and one where there are no emails to refute what he claims. Watching the fallout has been instructive: the ACT Party has completely defused the allegations over the Rodney Hide “blackmail” stance thanks to early, measured, and direct statements from Mr Hide and from lawyer Jordan Williams, and the burden has been lifted. It didn’t take much. David Farrar, who admittedly is not a central figure in the book, comes across as an intelligent and genuine National Party member and supporter. But National has played a divisive game once again, and that has been disappointing, especially for those quality MPs the party has outside of the Cabinet.
   You can say that its poll numbers are comfortable enough for National not to attempt to get voters on “the left”, but if I were running right now, I honestly wouldn’t care what your political leanings were. I’d want your vote. I’d know there were swing voters out there, and I’d also know that most New Zealanders, who tend toward centrist politics, have policies on the left and the right that they favour. Why isolate them by insulting some of their beliefs, or pigeonholing them as belonging to one group or another?
   Or, why, for that matter, associate with blogger Cameron Slater if he is a ‘force of nature unto himself’ (if I have quoted the PM correctly).
   And he is. I actually have little problem about the man having an opinion and expressing it on the internet. I’ll even go so far as to defend his right to hold an opinion and to express it freely even if I do not agree with it.
   I might not agree with Mr Slater’s venomous ‘I have come to the conclusion that Maori are thick. Dumber than your average bear. Stupid. Dumb and Dumber rolled in one. Dumber than a sack of hammers,’ and ‘My patience with Maori is at an end. They are venal, corrupt, lying, lazy useless fuckers,’ but he has a right to say it.
   It’s like “two Wongs”.
   Those who don’t like it can say so, too.
   The PM’s defence so far of his and his party’s association with Mr Slater (which suddenly has become less tight than it was portrayed earlier this year) is effectively “this is OK, because Labour contacts left-wing bloggers”. Sorry, John. If there is a blog out there that spews this kind of hatred, the normal thing for any right-thinking New Zealander to do is to isolate its writer. To make sure that his brand of venom is as far away from you as possible. You just don’t risk it for the sake of votes. You do not cozy up to him, even minutely—which is now the image you wish to portray. To have your government and your party willingly associate with him is precisely the sort of divisive politics that has no place in this country.
   The tactics have been compared to the Muldoon days. I disagree: if Rob Muldoon thought you were a knob, he would come out and call you a knob.
   I don’t think he would recognize his party.
   As Muldoon himself put it (in Muldoon):

A great deal of New Zealand’s history has in fact been recorded in detail and it as [sic] at least as interesting as that of older countries. To read it is to understand why so much damage is being done by a small group of stirrers who have fomented the hateful cry of “racism” in recent years. New Zealand does not have a colour bar, it has a behaviour bar, and throughout the length and breadth of this country we have always been prepared to accept each other on the basis of behaviour and regardless of colour, creed, origin or wealth. That is the most valuable feature of New Zealand society and the reason why I have time and again stuck my neck out to challenge those who would try to destroy this harmony and set people against people inside our country.

   And I can’t see decent National Party people like Paul Foster-Bell or Simon O’Connor ever engaging in these sorts of tactics. At the local level, Kerry Prendergast never did when I ran against her in 2010.
   Despite these efforts from our politicians, I still believe in inclusiveness, and that when you stand for public office, you are prepared to represent everyone in your constituency, even those you might not like or hold different beliefs to you. I said of a racist who wrote on my wall in 2013, ‘If elected, I’m happy to represent you, too.’ I don’t think that’s an idealism found in the Coca-Cola Hilltop commercial, but the reality of someone who wants the job of public office. Maybe it’s naïveté, but I can’t see what division and negative campaigning get you in New Zealand.

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Posted in culture, leadership, media, New Zealand, politics, TV, Wellington | 2 Comments »


When it comes to mass surveillance, forget specificity

26.06.2014

Be careful what you say on social media in Britain.
   English law permits mass surveillance of the big social media platforms, according to Charles Farr, the director-general of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism, in a statement published last week responding to a case brought by Privacy International, Liberty, Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union, Bytes for All, and five other national civil liberties’ organizations.
   While communications between British residents can only be monitored pursuant to a specific warrant, those that qualify as ‘external communications’ can be monitored under a general one, under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.
   Since most social networks are US-based, they qualify as external.
   ‘British residents are being deprived of the essential safeguards that would otherwise be applied to their communications—simply because they are using services that are based outside the UK,’ says Privacy International.
   ‘Such an approach suggests that GCHQ believes it is entitled to indiscriminately intercept all communications in and out of the UK.’
   One Conservative MP, David Davis, accuses ‘the agencies and the Home Office’ of hoodwinking the Commons, although Farr says the matter was expressly raised in the House of Lords, according to The Guardian.
   It was evident in 2000 that there was an international element to electronic communications. After all, telexes had been with us for decades, and emails were mainstream in the 1990s.
   None of this would have been brought to light without the revelations from Edward Snowden and the subsequent legal challenge at the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, on the grounds that ‘The absence of [a legal framework under which surveillance of citizens takes place] appears to be in breach of the European Convention of Human Rights, Article 8, which provides the right to privacy and personal communications, and Article 10, which provides the right to freedom of expression.’
   If the decision of the Tribunal falls on the side of the civil liberties’ groups, then that could be useful to similar groups here. We’ve already seen the Court of Appeal find the arguments of the Attorney-General more compelling than those of Kim Dotcom and others when it comes to balancing search warrants and the right against unreasonable search and seizure in the Bill of Rights Act 1990. While not directly related, pragmatism outweighed specificity, and it’s not a step, I imagine, that proponents of the Act would feel at ease with.
   When it comes to foreign powers exerting influence on our agencies here, especially with indictments that were so grand for what is, at its core, a civil copyright case, one would have expected specificity would be a requirement. I also would have expected such agencies to have the legal experts who would have used very tight language in an international case against a foreign national.
   The worrying trend with both scenarios is that things are taking place against citizens as though they were a matter of course, not subject to state agencies taking great care and being aware of individual human rights.
   As communications are global today, then the frameworks need to start from the point of the view of the individual and protections afforded to one.
   Here, s. 21 of the Bill of Rights Act 1990 should protect citizens when it comes to reasonable expectations of privacy, and cases tend to start from the interest of the person, who must be informed of the search or surveillance.
   The distinction between domestic and ‘external’ has not existed for years: all our websites, for instance, have been hosted abroad since we went online in the 1990s. Anyone who has used Gmail, Hotmail, Zoho and its rivals would be using external communications. Yet I do not know of anyone who would have consented to surveillance without grounds for suspicion, and laws need to balance the external requirement—where threats are perceived to come from—with the expectation of privacy individuals have on everyday communications.
   The Search and Surveillance Act 2012 is tempered perhaps by the tort of privacy and some precedent, but it’s the new Government Communications Security Bureau Amendment Act 2013 that generates similar worries to those in Britain, because specificity has gone out the window.
   We already have had an Attorney-General claim wrongly during the bill’s second reading, ‘As I say, this bill does not represent an extension of powers but a clarification,’ when even a casual comparison between the 2003 act and the new one suggests a marked increase of powers. The Prime Minister has suggested similarly in saying that it was incorrect that the ‘GCSB will be able to wholesale spy on New Zealanders.’
   The requirement for the GCSB’s monitoring of foreign intelligence has been removed in s. 8B, and any intelligence it gathers in the performance of the section is not subject to the protections afforded to New Zealanders under s. 14. Under s. 15A (1), the ‘interception warrants’ can apply to a class of people, covering all communications sent to or from abroad. These warrants can be very general, no threat to national security is required, thus eroding the expectation of privacy that New Zealanders have.
   The process through which the bill went through Parliament was disgraceful. Dame Anne Salmond noted:

During the public debate on the GCSB bill, Sir Geoffrey Palmer and Dr. Rodney Harrison QC spoke out about its constitutional implications, while I addressed its implications for democratic rights and freedoms in New Zealand.
   In reply, the Attorney-General made ad hominem attacks on Harrison, me, Sir Geoffrey and other critics of the legislation during the debate on the GCSB bill, under Parliamentary privilege, and without answering the concerns that had been raised.
   These attacks on independent agencies and offices, and on individuals suggest a campaign of intimidation, aimed at deterring all those who oppose the erosion of human rights in New Zealand from speaking out, and making them afraid to ‘put their heads above the parapet’.

   If we think our laws could protect us against the sort of mass surveillance that is legal in Britain, then we are kidding ourselves. By my reading, interception warrants can take place under the flimsiest of reasons, almost in a desperate attempt to catch up with these other jurisdictions, rather than considering New Zealand values and what our country stands for.
   If Britain is successful at amending the scope of RIPA 2000, then that would be a useful first step in redressing the balance, acknowledging that communication is global, and that citizens should have their privacy respected.
   One hopes such action inspires New Zealanders to follow the path of Privacy International and others in questioning our government’s expanded surveillance powers over us. Those who are already leading the charge, I take my hat off to you.

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Posted in globalization, internet, New Zealand, politics, technology, UK, USA | 1 Comment »


This government’s comedy of errors lately—and few to capitalize on them

07.05.2014

Polity has gone through the MFAT OIA documents relating to Judith Collins’s visit to China, where she met with Oravida thrice.
   I’ve been reading them but out of order (the second bunch only) and their summary of what I have read gels with my take on things.
   These matters have been covered better on political blogs, but I can’t but help drawing comparisons between the stubbornness of this government with the days of Neil Hamilton, Jonathan Aitken and others in the UK Conservatives in the 1990s.
   The Minister’s latest, that the Greens were quick to capitalize on (as they did with Simon Bridges—which begs the question of where Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition is), is this quotation: ‘Does that have anything to do with me? Am I the minister of wetlands? Go and find someone who actually cares about this, because I don’t. It’s not my issue … I don’t like wetlands—they’re swamps.’
   This Cabinet has opened itself up to media attacks because of the relatively large holes in its conduct, of which the above seems typical.
   The odd one, at least to 21st-century eyes, has to be the PM’s defence of Collins, as reported by Radio New Zealand: ‘Meanwhile, the Prime Minister blames Twitter for the stress Ms Collins has faced over her involvement with Oravida … Mr Key said Ms Collins had been under a lot of stress and much of that was driven by comments on Twitter.’
   One of my friends responded, ‘If he’d ever seen the abuse she dished out in her tweets, he’d know she was the instigator of most of it, not the victim.’
   And the PM makes one critical mistake here: he seems to portray social media as some sort of foreign world, where specialist knowledge is required. It’s certainly one that certain members of the old media fraternity love to use.
   The truth is social media aren’t that different: they are merely extensions of what one already knows. If you have been in business or in public service, you should know how to write and communicate. If you’re a reasonably competent writer in your everyday life, then it’s a cinch that you’ll be good at communicating with social media.
   I might get sucked in by the odd troll every now and then, but Twitter stress isn’t a valid enough excuse in my book.
   However, the PM is a smart guy. He knows that most of us will forget in a short space of time and there’ll be another scandal that will surface. So the disappearance of Collins through a time-out might be a good calculated move—at least that’s what he’s counting on.
   But the fourth estate might not be as forgiving this time. Duncan Garner wrote (also noting she needed a Twitter break): ‘The truth is, her story about what she was doing in China with Oravida has completely collapsed. She has lost all credibility. What started as a pop-in cup of milk and a private dinner turns out to be a turbo-blasted official dinner involving both Governments, their officials, a senior Minister (Collins) and a National party donor (Oravida).’
   The problem with all of this is: where’s Labour, in the midst of the greatest gift an opposition has been given for years?
   One friend of a friend noted that maybe Labour shouldn’t be attacking, because we Kiwis don’t like whingers. It is the charge I hear from friends on the right. Labour should, instead, be coming up with solid policies and leave the attacks to the Greens (which is doing a marvellous job) and Winston Peters (need I say more? He remains a great political wordsmith).
   For me, I’d like them to do both if they are to stand a chance. The job of the Opposition is to oppose.
   And failure to oppose strongly may suggest to the electorate that the same thing could happen under Labour.
   Six months out from the election I contested, I had my policies published—which one blog noted was unusual but welcome. That meant my policies were out for twice as long as my opponents’.
   We’re talking about a party that has been in opposition for a long time, long enough to know what it wishes to do should it be handed the reins of government.
   And yet, apart from a few policy announcements here and there, it has been silent. You’d think the names of the Shadow Cabinet would be in our consciousness by now. Embarrassingly, I even forgot David Cunliffe’s name recently in a conversation. I could only call him ‘not-Robertson’. (It is better than the PM calling Grant Robertson ‘Perry Mason’ today, I hasten to add.)
   It makes me wonder if Labour isn’t working and whether the anti-National vote will, indeed, head even more to the Greens this year.

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Posted in business, China, internet, media, New Zealand, politics | 3 Comments »


Wellington isn’t ‘dying’, but we’re going to have to prove our mettle

07.05.2013

That didn’t take long, John.
   I know, the economic statistics aren’t pleasant.
   Wellington’s economy is stagnant and our population growth lags behind Auckland’s and Christchurch’s. I did predict this in 2010.
   The difference is that I don’t give up on us quite so quickly.
   I don’t think political leaders should.
   Not if we’re looking at a long-term view. Yes, the last three years haven’t been great, but then we’re not rebuilding from as large a shock as our brothers and sisters in Christchurch.
   In fact, if you have spent any time here, and I suspect that since you work here, you would have seen that the ingredients that men like the late Sir Paul Callaghan believed could lead an export recovery are here. Innovative thinking, intellectual capital. We just haven’t nurtured it properly because we’ve entrusted same-again politicians to do the job.
   But, Prime Minister, you’re right to at least raise your points, because at least we’ve kicked off a debate.
   A debate about just what Wellington is, and should be in the next half-century.
   This is not just a knee-jerk, defensive response from a little town so offended by comments made in Takapuna.
   We recognize that there are problems, and since it’s election year, it’s our opportunity to fix them.
   You’ll see from today’s reactions, in the video that Andy Boreham has filmed here, that there’s civic pride in Wellington, most likely because Wellingtonians see what I do: a more cultured, globally minded workforce that’s intelligent and savvy. We know Sir Peter Jackson’s not alone—because there are so many other innovators here, not necessarily in something as glamorous as film. They’re the backbone of our city’s economy.
   You’ll also see that this identification with and sticking up for Wellington is the same energy that drives everything from trade to Olympic bids, more so than nation branding efforts have ever managed.
   My plans, if elected, call for not only identifying and promoting those great firms that are innovative and socially responsible, but the use of my knowledge globally to do just what is needed for Wellington. Like the city’s next big firms—those who have Weta, Trade Me, 42 Below potentials—they’re all waiting there, their latent energies ready to be released. I see them regularly, and the region’s mayors and I can work with Grow Wellington to identify them with a new set of criteria, then market them properly.
   It’s why in 2010, and again in 2013, I’ve made innovation a priority. Free wifi, which I proposed and we now have, was only a signal to say Wellington is open for business. The costs of extending it are relatively low. Pedestrianization, greening the CBD, and transportation improvements are needed—and we have the nous and the knowledge to get them done.
   If prime ministers can lose faith in a city in three years, I believe we can begin rebuilding it in less time—since, as you’ve seen, we’re united. You’ve given us the perfect opportunity to prove our mettle.
   And you know my record, Prime Minister. If I can work at the C-level with companies around the world, I can work with central government, whomever is in power, for a fair deal for Wellingtonians. We’re not asking for sympathy—we’re getting ready to show you what we’re made of.

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Posted in branding, business, leadership, marketing, media, New Zealand, politics, TV, Wellington | No Comments »


Storm in a teacup on tape

23.11.2011

The ‘tea tape’ that’s been on the news for the last week or so seems like, if you’ll pardon the analogy, a storm in a teacup.
   PM John Key and Epsom candidate John Banks invited the media to record them chatting, then dismissed them. One cameraman, Bradley Ambrose, left a recorder on the table. From what I can gather, he did so accidentally. I believe him, and this country, the last I looked, believed in a presumption of innocence. Except when it comes to the internet.
   Unfortunately, the PM didn’t see it that way, and because, by his admission, the police have so much time to investigate matters these days, claimed that the recording was illegal. Four media outlets were searched by police over the matter, and over interviews with Mr Ambrose.
   The PM has his right to advance his opinion and I will defend any citizen’s right to do so. However, I’m not that convinced that both Messrs Key and Banks could expect that their conversation took place in private.
   The submission in court yesterday—the time-worn one of the reasonable person’s expectation that they would be overheard—would have got a nod from me, though Winkelmann J. has declined to rule on the matter.
   Both men are public figures, and while we Kiwis are generally very good at giving people the space they need to chat, it’s reasonable to assume portions of the conversation, though not the whole thing, would be overheard by a bystander, with or without a tape recorder.
   I ran for a much smaller office than the PM and for the duration of the campaign—and even a year before it began—I watched myself over what I talked about in public places. I still do. And I didn’t even win.
   When you put yourself out there, sadly, you sacrifice a little of your privacy. The two Johns have put themselves out there for a lot longer, and with a much greater profile, than I ever had.
   During the campaign, one of my advisers warned me that if I were to chat to any opponent, I must do so in private, because you simply never knew who could hear you. That’s for a local body election. You’d reasonably expect the stakes to be higher for a General Election.
   I am reminded of one private conversation from a public figure that took place in Wellington, which was shared with me by a member of the public. He revealed that that public figure was a potty mouth, complaining about a family member. He was, consequently, shocked to notice that such a discussion would take place in a café setting.
   To me, that’s the typical sort of thing you’d reasonably notice of a recognizable public figure.
   It is only reasonable that we would have been interested in what they had to chat about. If we were there, not as a member of the media, the odd key phrase would have caught our attention. If we walked by, we might have been accidentally picked up a bit ourselves.
   The issue, for me, is whether a recording made of the conversation in its entirety is private—but I think back to the Wellington incident where the member of the public overheard the whole thing.
   If it were anyone who had never run for office, then the reasonable expectation is that the conversation was private. But we are talking about two men who have plenty of experience—and who should know that private conversations take place in private forums. You don’t invite the media along, and once things get sensitive, follow the same rule as with uncomfortable public displays of affection: get a room.

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Posted in media, New Zealand, politics, TV, Wellington | No Comments »


Intellectual property doesn’t deserve a black mark, but some powers-that-be do

22.11.2011

After being interviewed about the outcome of the ‘Wellywood’ sign vote yesterday (a summary of what I told Newstalk ZB can be found on my Facebook fan page) I was reminded about how a few Wellingtonians, who supported my quest to stop the sign in 2010 and 2011, were not that thrilled that I used intellectual property law as my technique.
   Those following this in 2010 and 2011 might remember that I was the person who called up the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and the Hollywood Sign Trust, and was, last year, the mayoral candidate most active in trying to stop Wellington Airport from erecting the sign at the Miramar cutting. This year, with no local election to be concerned about, I remained active, more so upon seeing just how arrogant the Airport’s “leadership” was, before it flip-flopped again by saying that it should consult with the public (the same public it called insignificant weeks before).
   And yet, months later, I was also miffed about the Copyright Act amendments and the introduction of the “three strikes” law, one which the Government seems to be uncertain about as it supports it at home, and opposes it at the United Nations.
   This is not a populist about-turn on my part. I have a view of intellectual property which was refined in part by my time at law school, where I sat the first IP paper offered formally by Victoria University, and my work for TypeRight, the advocacy organization, which wound up winning an award from Publish magazine in the US. This experience leaned toward copyright, more than trade mark and patent, though I secured reasonable experience in TMs working in brand consulting and acting as an expert witness. Through that exposure, I began with the classical argument that the protection of authors, and rewarding them, are good things. No protection, no incentive.
   But, this must be balanced by the rule of law. What we had before the latest amendments to the Copyright Act already worked. Copyright owners could, indeed, pursue infringers, and a plaintiff and a defendant could fairly be represented in a tribunal. It would be up to the copyright owner to front up with a statement of claim, and they had better be ready with sufficient proof to make the case air-tight—just as any other plaintiff in a New Zealand court would require. That seems fair. I have relied on American law often when it came to pursuing piracy of our articles, and, again, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act there worked well in giving both sides a fair hearing without the presumption of guilt.
   As argued in some depth in 2009, and again in 2011, the three-strikes law—which, I might note, the PM was against before he was for, as was the Hon Peter Dunne MP—puts the power firmly in the hands of the copyright owner, so that a defendant has to discharge the presumption of guilt. A copyright owner, as we have learned, can get an ISP to do its dirty work in New Zealand, sending out infringement notices to its customers. Whatever I learned in that IP class at uni, I had always believed the law would take place in a fair forum, and that the common-law presumption of innocence would always stand. What is happening here runs counter to that idea.
   To be fair and balanced here, I should note that the law was proposed under Labour, and received the support of Labour when argued in Parliament, which makes me wonder whether the duty of being Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition was fulfilled properly during the debates.
   Such laws, unfortunately, do the idea of copyright no credit. They have sullied the good work that copyright has done in most of our recent history by protecting those who sought it, and deserved it. I think of those who were in the typeface design business with me, who opted to protect their works. Some designers only make a few dozen dollars per annum from a font that might have taken them six weeks to produce. Typically, $300 is a figure I hear for a design that doesn’t make the big time—and the majority do not, just like in music.
   European Commission VP for the Digital Agenda, Neelie Kroes, told the Forum d’Avignon on November 19 a similar story: ’97·5 pe rcent of one of the biggest collecting society’s members in Europe receive less than … €1,000 a month for their copyright works.’
   As reported in The Register, ‘Kroes said, copyright as it now stands is failing to deliver the economic rewards that are supposed to be its aim. At the same time, “citizens increasingly hear the word copyright and hate what is behind it. Many see the current system as a tool to punish and withhold, not a tool to recognize and reward.”’
   The Register concludes:

In the context of the public’s increasing resistance to punitive measures such as America’s SOPA, New Zealand’s three-strikes disconnection notice regime, the acrimonious “iiTrial” in Australia (backed by the MPAA via its local sockpuppet AFACT), it’s also interesting to note that Kroes mentions the intermediary business just once in her speech – since, at least to The Register, it seems that most of the public’s hatred of copyright appears to stem from how the intermediaries approach it.

   The distinction needs to be drawn. We shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. What we should be weary of are not just the intermediaries as The Register notes, but some of the parties who inspire, lobby and even offer to draft these laws. It seems those parties are often those who care little for the thoughts of the community, whether it be an Airport CEO, or politicians who are so inept at understanding their subject they confuse fact with fiction.
   While I will not be drawn on who will get my electorate and party votes for this General Election, the behaviour of some of the powers-that-be seem to support those who claim that we no longer live in democracies in the occident, but plutocracies.

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Posted in business, culture, design, internet, leadership, media, New Zealand, politics, technology, USA, Wellington | No Comments »


National thinks the internet is ‘Skynet’ as copyright amendments pass second reading

13.04.2011

This would be humorous if the implications of the copyright amendments were not so serious:

Also speaking in favour of the bill, National MP Jonathan Young compared the internet to Skynet, the fictional artificial intelligence network in the Terminator movies that tried to destroy mankind.

That was in the National Business Review.
   I believe it’s also fair to hold the Prime Minister to account.
   This is the same man who, in 2009, thought this legislative amendment was a bad idea.
   He now thinks it’s a good idea, I imagine because it was passed under urgency and he can get away with it.
   The leader of the Opposition may indeed have flip-flopped on things, but I think he took a tad longer. The Prime Minister, on this issue once again, shows that principle is not one of his strong suits.
   Especially in light of the TPPA negotiations, this government seems hell bent on ceding our sovereignty to foreign lobbyists.
   In what I believe is a tactical mistake for them, Labour supported the amendment, too.
   The first big issue for the General Election has just crept up—the internet-savvy public is far larger than politicians think—and it plays right into the minor parties’ hands.

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Posted in internet, leadership, media, New Zealand, politics, technology, USA, Wellington | 5 Comments »