Monday, September 18, 2006

How Our Politicians Let Us Down

What a load of squabbling schoolkids.

The row over who is rooting whom, who is watching, which end they are rooting from, who is talking about it, and who couldn't care less just gets worse.

If this is the measure of the men and women that say they can govern our nation, Gawd help us.

Helen Clark appeared on the interview shows on both main tv networks on Monday. She argued her case with middling conviction, but let herself down completely in her admission that this is all a slanging match with National - "if they stop we will stop".

Nobody in the National party could be found to speak - perhaps not surprisingly because they are not the issue. I don't believe that anyone seriously in a position of responsibility in the nation's main Opposition party, and the probable next government of our nation, is feeding this "Peter Davies is a homo so ya boo sux" bullsh to the grubby press.

I think we are much more likely not a million miles away from the man on a bicycle who grabbed the plans to regulate the loathsome Telecom monopoly and gave them to another man on another bicycle that worked for Telecom - who had the good sense to say "I shouldn't be seeing this" and sent it back.

Some scungy nerd with a beer belly, bad breath and thinning pubic hair that hangs aboutWellington caf├ęs favored by National and ACT and United Future without being a member of any of them will be behind these "leaks". May his bum drop off and roll around in the gutter with the journalistic low-life that is Ian Wishart. Wishart and his Investigate rag are the longdrop of New Zealand journalism: way down low and full of shit.

The Prime Minister is right to complain about National's use of the word 'corruption' when they complain of the election spending.

It's not corruption - that implies deliberate and wilful criminal action. There wasn't any. There may have been wrongful appropriation of funds. The PM maintains that the Auditor General changed the rules after the event - that he held, post facto, that what he said was legal in 2002 was no longer legal in 2005. I would like to see that claim tested in Court. But this is not corruption. Corruption would be if the Auditor General was bought off, or changed his view for improper reasons.

I would like to see the whole issue taken to court so the nation can observe the argument, and hear a clear legal opinion, and let the parties concerned abide by it. Politicians are supposed to uphold the rule of law..

Don Brash has a small, rather undermined pinnacle of the high ground: he sent his Caucus an e-mail telling them to taihoa on the personal attacks. Yeah, right. Coming from a man that enjoys adultery so much he's done it twice, that has less resonance and force than it would have if it had come from, say, John Key or Bill English.

Enough is enough. Judge Judy could do better than this. Let's take the real disputes to Court, and let's see our politicians behaving with respect to their opponents.

Right now, the biggest shortage we have in New Zealand is of statesmen and stateswomen - people with the experience and mana to lead our nation, and behave in such a way that they command our respect for their office and for themselves as temporary occupants..

Shame on the politicians for letting things get so bad.

Wishartful thinking

What a nasty man

Ian Wishart, a self-styled "journalist" has published another edition of his Investigate magazine, in which he says he does not claim that Dr Peter Davies, long time husband of the Prime Minister, is homosexual. All he's done, he says, is print a picture of Dr Davies and Dr Ian Scott in a hug on election night last year. Ian Scott is openly gay, and is also a long-standing friend of Dr Davis and Helen Clark. Wishart tries to suggest that the picture should make us suspect all kinds of things, nudge nudge wink wink.

But he doesn't claimn to tell us why the private life of the PM's husband for the last 28 years should be of any concern to anyone outside their marriage.

In fact there's a long list of things Wishart doesn't claim, which may well include honour, journalistic credibility, mana and more.

It would be interesting to explore his connections with the loony religious right, not least the nauseating Exclusive Brethren whose corrupt interpretation of Christian dogma is an affront to human rights and family values. I bet he never writes a word about it.

It is all gossip and tittle-tattle, and reflects Wishart's unhealthy obsession with what other people do in bed.

Perhaps that is where Wishart's problems really lie.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Cutting Loose from Telecom's shackles

Deregulation or what?

David Farrar writes about his presentation to the Select Committee on telecoms re-regulation. He has, perhaps predictably, drawn a response from supporters of the Libertarianz and ACT claiming that it's a bill of attainder and an attack on property rights. I disagree, and have posted there in these terms to say so:

The problem with the Libertarianz view is that it elevates property rights above the national interest, and proposes the concept of the joint-stock company as superior to the elected government of the land.

I think both propositions are wrong.

Our property right in New Zealand is effectively guaranteed by the Crown. My bit of the Bay of Islands, someone else's suburban quarter-acre. the next man's strata title on Wakefield Street in Auckland or Courtenay Place in Wellington, are all ours because the Crown creates a legal and social framework that grants us that right and empowers us to defend it against all comers.

I hold my land in fee simple from the Crown - but I'm not immune to the Crown's right of eminent domain, legislated in NZ as the Public Works Act. Our law holds property as important, defensible but not sacred or immutable.

Let's look at the property owned by Telecom - a mix of real estate and easements that allow them to string their wires across other peoples' land.

No-one, not even the most devoted Telecom critic, is suggesting that Telecom should have to give up either its real estate or its easements. The company will, at the end of regulation, still own every square metre of ground, every centimetre of wire, that it owns now.

What is proposed is simply that others should also be able to pay a fair market price to access the equipment, and the data carrying capacity, of the company.

There is no suggestion that those seeking access to the local loop, or the DSLAMs, will not have to pay Telecom a fair price for that right.

There is no diminution or devaluation of Telecom's legal property. Rather, the regulation being proposed increases the value of Telecom's physical assets because it creates a working market for their use.

An effective data network is part of our nation's development infrastructure. As InternetNZ rightly suggested in their submission, nation building is not something that can be left to the unregulated private sector.

We know already that both Maurice Williamson and Lockwood Smith would prefer to see Telecom left alone, to "get on with it". But the evidence over ten years is that the incumbent telco won't.

Left alone, they have demonstrated that they will deliver the worst value in the world: charging Kiwi businesses $2400 a month for a limited throttled service worth $28.

Left alone, they have demonstrated that they will impose ludicrously small data caps on Internet use - not because they have to but because they can.

Left alone, they have demonstrated that they will favor their subsidiary ISP above all others, so cheating the market and distorting the outcomes.

Telecom has had ten years to demonstrate its willingness to work with New Zealanders to deliver the services New Zealand needs to be competitive in the world market.

They have used those ten years to overcharge, to rip off the country's business community, to offer a bicycle track onto the data highway and charge for it as if it were the fast lane.

By their deeds shall ye know them - they've had their chance and now they need to be regulated, controlled and compelled to set New Zealand users free of their Telecom-imposed shackles.

That is why I would be deeply worried to see Maurice Williamson or Lockwood Smith involved in IT policy or telco regulation in the next National Government.

They have demonstrated beyond doubt that they would be better employed in some other area - perhaps as back bench MPs looking after their constituents.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Airport Security Theatre

And so the mad people are in control

Have a look at this:

JK Rowling, one of the world's most successful writers, instantly recognisable and showing her passport, is threatened with being separated from her handwritten Harry Potter script by airport "security" goons playacting that they are doing something worthwhile.

How about we call a halt to this bullshit. Since September 11th 2001, exactly how many terrorists have been caught and imrpisoned as a result of airport security theatre?

I'd really like to know.


Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Don Brash Affair

Lots of silly words being written about this - including a surprisingly clumsy piece by Aardvark's Bruce Simpson in which he manages to raise what for him is clearly the spectre of a possibly gay Prime Minister, and a torrent of pieces of such silliness that David Farrar deleted the lot of 'em and imposed temporary moderation on his readers.

And they say MPs are badly behaved.

Most of the comment I've seen doesn't address what for me is the real issue: not that Dr Brash enjoys adultery so much he's a repeat offender, but the fact that this is distracting attention away from National's effective campaign about Labour's presumed misuse of public money for its campaign.

Gerry Brownlee's excellent performance on National Radio on Tuesday afternoon, during which Pete Hodgson flatly, and I think improperly, asserted that Labour would not be repaying anything while Brownlee sensibly addressed the whole issue of party funding, now falls by the wayside in favor of a media feeding frenzy concentrating on what Dr Brash has done, when and where, with which of his lady friends.

I think it's sad that his relationship has deteriorated to the point that he doesn't feel like telling his wife where he is and who he's seeing.

But I'm not all that interested in the minutiae of another man's life, and I think it's a shame that it's been allowed to divert attention from the good things that National members have been saying lately.

If I were Brownlee, or Bill English, or Simon Power or any of the other National members, I would be seriously pissed off about the latest revelations. It's almost as if Dr Brash has single-handedly walked across the House to lift the Labour front bench off the hook over Taito Phillip Field, off the hook over the pledge card funding, off the hook over the latest disaster in the health system and even off the hook over their summary dismissal - err, refusal to renew the contract - of the Electricity Commissioner.

Copyright, copywrong

Bruce Simpson over at Aardvark taises the question of copyright in New Zealand - with the example that our laws effectively make most uses of an iPod illegal, though I've not seen that tested in court so far.

Which prompts me to think about what we really should have in our copyright law.

The copyright laws in NZ are outdated amd need revision - but they should not follow the draconian rules imposed in the US under the DMCA, which effectively criminalises even knowing how to defeat DRM (see the case of Dmitry Sklyarov, arrested and held in a US jail for knowing how to view an Adobe e-book on a different computer).

We need a copyright law that gives reasonable protection to rights owners for a reasonable period - not the 95 years voted for by US congress members who were and are richly paid off by the members of the RIAA and MPAA.

We need a copyright law that grants exemptions for fair use, including an absolute right to make and market mashups and parodies, an absolute right to make copies for backup and to listen or watch on other devices in their own homes, an absolute right of first sale, meaning you can legally sell anything you have bought, even if it pretends be only a licence to use, and an absolute right to investigate, explore, study, dis-assemble, change, tinker with and break any computer device or code that comes into your posession.

We need a copyright law that requires any company applying DRM techniques to its products to provide permanent and irrevocable unlock keys to libraries and educational institutions.

We need a copyright law that recognises copyright as a time limited licence to exploit, that rejects attempts to extend the length of copyrights and recognises that all creative achievemnent should end up at the end of the copyright period in the public domain.

All of this would give us a fair and reasonable copyright system, and would not breach our obligations under the abysmally drafted TRIPS agreements at the WTO.

We also need to beware of Americans bearing gifts in the form of Free Trade Agreements, which are all too often used as a way to impose unwanted American regulations on citizens of other countries, and in particular to force other countries to pass the same draconian copyright laws as the DMCA. You can watch this process happening right now in Canberra. It makes you wonder who really governs Australia - the Federal Government in Canberra or the Office of the US Trade Representative.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Should Labour quit?

People are saying that it's time for the government to quit - or even for the Governor General to send them packing. And looking at the uproar that is Parliament over the last few days, it's a superficially attractive choice.

But it's not as easy as that.

Constitutionally the GG can intervene only if the existing government cannot secure a majority on a vote of confidence. If that is the case, he would first invite the leader of the Opposition to form a government, and if that turns out to be impossible, dissolve Parliament. These are essentially the same powers reserved to the Queen, in whose name the GG acts. For the GG to step in on his own account and declare a dissolution without a loss of a confidence vote would, I think, be unconstitutional and would probably lead to his rapid recall.

We saw such powers exercised in Oz in the 70s when Whitlam's flaky government eventually devoured itself, and the Australian GG John Kerr invited the Opposition to form a government, which correctly and constitutionally called an immediate election. That is what I would hope and expect would happen here.

I think if I were the National leadership I would be thinking about moving a vote of confidence. That seems to me the Parliamentary way to go about this affair. It would be interesting to see the way the minor parties would go in such a vote: Peter Dunne's United Future would be much more at home in a National coalition, and so might Winston Peters and NZ First, although there is much bad blood to be seettled between Peters and Clarkson. Rodney Hide would be champing at the bit for such an opportunity - and the Maori Party would be wondering how it would fare in a new election now that we have seen the real nature of Hone Harawira. All of which might motivate some in the present coalition to abrogate their agreements with Labour, except that this would demonstrate that they really could not be trusted.

As for the Greens, well. Who knows why they have so assiduously made themselves so unelectable for so long, and why the present such unelectable people as their candidates in so many places? I would happily support a genuine ecological party - but so far, the NZ Greens ain't it.

NZ Telecom is at it again!

The company we love to hate has put its usual foot forward, as it wriggles and struggles to get out from under the government's planned telco regulation bill.

Full of fine words and implicit threats to anyone living outide the larger cities, Telecom was reassuringly its usual obfuscatory self in frot of the legislators, and failed notably to impress John Key (National) who might have been expected to be onside with the big company facing the heavy hand of regulation.

But Key is nobody's fool and recognised that one of the main reasons Kiwis have such contempt for Telecom is that it has, so far, behaved pretty contemptuously to its customers.

We can hope that the lawmakers will not be distracted from their task, and that a framework will be enacted that allows Telecom, and all the others who would like to be in the telco sector, to make a living and a profit without gouging Kiwis at home and at work.

The Herald report is here:

That will be the day...