Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Not so much losing as failing to win ...

Only 25.5% of  US electorate voted for Trump. 25.6% voted for Clinton and 3% or so for other candidates. 46% of eligible voters distrusted/disliked Clinton and Trump, or were disengaged from the political process or were unable to vote - and it is they who made the difference. 

The burning question is WHY were almost HALF of the American electorate unwilling or unable to vote in such an important election?  Add in all the people who are not eligible to vote - mainly working class and disproportionately black - and Trump is President-elect courtesy of about one in five adult American citizens. 

This was NOT simply a victory for conservatism and bigotry; it was NOT simply a racist, misogynistic white working class lashing out at more privileged and/or progressive people or immigrants any more than the Brexit vote was simply about that. Of course there is an element of that but it is a far more complex issue. 

At the forefront was the abject failure of the Democrats to provide a viable alternative, to capture people’s imaginations, to make them believe in the possibility of a better future. They dumped the candidate who might have done that. 

For some in the Democratic Party that was done for the same reasons the party machine cynically manoeuvred to dump the very popular left-wing candidate for Vice President in 1944.  Others clearly believed that the significance of Clinton being the first woman president, combined with her credentials for the job would be enough to win a majority of the hallowed middle ground. 

There was a wide spread belief that it was as morally right as it was politically inevitable  the first female president should follow the first black president.  No doubt there are powerful conservative forces which were opposed to that happening and which were a factor in the election but you have only to look at Thatcher to see that simply being a woman has long since ceased being the barrier it used to be.  The rightwing in the US had swallowed the reality of one of the stupidest people ever to hold political office standing as VP.  

The Trump machine played to sexism and misogyny of course just as they played to race but the problem was not simply the conservative backlash, not simply racism or sexism or other expressions of the generalised bigotry whose messages of hate still run through the middle of the American candy stick - the problem was also that too many Democrats had their own versions of smugly supremacist attitudes.

The person who said in a tweet I read,  that the American working class is made up of "stupid and uneducated bigots" exemplifies a widespread knee jerk reaction to the election. In its own way it is as reactionary and ill-informed as a post I read on Facebook from a Trump supporter. 

”…We saw what was happening under the Obama and Democrat party administration. We were being led into a socialist form of government. We were being ignored on the world stage. America was less safe and becoming more so by the minute. Clinton wanted to increase the number of immigrants tremendously and thereby increase our taxes to support them. Did you know that they are given more subsidies than an American citizen? Clinton also wanted abortions to become legal up to the moment of birth. We're not talking about medical emergencies. Everyone is afraid of Trump. I think this is unfounded. He cannot act alone you know. When he assembles his team of advisors we may see the greatest potential in a president, ever! We will see what happens but for now, give him a chance. My country was being led in the wrong direction and now we have a chance to get back on track. 

I've read some awful statements from Trump supporters but equally some pretty awful stuff from affluent, educated Americans about their fellow Americans who are neither affluent nor well educated. Folk who would not dream of making jokes about people of colour, women, disabled, gay or trans people - in fact who would throw the most almighty hissy fit at anyone who did - will make derogatory comments and jokes openly and freely about 'white trash', 'trailer trash' and 'rednecks'. 

I realise that being white confers its own privilege but I am working class enough in my origins to feel aggrieved when affluent, educated, socially mobile people speak of white privilege as if it was an absolute. Poor white people in the USA have only to open their mouths for their class origins to be immediately evident - not in their accents but in the state of their teeth. 

When Garrison Keillor -   the voice over for the Middle American Dream - claims that the children of a waitress in the USA can still become physicists, novelists or paediatricians - he is wilfully ignoring the grim reality of the poverty trap.  That trap is holding proportionately far more people of colour but numerically it's got its vice-like grip on many more white people.  It may allow a few out of its grip - the exceptionally gifted or the exceptionally lucky - but the vast majority can never tear themselves free. And if they do, very often they leave a part of themselves in it. 

I know that poor white people in the US have always been the shock troops for those who benefit most from racial division - but the best strategy is to recruit them to progressive politics - not drive them into the arms of the likes of Trump by alternately ignoring and mocking them. 

I would like to know how much of the $1billion Clinton raised to spend on her campaign went on ensuring that people were registered and able and willing to vote.  Perhaps she believed that too many of the 46% would vote for Trump if they were registered.

Hard though it is for many people to swallow - Trump did not win so much as Clinton lost.  She lost because her party alienated a lot of people over the nomination, because it believed the pollsters, because it did not do enough to address the lamentable level of voter registration, and because it has done nothing to redress the effects of the continuing demise of the organisations which could have helped to mobilise the working class vote - the trade unions.  

Only 7% of US workers in the private sector are in unions; 11% overall.  Obama did nothing in 8 years to address the issue - in fact he, like Bill Clinton before him, was committed to the very economics and ideology that have resulted in the loss of so many US jobs and with them, the unions. 

The destruction of working class collectivism was necessary for the neo-lliberal project to succeed.  Why would the controllers and the servants of corporate capitalism be prepared to yield on the many demands arising from identity politics when they have been so implacable - and at times, vicious - in their opposition to trade unions?  Why have certain sections of the population been rewarded with significantly increased standards of living and opportunities when a majority of the working class face under-employment or unemployment? 

It's just too easy to label the heartlands of the USA as Dumbasfuckistan - with the urbanised fringes on the east and west coasts as the real America. You know that America - the one that's cool, cosmopolitan, sexually liberated, post-modern - and inhabited by a disturbing number of people who seem not to realise the awful price being paid by others for their privileged existence. 

Rainbow coalitions cannot and will not survive alone if the storm clouds of fascism roll in.  If there was ever a time to unite all the progressive forces in the world it is now -  but how to unite when neo-liberalism has been so successful at individualising, isolating and compartmentalising?  I  can tell you how it won't happen - and that's by the privileged, educated and affluent alternately ignoring, patronising and mocking the poor.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

"Anyone who calls himself The Donald has to be a dick..."

...and now that dick is President elect of the most powerful nation on the planet. 

The polls were wrong; the pundits were wrong; the media was wrong; the DNC elite was wrong; and the Clintons and the Obamas were wrong and have been left with political egg all over their faces.  A vulgar, sexist narcissist is to be President of the USA. His boast that he could manipulate Republican voters was as right on the button as the episode of the Simpsons in 2000 which forecast a Trump presidency as the nadir of American politics and society. 

I had a horrible feeling he would win - a visceral feeling that all my intellectualising about the improbability of it could not quell. My gut instinct was telling me that the conservative backlash was building and if enough people voted for Trump, and enough chose not to vote at all rather than vote for Clinton, he could win. 

The Democratic Party machine ignored the Sanders phenomenon and put up a candidate who was vulnerable on many levels. I don't know if Sanders would have been permitted to win the presidency had he won the nomination but assuming no-one assassinated him or his character, I suspect a lot of the 46% of Americans who did not vote would have been motivated to vote for him. As it was,  54% of voters divided almost evenly between two deeply unpopular candidates i.e. Trump has been elected by about 26% of the total electorate.  Without the arcane and archaic electoral college system, Clinton would have won the Presidency on a slightly larger proportion of the popular vote. 

Some people would have voted for Trump as a 'fuck you' to what they perceive as an out of touch and corrupt political machine; some because they resent the tall, elegant, well educated and urbane Obamas; some because Trump's chubby, anti-intellectual, bombastic, boastful, 'self-made man' is a character they can relate to; some because they are committed racial and/or religious bigots; some because they are misogynistic and could not countenance a woman as President; and a lot because they have swallowed the lies about why they are poor and unemployed and shut out of what they see as their birthright. These people have bought the even bigger lie that Trump will bring private sector jobs back to the US.  They do not realise that if he does bring jobs back it will be only if American workers are prepared to accept lower wages and worse conditions than the places the jobs were relocated to - and because the American state will accept even worse environmental controls on industry. 

The conservative backlash has been building for a long time and the reason it will be so destructive is because the forces which oppose it are in such disarray - and nowhere more so than in the USA. It was easy for the neo-libs to ship US jobs off to places where they could make bigger profits because at the outset of the neo-liberal era only 20% of US workers were in a union - that's now down to 11% overall and 7% in the private sector.  Obama - architect of the TPPA - is fully committed to corporate globalisation and his administration, like that of post-war Democrats before him, has done nothing to reverse the decline of trade unionism. 

One of the most telling things about the destruction of first world trade unions over the past 30 years has been the refusal of so many academics, commentators and media pundits to confront why that is.  But, to paraphrase Upton Sinclair - it is difficult to get people to confront something when their salary depends on them not confronting it.

The US has had centuries to perfect its use of racism as a divide and rule and terror tactic. Trump's' vicious rhetoric should have left the majority of US citizens reeling in horror; instead it has emboldened its racist heartlands. This is not just the old guard who remember the times when white folks could murder black people and civil rights activists and get away with it, many young white people - who have grown up in a more open and diverse nation than their grandparents did - are enthusiastic followers of Trump.  The cancer of racism in the US has never been eradicated. If it metastasises, it has the potential to break down the connective tissue of the social body.

The influence of fundamentalist religion in the US is enormous: it has proved hard enough for a woman to be elected, it would be impossible for an avowed atheist. All presidents and their family are required to do the ritual obeisance to god - the Christian version. Trump, who is about the least spiritual person I can envisage, appealed to conservative religionists on issues like abortion and same sex marriage on the grounds of bigotry not theology. 

His victory shows the millennia-old phallocracy is still firmly in charge, such concessions as have been made to women can and will be rescinded if it suits the suits.  Same as the concessions to minority groups whose formal and informal rights have expanded over the past couple of decades.

The most striking aspect of the neo-liberal era is the expansion of  'rights to be' alongside the greatest concentration of power and wealth in the hands of a tiny elite the world has seen since the Gilded Age.  Alongside a flowering of cultural and sexual diversity and emphasis on individual rights and freedoms,  there has been a devaluing of the power and possibilities of the collective, and especially of the traditional collectives of the working class.  The rank and file can only engage with entrenched power through the ballot box or various forms of protest, the most potent of which is industrial action.  Their only chance for success in either of these is in combination i.e  through organisations which represent their political and social interests and trade unions.

It's not surprising that there's a lot of catastrophising going on - some of it with good reason. Given the increases in the sophistication of the mechanisms of repression - weaponry, surveillance etc - today's elite are more powerful and therefore more dangerous than the elites of previous eras. Rightwing extremists have been let off their leashes across the world. In the US police already kill black people with virtual impunity and the country has an ignoble and recent history of the vicious suppression of people of colour and of political dissenters. 

A lot of people who are disappointed that Clinton did not win are terrified there will be war because Trump is such an erratic character.  They seem oblivious as to why Putin was so anxious for a Trump victory.  You have only to look at the relative military and economic strengths and deployments of the 26 nations of NATO against that of Russia to see who is best candidate for the label of aggressor in that sphere.  Against all logic - given so many Americans are viscerally anti-communist and still link Russia to communism -  Trump positioned himself alongside Russia and against China and all other countries he could label as stealers of US jobs and power.  And it paid off. 

Clinton supporters tend to sidestep the fact that there were many good reasons to be fearful of a Clinton administration. She would have continued Obama's TPP strategy of squaring up to China economically while threatening Russia militarily via NATO. The initial battleground would have been fought by proxies in Syria but Clinton has already proved she is a hawk and is prepared to take the US to an aggressive war. 

Trump is a rooster - he might crow and strut a lot and put up a good show against another rooster but whether he'd have Clinton the hawk's stomach for the slaughter of war is not yet known. 

There's a good reason why the powerful like to keep the masses ignorant and diverted, with what divides writ large and what unites them kept hidden or mocked. The mushroom ideology - keep them in the dark and feed them shit - has always worked well for the powerful. And the truly excellent joke for the elites is that - because of all the pretty flashing lights and baubles they've been fobbed off with - most people don't even know they are in the dark. 

If the people who can don't start to shine spotlights on what is happening and why, the darkness may become permanent.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Part Two: Losi Filipo and NZ Justice

I have to admit to having had a knee jerk reaction to this story - caused by the fact that the mainstream news media often beats up a substantial head of froth on stories, that the law and order brigade always bays for blood before stopping to think, and that young men of colour in NZ do not usually get a fair deal at the hands of the courts or in mainstream and social media.

I have a long memory when it comes to issues of injustice and I collect examples of police and judicial bias so, even accounting for the rugby factor, I viewed the Newshub story with a degree of scepticism.

For example, I  could not understand why, if Filipo had punched a woman hard enough in the face for her to need plastic surgery, he was not charged with aggravated assault rather than male assaults female.  I could believe the police might downgrade charges because of a sympathy for a rugby player but this was not the case as they had charged him with a serious assault on one of the men. 

I was also interested in why it took so long for the story to break and whether that had anything to do with the controversy over the lenient sentencing of Nicholas Delegat for a serious assault on a female police officer. 

Delegat's legal team fought hard for over a year to retain name suppression and for a discharge without conviction to safeguard his future career prospects. The judge lifted name suppression and convicted him but handed down a very lenient sentence of community service.  If Delegat had not had money and influence behind him, he may well have been sent to prison. If he is remorseful, if his violence was fuelled by alcohol and he is taking steps to deal with that - then the decision not to send him to prison was a good one.

Losi Filipo would have avoided prison because of his youth and previous good character but it was his connection to professional rugby that led to the unusual discharge without conviction. New Zealand justice is not usually so benign when it comes to dealing with young men of colour who commit crimes of violence.

In Christchurch in 2007, a young Samoan man, Lipine Sila, drove a car away from a racially charged incident at a party and ran into a group of party goers crossing a road. He hit several of them, killing two 16 year old girls, Hannah Rossiter and Jane Young,  and badly injuring several others. He drove off and was arrested later at his home. 

The police did not accept his explanation that he had been frightened for his life and had panicked. They alleged there had been an 'element of intentionality' in his actions - i.e. that he had either driven into the crowd deliberately or he had not tried to avoid them.

He was charged with two counts of murder and eight counts of GBH.  So seriously did the police take the threats to Sila's life from enraged members of the public, he had to be remanded in custody for his own protection.  Threats were made to storm the court if the 'right' verdict - i.e. guilty of murder - was not returned.  The coverage of the prosecution case in The Press initially was so lurid, the Judge told the paper to tone it down.

Sila was said to 'swagger'; it was said he did not look like he was sorry because he smiled and waved to his family in the court; he was said to speak sullenly and monosyllabically.

There was no thought that the 'swagger' might have been an attempt at bravado in the face of so much hatred and antagonism; there was no understanding of his need to acknowledge the only friendly faces he could see in the court, and there was no account taken of the fact that he did not speak good English and found it hard to articulate his feelings.

He was subjected to a tidal wave of antagonism orchestrated by some highly vocal members of the public.  Ironically, both he and the girls who were killed were newcomers to Canterbury; he was from Samoa; they were from England and the USA respectively. What made his crime so rage-inducing for some people was that he was a poor, inarticulate brown-skinned man who had ended the promising lives of two young daughters of middle-class white people. 

It was just not possible to ignore the racial dimensions in that case any more than it was possible to ignore the tragedy of two young lives lost.  The way the original party was advertised which led to Sila's younger brother going to it and getting into a fight; the actions of the aggressive white 'security' men who attacked Sila; the racial undercurrents in this city which burst out that night and again in the subsequent threats to Sila's life, and which were manifested in the way the trial was covered in The Press.

Sila was sentenced to life with a minimum non-parole period of 17 years, less than the 20 years the prosecution had called for. There was an outcry about the sentence being too lenient and after the trial Harry Young, Jane's father, called him a 'thug' and 'scum'  whose punishment should have been 'a violent death'.

When I asked Sila's barrister why a change of venue had not been sought given the hostile attitudes towards his client in Canterbury, at first he couldn't remember whether they had applied for it, then said they had decided Sila would face as much antipathy wherever he was tried. 

It is interesting that, 20 years earlier, another racially charged case - that of Peter Holdem - was relocated to Dunedin because a fair trial could not be guaranteed in Christchurch.  Such was the antagonism towards Holdem, who is Mâori, a petition had been circulated prior to the trial calling for reinstatement of the death penalty so he could be executed. 

Different times and different crimes obviously but it's interesting that Sila's notoriety was more widespread than that of a paedophile and child killer.  For that we can thank social media.

I have absolutely no doubt that, had Lipine Sila been white and the son of people of affluence and influence, had he been fleeing a gang of aggressively angry brown men one of whom had hit him on the head with a bottle, and had his victims been brown kids, he'd have been charged with manslaughter.   If he had been charged with murder I don't doubt that a Christchurch jury would have found him guilty of a lesser charge.

I think this because of the many examples of obvious racial and class bias to be seen in the NZ criminal justice system.  It is so manifestly and consistently biassed against people of colour and poor people that my first reaction when I read the Losi Filipo story was to question it. 

Here's another tale of two young men who each killed someone.  The circumstances in both cases indicate that neither set out to kill but it may be fair to say that each behaved with reckless disregard for the probable outcomes of their actions. 

In 2002, 17-year-old Sharne Paul Van der Wielen, who is white, drove his turbo charged car at speeds up to 200 kph in suburban streets in Christchurch. Doing an estimated 180kph, he hit and killed a young Chinese student, XiaoXi Gao who was the only child of a judge.   He drove off, conspired with two friends to lie to the police and made racist statements about Asians when arrested. 

He was charged with, and pleaded guilty to manslaughter presumably because the police doubted they would get a conviction for murder given his age, ethnicity, family background, lack of previous convictions and the 'get out of jail free' card that the law and the public can deal when someone commits vehicular homicide. (1)

A year earlier, 15-year-old Alexander Peihopa, who is Mãori hit Michael Choy on the head with a baseball bat in the course of a robbery planned and committed by a gang of kids, the youngest of whom was 12.  Tragically, Choy was not found until several hours later and died of his injuries.  It was obvious the youngsters had not meant to kill Choy as they took him back to his car and left him there, but police contended that Peihopa had recklessly disregarded the probable consequences of his actions and, because of his background and the enormous amount of publicity around the case, the police knew they would probably get a murder conviction.

In his client's defence, Van der Wielen's lawyer said that 17-year-olds typically lack judgement and behave stupidly when behind the wheel of a car. This viewpoint was not shared by the judge who stated at sentencing that Van der Wielen had used his car as 'a lethal weapon' and the manner of his driving and his failure to stop could 'hardly have been more culpable'.  However, the judge still opted for the relatively lenient sentence of 5 years and suspension of license for 7.  

I don't know how much of his sentence Van der Wielen served as neither the media nor the law and order brigade are interested in him. Unlike Michael Choy, XiaoXi Gao's name has not been etched into the public consciousness.

The possibility that a 15-year-old, exposed to violent television and video games might not understand the probable consequences of hitting someone on the head with a baseball bat was rejected by the police, and Peihopa was charged with murder. The jury also rejected that plea of mitigation and, despite having already pleaded guilty to manslaughter and aggravated robbery, he was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. He was paroled in 2012 having served almost 10 years. 

These are both fairly typical of the general pattern of NZ justice. There is a definite bias towards poor and / or people of colour being arrested and charged more often, being charged with more serious offences, being found guilty more often and receiving harsher sentences.

Losi Filipo was lucky to have people of influence behind him and to be sentenced by a judge who seemed to be of the opinion that the law should not unnecessarily blight young lives. 

I guess it all comes down to what you see the purpose of the law being -  retributive or restorative and rehabilitative. 

if the logic behind the push to appeal Filipo's DWC is that he ended a rugby career (and put a modelling and singing career in jeopardy) so his career ought to be similarly blighted, then that is retributive and it's a small step away from the notion of an eye for an eye. 

Monday, 3 October 2016

Some thoughts on New Zealand justice : Part 1

The following two part post was written over the course of a week or so. Family commitments interrupted me and I decided to leave it in the form of a diary. Part 1 follows the story as it unfolds; and Part 2 looks at some other examples of the workings of NZ justice and how the media report on and react to it.

September 26th 2016 

Nicholas Delegat is a 19-year-old from an extremely wealthy family who was charged originally with aggravated assault of a female police officer, assault of a security guard, wilful damage and resisting arrest. He eventually pleaded guilty to assaulting a police officer in the execution of her duty, plus the other two charges. His legal team fought for months for name suppression and for a discharge without conviction.  

He was convicted and sentenced to community service and name suppression was lifted.  The case caused a great outcry because it seemed such an obvious exercise of wealth and privilege. 

The brouhaha about the lenient sentence has died down fairly quickly due mainly to the fact that it has been overtaken by an even more controversial sentencing decision.This time it's not a wine dynasty which has sought to influence the courts, it's the world of rugby - a wealthy and powerful surrogate family. 

The breaking of the Losi Filipo story is a serendipitous bit of timing for the Delegat family as it has had the effect of pushing Delegat Junior's story out of the headlines and off the social media radar. 

Losi Filipo is a 17-year-old who has a talent for playing the country's favourite game.  Presumably because he is seen as a future star, NZ rugby spread its blazers over him to protect him from what would be the usual consequences of his actions were he just any working class kid from Porirua. He pleaded guilty to four charges of assault and on August 16th the judge discharged him without conviction so as not to interfere with his promising sporting career.

In talking about this case I'm expected to make the standard obeisance to law and order - to condemn not just what Filipo did but also to condemn him and the rugby / booze culture that is presumed to have led to him acting as he did.

But the fact is that, as of today I do not know exactly what he did or why he did it.   All I know is what is in the public arena and at the moment that is dominated by a somewhat tabloidesque story on TV3's Newshub which focuses on Filipo's victims - especially on two young women who say that their lives and careers have been blighted by a brutal and unprovoked attack.

As well as punching the women in the jaw and the throat respectively, Filipo is said to have stomped several times on the head of one of the men who was lying unconscious on the ground.  

If a large, powerful man punches women in the head region, knocks a man unconscious and stomps on his head - those actions are serious enough to warrant the charges of injuring with reckless disregard and assault with intent to injure. The most serious of the charges carries a maximum penalty of 7 years

Filipo is very unusual in that, as a young man of colour, the system has treated him very leniently - it might be said it treated him with common sense and humanity.  The acceptance that his stated remorse was genuine, the fact of his youth (he was 16 at the time of the offence), the understanding that a conviction would ruin his career and that incarceration might well put him on the path to an entrenched criminality  - these are not ways that the criminal justice system typically treats young men of colour who are charged with crimes of violence.  

I see no reason not to discharge without conviction where there is a compelling case for it. I want to see the sensible prosecution and sentencing of young people of previous good character but the reality is that this does not usually happen to anyone other than those who have people of considerable power and influence on their side.  

The fact that Filipo, because he is good at rugby, was lucky enough to have such people on his side is not in itself a bad thing; the bad thing is that so many do not. 

September 27th

Filipo has terminated his contract voluntarily. A Stuff headline announced that he and Wellington Rugby have been 'judged in the court of public opinion'.  The views of the public I have read on social media range from racists bellowing for him to be deported, to justifiable concern about this being another example of the all too prevalent violence in this country.

September 28th

That arbiter of good taste and moral probity Paul Henry has weighed in on the debate and NZ Rugby has apologised to the victims and their families. I suppose it is better late than never but what are they apologising for?  For the fact that Filipo is a rugby player? For having used their influence to effect a discharge without conviction? For presiding over a culture in which these sort of incidents are all too common place? Or all of the above?

September 29th

In response to the hue and cry in mainstream and social media, the Solicitor General has recommended that the judge's decision be reviewed.  The victims and their families are said to be 'blown away' by this development.

Anonymous law experts are claiming the decision has nothing whatsoever to do with the outcry in social media.  Yeah right.

John Kirwan has apologised on behalf of all rugby. 

September 30th 

A man who tried to organise a protest against Filipo's contract with the Wellington Lions but  was upstaged by Filipo's decision to terminate it himself, got his moment in the media spotlight by revealing that he had been threatened on Facebook.

Also on Facebook, Eliota Fulmaono-Sapolu posted edited highlights of the judge's ruling and claimed that  the media coverage has been slanted and exaggerated to sensationalise the case at the expense of Filipo and his family. He has a point. 

October 1st

Some of the obvious questions - was this an unprovoked attack and how severe it was - have been answered with the release of official documents. According to the judgement, the gravity of the offending is 'unquestionable and inescapable'. It was a case of 'fairly serious' street violence.  Filipo's attack on one of the men involved punching and stomping which rendered the man unconscious. The charge for this was injuring with reckless disregard. The two charges of male assaults female were  'more in the nature of pushing and shoving'. The victims indicated that the offending had a serious effect on them. 

There are questions that remain unanswered.  Why wasn't Fliipo tried in the Youth Court? If the male assaults female charges were in the nature of 'pushing and shoving', why did Newshub report them as a punch to the jaw and throat severe enough to require plastic surgery on one and threaten the singing career of the other?  Was the judge wrong about the nature of the offence? Were the victims talking up their injuries and how they were caused for their own reasons? Or did Newshub whip it up for their own reasons? Why did it take so long for the case to be publicised? Who approached who - i.e. did the victims approach TV3 with it or the other way round? 

I think the judge was right to say that imprisonment was not warranted. Having made that decision he then needed to consider the effects on Filipo of a conviction. In deciding to discharge without conviction he was influenced by several factors including Filipo's youth, his remorse, preparedness to pay reparations and enter restorative justice (refused by his victims)  and his previous good character. 

So - as critical as I am of the world of rugby and of the whole toxic locker room culture - I see Filipo as one who got away.  Or, as things now stand, as one who got away only to be recaptured and publicly flogged - thanks in no small measure to a social media primed and fired by Newshub.  

Whatever the stuff that went on behind the scenes, if Filipo was genuinely remorseful; if this incident had made him a better, more mature and more controlled person, then surely that is all to the good. Let's see more humane and sensible sentencing.  I want to see the CJS behaved with kindness and leniency when it deals with ALL young first time offenders. I'd rather it considered what terrible harm all forms of prison WILL do to most young people and how convictions at critical stages can devastate lives.   If that means sometimes some people get away too lightly, then that's far better than people typically being treated too harshly. 

Sunday, 2 October 2016

The many facets of abuse

How the public and / or the various agents of the state respond to the abuse of women is tempered by many things. The social standing, age, ethnicity, attractiveness of both the victim and the accused will often come into play.  

It's not so long ago in NZ that an outcry about a stripper being badly treated by sporting icons would have been - well, improbable - unless there was a reason why the state, the media or the public wanted to target particular sporting icons. 

The myriad of statements that were made about the ill-treatment of a woman at a rugby team's end of season party were very welcome as anything which exposes and weakens locker room culture is a good thing.  

But people might like to take a moment to ponder how to square all that condemnation with the way that David Cunliffe was mocked and vilified by opposition politicians and influential media commentators for his statement in support of abused women in the build up to the last election. 

Many of those who have been puffing themselves up with self righteousness are hypocrites, and hypocrisy - when mixed with political opportunism - becomes an especially odious thing.

The mockery of Cunliffe for expressing solidarity with abused women has its roots in, and appeals to the same macho, 'laddish' culture that led a group of young, intoxicated sportsmen to act abusively towards a woman who they had employed and who was on her own with them. The sexual element aside, when a group of physically powerful young men gang up on a solo woman, it is an especially unpleasant act of bullying. The noxious culture that gave rise to the aggressive and predatory behaviour of some of the players, also resulted in a lack of empathy or a lack of courage on the part of those who were not involved but who failed to intervene to stop the abuse and to protect the woman.  

It's good that rugby is not being let off the hook but I wish there was as consistent and as loud an outcry from the great and the good about the daily abuses of women in our society. 

I am reminded of a case which involved a woman who lived in terror of and in thrall to a violent and controlling man. He beat her 7-year-old child so badly the boy died from his injuries eight days later.  The woman was charged with failing to provide the necessities of life for not getting medical help for her son. She said she did not do because she had not realised how bad his injuries were and her violent partner had threatened to kill both her and her child if she called a doctor.

She was advised to plead guilty and to throw herself on the mercy of the court. That proved to be bad advice.  She had been bailed to live with family in the North Island and as a result was sentenced in Auckland where the judge sentenced her to 3 years in prison. 

In passing sentence the judge acknowledged that she loved her son and was 'oppressed by her abusive partner, however, whilst he had been at work, her 'good sense should have asserted itself.' He went on to say that he hoped the sentence would act as a 'deterrent' to other women who might be tempted to fail their children in similar ways.  

I don't recall any outrage about the way that woman had been treated - first by her violently abusive partner and then by those who decided to charge her with a crime, by the legal aid lawyer who advised her to plead guilty to that crime, and by the judge - who did not just incarcerate her for three years but who decided to use her as a soap box from which to declare his support for children's rights. 

She served a year in prison and the last I heard of her she was still so stricken with guilt and grief she had contemplated suicide. 

She is powerless - poorly educated, working class and Mãori. The judge is powerful - male, educated, affluent and white. 

He is to be commended for his stance on children's rights but is to be roundly criticised for his complete lack of understanding of the dynamics of a violently abusive relationship. It is well known that victims of domestic violence can be controlled by their abuser even at a distance; that physical and emotional abuse can paralyse a person and reduce their ability to act independently.  

Yes, the child's mother should have sought help; she should have known how badly injured her son was; she should have put him before her own safety, she should have trusted the authorities to protect her and him from her abuser.....'should have ' is all too easy to say from a comfortable distance. 

When a tired and over-worked doctor left her toddler locked in her car because she'd forgotten she had him with her and the child died of hypothermia - it was seen as a tragic accident in which the woman was in need of sympathy and support. 

The cases are not the same obviously but the possibility that a tired, harassed, preoccupied mother could make a terrible mistake that she will live with all her life was - quite properly - accepted by the police and the public.  

The possibility that a physically beaten and psychologically abused woman could be so in terror of her abuser that she was rendered incapable of independent action, was not. 

And now onto the vexed question of Losi Filipo ......

Monday, 11 July 2016

On Brexit

Short attention span warning :  this is a long post and will take several minutes to read.

A meme popped up on my Facebook page just after the Brexit result was announced. It was described by the poster as the ‘most intellectual and eloquent piece about Brexit’ he had read. I hope he's gone on to read more widely since.

The writer of the snippet claimed it was the ‘working classes’ who voted for the UK to leave and that is sad as they will be worst hit by the fallout because they have 'exchanged one distant and unreachable elite whose governance results in a dearth of jobs and investment for another’.

Given the lament was about the tragedy' of Britain leaving the EU – it could be interpreted that the distant and unreachable elite they rejected was the European parliament and the EU’s vast bureaucracy but I assume the writer was referring to the Johnson / Farage / Gove cabal versus the Cameron cabal.

The writer did not even admit the possibility of Britain voting in a progressive government after leaving the EU i.e. getting rid of all distant and unreachable elites whose governance results in a dearth of jobs and investment.  After all, the UK does not need the EU to protect workers rights, it just needs to vote in a government that will stand up to the bosses and the banks. It does not need the EU to pass laws that safeguard the environment or protect the rights of women and minorities - it just needs to vote in a government that will do those things. 

Of course whether it would be permitted to do so by the political and financial forces that would be arrayed against any move to a more progressive and rational system of governance and production - forces which include the EU as it is currently structured  -  is another question. 

The writer also lamented the fate of a generation of young people who are ‘drowning in the debts of (their) predecessors’.  To stick with the aquatic theme, whilst there is a large cohort of young people who are drowning because they’re in deep water and no-one taught them to swim, quite a few of those who claim to be to be drowning because they can’t get on the property ladder as easily as their parents or grandparents did, will inherit the assets those forebears acquired during their working lives.  

Far from drowning, quite a few of the younger generation in Britain and here in NZ - and I suspect a large proportion of those who are waving most frantically - are actually just standing in knee deep water and are wearing life jackets. 

I do agree with the writer of the snippet - anti-intellectualism is scary but so’s a culture of pseudo intellectual headupbuttism. If you want to pontificate about the leave vote being the outcome of Britain having become a post factual democracy characterised by a prevailing culture of anti-intellectualism - then less of the glib ascription of a whole generation economic advantage / disadvantage please. However superficially attractive generational labels are, not all older people own their own homes and have property or share portfolios to buffer their retirement. 

                                                    *  *  *  *  *   *  *  *  *

I lived in Britain through the notorious 'winter of discontent.' I watched British squaddies with their green goddesses fight a house fire next door to mine during the 1977 firefighters' strike. I  watched the country lurch to the right and elect Thatcher.  I watched in horror as sections of the British public slid into xenophobic blood lust during the Falklands debacle.  I remember joking with friends when the Tories started to sell off state owned assets, that the next thing would be they'd privatise water.  The joke was on us. Little did we know what the neo-liberals had in mind for us. The 1984 Miners' strike and Wapping brought that into sharper relief. 

I was politically active enough to have my application for British citizenship denied in 1984 (auspicious or what?) despite being married to a British citizen and being a law abiding, employed, tax paying person in my own right. When I applied to find out the reasons why, I was told they were to be kept secret 'in the interests of state security'.  I must point out that this was way more a measure of the depths of the Thatcher regime's anti-left paranoia than of my political significance.

When Tony Blair led the Labour Party to victory in 1996 there was such relief at the end of the loathed Tory rule, even those of us who had watched his smooth and rapid rise with some disquiet, were happy.  It did not take long for reality to kick in. Blair was Thatcher revisited - without the crazy megalomaniac eyes. They came later. Blair was to be the good cop to Thatcher's mad, bad cop to disguise the fact that the neo-libs were still in charge. The underlying agenda was the same, but there was a smooth icing on the top making it look superficially more attractive.

And there was Europe - with its requirements to widen legislation against discrimination, to ensure equal treatment, to limit maximum working hours and grant paid annual leave, to enact health and safety legislation in workplaces (albeit making much of it workers' responsibility) and to extend limited employment rights to part-time and temporary workers.  

The European Courts had provided a safety net in the vertigo-inducing days of rampant Thatcherism. The threat of taking unfair treatment claims to the European courts went some way to keeping racists and unscrupulous, exploitative employers in line and allowed workers in more progressive areas of employment to protect pay and conditions of service and sometimes even improve them. 

It seemed like a beacon of fairness and decency and international cooperation. 

The move towards the European Union as being openly an arm of global corporate capitalism has been steady and undeniable but for some people, the essentially pro big business, anti trade union and anti democratic nature of the EU is still obscured by its rhetoric and its stand on certain aspects of human rights. 

There are four essential 'freedoms' enshrined in the EU Treaty: the freedom of the movement of capital and of labour; and the freedom for businesses in one EU country to operate in, and to provide services to, any of the member states.  

Removing restrictions on the movement of capital was the first shot fired by the Thatcher regime. It signalled the neo-libs' intent.  The free movement of labour principle seems like a progressive idea and it does work to the benefit of certain workers - mostly it must be said, people who don't see themselves as workers.  It has also been the means by which some workers can be exploited as cheap labour and the use of that cheap labour has allowed employers to push down wages and conditions and undermine collective bargaining. 

Although the right to collective bargaining is protected as a fundamental right within the EU, the right of an employer to run a business invariably takes precedence over workers' rights to contractual benefits that have been gained through collective bargaining. Time after time the EU has come down in favour of employers and against workers in the area of trade union agreements.  

The role of the EU as a facilitator for corporate capitalism has been thrown into starker relief by secretive free trade agreements which aim to reduce regulatory barriers for big business in areas such as banking regulations, the environment and food safety. The daddy of all free trade agreements is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the twin brother of the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement  (TPPA).

The negotiations exclude most of the people they will affect but open the doors to powerful industry lobbyists. The TTIP and TPPA have the potential to undermine the democratic authority of governments.The essentially undemocratic nature of the negotiations signals a dangerous erosion of fundamental rights and freedoms.  

The argument for the likes of the TTIP is that the current social and financial system which runs the world is robust, rational and well ordered.  It has declared itself to be the most efficient, effective, economic and, by virtue of being global, the most equitable way that governance and trade can be arranged. 

But when Britain, a country which has always kept one foot out of the EU by virtue of keeping a separate currency, voted to opt out of the EU,  the global markets went into immediate meltdown.  Billions were wiped off the stock market; the pound slumped and the pundits all predicted a world shaking recession.  

Why?  Why would a system that claims to be the most robust, rational, efficient, economic and effective possible go pear shaped so instantly and so massively because of a non-binding democratic referendum?

The answer may be that within the deep structural fissures of the capitalist finance system there are myriad opportunities for people to make vast profits when the markets are volatile.  After having created a period of hysteria during which some people make a lot of money and others get a kicking - miraculously the markets restabilise.

Not only do some people get to make a load of money but the fear and uncertainty that is unleashed drives many people towards authoritarian governance.  They turn to those who have proclaimed themselves to be fiscally responsible - in contrast to the spendthrifts who want to waste money on social housing, free healthcare and education instead of on armaments, massive salaries and bonuses for the technocrats and tax cuts and open slather for the corporatocracy.

We all know that the trickle down of benefits to the base promised by the propagandists for global corporate capitalism, is all smoke and mirrors.  It's an illusion which serves to obscure the flow down of detriments which, in a crisis, can gather so much force it destroys whole swathes of the poorest and the most vulnerable - sometimes even affecting those who are relatively privileged.  

Relatively privileged people like the woman who wrote angrily about Brexit because she will not be able 'to buy the house in the sun' she planned for her retirement; because the value of her house has dropped, her food will cost more, and her son will not be able to live and work freely in any one of 28 countries. 

There's a lot of bemoaning the loss of employment and other rights for the younger generation of Britons. What's actually meant are the reduction of opportunities for the educationally and socially advantaged to sell their labour in the small number of the 28 European economies that have the sort of jobs such people want.  The fact that most of the EU countries are exporting labour, not importing it, is ignored.

The people doing the loudest moaning mostly avert their privileged gaze away from the flood of impoverished people imported into the EU's powerful economies to work for low wages and in poor conditions - the fruit and vegetable pickers, the labourers on construction sites, the sex workers, the industrial and the domestic cleaners, the shelf packers - the literal and the figurative shit shovelers

The world outside the bubbles of relative privilege is heaving with people who are living at or below subsistence. There are millions of EU citizens whose life choices are circumscribed by massive structural inequalities that have resulted in poor education and health, inadequate or non-existent housing, unemployment or underemployment, and disproportionate rates of incarceration. These are people for whom travel, the wider range of foods, the cheap wine, the holidays and the second homes - are not just unattainable but are like salt in many deep wounds.

It's as if the rainbows on the surface of the bubbles of privilege have obscured the ugly reality of the world outside because how else could the privileged not have noticed how awful it actually is for a very large proportion of their fellow Britons and their fellow Europeans – not to mention the rest of the world’s poor and oppressed?  

And how could they not have noticed there was a large and vicious racist underbelly about to pop out of the nation's trousers? 

On Facebook someone posted a pictorial representation of the results of Brexit:  a photo of a table on which there were a load of 'European' goods grouped in one corner - cheese, wine, danish pastry etc - and on the other side of the table, a tin of baked beans.  I thought it was funny until I stopped to consider the number of people for whom a tin of baked beans may well be representative of the sorts of food they can afford to buy. 

Choice is meaningless without the means of exercising it.

The self-proclaimed spokespeople of the 48% who voted to remain depict the 52% who voted to leave, as provincial, stupid, parochial, racist, beer swilling, baked bean eating,  xenophobes. They see themselves as sophisticated, cosmopolitan, well informed, progressive internationalists - veritable guardians of the enlightenment.

What those caricatures obscure is that among the 52%, along with rabid and not so rabid right wingers, were people of colour, principled left wingers and decent working class people who are deeply disillusioned by the whole political system.  And in the 48% were the likes of David Cameron and his cabal,  the entire Blairite faction of the Labour Party and other people who did not and still don't give a toss about the impoverished peoples of their own country or the rest of Europe.  

The vicious lies of the Brexit campaign derailed the debate and obscured the fact that the EU is no longer a progressive entity.  In the context of the referendum, to question the EU, to argue the case for leaving was to stand alongside a bunch of racists and xenophobes.  

However disgusting many in the leave camp are, the fact remains that the EU has shown that it is prepared to interfere in, and override democratic decisions of member states; that it is as anti-nationalisation as it is pro-austerity, and that it will collude in the undermining of workers' rights by making loans conditional upon labour market 'reforms' which invariably strengthen capital at the expense of labour.

Where the EU once passed laws that protected workers' rights,  it now requires a free movement of labour which permits the hyper-exploitation of workers by hand inside the richer economies, and strips the poorer economies of many of its skilled workers by hand and by brain.  It spouts rhetoric that appears to be internationalist and progressive but in truth is little more than a pleasant flavoured froth on top of a toxic brew of neo-liberalism.  The dulcet tones of the EU’s human rights rhetoric do not drown out the sound of NATO's sabres being rattled on Europe's eastern borders – leastways not to those of us who have good hearing.

When it comes to the EU I see austerity measures that hit poor people hardest. I see collusion with the IMF's economic blackmail and NATO's war mongering. I see interference in democratic processes in member states. I see a coating of apparently progressive laws that serve to obscure a primary role of ensuring the smooth functioning of global markets  that are controlled by and for global elites.

I do not see the EU as a force for good, for progress, for internationalism any more than I see the likes of Johnson, Gove and Farage, Cameron and the Blairite faction of the British Labour Party as having the back of the working class  - unless it's to stand on. 

I have spent my entire adult life standing up against racism in all its ugly forms. I would have struggled to vote leave because of some of the people I'd have been voting with and what their rhetoric risked unleashing. I'd have been equally appalled at voting to remain because of some of the people who I'd be voting with and what they have already unleashed on the world and what they are planning for the future. 

To typify the leave voters as racist, gullible, parochial idiots and the stay voters as disinterested, well informed guardians of a united Europe and all things progressive and good reduces a complex situation to a crude caricature.  It’s as crude a caricature in its own way as those painted by the right-wingers who, to further their own political ambitions, tapped into a wellspring of racism and xenophobia - a wellspring they have been party to creating.

The people behind the inflammatory and ugly anti-immigration propaganda of the leave campaign loosed a pack of attack dogs that the ruling elites in Britain and Europe have bred and fed.  The pack comprises not just white power pudding-heads, but the cynical and vicious rabble rousers in the media and reactionary forces within the various arms of the state.  

The dogs were intended to intimidate and divert political opponents and to terrify the vulnerable but what those who hold the leashes always forget is that, having tasted blood, the dogs may not come back to heel.