Tuesday, 31 March 2015

New TPPA Investment Leak Confirms NZ Surrender to US

 Press Release: Professor Jane Kelsey              26 March 2015

The controversial investment chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) has just been posted by
Wikileaks, along with an analysis by Washington-based Public Citizen. Dated 20 January 2015, at the start of the negotiating round in New York, it clearly shows the governments has capitulated to US demands.

‘We haven’t seen a text since 2012’, said Auckland University law professor Jane Kelsey. ‘Today’s leaked text confirms all our worst fears.’

‘As anticipated, the deal gives foreign investors from the TPPA countries special rights, and the power to sue the government in private offshore tribunals for massive damages if new laws, or even court decisions, significantly affected their bottom line’.

‘Prime Minister John Key once described the idea of investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) as “

 ‘After he was briefed about the TPPA he changed tack,
promising there would be effective safeguards. But the leaked text shows very little has not been agreed. That means the New Zealand government has accepted virtually everything the US has proposed with absolutely no effective safeguards.’

Professor Kelsey recalls how ‘we were assured the flaws that have made these investment agreements so toxic internationally would be sorted and new rules would prevent the investment tribunals going rogue.’

‘The leaked text shows nothing has been done to rein them in. There is no code of conduct, no appeals, no accountability of the private individuals who pass judgement on crucial matters of public policy, and no effective exceptions to protect the right of the government to regulate in the national interest’.

There are high risks for local governments as well.

‘Just last week, as protestors rallied against an extension of the port into the Auckland harbour, an investment tribunal upheld a case against Canada because an environment review panel refused to grant a US firm a permit for a quarry and marine terminal, saying it violated community values and there was inadequate consultation. The investor wants $300 million compensation. The local council is likely to be made to pay the bill.’

The dissenting judge, who was the Canadian government’s appointee on the tribunal, warned this meant the validity of local decisions would end being decided by foreign private arbitrators. The finding would also chill environmental review panels from rejecting proposals in the future.

Kelsey said the virtually concluded text shows the TPPA parties have completely ignored the tide of international sentiment that is rejecting these special rights for foreign investors. The French and German governments have said they won’t accept ISDS in the parallel deal being negotiated between the US and EU.

Last year the chief justices of Australia and New Zealand expressed concerns about the potential of these investment tribunals to bypass or override decisions of our domestic courts.

Even Business New Zealand told the OECD during a consultation that they don't see the need for such powers where countries have quality judicial systems. ‘We need to ask why the government is opening us further to these risks, especially when US investors are responsible for more ISDS cases than any other country.’

‘The leak also shows the futility of the few positive changes secured in the investment chapters of the latest Korea agreement. Anything better in the TPPA would be available to Korea’s investors under the most-favoured nation rule. It beggars belief that New Zealand’s negotiators weren’t aware of that reality. Maybe they are just hoping the TPPA well never come into being?’

For Professor Kelsey’s
initial analysis of the investment chapter in the Korea FTA and the leaked TPPA text see:http://www.itsourfuture.org.nz/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/QA-on-NZ-Korea-FTA.pdf 

Anglican bishops' letter urging fossil fuel divestment

Karl Mathiesen                  Guardian/UK                     31 March 2015

 Seventeen bishops and archbishops tell Anglican church investments in fossil fuel companies incompatible with a just and sustainable future .The bishops represent the
Anglican Communion Environmental Network, a body that promotes environmental concerns within the 85 million-strong Anglican communion.

A spokeswoman for the church’s commissioners said: “We are committed to completing the review of our climate change policy before the General Synod in July. “We believe there are many ways of practicing ethical investment including active engagement with companies and policy makers, as demonstrated in our activist resolutions to Shell and BP to be debated at their forthcoming AGMs.”

The World Council of Churches, of which the Church of England is a member, has already
ruled out new fossil fuel investments and former Anglican archbishop Desmond Tutu has called for a divestment campaign on fossil fuels to mirror the anti-apartheid movement. “People of conscience need to break their ties with corporations financing the injustice of climate change,” he said.

The Guardian’s Keep it in the ground campaign has called for large philanthropic institutions to divest, highlighting the incongruity of working to fund major development and health research projects while funding companies that are exploring for new sources of carbon. Scientists estimate that more than two thirds of known fossil fuel reserves cannot be burned without exceeding the threshold for dangerous climate change impacts.

The man who has Tutu’s former job as Archbishop of Cape Town, the Most Reverend Dr Thabo Makgoba, hosted the group in February in South Africa. He said the group accepted the science of climate change and identified climate action as a spiritual imperative for all Anglicans.

“The problem is spiritual as well as economic, scientific and political. We have been complicit in a theology of domination. While God committed the care of creation to us, we have been careless – but not hopeless,” he said. “In the words of St Theresa of Avila, we are God’s hands and feet on earth – now is the time for us, rooted in prayer, to step up and take action on the climate crisis.”

The declaration also calls on churches to take a variety of other actions to combat climate change including adopting energy saving measures and encouraging biodiversity on church property. They also want to see more climate change education done by churches and for members to undertake a day of fasting for climate justice on the first day of each month.
Africa’s first woman bishop, the Right Reverend Ellinah Wamukoya, also a member of the ACEN, said the fact the burden of climate change would fall disproportionately on the world’s women was morally insupportable. “Women are more often dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods, so the contribution of women is essential in decisions around climate change. Our communities must be equal, as in the Eucharist,” she said.

Other Christian denominations have already voted to shed their fossil fuel assets. The United Methodists have committed to dump coal. The Unitarians and United Church of Christ are also reportedly divesting. [Abbrev.]


Britain mourns a monster – because he was a king.

 Polly Toynbee                     Guardian/UK                      26 March 2015

 He may have been a child-murdering tyrant, but he was a king. So, in a nation where we still think like subjects, not citizens, thousands came to humble themselves before his 500-year-old bones

Pinch yourself, very hard. This must be anti-royalist satire? No, we’re wide awake as the nation mourns its most reviled monster of a king. Never was adulation of monarchy taken to such transcendently absurd heights.

Richard III has been buried with pomp in Leicester cathedral by the archbishop of Canterbury, with the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester and a black-clad Countess of Wessex as next of kin. Another relative, Benedict Cumberbatch, read a poem by the poet laureate. The Queen’s Division and Royal Signals bands saluted the fallen king. York has its own “commemoration” tonight. As they say, you couldn’t make it up.

It’s comical, but tragic too, as a reminder of the indignity the British accept in their accustomed role as subjects, not citizens. Here are church, royalty and army revering a child-killing, wife-slaughtering tyrant who would be on trial if he weren’t 500 years dead. This is the madness of monarchy, where these bones are honoured for their divine royalty, whether by accident of birth or by brutal seizure of the crown. Richard, whose death ended the tribal Wars of the Roses, is a good symbol of the “bloodline” fantasy. Our island story is one of royal usurpage and regicide, with imported French, Dutch and German monarchs who didn’t speak English. The puzzle is that this fantasy of anointed genes persists, even unto Kate’s unborn babe.

I can see the dilemma: you can’t put even a bad king’s bones on show in a museum when preservation of the idea of monarchy requires holy respect. It matters not that so many have been villains or half-wits. The one benefit of a supremely privileged family is to prove, once and for all, that talent and brains are randomly assigned. Forget a super-race, this royal selective breeding with the very best education and top university tutors has produced the least intellectually curious, least artistic, dullest bunch of polo-playing, hunting, shooting, fishing dullards you could hope not to meet. But then their adherents praise their very “ordinariness” as a quality.

Richard in a Leicester car park was a delight. So was the tourist-bait tussle between York and Leicester as last resting place. That 20,000 watched the cortege today is no surprise – what a spectacle, what an event. But the BBC reported tears and the dean of Leicester, the very reverend David Monteith, called the ceremony an “extraordinary, moving thing”. What? The bishop of Leicester said people stood, “humble and reverent”.

Humble – that’s the word. We are all humbled by monarchy, even by a long-dead despot. Royalty forever drags us back to a feudal state of mind from which we have never quite escaped, a fairyland where people know their place. Royal prerogative is an absolute power that is now grafted on to over-mighty prime ministerial authority. Soon
we shall see Prince Charles’s interferences with government. After 10 years of freedom of information legal action by the Guardian, the supreme court at last says we can see his letters – perforce, of course, redacted – but they will arrive before the election.

Royalty costs some £299m according to the
Republic campaign, counting all costs. But though they’re richer than Croesus with their Duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall and their biscuits, it’s less the money than their grip on public imagination that does the damage. Acceptance, even admiration of their phenomenal riches weakens instinctive indignation against the galloping greed of our swelling kleptocracy. Where’s the outrage at bankers and FTSE 100 CEOs with their 27% pay rise while most people’s incomes fell back? Shielded in a culture that celebrates, or at least tolerates, its head of state’s unearned wealth.

Richard may or may not have been the witty ogre of Shakespeare’s imagining, but that was irrelevant to today’s obsequies. The bishop intoned: “Today we come to give this king and these mortal remains the dignity and honour denied to them in death.” Never mind the nature of the man, kingship itself commands respect, however ill-gotten the crown.


Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Netanyahu sank into the moral gutter – and there will be consequences

Jonathan Freedland                    Guardian/UK                     20 March 2015

Israel’s prime minister won re-election with a combination of belligerence and bigotry. His opposition to a Palestinian state is a stance the world should not accept. The result was not the worst of it. No, what made Binyamin Netanyahu’s emphatic win so dispiriting were the depths he plumbed to secure victory.

The enemy against whom Netanyahu was seeking to rally his people was not Islamic State or foreign armies, or even the Palestinians of the West Bank. He was speaking of the 20% of the Israeli electorate that is Palestinian: Arabs who were born in, live in and are citizens of Israel. A prime minister was describing the democratic participation of one-fifth of the country he governs in the language of a military assault to be beaten back. 

Imagine if a US president broadcast such a message, warning the white electorate that black voters were heading to the polls in “large numbers”. Or if a European prime minister said: “Quick, the Jews are voting!” This is the moral gutter into which Netanyahu plunged just to get elected.

It worked. The result is despair –
in liberal Tel Aviv, where Bibi’s Labor challenger, Isaac Herzog, topped the poll; in foreign capitals, who will note that Netanyahu has now officially disavowed the near-universally preferred solution for the Israel-Palestine conflict; and in the Jewish diaspora, which has long clung to the hope that Israel at least wants to end the post-1967 occupation, even if it has still not managed to do it. I know of at least one European leader who now says privately that Netanyahu’s “credibility is shot” and that “no one will want to work with him”. And in the fellowship of world leaders, that will not be a minority view.

How then should those outside Israel react? Some will seize on the disavowal of two states to push instead for their favoured option: a so-called one-state solution. It sounds both simple and enlightened, everyone living together under one roof, with one person, one vote. But as the Palestinian-Israeli writer
Sayed Kashua argued powerfully this week, any conceivable path to such a destination would be “grounded in the trampling of the Palestinians”.

The more obvious objection is the one summarised by the
Israeli novelist and veteran anti-occupation activist Amos Oz: “After one hundred years of blood, tears and disasters, it is impossible to expect Israelis and Palestinians to jump suddenly into a double bed and begin a honeymoon.”

The right response is surely to match Netanyahu’s honesty with our own. In this regard, the Obama administration has already performed better than Europe. While EU diplomats greeted Netanyahu’s victory with the same tired formulas, invoking a nonexistent peace process, Washington voiced its displeasure at Netanyahu’s “
divisive rhetoric” and let it be known that it was ready to make things uncomfortable.

Until now, Washington has always acted as Israel’s diplomatic protector, blocking hostile resolutions at the UN and the like. Now the White House, still smarting over
Netanyahu’s Republican address to a Republican Congress, wants to remind Netanyahu that such support is not unconditional. The core message, and it should not be delivered by the US alone, would be simple. It would say, of course the world has to respect the decision of the Israeli electorate. But if this is the path Israel is taking, there will be consequences. If Israel is effectively ruling out a Palestinian state – and given that it rejects a one-state solution whereby Israel absorbs millions of Palestinians and gives them the vote – then it has committed itself to maintaining the status quo, ruling over another people and denying them basic democratic rights. And that is a position the world cannot accept.

Such a stance might entail US withdrawal of diplomatic cover. It might mean tougher European sanctions of the kind proposed in Friday’s
EU report on settlement activity in East Jerusalem. It could mean a growing shift towards divestment and sanctions, targeted at the occupation, without the polarising tactic of boycott that tends to alienate as many potential supporters as it recruits.

Whatever form they take, there will be consequences for Netanyahu’s actions. He was ready to sink to a new low to save his skin, but it will be Israelis – and their Palestinian neighbours – who pay the price. [Abridged]

Letter from Berlin, 1949

The following is a letter received by my mother acknowledging some parcels sent to an address in East Germany. It reminds me that several million refugees around the world at this time are also suffering from the effects of war and there is no likelihood that their situation will improve for some time.

18 March, 1949

My dear friends,

         I have to thank you very heartily for the good, nicely packed and rich parcel you sent me!  It is a rare pleasure now, to get a parcel – so much the more we appreciate them! The good honey – the fat – the milk, the cocoa, the buttons and needles – everything we take with hearty thanks from the Lord’s hands and from your kindness and friendship and your faculty of imagination!

         To-day Mrs Rademacher came to see me with the youngest little son, a dear boy of 4 years. He has always been a cause of sorrow – getting all epidemic diseases generally __ and any time – measles, scarlet fever, diphtheria and spinal apoplexia (I don’t know the English name, but it is what M. Roosefeld had suffered from) in one year.

           But then arrived your parcels.   ___ the other children allowed her to give it all to little Burkhart and so he is quite a strong and healthy child now. She – the mother – is awfully overworked – she is the official medical person in a labour district in Eastern Berlin and sees the children only on Sunday for a real good time! ___ she feels ashamed at her not knowing little English. So she was very glad when I promised her that I should tell you, how you have helped her!

    The way in which she is obliged to work as there are very few physicians in the Eastern part of Berlin and people are badly cared for, is awful. The husband is a very clever man too – in war time had to work highly complicated technical instruments in aeroplanes and he did them so that they could not be used well; this boycott was observed and he had to disappear from this place and is now a teacher in elementary schools, very badly paid; but he hopes by a good thesis in the doctor degree in physics to better his situation! So he hasn’t got any spare time for wife and children. So the mother’s burden is rather heavy! Women have a lot to endure and to work now in Germany. But we feel, that patience and endurance are things to be done by women easier than by men. Our men are so wounded in their feelings of manliness and honour they suffer from the poor situation more than we and we must try to make their burden a bit easier!

             I am very well for a woman of 77 years – only lame and cannot easily be brought to the places where I have to do the little work I have to do. But my friends – the political comrades as well as the former schoolgirls, their husbands and children and the brothers and sisters of our denomination spoil me, help me, come to see me and make my life serene and happy – praised be the Lord.

With affectionate greetings
Yours truly
Hildegarde Hegehid….

Tuesday, 17 March 2015


11/03/15  by Arthur Palmer

The news and comments from almost all popular versions of the media seem to be lacking in any desire to look honestly at the continuing surge of violence and threats of violence all over the world. How are we to respond to this? Must our community and nation simply prepare to meet such threats with superior and more deadly weapons while denying them to all others beyond a few friends? This appears to be what our elected representatives think. Despite widespread doubts, this seems to reflect the current thinking of most voters. And that is where most politicians look for reassurance.

As we approach another Anzac Day next month, it would be good to see more evidence of a better way of remembering. Not just that our sacrifices in blood and treasure were rewarded by a victorious conclusion to a costly war. Not simply a seldom spoken assumption that this was the price of maintaining our place among the leading nations of the world. If there is no more than that on offer at this time we can expect to see few initiatives to counter the steady drift towards war, with the potential for suffering on a huge scale. Already we are being told of refugees who have fled the fighting in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as in Africa. They are now numbered in the tens of millions, living under the most basic conditions, with little hope of returning to their previous homes which are now rubble. 

The help offered to these refugees is far short of what we consider to be minimal for ourselves. Pledges from the members of the League of Nations are often not honoured, while the chaos and hopelessness escalates, and the contending armed groups continue to add to the number of victims, most of these being children and other bystanders. All those in contention consider that these murderous activities must continue. Honour demands it!

Today’s NZ Herald recalls a day exactly 70 years ago. On March 10 and 11, 1945, “334 US war Allied bombers incinerated nearly 42 sq km of the Japanese capital, killing more than 100,000 people.” Today we have far more lethal capabilities, and are intent on making them even more so. And there are those who find it profitable to stir old and new fears by demonising possible challengers.

It seems to me that the first need is to see and feel the violence of the last 100 years in a truer light. Gallipoli and the Western front were horror stories, only relieved by memories of sacrifice and heroism on all sides by those who took part and didn’t count the cost. We can best do that remembering together, but have done so on too few occasions, Turk and NZer standing side by side, for instance, at least in our thinking. We now recognise our shared humanity under God. Maybe with reservations on both sides. War can leave deep scars.

We need to be reminded of the cost of war in human terms. I have recently read an account of the Vietnam war as seen by a young Vietnamese woman doctor who lived for two years with the communist troops in the south, until killed by US soldiers. A moving story, taken from her diary. “Lost voices of WW1” by Tim Cross is another glimpse of the men whom we lost through war. And a recent book entitled “The Lost Pilot” is a great help in seeing the events of WW2 in another light. It is written by a NZer, Jeffrey Holman, set half in Japan. It brings the Kamikaze teenage pilots back to life. And I recommend “Three Came Home” by Agnes Keith, the story of her time in a Japanese camp for British and US aliens in Burma. All books are in our National Library. They all teach us the empathy we must have if we are to meet the challenges ahead without more tragic loss.

I still have a number of letters from Germany to my mother or to me or my wife Rosemary in the years after WW1. I will attach one of these, written to my mother Florence Palmer in 1948. There were others very similar. Granddaughter Rose has deciphered them as well as she can, but many words were too hard to read. Bad spelling was in the original. Good reading!


Four Years into the Syrian Conflict, We Must Never Lose Sight of the Civilians Behind the ‘Story’

 By Maya Mailer                       Oxfam International                   March 12, 2015

If you type ‘Syria’ into Google News, the headlines that normally appear are about airstrikes, beheadings, and Jihadi John. The less dramatic, everyday human cost of those caught up in the crisis gets much less play. Perhaps this is inevitable. As the conflict enters its fifth year, a sense of fatigue and helplessness has set in. My hardnosed media colleagues tell me that we need to find something ‘new’ to say. Everyday human suffering, even of such magnitude, clearly doesn’t cut it. But while international interest is waning, the suffering continues – on an epic scale.

As 21 humanitarian and human rights organisations, including Oxfam, document in a report launched today,
Failing Syria, Syrians are experiencing ever-increasing levels of death and destruction. Civilians continue to be indiscriminately attacked, despite the passage in February 2014 of what was thought to be a landmark UN Security Council Resolution demanding an end to such attacks. In fact, 2014 was the deadliest year of the conflict, with reports of at least 76,000 people killed. So much for grand demands from the great powers that sit on the UN Security Council.

In what was a middle-income country, 11.6 million people are in need of clean water. Some 3.7 million are refugees. What I try to hang on to, and I admit it’s not always easy, is that behind these colossal numbers are millions of individual lives that have been shattered. These are farmers, teachers, students, musicians – ordinary people like you and me – fighting for survival and battling for normality. People like
Ayham, a pianist who performs concerts broadcast by skype amid the ruined streets of Yarmouk, a district of Damascus, or Noor, a refugee, who teaches children Arabic in a tent in Lebanon.

Like many of Syria’s refugees, Noor lives in an informal settlement. The aid jargon does not do justice to what an ‘informal settlement’ is really like – a dirty area packed with people living under tarpaulins where people try their best to make a semblance of home in the midst of hardship. On a visit to one such settlement, where Oxfam is providing water, blankets and cash assistance, I sat with a refugee family in their tent, huddled around a central stove for warmth. It was home to eight people – the children, wearing flip flops in the bitter cold, charged in and out as we spoke. The father of the family said he was increasingly anxious about their legal status in the country but quickly ruled out any hope of returning to Syria soon. ‘Maybe in five or ten years – who knows?’ 

I was struck by the impossible choices refugees were facing. With the majority living outside formal camps like Zaatari in Jordan, many refugees must pay rent to private landlords. Indeed one landowner in northern Lebanon referred to the informal settlement on his land as a ‘hotel’. But in Jordan and Lebanon, refugees face huge barriers to gaining permission to work. So where does the money come from? Cash assistance provided by agencies like Oxfam helps – and is just one example of why it is so crucial that humanitarian funding is maintained – but it’s not enough to cover the needs.

Wealthier refugees can sell off their assets, but for how long? An elderly woman told me how she had taken off her earrings and sold them, and now there was nothing left. As always, though, it is those that were poorest to begin with, who are forced to take the gravest risks. A group of women told me that ‘when it comes to the end of the month and it’s time to pay rent, some of us are very vulnerable’. Behind that word ‘vulnerable’ lay many
decisions too painful for them to speak about.

Ultimately, of course, a political solution is needed. I spoke recently to a Syrian peace activist who said that Syria was still waiting for its ‘Rwanda moment’. By that, he meant that there needed to be a groundswell of global moral outrage so great that it would be impossible for the world to ignore what was happening and do all it can to stop it.

To be honest, I’ve been struggling with this, as surely that moment has long gone. If the death of over 200,000 people including thousands of children isn’t enough, then what is? But giving up isn’t an option for Syrians and it’s not an option for us either. We must continue to shine a spotlight on Syria and build the political resolve to end the bloodshed (you can take action
here). [Abridged]


Forgiveness is the hardest option – but also the surest path towards healing

 Ian Harris                   Otago Daily Times                  March 13, 2015

It’s awesome how far some people will go to forgive. One such is Iafeta Matalasi, whose son was shot dead by two Mongrel Mobsters in a Petone stand-off. Instead of demanding revenge and punishment, he asked a judge to set the killers free so they could begin to live with compassion for others. “I have lost my boy,” he said. “Nothing will bring him back. The only thing that is left for me is forgiveness.”

The mother of American journalist James Foley, who was beheaded by Islamic State’s Jihadi John (Mohammed Emwazi) in Syria, said Emwazi was a sad and sick man: “We need to forgive him for not having a clue what he was doing.” Foley’s father added: “If we capture Emwazi and bring him to justice, what does that do? Islamic State is still doing its thing. It’s a very narrow approach.”

There’s a healing power in forgiveness, and it’s especially powerful in those who forgive. Contrast those responses with a sister’s bitterness towards the thugs who bashed to death farmhand Justin McFarlane in North Otago: “I will never, ever, forgive any one of you.” And with Millie Elder-Holmes’ venom towards the man accused of murdering her partner in Auckland: “I wish him all the pain and suffering in the world.” And with the curse of beheaded English aid worker David Haines’ daughter, whose wish for Emwazi is “a bullet between his eyes”. Hurt has turned into hatred. Hatred locks in the hurt and heals no one. 

I suspect, though, that more of us would identify with the impulse towards vengeance and punishment, often confused with justice, and say “Right on! Why should anyone forgive the unforgivable? Doesn’t justice demand judgment?” Yes, of course. But there’s a difference between judgment and judgmentalism. Judgment is something everyone must exercise in all sorts of situations – but when judgment morphs into judgmentalism it can turn sour and become destructive.

Judgmental people see right and wrong in terms of black and white, are quick to condemn, and usually set great store by punishment as a way of making people behave better. They have probably never heard, and certainly not heeded, the German philosopher-poet Goethe’s caution: “Always distrust a person in whom the urge to punish is strong.” In his book On Forgiveness, former Anglican Bishop of Edinburgh Richard Holloway agrees it is too much to expect communities, still less victims and their families, to forgive horrendous acts of cruelty. But he invites them to distinguish between reprehensible acts and those who commit them.

It is this distinction, he says, that makes it possible to forgive the people who carried them out, “because we know that personal action is the fruit of character and that character is largely predetermined by factors that are not in our control”. Recourse to violence is a tragic example – and that applies to nation states as much as to individuals.

Violence appeals to the perpetrators because it gets results, at least in the short term. There is power, dominance, a winner – but also a ticking time-bomb, because the losers will one day seek redress. Just look at the mess the victors of World War 1 bequeathed to succeeding generations through a triumphalist peace treaty. And the shambles produced by the invasion of Iraq, which lit a jumping-jack of violent religious, ethnic, tribal and political causes.

That suggests there’s a crossover between community attitudes to violent criminals in Godzone and the Government’s decision to commit troops to wage war by proxy (by training Iraqi soldiers) in response to IS brutality. Both appear to be a product of judgmentalism, rather than mature judgment.

On the domestic front, judgmentalism demands justice by way of cracking down hard, longer sentences, more prisons. Judgment is more considered. It seeks justice through understanding what it is in the upbringing, social influences and mental make-up of offenders that shapes their outlook and actions, and then works to change these for the better.

On IS, a goodies-v-baddies judgmentalism would answer violence with greater violence. The moral outrage is genuine. But New Zealanders can justify the decision to enter the fray only by keeping ourselves ignorant of the underlying causes, and then failing to use our seat on the UN Security Council to push for avenues of reconciliation. That would be one obvious alternative to the “very narrow approach” which Foley’s father, who had every reason to cry vengeance, deplored.

Reconciliation is hard work, forgiveness even harder – but they open the way to healing. Violence never will.


Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Ukraine has ignored the far right for too long – it must wake up to the danger

 Volodymyr Ishchenko                       Guardian/UK                    4 March 2015

The indifference of officials and mainstream opinion to the election of far-right MPs is hugely worrying. That has been ratcheted up still further with the
murder of the opposition politician Boris Nemtsov. The Russian president has, of course, been blamed for the killing, though that makes little sense. Nemtsov was a marginal figure whose role in the “catastroika” of the 1990s scarcely endeared him to ordinary Russians. Responsibility for an outrage that exposed the lack of security in the heart of Moscow and was certain to damage the president hardly seems likely to lie with Putin or his supporters.

But it’s certainly grist to the mill of those pushing military confrontation with Russia. Hundreds of US troops are arriving in Ukraine this week to bolster the Kiev regime’s war with Russian-backed rebels in the east. Not to be outdone, Britain is sending 75 military advisers of its own. As 20th-century history shows, the dispatch of military advisers is often how disastrous escalations start. They are also a direct violation of
last month’s Minsk agreement, negotiated with France and Germany, that has at least achieved a temporary ceasefire and some pull-back of heavy weapons. Article 10 requires the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Ukraine.

But Nato’s hawks have got the bit between their teeth. Thousands of Nato troops have been sent to the Baltic states – the Atlantic alliance’s new frontline – untroubled by their
indulgence of neo-Nazi parades and denial of minority ethnic rights. A string of American political leaders and generals are calling for the US to arm Kiev, from the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, General Martin Dempsey, to the new defence secretary, Ashton Carter. For the western military complex, the Ukraine conflict has the added attraction of creating new reasons to increase arms spending, as the US army’s General Raymond Odierno made clear when he complained this week about British defence cuts in the face of the “Russian threat”.

This anti-Russian incitement is dangerous folly. There certainly has been military expansionism. But it has overwhelmingly come from Nato, not Moscow. For 20 years, despite the commitments at the end of the cold war, Nato has marched relentlessly eastwards, taking in first former east European Warsaw Pact states, then republics of the former Soviet Union itself. Instead of creating a common European security system including Russia, the US-dominated alliance has expanded up to the Russian border – insisting that is merely the sovereign choice of the states concerned. It clearly isn’t. It’s also the product of an alliance system designed to entrench American “leadership” on the European continent – laid out in
Pentagon planning drawn up after the collapse of the Soviet Union to “prevent the re-emergence of a new rival”.

Russia has now challenged that, and the consequences have been played out in Ukraine for the past year: starting with the western-backed ousting of the elected government, through the installation of a Ukrainian nationalist regime, the Russian takeover of Crimea and Moscow-backed uprising in the Donbass. On the ground, it has meant thousands of dead, hundreds of thousands of refugees, indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas and the rise of Ukrainian fascist militias
such as the Azov battalion, supported by Kiev and its western sponsors. 

Most Russians want Putin to take a tougher stand ‘because of their experience of the past 25 years'. Russian covert military support for the rebels, on the other hand, is denounced as aggression and “hybrid warfare” – by the same governments that have waged covert wars
from Nicaragua to Syria, quite apart from outright aggressions and illegal campaigns in Kosovo, Libya and Iraq. That doesn’t justify less extreme Russian violations of international law, but it puts them in the context of Russian security. While Putin is portrayed in the west as a reckless land-grabber, in Russian terms he is a centrist.

In the west, Ukraine – along with Isis – is being used to revive the
doctrines of liberal interventionism and even neoconservatism, discredited on the killing fields of Iraq and Afghanistan. So far, Angela Merkel and Fran├žois Hollande have resisted American pressure to arm Kiev. But when the latest Minsk ceasefire breaks down, as it surely will, there is a real risk that Ukraine’s proxy conflict could turn into full-scale international war.
The alternative is a negotiated settlement which guarantees Ukraine’s neutrality, pluralism and regional autonomy. It may well be too late for that. But there is certainly no military solution. Instead of escalating the war and fuelling nationalist extremism, western powers should be using their leverage to wind it down. If they don’t, the consequences could be disastrous – far beyond Ukraine. [Abridged]


Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Church of England bishops' pastoral letter: key points

Aisha Gani                  Guardian/UK                    17 February 2015

The Church of England has
published a 52-page letter outlining its hopes for political parties to discern “a fresh moral vision of the kind of country we want to be” before the general election in May. In it, leading English bishops address themes such as the church’s duty to join the political debate in an increasingly consumerist society, welfare reform and Britain’s role in the world. Here is a breakdown of some of the key sections:

Who is my neighbour? In this section, the bishops outline the principal motivation for the church’s involvement in wider society. It explains that Christians believe that human beings are created in the image of God and states: “But we are not made in isolation. We belong together in a creation which should be cherished and not simply used and consumed.”

The bishops call for a “trajectory for a new kind of politics”. The letter states that its aim is to help church members consider how to negotiate “these dangerous times to build the kind of society which many people say they want”, something voters may feel is not offered by political parties.

The duty of the church to engage in political debate. The church has an obligation to engage with the political process, according to the letter, and the bishops write that Christians “share responsibility with all citizens to participate in the democratic structures of our nation”.

The bishops assert that the claim that religion and political life must be kept separate is “frequently disingenuous”, and allege that politicians and pundits are happy for the church to speak on political issues as long as the church agrees with their perspective.

Political neutrality. The authors reject the notion that the letter tells church members to “vote for this party or that party”, and write that if this is the perception “they have misunderstood it”. Anglicans do not have a single view, the bishops write, on which political party has the best mix of answers to the challenges voters face.

What should voters ask of candidates? The Anglican bishops write that this election provides the opportunity to “sow the seeds of a new politics” and encourage voters to support candidates and policies that demonstrate the following six values:

 -Halting and reversing the accumulation of power and wealth in fewer and fewer hands, whether those of the state, corporations or individuals.
-Involving people at a deeper level in the decisions that affect them most.
-Recognising the distinctive communities, whether defined by geography, religion or culture, which make up the nation and enabling all to thrive and participate together.
-Treating the electorate as people with roots, commitments and traditions and addressing us all in terms of the common good and not just as self-interested consumers.
-Demonstrating that the weak, the dependent, the sick, the aged and the vulnerable are persons of equal value to everybody else.
-Offering the electorate a grown-up debate about Britain’s place in the world order and the possibilities and obligations that entails.

The UK’s political culture. The public feel detached from political life, according to the letter, and “all political parties struggle to communicate a convincing vision”. The bishops argue that it is time to move beyond “retail politics” and instead focus on the common good – that includes the participation of more people in developing a political vision.

The role of the state. The bishops write that different communities have different needs – and may choose different priorities. But they say there is a “chill factor” when law and regulation intrude too far into everyday life. The letter demands A richer justification for the state, a better account of the purposes of government, and a more serious way of talking about taxation. The role of the intermediary institution – for example housing associations and credit unions – is acknowledged, and the bishops write how such organisations are overlooked by policymakers, and so struggle to be influential.

Role of the family. The letter says: ‘We are most human when we know ourselves to be dependent on others.’ The letter explains: We are most human when we know ourselves to be dependent on others. That is something we first learn in families, if we are fortunate enough to experience the blessings of family life. And it adds: “Families are not only for children.”

The economy. The bishops write that the UK faces a banking and housing crisis. The letter urges economics to be understood as a moral discipline and claims that the UK economy has an excessive emphasis on competition and resembles social Darwinism. It states how: Consumption, rather than production, has come to define us, and individualism has tended to estrange people from one another.

Poverty and inequality. The bishops say that material inequality has widened and in practical terms back a
living wage. The letter states:

The Biblical tradition is not only ‘biased to the poor’, as often noted, but warns constantly against too much power falling into too few hands. When it does, human sympathies are strained to breaking point.

Unemployment. The letter says that it is good news that UK unemployment has not risen as high as was predicted. It adds: ‘Worklessness has long been acknowledged as corrosive of human dignity and sense of identity.’

Welfare reform. The bishops write in strong terms that political life would be enhanced if “state-sponsored action to underpin the welfare of each citizen” is acknowledged. Their letter warns against “stirring up resentment against some identifiable ‘other’” and dehumanising social groups.

Health. The letter raises the issue of loneliness in society and states: If the care of severely disabled people, the terminally ill or people with dementia was shared in the context of a supportive network of friends, neighbours and allies, the fear of being a burden on others would not lead so many to undervalue their own life, even to the point of seeking to end it.

Immigration. Neighbourliness is a key theme, and the bishops say: There is a growing appetite to exploit grievances, find scapegoats and create barriers between people and nations.

Education. The bishops write that schools should try to model a community of communities. They add: The letter says that schools should try to ‘model a community of communities’ The purpose of education is not simply to prepare people to be economic units but to nurture their ability to flourish as themselves and to seek the flourishing of others.

Environment. The bishops write that they support policies that respect the natural environment: We belong together in a creation which should be cherished and not simply used and consumed.

Britain’s global role.The need for strong international allies is called for, and the bishops add: Without a grasp of the power and meaning of religion, it is impossible to understand the dynamics of global politics today. Yet, “our perceptions of cultural and political interdependence lag far behind”, according to the letter.

Defence and war. Military intervention by Britain is not always wrong, write the bishops, yet “support should not be offered blindly”.

International development. The bishops support overseas aid, and write: The government is to be commended for committing 0.7% of GDP to overseas aid when budgets have been so hard pressed. Their letter goes on: For any party to abandon or reduce this commitment would be globally irresponsible in pragmatic terms as well as indicating that the moral imperatives of mutuality and reconciliation counted for nothing.”

 Threat from extremism and religiously inspired conflict. The Anglican leaders write that the constant threat to the stability of all nations is a reminder of “our interdependence”. [Abbrev.]

Mohammed Emwazi, a very ordinary monster

Suzanne Moore                        Guardian/UK                    2 March 2015

We can stop contributing to Isis’s propaganda efforts and refuse to promote Emwazi as a celebrity jihadi or icon of evil. Mohammed Emwazi is ‘an awkward young man wearing a baseball cap that is too big for his head’.

I am not going to call
Mohammed Emwazi by his cuddly nickname as the BBC headlines continue to do for some strange reason. I do not want to see any more pictures of him in his murder outfit brandishing a knife. I do not want to read any more details that seek to explain what turned him into a serial killer. He looks ill at ease in a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball cap. All the self-assurance of the feared executioner disappears when he is unmasked. Let’s keep it that way.

Abu Ayman, an Islamic State defector, has said of Emwazi that “Isis play him like a piano. He’s a celebrity to attract our Muslim brothers in Europe. But some think he is showing off: they think he’s being used by Isis.” Indeed. But none of this could happen if Isis weren’t playing the global media like a piano. If we did not fixate both on his own image of himself in the murder videos or we didn’t grab on to the smallest details of his life to try to make sense of his barbarity. It is a futile task and one that reminds me of how serial killers such as Ted Bundy or Peter Sutcliffe become notorious, while their victims remain nameless and forgotten. It is a bang on the head, a lonely childhood, some kind of dislocation, mother issues, father issues, a persecution complex, increasing paranoia. Such pathologies have always existed.

Now though there is a ready made ideology in which these traits can be exploited to make individuals feel special instead of ordinary, part of a bigger cause instead of being utterly alienated and now infamous for much longer than 15 minutes. The need to locate radicalisation in one place: a mosque, a school, a university is futile. We have enough evidence to show that there is no one route, nor is it the poorest or those without opportunity who are attracted to extremist ideology. They can be polite graduates, or high-achieving schoolgirls.

 Yet ideological grooming operates much as sexual grooming does: the promise of the association with powerful people who will give you attention and make life’s confusions vanish. Someone out there sees that you are very special; you will be taken care of. It offers escape from complexity. Severing heads from bodies will make you more famous than being a diligent IT worker.

So isn’t our responsibility to stop adding to this “fame”? To see Emwazi actually as a man who is not in charge but someone who has been used. To see him is to see that he is not actually even that interesting. His unmasking has involved the
unmasking of Cage which was utterly necessary. Inevitably it has unmasked all kinds of fearful questions about the signs to look out for and how we stop such radicalisation. As the internet seems such a determining factor in all of this, there is no simple answer here.

 We could, though, stop contributing to Isis’s own propaganda efforts and refuse to promote Emwazi as a celebrity jihadi or an icon of evil. Instead, we could ask what motivated some of his victims to become aid workers and journalists in one of the most dangerous places in the world. What kind of person does that? These are extraordinary people. Emwazi, on the other hand, is a very ordinary monster, an awkward young man wearing a baseball cap that is too big for his head.