Joe Hendren

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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Down with decaf

Ever thought decaf coffee was about as worthwhile as a solar powered torch? Well for you the news is good - medical research shows decaf coffee is bad for you.

Researchers at the US National Institute of Health have found that drinking decaffeinated coffee instead of the real stuff increases the levels of "bad" cholesterol in the blood, which can lead to grotty arteries and heart disease.

So if you drink coffee, make sure it contains caffeine - for the sake of your health :)

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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Worst transnational operating in New Zealand: The finalists

CAFCA and GATT Watchdog have announced the finalists for the 2005 Roger Award for the worst transnational corporation (TNC) operating in New Zealand.

The nominees are, in no particular order: In reaching their decision a team of eminent judges will assess the negative impact of the finalists in each or all of the following categories:
  • Economic Dominance - monopoly, profiteering, tax dodging, cultural imperialism.
  • People - unemployment, impact on tangata whenua, impact on women, impact on children, abuse of workers/conditions, health and safety of workers and the public, cultural imperialism.
  • Environment - environmental damage, abuse of animals.
  • Political interference - cultural imperialism, running an ideological crusade.
In a novel move, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) have "congratulated" British American Tobacco on being a finalist in the 2005 Roger Award.
“In light of the fact that half of their best customers will die as a result of smoking their products, it is only right that British American Tobacco New Zealand be recognised for their contribution to our society,” says Becky Freeman, Director, ASH NZ.

Judges for the 2005 Roger Award are John Minto, Laila Harre, Maire Leadbeater and Mary-Ellen O'Connor. May the very worst transnational win!

PS: If you have any goss on irresponsible deeds committed by the TNCs listed above please feel free to comment. Who do you think should win?

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Yay for Child Poverty Action Group Boo Labour

Great to see the Child Poverty Action Group win the right to mount a legal challenge to Labour's policy to exclude beneficiaries from the Working for Families package.

Such an exclusion is designed to widen the gap between beneficiaries and the working poor - the very same principle, among others, guided Ruth Richardson's infamous 'Mother of all Budgets' in 1991. It makes the Child Tax Credit (CTC) and the In Work Payment (IWP) nothing more than an indirect subsidy for employers, and lets them off the hook for consistently failing to pay their employees family friendly wages. The benefit cuts of 1991 are still with us, as benefit levels have never been increased in order to restore a similar comparative level with wages that existed prior to 1991.

To make matters worse, 'beneficiaries' is defined to include those receiving a student allowance, NZ superannuation or those on ACC for more than 3 months. So a single mum attending university will not benefit from the CTC or the IWP, and neither will grandparents acting as caregivers after the death of a parent.

Sue Bradford is calling on the Government not to appeal the Human Rights Review Tribunal decision. Sadly this is not an unreasonable fear given the petty litigious attitude of the Government on similar issues in the past (such as on defining a relationship like marriage).

If Working for Families was meant to be about reducing child poverty, it really needs to be asked why children of beneficiaries ought to be worse off, purely based on the source of their caregivers income. Its not something the kids can control after all.

The case is the first under 2001 amendments to the Human Rights Act that allowed Government policies to be challenged in the Human Rights Review Tribunal. It also sets another important precedent by establishing the right of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to challenge discrimination in public policy, regardless of whether they themselves are directly affected. As an example, this decision could be of great assistance to NGOs working in mental health advocacy, as many people with past psychiatric/psychological issues regularly face systematic and unwarranted discrimination.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Income inequality and the dominance of corporations

In the latest edition of Focus on the Corporation, Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman collate some interesting facts demonstrating the inequality of the world, and how the gap between the rich and the poor is widening.

While they title their piece 'Economic Apartheid in America', many of the examples have a familar ring, perhaps demonstrating how US hegemony over the world economy has led to inequity becoming a significant (and unwelcome) export.

"Of the world's 100 largest economies, 47 are nations, and 53 are corporations. Seventy-five percent of major corporations hire a consultant to stop employees from forming a union."

"Top executives now make more in a day than the average worker makes in a year."
(I assume this is based on US figures)

The Washington monument is 555 feet tall. Imagine it signifies the 2003 average compensation for CEOs in the Fortune 500.
- Today the salary of the average worker would be only 16 inches tall
(a ratio of 419 to one)
- In 1965 the worker's monument was 13 feet six inches tall
(a ratio of 41 to one)

And in order to preempt the predictable defence that the wealthy deserve higher incomes because they 'work harder', Mokhiber and Weissman point out that forty-two percent of those listed on the Forbes 400 in the US, inherited sufficient wealth to make this list.

"J. Paul Getty Jr. inherited the oil fortune from his father. David Rockerfeller Sr ($2.5 billion) is the grandson of Standard Oil founder John D. Rockefeller....."

They also include a nice quote from the Constitution of the Knights of Labour. Dating from 1869, it is a nice way to demonstrate the similarities between the so called modern 'global' economy and that of the 19th century.
"The alarming development and aggressiveness of great capitalists and corporations, unless checked, will inevitably lead to the pauperization and hopeless degradation of the toiling masses. It is imperative, if we desire to enjoy the full blessings of life, that a check be placed upon unjust accumulations and the power for evil of aggravated wealth."
When modern so called free marketers like to associate their ideas with Adam Smith, the man who coined the term the 'invisible hand', it is worth noting that they often use Smith in a selective fashion. While Smith did not like governments (the bit right wingers love), he also hated what we now call corporations. Smith would have argued for the need to resist mergers and acquisitions and break up monopolistic firms like Microsoft or Telecom. Yet the call for stronger competition law is now more likely to come from the left, rather than the right.

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Sunday, November 20, 2005

John Campbell rocks

Congratulations to John Campbell for comforting a dying motorcyclist after he crashed at an Auckland intersection.

"Campbell jumped out of a passing taxi and held the hand of Piripi Pokaitarawikiriwhi, 29, as he died. The broadcaster was first on the scene of the crash in Grey Lynn a week ago. "

Piripi's family have thanked Campbell for his actions.

While I did not know Piripi, I would say its a fair bet a unionist for Unite would have been driven by compassion and a genuine desire to help others. While it is sad someone with so much to give lost their life so early, there is a nice synchronicity in that in his final moments he gained reassurance genuine compassion exists in this world.

It also appears Piripi may have been an honourary member of the Order of the Chicken. At one picket outside KFC in Balmoral he protested against youth exploitation and low wages dressed in a Chicken suit. This makes me wonder if this was the same famous chicken suit used by the Alliance in the King Country byelection, and even more ironically, send out to meet Jim Anderton in 2002 when the partyhopper refused to debate an Alliance candidate.

Often it is so hard to know what media personalities/politicians are really like in 'real life'. It's reassuring to know John Campbell is a decent compassionate human being.

Update: Fixed spelling of synchronicity, I went looking for a Police discography to check!

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Friday, November 18, 2005

Cellphone etiquette II : I bet the Dom to it

On Thursday 10th of November I made a post about Peter Dunne's insensitive use of a cellphone during Rod Donald's funeral, after Dean Peter Beck had politely requested that all moaners ensure their cellphones were turned off. It was a little scoop I came across after attending Rod's funeral in Christchurch.

Today the Dominon Post includes this in its (offline) diary section (hat tip Frog).
"Though he’s no friend of the Greens, United Future leader Peter Dunne made a point of going to last week’s funeral service for party co-leader Rod Donald, with whom he apparently shared a devotion to the cellphone. His was heard to chirp repeatedly in the minutes after Cathedral Dean Peter Beck had made a point of requesting that morners turn them off."

A good example of the Dominion Post being quick to the news - only a week behind New Zealand blogs :)

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Monday, November 14, 2005

Despite the hype, terrorism is in decline

A friend just emailed me a copy of Paul Robinson's article 'The good news about terrorism". While it was published in the Spectator in April, his commentary is still highly relevant and worth a read. Robinson is a Lecturer in Security Studies at the University of Hull in the UK.

"We are facing the gravest threat that this nation has ever faced.’ Elizabeth I, speaking of the Spanish Armada? Winston Churchill, in the aftermath of Dunkirk? No. Home Office minister Baroness Scotland on Newsnight, justifying the new Prevention of Terrorism Act by reference to the threat from al-Qa’eda."

‘Hang on,’ I said to myself on hearing the Baroness, ‘that can’t be right.’ My mum can remember lying in bed hearing bombs drop, and she once saw a V1 go over and heard the engine cut out as she watched.

Robinson argues that vested interests in the defence establishment have pulled off a confidence trick to convince us to live in fear, by in large to justify their own existence. "The collapse of the Warsaw Pact eliminated the need for 90 per cent of our armed forces" and a good deal other military spending to boot....

"Far from being more dangerous, the world is safer now than ever before; and far from being an ever-growing problem, terrorism has been in sharp decline for over a decade. This is not a matter of opinion. It is provable.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri) and Canada’s Project Ploughshares both annually track the number of armed conflicts taking place worldwide. Sipri counts only those which result in 1,000 deaths or more in a given year, so its figures are slightly lower. Even so, it agrees with Project Ploughshares that the amount of fighting on the planet is declining. According to Sipri, there were only 19 conflicts in 2003, down from 33 in 1991. With its broader definition, Project Ploughshares reports a decline to 36 in 2003 from a peak of 44 in 1995.

More good news follows, I’m afraid. Battle-related deaths rose slightly from 15,000 in 2002 to 20,000 in 2003 because of the Iraq war, but even these figures are substantially down from the annual tolls of 40,000 to 100,000 during the Cold War. Global military expenditure also fell by 11 per cent in real terms between 1992 and 2000, and the Congressional Research Service in Washington notes that international arms sales fell from £22.8 billion in 2000 to £14.3 billion in 2003. In short, there are fewer wars, fewer arms sales and fewer people dying, each year, than at any time since the second world war.

Robinson also denies that global terrorism poses a new and unprecedented threat to our security. He uses figures from the Rand Corporation MIPT (Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism) database to show there was a big peak in terrorism in the late 1970s and early '80s, followed by a steady decline ever since. "During the 1980s, the number of international terrorist incidents worldwide averaged about 360 a year. By the year 2000, it was down to just 100....Bluntly, terrorism is a declining problem, despite our best efforts to provoke it."
It also should be pointed out that conservative Republicians attempted to whip up fears about international terrorism when Reagan took office in 1981. Libya became the official punching bag. Qaddafi may have been a thug, but most importantly he did not have the military capability to effectively fight back against US aggression. Unlike the USSR Qaddafi did not possess nuclear weapons.

Perhaps the worst failure of the current foreign policy of the Bush administration is that it is teaching Iraq, Iran and North Korea that possession of nuclear weapons and other WMDs represent the only defence that will prevent a US invasion. In those countries, fear is rebounding on the US.

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Thursday, November 10, 2005

Cellphone etiquette

Guess whose cellphone went off DURING the funeral service for Rod Donald? Guess who ignored two polite requests to "please turn your cellphones off".

Peter Dunne. Despite his moralising about families, Peter clearly lacks respect for them.

(courtesy of a "reliable source" inside the Cathedral)


Monday, November 07, 2005

Usher of the Black Rod

On the day Rod Donald should have been sworn in for his fourth term as a MP, it is some irony that the Governor General has announced the retirement of an honourary officer of his household, Colonel William (Bill) Nathan.

His title? Usher of the Black Rod!

The position originates in the House of Lords of the British Parliament. In a Parliament where there is an upper house, the Usher of the Black Rod has a similar role in the upper house to that of the Serjeant-at-Arms in the lower house.

While we got rid of our upper house (The Legislative Council) in 1950, the Black Rod continues to summon MPs to the chamber for the 'Speech from the Throne'. The black rod was due for a whack this very week.

As part of the ritual, as Black Rod approaches the doors to the chamber of the House of Commons to make his summons, they are closed in his face. Black Rod then strikes three times with his staff, and in reply to the challenge "Who is there?" answers "Black Rod". He is then admitted and issues the summons of the monarch to attend. This ritual is derived from the attempt by Charles I of England to arrest five members in 1642, in what was seen as a breach of privilege, though strictly the King was entitled to enter the chamber. After that incident, the House of Commons has maintained its right to question the right of the monarch's representative to enter their chamber, though bar him from entering with lawful authority they cannot do.

I suspect Rod would have enjoyed this coincidence and thought it was pretty funny :)

I am sure Parliament will find a more appropriate way to recognise Rod Donald's contribution.

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Sunday, November 06, 2005

Rod Donald

It was an absolute shock to hear of the death of Green party co-leader Rod Donald on the car radio this afternoon. It is the sort of news you just don't believe what you are hearing.

As someone who lost a close family member (my father) very suddenly a little under two years ago, my heart goes out to Rod's partner Nicola, their three daughters and my Green friends. It is such a surreal experience to lose somebody like this. Its a real emotional rollercoaster, but eventually the ride smoothes out and you are left with happy memories :) Aroha and *hugs*!

As the spokesperson for the electoral reform coalition in the early 1990s Rod played a key role in advocating for the change to the MMP electoral system. I also respected Rod's work on trade issues, as he provided a worthwhile perspective on the negative impact of so called 'free trade' deals. Rod bought a healthy dose of pragmatism to such debates - at times he seemed to be one of the few MPs to actually care about the trade deficit (Have current Labour MPs ever heard of a guy called Keynes?). On these issues, the loss of Rod Donald is a loss to the New Zealand Parliament.

I very much hope other MPs will take up the mantle and warn of the potential costs involved in any proposed free trade agreement - for democracy to work we need to hear both sides of the argument.

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Saturday, November 05, 2005

Brash, Shipley and the rest of the Nats endorsed Connell in 2002

At Brian Connell's Rakaia electorate launch at the Rolleston Community Centre in 2002, former leader Jenny Shipley and then Reserve Bank governor Don Brash offered support. The National party faithful thought Brian Connell was so wonderful they gave him a standing ovation.

While the Nats are now desperately attempting to dismiss Connell as a "renegade", Connell is entirely a spectacle of their own making. They should have known. Connell was shooting his mouth off as a National candidate, BEFORE he was an MP.

On 25th of July 2002, a few months before he was elected in Rakaia, Brian Connell shared a platform with Jenny Shipley at a Grey Power Forum, where he attacked National leader Bill English's policy that asset and means testing should remain for people in rest home care. Asked if he supported the policy, Mr Connell said he did not. The Press article reports that Mr Connell made an undertaking that "if elected he would keep his disagreements behind closed doors and support the party line in public."

Wha ha haha ha ha ha :)

Matt Conway's Press article of the 3rd of August 2002 includes some gems.
"I'm not starting to just be an also-ran," Mr Connell said before predictably strolling to victory in Rakaia. I've got to have ambitions, first of all, to get into Cabinet and, on the basis of doing a good job there, who knows, but prime ministership certainly is in my sights."

In the same pre-election interview Connell fumbled when asked if Bill English was the right leader for National. "That's a tough question for a, a, a guy who's new to the game," he began. In response, then National party Canterbury-Westland regional chairman Bill Studholme wailed in despair at Connell's naivety, "Christ, I couldn't believe it". But despite the ominous signs emanating from their brand new carpetbagger, did the National party deselect him as a candidate. No.

The National party are also to blame for selecting him in the first place. At the time of his selection Brian Connell had lived in the Rakaia electorate for 12 months, and had been a "National party member for an even shorter amount of time" (Press, 9/4/02). No wonder Brian believes his membership of the National party is "absolutely irrelevant" when he conducts his duties or forms a view.

Matt Conway also reported,
"Mr Connell had earlier provided National's pre-selection panel with a spartan half-page "career summary" covering his 20-year career with mostly multinational companies. Omitted from the document were job titles, years of service, names of referees, and a significant number of the companies he had worked for, including Wrightsons."

According to then Party President Michelle Boag she "sat in on the pre-selection process herself and vouched for its integrity" (Press, 9/4/02, 'Rakaia seat rap rejected'). Her comments were in response to public complaints from prospective candidate Roger Payne that the pre-selection process had breached party rules. Mr Payne later stood for the Christian Heritage party. Even if Mr Payne is just another jilted blue ego with a blunt axe, it does suggest senior party honchos made it clear who they wanted to be the next Rakaia MP - Brian Connell.

Matt Conway also implies Brian Connell was Jenny Shipley's anointed successor. "Former prime minister Jenny Shipley decided to retire gracefully, but not before anointing her successor in the true-blue province."

So in 2002 the National party were all in chorus of "We want Brian". Now they are saying "He's not the messiah, he's a very naughty boy!". This does not wash. The National party need to take responsibility for putting an idiot into Parliament. An idiot who was unlikely to make a contribution to public life.

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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Double meanings

Christiaan lists some amusing URLs that while work safe, are wide open to unintended double-entendre :)

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