Archive for August, 2008

The freedom to belong

August 31, 2008

John Drinnan has placed the comments in his column in context. I mentioned them in an earlier thread. It’s helpful to know the backstory.

Drinnan says the Tan “row” has for some journalists brought to a head the tensions of belonging to a party-affiliated union. They ask, “can I be a unionist and not be caught up as a third party in a party election campaign?”

Fair enough. But implicit in  the suggestion that journalists will “face criticism they are in an organisation that is on the frontline backing one party” seemed to be the idea that they might be better to leave the union. It is difficult to divorce such a suggestion from the centuries of struggle for the right to have and to belong to unions.

One important point that has been overlooked in the current debate over Tan is that unions are inherently political organisations. Always have been and, as long as the distribution of wealth is determined within a system which is itself shaped by the struggle between capital and labour, always will be.

By struggle I don’t mean the sort of class struggle that my grandfather experienced. But the northern EMA’s recent ads contesting law changes to ensure employers contribute to their employees’ kiwisaver savings serve as a perfect example of how the interests of employers and employees are not identical, and that both groups continue to pursue their interests through political forums as well as industrial ones.

A very good case can be made for exempting unions from the prohibitions on discrimination on political grounds. As well as their “industrial” work, they promote their members’ interests through the political process. Reflecting their inherently political nature, unions played the major role in forming the Labour Party in the first place, and some continue to maintain links.

Because some union officials see themselves as “fighting the good fight”, problems will arise such as those that Drinnan outlines, where an organiser likened the union to “a religion”. Chris Trotter started his post on the EPMU’s response to Tan with, “unions … have an atrocious record as employers.”

I recounted in a comment to Chris’s post that as a trade union official I once went out with my colleagues because we’d been lied to by our management. When I was introduced to Ken Douglas on the street a few days later as one of those who took this industrial action, I was promptly denounced as a “wanker.”

It’s all about being in the “vanguard of the proletariat”, I guess.

Yes, as Drinnan writes, the union does belong to its members, not the staff. Some union staff functionaries have trouble understanding this. They mean well, but they have lost touch with what unions are really about. They been sucked into the political system, and they start to believe the puff about how wonderful they are, just like many of the managers with whom they have to deal.

To come back to the issue Drinnan raises, Herald journalists are working for a large capitalist organisation that has never failed to take the side of capital in any showdown with labour. They can strive for objectivity, but they don’t get to decide policy.

I can’t see how being a member of a Labour-affiliated union need have any bearing on the “professionalism” with which journos work, even in an election campaign. Unions are large organisations, and it is widely recognised that their members hold a range of political views. I’d like to know who is “pillorying” journos for their union membership. It’s wrong-headed and anti-democratic.

Journalists forgo their right to collectively deal with their employer at their peril. But yes, a media column can ask that question without it being part of a right-wing conspiracy.


Rove denounces “political” choice of running mate

August 31, 2008

“I think he’s going to make an intensely political choice, not a governing choice,” Rove said. “He’s going to view this through the prism of a candidate, not through the prism of president; that is to say, he’s going to pick somebody that he thinks will on the margin help him in a state like Indiana or Missouri or Virginia. He’s not going to be thinking big and broad about the responsibilities of president.”

Rove’s right about that, and right to condemn the choice of a running mate based on political calculations, not the person’s readiness for the job. But wait, it gets better …


Herald attack on EPMU goes all out

August 31, 2008

The Tabloid on Sunday is tragic. It can only be a deliberate attempt to sink the EPMU and the Labour Party. From this morning’s unbelievably biased piece on Shawn Tan’s employment dispute with his employer:

“He also claims if he was standing for the Labour party, he would still have his job.”

This is factually incorrect, and the Herald must surely know that. Tan has not lost his job. He has been suspended while his empoyer investigates a breach of his collective employment agreement.

But this is not the first time the Herald has distorted the truth in its pursuit of the EPMU. Thursday’s editorial was a masterclass in presenting unfounded supposition as fact.

The Herald’s antipathy to the union takes a sinster edge in John Drinnan’s Thursday column:

“But [the employment dispute, which Drinnan terms a “row”] illustrates what Little acknowledges is a tension between the EPMU – working actively for re-election of Labour – and journalist members who are required to be independent but are pilloried for belonging to a Labour-affiliated union.

“The EPMU insists that journalist membership fees are kept separate from calculations contributing to its affiliation payments to Labour and is changing rules for other members to define whether their membership is counted in contributions to Labour and the Greens.

“But as the election season ramps up, journalists have to face criticism they are in an organisation that is on the frontline backing one party.”

Arrant nonsense. The biggest irony is that this attack on the journalists’ freedom to join a union of their own chosing comes from an employer which purports to be defending Tan’s right to stand for Parliament (whatever the operational consequences for his employer and regardless of the contractual provisions of his employment).

Why the Herald’s dogged attacks on the EPMU? Well, are newspaper employers the world over currently trying to reduce their wage bills? Has the Herald been consistently attacking Labour and its allies over the past year?

I’m thinking that there’s enough obvious lying and carelessness with the facts here for a complaint to the Press Council.

The old media: worse than you thought

August 31, 2008

Girl, 12, rearrested over ‘attempted hanging’
Guardian, 3 June 2005

Lynching suspect ‘a renowned bully’
Evening Standard, 3 June 2005

What’s wrong with these headlines, and similar headlines in British newspapers in the days “after a five-year-old was “hanged” by a gang of children” as the Evening Standard put it, in early June 2005?

Well, as Nick Davies points out, there was no lynching. The critical information came from the testimony of the victim’s cousin who was reported as saying:

“I asked him, ‘What the hell happened?’ He said, ‘Some boys and girls tied a rope around my neck and tied me to a tree. They wouldn’t let me go’. “

Recall, the Evening Standard said “after a five-year-old was “hanged” by a gang of children.”

Davies is the author of the highly revealing inside look at the traditional news media, Flat Earth News: An Award-winning Reporter Exposes Falsehood, Distortion and Propaganda in the Global Media. London : Chatto & Windus, 2008.

Davies “exposes falsehood, distortion and propaganda in the global media.”

“Finally I was forced to admit that I work in a corrupted profession.” When award-winning journalist Nick Davies decided to break Fleet Street’s unwritten rule by investigating his own colleagues, he found that the business of truth had been slowly subverted by the mass production of ignorance.

Kim Hill interviewed him yesterday and the interview is great stuff (he’s a real talker). (Audio here.)

This post is for Winston.

Listen up climate sceptics — it’s Boris talking

August 31, 2008

London’s new Mayor and hero of the kiwiblog right has issued a stern warning to Londoners. Launching London’s Climate Change Adaptation Strategy he says that in the future…

“Londoners will face an increased risk of floods, droughts and heatwaves that will endanger the prosperity of the city and the quality of life for all.”

Yup, even Boris Johnson has recognised the terrible consequences of climate change, and the need to take action now, before it’s too late.

Listen to Boris!

Listen to Boris!

Quote of the day: Olympic food

August 30, 2008

From Anthony Lane’s hilarious account of the Olympics in the New Yorker:

“The fact is that the Olympic Games could happen anywhere. They seem to unfold in a vast and spotless nowhere. I could have been in Melbourne, or Toronto, where at least the food would have been better—where the Chinese food would have been better.”

And from the same source

“Long before this year’s competition began, on August 10th, I was lost in the arcana of the American press handout, which explained that the stuff the [synchronized] swimmers rub into their hair, to keep it helmet-hard and out of their smiles as they cavort, is unflavored Knox gelatin, “also used in Jell-O and cheesecake.” The main ingredient of Knox is “soft horse cartilage.” Add the Knox to the nose clips that the women affix, for those tricky submarine somersaults, and you get an unsavory blend of sport, cooking class, and circus.”

Why did the SFO not just ask?

August 30, 2008

Winston Peters’ lawyer, Peter Williams QC met the SFO today to give them documents which he said showed donations to the party were used as intended. According to the Herald report:

“He said he had seen a statement from the Spencer Trust, which received the donations, which revealed the money was used as intended and he would be handing it to senior SFO executive Gib Beattie at this morning’s meeting in Auckland.

“The statement was issued by Mr Peters’ brother, Wayne Peters, a Whangarei lawyer and Spencer Trust administrator.”

Williams also said that the SFO had bungled its inquiry by not asking to see the Spencer Trust books. It does seem strange that the SFO didn’t ask Winston Peters if he had an explanation. They must have known where to find him.

John Key has apparently stated that if Peters had the documents he would have proferred them months ago, according to the Herald. Seems Key got this wrong. Would he make important decisions on the basis of incorrect assumptions were he to gain office?

Williams also said after the meeting with the SFO:

“I believe that eventually justice will triumph and that in this case there will be an absolute clearance and there will hopefully be apologies from all those who have been severely prejudicial and haven’t look at the facts.”

It is not known at this time whether he meant to include the various right-wing bloggers who have been frenzedly attacking Peters at every turn in recent weeks.

Peters: Back in 5 minutes?

August 30, 2008

As Audrey Young points out, Winston Peters’ voluntary, albeit inevitable, stand down from his portfolios is “designed to give every suggestion of it being temporary.”

Clark’s assumption of the portfolios certainly gives that appearance. How can the Prime Minister carry on as Minister of Foreigh Affairs and fight an election campaign?

Young reports that:

“Peters and his lawyer, Peter Williams, QC, are taking documentation from the secret Spencer Trust to the SFO in Auckland this morning.”

Williams says that the documentation will prove that the donations under investigation by the SFO had reached NZ First.

If that is the case — and Williams is a very highly respected member of the legal profession — that would presumably see the SFO investigation come to an abrupt end.

Peters would then be able to argue that he has demonstrated that Owen Glenn did not actually make a donation to NZ First — the subject of his “NO” sign — and that the allegations about the diversion of the Velas and Jones donations were false.

Clark says that, “If the SFO finds no case to answer, then reinstatement is obvious.”

However, Peters might have won these battles, but not yet the war. There would still be outstanding the allegations of corruption made by Rodney Hide under parliamentary privilege, along with the conflict over whether Peters solicited the donation for Owen Glenn and which is a separate matter from the SFO investigation.

Unless he can demonstrate <em> before the election</em> that there is also nothing in either of these latter allegations, then the right will most likely have been victorious in their very obvious, well orchestrated campaign to eliminate him.

Certainly that is what Key is now banking on, having declared, “From National’s point of view, we’re ruling out working with New Zealand First and Winston Peters.” Key presumably knows what more dirt is waiting for the DomPost and Herald to fling. But then Clark’s seen the documentation.

Sarah who? as running mate

August 30, 2008

Once Obama choose as his running mate someone who complemented him — Biden has truckloads of experience in government and foreign policy — McCain’s choices narrowed. The word is that he made a hurried decision, meeting his last-minute choice Sarah Palin for the first time only yesterday.

He’s done the obvious thing and chosen a woman as his running mate. One who underlines his “reformer” narrative (however hollow that is in 2008). As Governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin has been an energetic reformer, eschewing “business as usual” politics. She also ticks all the conservative boxes. A clever choice in many ways.

Clearly, McCain’s camp thinks that Palin, a mother of five, will appeal to women voters, especially the Hillary fanatics who are so grieved that they are willing to jettison things like abortion rights. But she’s nothing like Hillary Clinton. One of them has extensive experience in government at national level and the other doesn’t even know what the Vice President does. One of them is pro-abortion and the other anti. Will women fall for this? Hope not.

Palin’s hugely popular in Alaska, so much so that she will probably deliver her home state to McCain, something that not many VP candidates actually manage to do. It’s not many electoral college votes (3), but it was a factor in Obama’s “Many roads to the White House” strategy. Obama has been very competitive in the GOP stronghold state.

(Note that the senate and house races are another matter, with both of the Republican incumbents mired in scandal.)

Not that they count for that much, but the Veep candidates’ debates should be fun. Biden should have Palin for breakfast when it comes to foreign policy and national-level issues. And some are already asking whether she’s ready to be Commander-in-Chief, should McCain, now 72 years old and a cancer survivor, not complete his term.

Peters stands down

August 29, 2008

At last. Peters has faced up to the reality of the situation and stood down.

He may not be guilty of any of the charges made against him — as the Director of the SFO emphasised yesterday — but it is simply untenable to have a Minister of the Crown carrying out his ministerial duties whilst under investion by the SFO.

I hope that Peters does have the evidence he promises, as otherwise we won’t get to the bottom of this before the election. But I’m not holding my breath.