Sunday, 11 December 2016
Wednesday, 7 December 2016
She completely blanked out the considerable privilege that underpinned ALL her choices. Only child of well off parents, living in a warm and dry house with her own bedroom, going to a prestigious school, being helped through university, coming of age at a time of full employment, inheriting a signifiant sum of money from her grandparents and standing to inherit even more from her parents - in those circumstances there is nothing remarkable or praiseworthy about making good choices. She is not to be condemned for her situation but she is at fault for believing it reflects anything but a good fortune that is denied to the majority of other human beings and a significant number of her fellow countrywomen and men.
We have had 3 decades of a steady erosion of workers' rights, the loss of collective bargaining and spread of individually negotiated contracts; the loss of and further threats to job security - at its most vicious, the notorious zero hours contracts; an increase in unemployment and under-employment, and a removal or failure to maintain social safety nets.
This has resulted not just in unemployment and homelessness but the return of large numbers of working poor many of whom have been priced out of the housing market, the inflation of which makes loads of money for banks and private investors - and with a reducing pool of social housing, are left hugely vulnerable.
We all have to have enough money to be able to live and to contribute in a meaningful way to society. People have to look and to behave in certain ways in order to get and to keep a job. They need to be clean and reasonably well presented. They need to be well enough nourished and rested to be able to do their job efficiently. They have to travel to and from their job which, unless they can walk to work, will cost them money, and they may have to clothe and feed themselves while they are doing their work.
This may be said to be the cost of subsistence which the workers' wages need to be cover. The dependence of the working poor on state funds to maintain that essential subsistence level is never described or decried as low paying employers bludging off the state - although that precisely is what is happening. Instead, the blame is transferred to the low paid workers and to the unemployed.
Being unable to afford even the basics of life is and being forced into dependence on state benefits in a society which treats beneficiaries as somehow parasitic on the social body, is iniquitous.
They have nothing to very little to spend on desirables such as good quality and varied food, warm and dry housing with adequate space, supplementary education, good quality clothing, dental care and regular eye checks, helping their kids through university, having meals out, entertainment, holidays or building a reserve of savings.
Just what the hell do they know about the physical and psychological stresses of being poor in a society in which being poor shuts you out of so many opportunities and - if you are noticed at all - makes you the object of either pity or contempt?
Of course there's all the cheap 'stuff' that global capitalism has made available to us courtesy of hyper-exploited workers in other countries - baubles and beads to distract and divert. The smug and the soulless point to this as evidence of how efficient, effective and economic global corporate capitalism is, or - when it suits and with typical disregard of the hypocrisy - as evidence of how feckless the poor are for spending their resources on 'luxuries'.
Tuesday, 6 December 2016
So why is he popular and what has he actually done to deserve it?
Key says he resisted rightwing pressure within his party to 'pull the rug out' from under vulnerable New Zealanders - ie. dismantle what is left of the social safety nets that stand between many Kiwis and destitution. Presumably we are to be grateful to him for not allowing the rabid ideologues to finish off the vulnerable and be thankful he just presided over a widening gap between rich and poor, sold off state assets, froze the budgets of key government services, instituted unpopular education changes, allowed a dangerous housing bubble to form and homelessness to increase and - close to my heart - removed Cantabrians' right to vote for their regional authority.
It's failure to do so makes it a hostage to fortune and has resulted in a disengagement from the political process by many of those who have been left behind over the past 30 years. What price democracy when fully one third of those eligible to vote do not bother because they see no point in it?
Tuesday, 15 November 2016
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.
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 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.
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.
Wednesday, 9 November 2016
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.
Tuesday, 4 October 2016
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.
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)
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.
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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.