Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Sideswipe

The Western Leader calls a spayed a spayed when it comes to low-income earners
By Ana Samways

Overheard on Saturday evening at the ZooMusic gig as the crowd awaited iconic Kiwi musician Don McGlashan and the Seven Sisters to take the stage, a young girl asking her father: "Dad, how long till Don Brash and his sisters are on?"

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The pythagorean triangle exam question in Friday's Sideswipe, asking the exam-sitter "where is X?" drew the attention of reader Dave Thompson. He says that despite not complying with the marking schedule, the answer was correct. "In view of the way the question is phrased, it may, in fact, be the ONLY correct answer. If the examiner wanted to know the value of X, he/she should have said so. Someone should offer the enterprising candidate a job."

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America's largest Catholic university is offering a new course in "lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and queer studies". Assistant Professor Gary Cestaro of DePaul University in Chicago says, "Institutions of higher learning, even if they are Catholic, aren't spokespeople for the Vatican. Like any university, there should be room for free inquiry." (Source: Newsweek)

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Council gives with one hand and ... Paul Harvey shares another example of the Auckland City Council focus on revenue collecting in the lucrative inner city. He writes: "A number of tow trucks began towing cars parked on one side of Titoki St (within the Auckland Domain) on Saturday afternoon before the SkyCity Starlight Symphony concert. Signs had apparently been erected on Friday afternoon indicating that after a certain time on Saturday, cars that did not display the appropriate parking sticker would be towed away. The problem was that in an area on Titoki St that borders Parnell Lawn Tennis Club the signs had actually been erected within the trees and bush, making it impossible for the drivers of the offending vehicles to see them. This did not deter the parking wardens from calling in the tow trucks. At one stage there was heated debate between the wardens and vehicle owners that attracted the interest of the police, who advised the owners that they would support them in their efforts to avoid paying the fine (but I can't see any of the owners of towed vehicles recovering towing charges). As they left, the parking wardens were heard to say the signs weren't legal because they were placed too close together down the street.

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Gary Stewart responds to the "clarification" published yesterday about the Speights "Keep your back to the billboard, boy" sign: He writes: "So it was three years ago. I suppose that makes it all right then. If the on-to-it boys at Lion think three years is enough time to get over things then they must be absolutely stunned by the fuss over the Virgin Mary (2000 years dead) and the Prophet Muhammad ( 1400 years dead)."

John Armstrong: Clark has only one option

The Prime Minister now has little option but to cut her losses and sack David Benson-Pope.

He should have been shown the door yesterday but escaped dismissal because Helen Clark was prepared to take him on his word.

His assurance to the Prime Minister is now very much in question after it was directly contradicted by his former school principal.

The minister's credibility has hit rock bottom. He is now a total and utter liability as a Cabinet minister.

Over the weekend, he dismissed as "nonsense" allegations that at a school camp during his teaching days at Bayfield High School in Dunedin he burst into the girls' dormitory and showers while 14-year-old girls were undressed. The school's investigation of a complaint laid against him found otherwise.

The minister insists he was unaware of the complaint.

But it beggars belief that he did not know (or forgot) that a complaint was laid with the school; that he was unaware the school investigated the complaint; and that he likewise did not know the school altered its rules on the supervision of male and female pupils as a result of that investigation.

However, the school's principal at the time, Bruce Leadbetter, last night said he could recall the complaint and recalls raising it with Mr Benson-Pope.

If the minister did know about the complaint, he has arguably misled Parliament but unquestionably has misled the public.

Helen Clark had been firmly of the view he stay. His fate now rests on whether the public believes him - and whether the PM feels she can still believe him.

His difficulty is that his track record means he will be judged guilty before he can prove his innocence.

It is not just his alleged behaviour in his previous career that has tripped him up. It is his subsequent mishandling of those allegations that has been the real problem.

Last year's allegations of assault were dismissed by him as "ridiculous" only for the police later to determine there were two prima facie cases. Last weekend's allegations were described by him as "nonsense", only for the school to later confirm that it had accepted that the parent lodging the complaint had reason for her concern.

From here on, whatever he says or does as a minister will no longer carry any weight. That is untenable for someone who holds such a major portfolio as Social Development.

He is now a passenger whom his Labour colleagues can ill-afford to carry for the next three years.

Helen Clark may be acting out of loyalty or a refusal to give National the satisfaction of being able to claim a ministerial scalp or fear of a byelection. Or all three.

But keeping him in his post paints her third-term Administration exactly as National wants the public to see it: increasingly arrogant, self-serving and out of touch.

Mr Benson-Pope's immediate challenge is to survive being rotisserie-grilled inside Parliament over the next three days, while the Prime Minister gauges the temperature outside before finally determining whether he stays or goes. But Helen Clark may have already had enough.

Whatever, he is dead meat.

Editorial: Let's create waterfront for people

Aucklanders have a rare opportunity over the next month to conceive something splendid that could stand for all time. A large area of dockland lying between the Viaduct Harbour and the Harbour Bridge is about to be marked out for redevelopment. It takes little imagination to realise how important this will be for the shape and character of the city.

The area includes the tank farms of Wynyard Wharf. That site alone deserves a building as striking and definitive as Sydney's Opera House, except that the last thing Auckland ought to do is imitate anything. It is enough for now to see that a suitably large area at the end of the wharf is preserved in public ownership. That is the easy bit.

By far the hardest task is to look at the likely commercial uses of the rest of the area and preserve enough public space in the right places to make the Western Reclamation a success in every sense. This task involved much more than a civic design team sitting down with pleasant visions to draw neat plans on paper. The Auckland City Council has done that for the Western Reclamation and the result looks appalling. The proposed public areas amount to a half-hectare park on Daldy St and a long strip down the centre of Wynyard Wharf, which looks about as inviting as the public space the council has designed on the top of its buried rail terminal at Britomart.

The waterfront redevelopment on the eastern side of the central business district provides a lesson on what not to do for the western side. The tacky apartment buildings that have sprouted and the "mixed use" commercial-residential developments on the old railway marshalling yards along Quay St are a warning of what could happen to the west if the planners are not very careful. Aucklanders should not tolerate a repeat of Quay St; nor should they tolerate another development of apartments for apartments' sake.

The eastern CBD will always be separated from the sea by the working port, not so the western side. In fact the central wharves too, largely used by passenger ferries now, should be part of an accessible public waterfront. The city centre can expand westward between Fanshawe St and the water in a manner that takes full advantage of Auckland's location on a harbour much more expansive than Sydney's yet as sheltered and stunning from any angle.

The western development of the waterfront has already recorded a success at Viaduct Harbour. The popularity of that precinct of bars, restaurants and apartments has survived the loss of the America's Cup and provides the spur to extend the transformation all the way to Westhaven. The temptation is to try to simply replicate the Viaduct, but that might not work. We only need so much space for dining and nightlife.

The Western Reclamation may be more likely to remain a hive of boatmaking and marine servicing industries. Nothing enhances the pleasure of walking or sitting by the water than to be able to watch boats moving about and people attending to them. Rather than cordon off space for public use, the council should perhaps preserve the whole wharf perimeter in public ownership and permit maritime industries to operate in harmony with public spaces.

The most successful plans are not unduly prescriptive, but allow plenty of scope for private uses to develop naturally. Human activity is the essence of appealing places. It is more important than iconic architecture or artfully designed spaces, although these will have their place. Ports of Auckland Ltd and its owner the Auckland Regional Council will want to develop this land for their own, narrow, financial and operational needs. Auckland must take a wider view and create a lasting people place. The chance to develop a splendid maritime doorstep for the city centre might never come again.

Gwynne Dyer: Iraq smoulders but full-blown war a way off

We must co-operate and work together against this danger... of civil war," said Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, but others think that the civil war has already arrived.

At least 130 people, almost all of them Sunnis, were murdered in reprisal killings, and over a hundred Sunni mosques attacked, in the 24 hours after the destruction of the al-Askariya shrine in Samarra, sacred to the Shiites, on February 22.

But it is not yet time to say that Iraq has slid irrevocably into civil war.

The casualties of the sectarian violence in Iraq are already comparable to those in the Lebanese civil war - a couple of dozen killed on slow days, a hundred or so on the worst days - but Iraq has about eight times as many people as Lebanon, so there is still some distance to go.

And Iraq may never go the full distance, because it is hard to hold a proper civil war unless the different ethnic or religious groups hold separate territories.

The Kurds do, of course, and it is unlikely that the fighting will ever spread to the north of what now is Iraq, for Kurdistan is already effectively a separate country with its own army.

The Kurds are allied with the Shiite Arab religious parties of southern Iraq who control politics in the Arabic-speaking 80 per cent of Iraq, but even if that alliance broke, the Shiites could not take back the north.

The worst that might happen is ethnic cleansing around Kirkuk and its oilfields, where Saddam Hussein encouraged Arab settlement to erode Kurdish dominance.

Southern Iraq is already controlled by the militias of the Shiite religious parties, and has only a small minority of Sunnis.

Baghdad and the "Sunni Triangle" in central Iraq are the only potential battlegrounds of an Iraqi civil war, but even there it is hard to have a real civil war, because only one side has an army.

The old, predominantly Sunni Arab army of Iraq was disbanded by proconsul Paul Bremer soon after the American occupation of Iraq.

The new army and police force being trained by the US forces are almost entirely Shiite (except in Kurdistan, where they are entirely Kurdish).

Indeed, many of Iraq's soldiers are members of existing Shiite and Kurdish militias who have been shifted on to the payroll of the state.

So how can you have a civil war? All the Sunnis are capable of at the moment is guerilla attacks and terrorism.

Unless really substantial aid and reinforcements come in from other Arab countries, they are unlikely to be able to move beyond that.

They can kill some American soldiers (they are accounting for about a thousand a year), and they can play a tit-for-tat game of kidnapping and murder with the Shiite militias and the Interior Ministry's death squads, but they cannot really challenge Shiite control of Arab Iraq.

Three years after the American invasion of Iraq, it's possible to discern many of the final results of this "war of choice to install some democracy in the heart of the Arab world," as New York Times columnist Tom Friedman called it just before the invasion began.

It is a study in unintended consequences, and a good argument for the rule that ideological crusaders must listen to the experts even though they know that their hearts are pure.

Those consequences will include:

* An independent Kurdish state in what used to be northern Iraq.

* The destruction of the old, secular Iraq, and the installation of a thinly disguised Shiite theocracy in the Arabic-speaking parts of the country.

* A perpetual, low-grade insurgency by the Sunni Arab minority against the Shiite state, but no change in their desperate circumstances unless neighbouring Arab states become involved.

* The destruction of the secular middle class in Arab Iraq. Most of these people are abandoning the country as fast as they can, for they know that all the future holds is Iranian-style social rules plus an unending Sunni insurgency.

* The extension of Iran's power and influence to the borders of Saudi Arabia and Jordan. The United States has handed Iraq to Iran on a plate.

American troops will remain in Iraq for several years, probably right down to the November 2008 election, because it is impossible for Bush to pull out without admitting a ghastly blunder.

Too many people have died for "sorry" to suffice.

US troops stayed in Vietnam for five years after Richard Nixon was first elected in 1968 on a promise to find an "honourable" way out, while Henry Kissinger searched for a formula that would separate US withdrawal from total defeat for its Vietnamese clients by a "decent interval" of a couple of years.

Two-thirds of all US casualties in Vietnam occurred during that period.

We are probably going to go through that charade again, but it won't change any of the outcomes.

Rawiri Taonui: No justice where accused is judge

The ongoing debate within Ngapuhi about taking a claim to the United Nations instead of the Waitangi Tribunal or Office of Treaty Settlements reflects the difficulties that confront tribes entering our settlement procedure.

Both the tribunal and Office of Treaty Settlements lack independence. OTS is made up entirely of government servants. The tribunal has representatives from the Maori community, but none is elected - all are Crown appointed.

Contrast this with British Columbia where Indian groups and the government each appoint half of the members to the BC Treaty Commission and the chair is chosen by consensus.

The commission both investigates claims and negotiates settlements, whereas New Zealand divides the process and tribes have two options: to obtain a report from the tribunal then enter negotiations with OTS, or circumvent the tribunal and proceed directly to the OTS. The first takes more time but includes a recounting of the facts. The second is quicker, but without the same historical investigation.

Most tribes go to the tribunal because they believe establishing the history is important. Unfortunately, for several years now, the Crown has restricted the tribunal's budget in an attempt to force tribes to go to the OTS instead (its budget is four times that of the tribunal).

Tribunal reports are non-binding on the Crown. The Crown through the OTS will instead unilaterally decide a summary of which aspects of the claim it deems are valid. Entire reports can be easily set aside - the OTS summaries of the Taranaki settlements were hundreds of pages shorter than the original report.

If the tribe thinks this unfair, they have recourse through the tribunal whose findings will be non-binding.

Ngapuhi will be the weaker partner in negotiation. Contrary to UN guidelines the Crown does not ensure negotiating tribes have the legal, administrative and research support they need.

The OTS might also step around the accepted tribal structure and negotiate with what it calls a large natural grouping. As with all ambiguity in cross-cultural situations, this one favours the powerful. OTS will pick and choose who it talks to.

Again, contrary to UN guidelines that recommend either the return of all land or the equivalent in compensation, the amount of land returned will be minuscule and total compensation a one-off payment of 1 to 3 per cent of losses.

Our government argues this is all the country can afford, ignoring options explored in other countries. Canada for example makes reparations over several years to achieve a greater justice.

The poor level of compensation is a particular rub when Pakeha deride Maori as privileged under the Treaty. Humiliation is part of the process. In all, the tribe will have to justify their claim three times: at the Tribunal, with OTS and before a select committee of Parliament (when the legislation is drafted).

Some argue that to save time Ngapuhi should go straight to OTS. I urge Ngapuhi to go to the tribunal first. The inequities aside, it is important to document as much of the claim as possible. Whether complete or full, the report will remain the most comprehensive account of wrongs against the tribe.

Treaty testimony lifts the burden of the past that is etched into the hearts and minds of tangata, whanau, hapu and iwi, by explaining historical despair to present and future generations.

Our Treaty process is a twist on criminal justice. There is a perpetrator, the Crown; and a victim, Maori. The perpetrator stole, obtained illegitimately or defrauded the property of the victim.

There is an investigator, the tribunal. A jury, the perpetrator in the form of OTS, decides guilt by approving which of the facts the investigator produces are relevant. This all seems pretty handy for the perpetrator. On second thoughts, Ngapuhi should go to the United Nations.

* Rawiri Taonui is head of the school of Maori and indigenous studies at the University of Canterbury.

Paran Balakrishnan: Communist chief grasps 21st century

You could call him the Deng Xiaoping of India. West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya is taking a leaf from the Chinese leader's book and dragging India's Communist Party kicking and screaming into the 21st century - into a world of nasty capitalists and unpleasant words like globalisation and foreign direct investment.

The results of Bhattacharya's conversion on the road to Damascus are there for all to see in West Bengal's capital, Kolkata (Calcutta), the city famed for its grinding poverty.

Today, wonder of wonders, Kolkata's fortunes are on the upturn. Smart condominiums are sprouting in new suburbs that were farmland a few years ago. India's most dynamic and fast-moving software companies, which in earlier years would have stayed away from Kolkata because of its militant trade unions, have opened shop and are on a non-stop hiring spree.

And, as in other parts of urban India, giant shopping malls are springing up where the urban middle class can shop till they drop and follow that up with a burger and a movie.

Bhattacharya, a lifelong communist apparatchik, is the moving force behind the transformation nobody ever believed could happen.

To put it bluntly, he has taken West Bengal and its ruling leftist alliance by the scruff of the neck since he was catapulted into the state's top job four years ago. He shocked allies by unabashedly wooing capitalists in India and abroad. "Money has no colour or nationality. I want investment," he said a few months ago.

Just how far Bhattacharya has travelled became evident last year when he began aggressively wooing Indonesia's multi-billion-dollar Salim Group. Prodded by an Indian partner, Salim is promising gigantic investments in Kolkata and West Bengal.

It's looking at building a 2000ha technology park and a mini-township on Kolkata's outskirts. The group has also laid the foundations for a US$50 million ($75.8 million) motorcycle factory and is considering building modern highways in the state.

Kolkata's transformation is also attracting high-profile investors from down under. Last year, former Australian cricket captain Steve Waugh paid a highly-publicised visit to Writer's Building, the dilapidated British-era government headquarters from where Bhattacharya rules West Bengal. Waugh, a popular figure in cricket-crazy Kolkata, came to sell the concept of a sprawling "cricket city" in the city.

The cricket city - on the lines of a similar complex in Melbourne - would include everything from a cricket academy and stadium to a housing development. Waugh has the financial backing of Australia's Macquarie Bank.. The flood of foreign investors may seem like par for the course in an era when global capital is whizzing around the world. But Kolkata, it must be remembered, is a special place. At one level, it's the impoverished city that Mother Teresa called home. And, at a political level, it's the place where a communist-led alliance has ruled uninterruptedly since 1977.

Early on during the communist reign, business fled West Bengal - which under the British was one of the first places to industrialise. The communists put their muscle behind radical trade unionism and backed every strike and lockout. They even invented a new form of industrial action called the gherao, where workers crowded round top managers in their offices for hours - sometimes even days on end.

Go back even further to the early 70s when traffic policemen did their jobs in pairs - one directed traffic and the other guarded against militant leftists who occasionally knifed or shot policemen in the back.

So it was not surprising that most businesses abandoned Kolkata and took off to more hospitable parts of India. Young job hunters also took their resumes elsewhere.

Today that's history as the city rushes to catch up with the rest of India and the world. An unsmiling, bewhiskered Karl Marx still gazes down on the conference room of the Communist Party daily Ganashakti in Kolkata. But even here there's a clear-headed understanding that times have changed beyond recognition. "Globalisation does not come by road," says one senior journalist.

Bhattacharya puts it even more bluntly: "We cannot stick to old principles. China has changed. We also have to change and we are changing."

It goes without saying that there's a battle over this u-turn in the Communist Party. The party's trade union leaders are particularly unhappy at their diminishing clout. Every now and then they hold a bandh - another form of industrial action in which public transport is forced off the street and all commercial establishments are "encouraged" to shut down. Bhattacharya has fought to have call centres and 24x7 software companies exempted from bandhs - rank heresy in comrade circles.

The drive to build more factories and sprawling residential townships also faces opposition from another quarter - the farmers who have smallholdings around Kolkata.

Back in the 18th century when the industrial revolution got under way in Britain, it was an easy matter to turf out the peasantry and send them packing to the rapidly expanding towns and the factories where their labour was desperately needed by the newly emerging capitalist class.

In the 21st century, the peasantry tends to be more informed about their rights than in 18th-century Britain. They also have the vote and West Bengal state elections are due in May.

Nevertheless, nobody is expecting the Marxists to lose. They have an iron grip on the state and Bhattacharya is hugely popular. Even his rivals admit he's scrupulously honest and refuse to say a bad word against him. After becoming the Chief Minister, he declined to move into the huge official residence and still lives in a two-bedroom government flat.

Still, there's a long way to go and that's evident the moment you step on to a Kolkata street. These days, the middle class has grown hugely and so has its buying power. But the poor are still out there. By day, they earn a pittance at menial jobs and bathe under pumps in the street as the world goes by. By night, they are dark bundles sleeping on the grimy pavements.

* Each week, the Business Herald's columnists track the latest developments in the world's two emerging economic superpowers. Today, Paran Balakrishnan, associate editor of the Telegraph, Kolkata, reports from India.