Sunday, April 02, 2006

Matt McCarten: Renewed hope for Middle East peace

This week's Israeli election victory for Ehud Olmert's Kadima Party heralds a real opportunity for a permanent peace in Palestinian-Israeli relationships.

Although Likud officials said yesterday they may recommend that the Labour Party, led by Amir Peretz, form the next government to block Kadima, the electoral devastation of Israel's right-wing parties removes the hardliners who have been fervently opposed to dialogue with Hamas.

I think Hamas' electoral victory last month strengthens the chances of getting a settlement. No one is challenging the legitimacy and mandate of Hamas and they can't be ignored. This change of political leadership in both countries opens up a new possibility. The removal of Fatah and Likud from the political landscape was probably essential. New parties and new political leaders allow both sides to move forward.

I know it's sacrilege in New Zealand to say anything that isn't fawning support for the Israeli state. There is a well-oiled propaganda operation run from Zionist supporters that lambasts anyone who questions Israel's side of the story.

But we can't ignore the historical facts. The creation of Israel was based on the theft and occupation of Palestine. The only way that Israel has got away with it internationally is because it's backed by the United States and Europe.

But I don't see why Palestinians have to pay the price for Europe's guilt at their complicity with the Nazi genocide against their Jewish populations.

The occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip is in violation of UN resolutions. The major powers enforcing UN resolutions against Iraq's invasion of Kuwait by military means while actively supporting Israel building settlements on illegally occupied lands takes hypocrisy to a new level. This immorality isn't lost on ordinary Palestinians. The rise and success of Hamas as their champion was inevitable.

Israel and their Western backers can harp on all they like about terrorism. But when Palestinians have had their land stolen and been interned in refugee camps for generations, what are these people supposed to do? If it was the other way around, the West would be calling them freedom fighters and nationalist heroes.

Instead, we call them terrorists and stay silent while successive Israeli governments systematically hunt down their political opponents and murder them. If innocents get in the way - too bad.

Outrage that Hamas won't recognise Israel's right to exist is nonsense when Israel won't allow Palestinians to have their own state in their own country. Instead, most Palestinians are banished to camps erected by the UN.

The new Hamas leadership is painted as unreasonable and not interested in peace because they object to Israel pinching the best land in the West Bank for themselves and leaving the barren bits for the locals.

Meanwhile, Israel keeps building walls throughout the occupied lands to keep out the Palestinians permanently. The irony of the Nazis buildings walls around Jewish communities in European cities can't be lost on people.

Of course, funding that enables Israel to build these walls to legitimise their thefts comes from Western countries. Even Olmert says that if Hamas doesn't accept that Israel can have this land then he'll steal it anyway. So it's a bit rich that Western countries are now withdrawing their funding from the Palestinian government because Hamas won't play ball.

The Israeli people at the polls have obviously accepted they can no longer continue to oppress the Palestinian people by military means. It has brutalised both peoples. It has to stop.

The political change of guard in both countries really does allow the possibility a long lasting peace will break out.

Have Israel and their Western backers the courage to face up to the criminal acts against the Palestinian people and put it right? And please don't go on about not negotiating with terrorists.

The Israeli state subjugates an entire people and could objectively be described as a terrorist state. And don't call me anti-Semitic. It's the truth.

The only fair way for peace talks to begin is for Israel to accept they will have to leave the West Bank, pay compensation to the Palestinians for past crimes and recognise a Palestinian state without condition.

It's time Israel did the decent thing. The world will thank them.

Deborah Coddington: Government should butt out of health

First they banned it on aeroplanes, and I didn't speak out because I'd been afraid a cigarette smoker would set the plane alight.
Then they banned it in restaurants, and I didn't speak out because I hated cigarette smoke spoiling the aroma of my garlic steak.
Then they banned it in bars, pubs and clubs, and I sort-of spoke out because I thought the old diggers were entitled to a smoke at the RSA over a pint and a game of snooker.
Now they want to ban it at home and there is no one left to speak out for me.
With apologies to Pastor Martin Niemoller, this could be the cry of people who enjoy a cigarette in the privacy of their own abodes.
Dr George Thomson, a public health researcher at Otago University's Wellington School of Medicine, has stated he wants homes to be smoke-free.
"With the goal of making New Zealand's workplaces smoke-free now largely achieved, people's homes are one of the last frontiers in the battle to reduce secondhand smoke indoors," Dr Thomson said in a March 16 press release.
We're told that secondhand smoke kills hundreds of people every year, but I'm sceptical of the research. Do we have empirical evidence that these 400-plus New Zealanders would not have died if they had never inhaled the smoke produced by a cigarette smoker?
What research on smoking-related deaths has been done to investigate other respiratory risks which simultaneously could contribute to untimely mortality - asthma, rheumatic fever in childhood, poor housing conditions, bad diet, slothful lifestyle, proximity to highways, to say nothing of exactly how much secondhand smoke has been inhaled?
Pollution from car exhausts is so bad in central Auckland, apparently, that a casual walk down Queen St can seriously harm your lungs. If you must venture into this valley of death, take a deep breath, then sprint between K'Rd and Customs St.
When Labour was pushing through the latest smoke-free workplace legislation, it was pointed out that if the Government genuinely cared about ending tobacco-related illnesses, it would ban cigarettes outright. But then there would be the wee problem of $1.2 billion in "sin" taxes it takes from smokers.
The Maori Party at least is honest - it wants to make cigarettes illegal because Maori are over-represented in smoking-related statistics. Fat chance that will do any good - burglary, class A drugs, assault, manslaughter and murder are illegal but does that stop Maori being over-represented in crime statistics?
And if Dr Thomson gets his wish and smoking is banned at home, will fat food be far behind? Arguably, obesity and its associated health problems eat up more health dollars than smoking does, so why not a fat tax on those dreadful meals we adore - fish and chips, pies, burgers, fizzy drink, more pies, and an extra fries with sauce?
The trouble is, while we have a Government-funded health system, it's right and proper that the bureaucrats charged with accountability in health spending try to prevent diseases from occurring in the first place.
Linger one morning at a dairy near your school and see what kids buy for breakfast, lunch and play-lunch. Foods not only guaranteed to pile on the weight, but which will make them hyperactive, unable to concentrate, naughty, tired and sending their poor teachers up the wall.
Instead of changing their diet, kids are dosed up on taxpayer-funded drugs like Ritalin. Later in life, the obesity turns to diabetes and here-we-go-round-the-health-budget-blowout-bush again.
There's no doubt that smoking and junk food make people sick. Then taxpayers are forced to make them well again. So the Ministry of Health must have a preventative policy. Bureaucrats try to save money by banning, or curtailing through taxation and regulation, bad-for-you habits like smoking or junk food.
The absolute solution is to get the Government out of funding health altogether. Let everyone keep their own money and take out insurance to pay for their own drugs and operations.
This is the libertarian argument; hard to argue against if you want to retain the right to put whatever you like into your own body, and to hell with the consequences.
But hell will freeze over before every New Zealander accepts financial and moral responsibility for his or her own health.
It's hard enough getting parents to take charge of their own children's health - how difficult is it to butter and marmite slices of bread, slap them together, add a packet of raisins and an apple and tell your kids that's lunch? Harder, apparently, than giving them $5 as they leave the house and telling them to choose their own poison.
I feel sorry for fat people, and I feel sorry for smokers made into criminals by a law change banning smoking. But my compassion for their plight doesn't override my resentment at their unwillingness to change their behaviour when all taxpayers must shoulder the cost of the consequences.
It's enough to make you want to light up.

Kerre Woodham: 'Idiotic' legislation woof justice for working dogs

Did anyone else pick up the irony in Helen Clark saying that in the case of microchips, there is one law for all dogs?

Channelling Dr Brash may have provided a momentary diversion for the Prime Minister, but I'm with the farmers in their grumpiness over this latest piece of idiotic legislation. Ostensibly the law which requires all puppies to be microchipped as of July 1 is going to make the streets safer. By microchipping dogs, authorities will be able to trace the owners of dangerous dogs, and they'll be fined, their dogs will be destroyed and we'll all breathe a sigh of relief.

This is of course nonsense. The good owners, the responsible owners, the ones who want their pets to be safe, will be the ones who put their hands in their pockets and pay for microchipping. The dodgy buggers with dangerous dogs who don't register their dogs now, who maltreat them and leave them to roam the neighbourhood, terrorising the locals, are hardly likely to get a chip inserted into their dog just because the law says they should.

If their dog is picked up and destroyed, they'll just get another one. And even if a chipped dog was involved in an attack, you'd have to round it up and keep it secure until the animal control officer arrived, and how many times does that happen in a dog attack?

As for poor old farm dogs, they're working animals. By the time they've herded a couple of thousand head of sheep, anticipated the boss's instructions, broken the will of a particularly obstreperous old ewe and travelled miles back to the ranch, they're too tapped-out to even think of looking for trouble. A good honest farm dog, locked in his cage, dreaming the dreams of a blameless hound, does notcause trouble.

Certainly, dogs in the bush have caused havoc among the native bird population but they're generally the castoffs of dimwitted wannabe hunters, not runaway farm dogs.

I have no objections to getting the border collie microchipped, but only because I see it as a great proof of identification.

I do not believe that microchipping will make the streets and parks safer for the children of New Zealand, and for the authorities to suggest it will is balderdash.

Kerre Woodham: Keeping up with the Joneses

Would you pay $10,000 to belong to a club that would help you get to shake hands with the likes of former Prime Minister Jenny Shipley and MP John Tamihere?

Not that there's anything wrong with Jenny Shipley and John Tamihere - very nice people in their own special way - but even they would surely agree that a 10 grand price tag for pressing their flesh is a bit steep.

But apparently Phil and Corrina Jones are batting away would-be members with sticks after they announced the establishment of the Presidential Inner Circle last month. The most enticing aspect of belonging to the Presidential Inner Circle appears to be the opportunity to meet and be photographed with the aforementioned Jenny and John, Gary McCormick, Eric Rush and Ric Salizzo - although to be fair, members also got to meet the former leader of the United States, Bill Clinton.

There's no doubt a photo of you hanging off Bill Clinton as he flashed his famous good-ol'-boy grin would be a talking point in your sandwich bar or neighbourhood restaurant. But it's a long time between A list celebs like Clinton in these shaky isles. Would being fobbed-off with a home-grown former politician/television presenter/sportsman really keep members happy enough to continue forking out 10 grand a year, plus GST?

Surely that's one of the charms of living in New Zealand - we may not have high wages and job opportunities aren't as varied or enticing as those in Europe or the US but at least in this country, our stars, such as they are, are close enough to touch. On any given day in Auckland, you can run into a reality TV chick at the hairdressers, the prime minister at the gym, a Warrior and a muso, and a famously pointy headed journo and his luminously lovely former television presenter wife - and that's just in one aisle of the Grey Lynn Foodtown.

One of the most famous adventurers of all time, Sir Ed Hillary, is marvellously accessible and on any given day of the week, you'll find him visiting international sports teams at Les Mills.

Still, that's not all that's offered by the Joneses. Members get 12 days a year unprecedented access to the company of the four amazing and respected Presidential Inner Circle hosts - the Joneses and their friends, Kurek and Marie Ashley. Wow! If only I knew who they were, I'm sure I'd be amazed and respectful but I have no idea who these people are.

I googled Kurek and found that he was a motivational speaker, a former stuntman and helicopter crash survivor, and he holds the record for the world's longest firewalk.

And as for the Joneses, Phil's invested in property and written a book, and Corrina is blonde with big boobs, which, you would have to say, doesn't make her anything special in this town.

I'm sure they'd be great people to sit next to on a long plane flight but would you really pay 10 grand a year plus GST for the privilege of being their friends and getting to drive their his-and-hers Ferraris?

Having spent years working on Fair Go, I know that there is no shortage of fools and their money out there, desperate to be parted, and if the punters are happy with the deal, then good-on the Joneses for spotting a niche market and capitalising on it.

I do feel honour bound to point out to prospective members, though, that before they hand over the dosh, in this country it is very, very easy to keep up with the Joneses.