Reporting from the Front Line in Palestine, with Amiria Hass

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@hass_haaretzI was not familiar with Amira Hass before this lecture.  She is an Israeli Jewish reporter following events in occupied Palestine.  She spoke in Dunedin at the end of April 2015.

She opened with the statement that Palestinian resistance is neither violent, nor non-violent.  It is based on their status as victims.  It is not free to be exclusively either violent or non-violent.  That is not an option.

Israeli violence, physical and bureaucratic, is not reported.

Gazans have no freedom of movement of movement from Gaza to the West Bank for better education, or to study abroad.  There is simply no freedom of movement between the Palestinian enclaves within Israel.  The enclaves are like low lying islands in an Israeli sea, and rising sea levels will drown them.

Violence does not provide answers.  There is no hope of an ending to repression, only retaliation.  There is no hope in a third uprising.  Protest is dangerous.  The leadership is divided between Hamas and Fatah, and it is convenient for Israel to keep them entrenched in their power bases.

Those enclaves become islands of normal living, hermetically sealing the unjust world outside its doors.  And people cheat to survive and live in those tiny islands of normalcy, finding an education, renovating and planting gardens, keeping the outside world at bay.  They live in their own bantustans.

What will happen?  Change will not come from Israel.  Israel will not reverse its military achievements.  After the holocaust there is no other place for them to go.  Change could come from the Palestinians, if they can start change, if the opportunity is there.  Israel has two people and one nation, a description that most New Zealanders can understand.  The development of the two peoples remains unequal, and Israel shows no vision to accomodate and contain its internal neighbours.  Israel still benefits from the occupation.

Not a concise lecture, nor a conclusive one.  Interesting, and perhaps there is still hope before change of civilisations wipes away all alternatives.

Freedom of Speech: Rights and Responsibilities

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We have to carry on until Islam is rendered as banal as Catholicism

Stéphane Charbonnier

Thoughts and notes from the Centre for Theology and Public Issues’ forum on Freedom of Speech, an event from the perspective of the Charlie Hebdo killings.  Lots of thoughts, no definite answers.

There is an ethical obligation against gratuitous offence that allows the right to do wrong in an ethical society, a society that tolerates different moral points of view.  There is no absolute freedom of speech.  “I” want to be censor, we want what should be censored from our perspective, what I say goes (or doesn’t go, it gets stopped).  Taking offense is not a legitimate reason to curtail freedom of expression.  Offense is subjective.  We have no right not to be offended.  Don’t seek out moral outrage.  Encourage civility and respect the other.  Legislation creates an uncivil society.

The law is culturally biased.  In New Zealand it has a heritage in a Christian-dominant society.  Blasphemy in New Zealand was last prosecuted in the 1920s.  We have a hate speech law.  It needs the approval of the Attorney General to prosecute and proof of the intent to incite wider hostility against race.  Especially advantageous to Jews, Gypsies and Arabs.

Christianity has spent the last few centuries being acclimatised into the secular society.  Islam has become used to being an invaded society.  We need to be aware of other world religions.  Question the unquestionable: the sacred practice, the symbols and the doctrines.  Question who has privilege and who has power.

Jane Kelsey and Josh Freeman at Burns Hall

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This takes priority over other stuff to write: a report on a conversation about the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement held in Dunedin at the Burns Hall of the First Church of Otago.  The talk was presented by Pr Jane Kelsey and Dr Josh Freeman.  Jane Kelsey is a leading voice among TPPA watchers.  There is a good chance I won’t get to the March against the TPPA this weekend and I’m posting this report.

Imagine the big corporations making a wish list.  Their agenda is how to make government work for them. Imagine they are given the right to make the rules to suit themselves, to impose disciplines on government.

There are few barriers in the trade of commodities in New Zealand.  We export resources, most of our manufacture has moved offshore.  The big players are interested in our domestic policies that hinder the movement of data, money, ideas and people.  They want to remove those barriers, to have a say in what kind of rules and policies a government can make, on social issues, job creation, environment, business, to know who gets a say, who gets to ask the questions, and what questions.

Twelve countries are involved in the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, an arc of countries around the Pacific Rim: Canada, United States, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, Brunei, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Japan.

America’s involvement  in the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement is two-fold. It wants to maintain its military presence in the Pacific Rim, especially to contain China, one of New Zealand’s biggest trading partners; and America wants to maintain its economic interests.

New Zealand is interested in cementing relations in the strategic alliance.  It wants to be seen as a good player.

Outside the negotiations no one has seen the background documents to these talks.  What’s more all background documents will remain secret until four years after the agreement has been signed, cementing a done deal and nobody’s political career gets hurt.  They have their pensions to think about.  What looks to be in place is that:

  1. Banks remain on steroids
  2. Intervention in government procurement (creating local jobs)
  3. Restriction on state-owned enterprises in public functions other than commercial
  4. Intervention in copyright and medicine policy
  5. Protection for foreign investors: ‘fair and equitable treatment’ so government will not change rules on foreign investors

Indigenous rights, such as the Treaty of Waitangi, will not be applied in relation to these issues.  Free trade arguments take priority.

Trade issues will affect our health.  Drug companies do not like Pharmac where it is being effective in making available medicines to New Zealanders at low cost, and would be quite happy to undermime its authority.  They would be happy with inequalities in health, that medicines would be costed out of the reach of some patients, and other medicines would be rationed.  Nor is it convenient that governments can legislate in relation to smoking, sugary foods, or the environment in relation to health.  Already governments move cautiously in response to the litigation of corporations.  This is enough to make New Zealand doctors unhappy.  When Dr Freeman put the hat around for funding for an advertisement against the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement on health his fellow doctors trumped up the cost within five days.

Time is against this agreement.  The Obama administration would like to pass it before June 2015, before the American political system girds its loins to enter the electoral phase of its cycle.  After that period it could fall off the table like the Multilateral Agreement on Investment before it.  We don’t need to give more power to citizens of big states, like the United States and the European Union, to sue us.


Women’s Rights

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First lecture of the year was from visiting Muslim lecturer Zara Faris.  Her subject was what defines women’s rights.  I’m delighted to have the open lecture season starting up again.

Faris listed several sources for rights: nature, man/woman/humanity, god.  She proceded through them.

Humanity has a natural right to life, liberty and happiness.  This conflicts with the struggle to survive in nature.  It’s a free market out there, nonsense on stilts!

Human happiness determines rights, the argument from utilitarianism.  There is a problem if freedom and happiness derives from systemic injustice.  Will future rights prove to be paradise postponed?  Rights supported from a position of strength supports those in power and enforces hierarchy.  The majority rules and the right of association prevents integration.  The right to freedom is deprived from prisoners who need to be constrained.  The rights to minorities are an act of good faith.

Rights rise out of what people deserve.  Every human being is entrusted with a body by a creator.  Our rights are ensured by mutual duty, the responsibility to think of others.  Revelation is determined by human beings, spoken, and recited by both male and female voices.  Feminist methodology presupposes a conclusion.  Islam seeks a god without gender or bias.

I confess that I’m disappointed.  The first lecture of the year proved to be about apologetics, a field of study I have no patience for.  The argument for rights from the transcendent becomes particularist rather than inclusive.  The imposition of one transcendent interpretation, Islam, becomes itself majoritarian and enforced.  I resile from the argument.  It acts out of a position of strength rather than mutual respect, allowing oneself to be one voice heard in a community of voices.  I continue to seek a broader foundation.

Rethinking ACC

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This was a lecture held by Acclaim Otago at the University of Otago Moot Court.  Acclaim Otago is a new group to me.  I went along to support new friends who are involved in it.

Acclaim Otago is a Disability Organisation for people of disability and by people of disability.  It was established in 2003.  Around 2008 it got an injection of a couple of interested people who were connected Accident Compensation Commission (ACC) claimants.  They were interested in what Acclaim Otago was doing and they had law degrees.  What they were doing kicked up a notch.

In 2010 the New Zealand Government submitted a draft state report and consultation to the U. N. Convention on the Rights of People with Disability.  The convention does not cover people of disability by accident or the role of ACC.  Funding from the Law Foundation gave Acclaim Otago the opportunity to submit a shadow report to the convention and shape the process.

According to census there are 320 000 New Zealanders living with long-term disability from accidental injury.  There are 8 000 New Zealanders on ACC’s books.  This is down from 11 000 people a couple of years ago.  While we as a nation spend more on ACC than civil justice that money is being saved to go somewhere.  Three percent of Gross Domestic Product  is profit from ACC.  There is a human cost as ACC is being used to get into surplus.  This service costs.  While we are being told the system is streamlined ACC claimants don’t know the process or the cost of medical review.  They are put at a disadvantage.  ACC has the resources.  There is a human right at play here: nothing about us without us.

The report is completed.  We heard a summarised version.  Now it goes to Geneva with people who will speak on its behalf.


Limitless Living

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This week’s lecture was Future Visions: Ecology and Economics at the End of the World, by Andrew Shepherd.  Notes, thoughts and reactions follow:

We are closing our borders to migrant Pacifica refugees who want to escape the loss of island nations to global climate change to come to New Zealand.

In 15 years, about half a generation, 1 in 4 human beings will be living in metropolises.  Many of theses will be Blade Runner-esque mega-cities.  They risk being zombie towns: lurching forward, but economically dead.

The sixth great extinction of world history is now underway at the hands of human beings.  Natural sound has been archived, some of which cannot be reduced in the wild now.  The chorus of life  praising the creator is systematically killed off.  God may have words with us over that: Wait, after doing that to your first planet, you expect a free pass to my new creation?!

Nature is unconscious to our depredation.  There is no negotiation as we exploit nature.  It is supine.  There will be no negotiation with nature as it changes on us.  We live in a closed system.   Advocates of the market place policies argue we must adapt.  That could prove a rather harsh adaption when the time comes.

Our fantasy, our utopia, may be to image we could return to a pre-scarcity society.  We have become so alienated from place we are talking to each other through remote access, each one of us in our own private cubicules.  Detachment is at the heart of greed.  We want to engage with the simulacrum, not the immediate person.  Our finances have become abstract, numbers on a screen.  Our place is no longer where our feet are standing, it’s a rung up the social ladder.

Our actions are embedded in our grand narratives.  Our survival relies on a consensual response to our crisis.  Who makes the product you buy?  Who recycles the product you dispose?  Build an adequate local culture.

I left wondering.  The new Jerusalem is a dream of the new world, with adequate housing, a just god, life-giving water and an endless supply of fruitful growth.  It is also uninhabited, just out of reach, in the realms of potential.  I am not certain I see the initiative and the dynamic response that could come from communities of faith.  Those who do act remain isolated.  The scale of change to the narrative remains overwhelming.

Lunch in Guiyu, China, where cell phones go to be recycled.

Lunch in Guiyu, China, where cell phones go to be recycled.

Democracy, Human Rights and the Role of Law in the Asian Century

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I saw a notice for a Department of Politics open lecture and thought it worth attending.  Members of the department were addressed the European Union’s Greek-born Charge d’Affaires in New Zealand, Michalis Rokas.  I found the lecture a little dull.  The one substantial point that it made was that Human rights and values are integral to all European Union treaties.  It is important to include agreements on Human Rights between like-minded partners, as equally between the European Union and New Zealand as between other countries.

The underlying principle of the European Union is the partner nations within the Union will not go to war with each other again.  All the partners remain in communication with each other.  The European Union remains a problem-solving operation working to enhance human rights and the rule of law.  It is not always visible in the media.  It has become heavily reliant on its bureaucratic workings.  However in unmeasured ways it is quietly making a difference, and its trading partners, such as China, notice this.

This PDF from the German Institute for Human Rights includes a model human rights clause in chapter seven of the pdf.

Somebody take this man fishing!

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