Chelsea Manning a whistle blower of another kind

Yesterday I mentioned whistle blowers of the domestic sort, exposing criminal activity in the civilian sector. The case I mentioned was one involving a manager at the New Zealand Transport Authority who has just started jail time for fraudulent activity involving over $725,000.

As a follow up example of another sort of whistle blower, it is worthwhile mentioning Chelsea Manning, the soldier in the United States Army who disclosed highly classified government data to Wikileaks. Private Manning who has been in jail for the last 7 years was released from jail on 16 May 2017. It is true what Private Manning did was highly illegal under any circumstances, and any other country would probably have deemed her a traitor with a potential life sentence.

But in this case, by virtue of the nature of the classified secrets – an attempt to hide war crimes in Iraq – this was a very risky but very brave move. President Obama, perhaps acknowledging that the actions she undertook in sharing with Wikileaks these secrets, exposed improper activities by the Government, pardoned Private Manning three days before he left office. Those activities included completely avoidable civilian deaths in Iraq and the abuse of detainees. They and other activities led the U.S. Government to end the Ambassadorships of several ambassadors around the world.

Would a New Zealander be this brave? And what would the authorities and other New Zealanders say? Would they understand on principle that there are exceptions that need to be made, when exposing highly sensitive information covering up the misdeeds of Government departments and the military. And would they accept as a result that just very rarely, this is a necessary act?




Margaret Dodd symptomatic of a bigger problem

We talk so often about people being unstable in terms of their mental health and needing urgent help. We see what happens when people in desperate need of mental health assistance begin to offend. Yet, New Zealand cuts their funding, cuts the services that might save their lives, save New Zealand from another innocent person being raped/murdered/etc by someone whose mind is shot. And now, in 2017 I tell you about a case that I have been casually tracking vis-a-vis the media for the last couple of years. It is about a woman who at first I thought was just a a disgusting woman with a sick perversion towards young boys, but now I honestly think she needs mental health assistance and fast.

The re-emergence of Margaret Dodd in the media should be of significant concern not only to people who are parents of young children, but to health authorities as well. After a jail period of several months, a lady who has been banned from numerous schools, parks and other public areas, is once again being found loitering around areas with young children, particularly young boys. Her case is not new. This began as much as 2 or 3 years ago. The lady involved is in her 50’s or early 60’s and – much to the chagrin of the police, public and schools alike – she cannot really be touched for one reason or another, and yet, the danger she poses should set alarm bells ringing in every school in her vicinity.

But is Margaret Dodd actually a serious danger? There is no doubt that she has a major problem with boys, especially those of pre-pubescent age. There is no doubt that she has posed a risk to them by constantly being around them in ways any parent would find profoundly disturbing. But – and we could all be wrong here – something in the normal sense of someone being seriously in need of being locked up is not quite adding up.

The very sad and ugly truth about mental health in New Zealand is that people are committing violent or potentially violent offences in order to get themselves noticed by officials. Driven to desperation from continually being turned away, their ability to articulate their issue matched and in too many cases overtaken by the deaf, totally mute mental welfare system, they turn to crime. Their lives are spiralling out of control, out the ability of friends and loved ones to help, who find themselves recoiling at what has happened to a person who in the past might have been among their nearest and dearest.

Whilst I am concerned in no uncertain terms about what Margaret Dodd may be up to, she strikes me as someone who may have back ground issues. And this is where things become quite alarmiing. Margaret Dodd has shown no understanding, remorse or anything else that might suggest she migh know the implications of what she is doing. And yet her offences seem to be accelerating. Going to jail seems to have done nothing at all for her – or anyone else

I am NOT defending Margaret Dodd. If she is a cunning calculating paedophile or other offender who is simply playing the system, she needs to go away for a long time.

But what if she is genuinely not able to understand what she has done? What if she is genuinely mentally ill and needs help?

Jail with a bunch of other criminals sure ain’t gonna help that. So let us assess Margaret Dodd. Is this lady who has been harassing Christchurch schools, parks and other public places an actual menace or someone screaming for help because social agencies have once again failed to spot the warning signs?


Youth crime an election issue?

On Thursday 30 March 2017, New Zealand First Social Development Spokesperson Darroch Ball unveiled a plan to impose a system of demerit points for youth offenders. Mr Ball states that the plan would see offenders be subject to a multi-tiered system dependent on the type and number of crimes committed.

Given the dearth of attention and policy coming out of parties in Parliament aimed at reducing youth offending, this is good news. Whether one likes New Zealand First or not, credit has to be given for them for trying.

Youth crime stems from a range of socio-economic issues and their individual upbringing. A child from a family that is able to send their children to school, to feed and clothe them where the parents take an active interest in their well being is far less likely to commit crime than one from a broken family.

And it reminds me of a boy I knew at intermediate school. He came from a foster family. He said that he never does any homework because no one at home cares. No one is ever home to help or bothers to check whether or not he even had any. This boy never came to school with lunch, and often had not had breakfast. His hygiene was second rate.

Unfortunately the lack of care an supervision at home showed with him. He was suspended twice and on last warning when he left abruptly at the end of 1992. He fought with students, broke and stole belongings. If he did not like an instruction from the teacher he would scream and struggle. Although I did not miss him, I have often wondered what became of him and the others who lived in that foster home where it was obvious that there was no love or supervision. He was just past 12 when I last saw him.

Some of the people being caught committing violent in the last several months have been no older than this boy. Without doubt at least some of them came from similarly munted homes and families. Did they have a father figure in their life? Some boys simply need a male figure in their life to show them right from wrong, give them someone they can talk to about problems.

But are the criminals all boys from messed up families? Or are there a few girls involved as well? Do they have similar issues and backgrounds and if so are the solutions the same?

I do not know the answers to any of this, but this is an issue that New Zealanders are not prepared to ignore any longer. Irrespective of political orientation you have to agree that committing violent armed offences against businesses and their staff is simply not acceptable and that it is a punishment that merits a very serious response.

So, what do you want to see done about it?

Growing societal pains pressuring New Zealand justice system

It is quite fair to say that the New Zealand sentencing laws have multiple flaws to them that undermine not only the course of justice, but in some respects actually cause new injustices to occur. The cracks in the social net designed to keep people out of crime are so numerous that systemic failure is a real possibility and would occur when a critical mass of issues comes to a head causing a large scale collapse of services and functions.

Among these problems are:

  • A failing of the socio-economic conditions necessary to discourage criminal activity in the first place
  • A failure of the justice system to punish convicted offenders appropriately
  • Offenders occur because it suits the lifestyle that they have become accustomed to
  • Massive growth in the market for illegal substances – a seller can make $4,000 a week selling illegal substances in Whangarei
  • Break down of the family unit and a lack of role models for boys
  • Underfunding/scrapping of social welfare programmes causing them to fail or be wound up
  • Systemic underfunding and resourcing of the mental health sector

So how do these factors cause the sentencing regime to fail? There are numerous reasons.

  1. Whilst most New Zealanders are working, tax paying, law abiding people, there is a section of society that have no empathy with or understanding of societal norms. They come from broken families that have no had proper jobs, or have been involved with drugs or criminal elements – to them the law and the people who enforce it are suspect
  2. Despite legislation passing through Parliament in 2010 called the Truth in Sentencing Act, which was designed to make offenders do the full sentence handed down, sentences are becoming increasingly erratic and are rarely suitable for the crime/s committed
  3. It is obvious that the War on Drug has failed when drug dealers can make more money in a week than many New Zealanders do in a month – flow on effects from drug use can include being not suitable for a wide range of jobs
  4. A lack of role models for children with absentee parents or from a family where education and work are low priorities. They might be constantly working, or disinterested in their children’s development
  5. Welfare programmes have suffered from funding not keeping pace with inflation, but also constantly tightened criteria to eligible for assistance in the first place, with the result being more people are either getting cut off or finding the proverbial goal posts have shifted
  6. Mental health issues create highly unstable people whose symptoms may range from acute stress to being prone to physical violence or even killing – several cases have occurred in the last few years where either people not being treated have turned violent; caregiver gone to jail for mercy killing

New Zealand is going to have to address these issues collectively and individually in the near future or risk this nation becoming something other than the tourist friendly paradise many non New Zealanders believe us to be. Soon there could be significant costs to tax payers and companies alike fixing a problem that in some respects everyone is partially to blame for, but which nobody wants to come up with a comprehensive solution.

Avoiding the next Global Financial Crisis

For years I have watched Senators in the United States Senate and members of Congress display extreme annoyance over the existence of laws designed to protect America from another financial meltdown. I have watched because both major parties are inherently linked to major bankers, that donate massive sums of money to their campaigns in the hope of getting a deal viewed as advantageous to them. But I have also watched because a combination of U.S. elections, the rise of populist agendas and an irrational contempt for regulation threaten to undo all of the good work protecting the American financial system from catastrophe.

This concern is based in large part on the news that President Donald Trump has instructed his administration to start work on overhauling the United States Federal Tax Code. The idea of overhauling the U.S. tax code is not new, and not necessarily a bad idea when one considers it is a cumbersome 4 million words long. But with this plan comes news that laws implemented to prevent another major financial crisis are also going to be potentially scrapped.

Following the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, President Barak Obama enacted what were known as the Dodd-Frank laws, which were specifically designed to avoid the monumental meltdown that saw American banking institutions such as Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers and others go under. The changes enacted included regulation of banks, consolidation of agencies, retooling of the agencies to cope with future bankruptcies and improved accounting of credit agencies. Now all of this may be scrapped if Mr Trump succeeds in changing U.S. taxation laws.

Despite the pressures American banks may put on New Zealand, there is no reason on Earth why we should rush to follow suit. In New Zealand 31 individual banks collapsed between 2006-2010 wiping out several billion dollars worth of peoples savings. The hits suffered by individual New Zealanders ranged into the hundreds of thousands of dollars and individual bank collapses cost up to N.Z.$1.6 billion in the case of South Canterbury Finance.

Since then there has been some progress at ensuring that the New Zealand banking sector remains robust and trustworthy. One of the measures that has been introduced is the Open Bank Resolution Scheme. The purpose of this is to make easier the restart of a collapsed or otherwise imperiled bank by taking a percentage of investors savings so that the bank can reopen and enable investors to regain access to the rest of their money.

Whilst this is definitely a step in the right direction, it needs to be backed up by other measures. New Zealanders need to have confidence in the individual institutions and the ability of the law to deal with offenders.

I therefore propose:

  1.  Sentencing regime for punishing corporate and individual offenders be significantly overhauled – heavier jail sentences for individuals and heavier fines for corporates
  2. Bankers have to be on a public register and their registration renewed every several years; be suspended if found committing an offence/be cancelled if found committing multiple offences or continuing to commit offences under banking legislation
  3. Agreements established with major international partners to extradite offenders wanted on charges of committing such crimes
  4. Publicize the Open Bank Resolution concept and implement in full

The idea is that a strengthened regulatory regime with appropriate punishments for non-compliance will act as a deterrence – banks might be viewed as too big to fail; individuals might be viewed as too big to jail, but would a significantly harder deterrence put them off doing anything untoward? Would banker prefer a 33 year prison sentence for the worst offending and/or a $2 million dollar fine and/or seizure of luxury assets such as private jets, helicopters, yachts, mansions and sports cars?

The major banks, plus their political allies National and A.C.T. will probably resist the urge to make necessary changes. However, they should do well to keep in mind the style of justice dished out to banks in Iceland when their economy was hit in 2008 by the G.F.C.: the courts jailed the bankers.