Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

On disenfranchising prisoners, and ‘Desperate Housewives’ as a Saudi tool of oppression

December 10th, 2010

prison, voting, elections, orange election man, correctionsThe pre-Christmas period is traditionally a time for dumping politically noxious material on the public, in the hope they’ll be too distracted to notice. Certainly, the passing into law the other night of Paul Quinn’s private members’ Bill (that denies prisoners the right to vote) concludes as vile a piece of parliamentary business as you’re likely to find anywhere. I’ve written at length before about why this Bill was wrong and out of sync with international law trends in similar social democracies, such as Britain and Canada.

That story in Werewolf included an interview with Rick Sauve the former Canadian convict who won a court battle to prove that such legislation was contrary to the human rights principles in the Canadian constitution. Here, even Attorney-General Chris Finlayson denounced the legislation for violating basic human rights principles in our own Bill of Rights.

If anyone was looking to the MPs who voted for it to provide a coherent rationale for this piece of redneck pandering, they would have been sorely disappointed. Act’s Hilary Calvert for instance, represents a party that claims to believe in the fundamental rights of the individual. Unfortunately (and without blushing) Act also stands for the punitive use of state power and is more than willing to waive its principles whenever a law and order vote is up for grabs.

As a result, Calvert produced a 42 second ‘speech’ in Parliament the other night on Quinn’s Electoral (Disqualification of Sentenced Prisoners) Amendment Bill, and her effort has to be seen to be believed.


Saudi Arabia Goes Clubbing

Talking of people willing to preach one thing while doing something else again… here’s a more conventional piece of hypocrisy. In public, the Saudi kingdom preaches (and enforces on its subjects) a severe and brutal Wahhabi version of Islamic morality. Behind the scenes, younger members of the Saudi monarchy behave differently. Courtesy of Wikileaks – and a hat tip to Juan Cole for the story – this US diplomatic cable paints a pretty lurid picture. Here’s the cable summary:

Behind the facade of Wahabi conservatism in the streets, the underground nightlife for Jeddah’s elite youth is thriving and throbbing. The full range of worldly temptations and vices are available — alcohol, drugs, sex — but strictly behind closed doors. This freedom to indulge carnal pursuits is possible merely because the religious police keep their distance when parties include the presence or patronage of a Saudi royal and his circle of loyal attendants, such as a Halloween event attended by ConGenOffs on.

And here’s the detail :

¶2. (C) Along with over 150 young Saudis (men and women mostly in their 20’s and early 30’s), ConGenOffs accepted invitations to an underground Halloween party at PrinceXXXXXXXXXXXX residence in Jeddah on XXXXXXXXXXXX. Inside the gates, past the XXXXXXXXXXXX security guards and after the abaya coat-check, the scene resembled a nightclub anywhere outside the Kingdom: plentiful alcohol, young couples dancing, a DJ at the turntables, and everyone in costume. Funding for the party came from a corporate sponsor, XXXXXXa U.S.-based energy-drink company as well as from the princely host himself.

Royalty, attended by “khawi,” keep religious police at bay

¶3. (C) Religious police/CPVPV (Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice) were nowhere to be seen and while admission was controlled through a strictly-enforced guest list, the partygoers were otherwise not shy about publicizing the affair. According to a young Saudi from a prominent Jeddah merchant family, the Saudis try to throw parties at princes’ houses or with princes in attendance, which serves as sufficient deterrent to interference by the CPVPV. There are over 10,000 princes in the Kingdom, albeit at various levels and gradations….Although PrinceXXXXXXXXXXXX is XXXXXXXXXXXX not in line for the throne, he still enjoys the perks of a mansion, luxury car, lifetime stipend, and security entourage¶4……Alcohol, though strictly prohibited by Saudi law and custom, was plentiful at the party’s well-stocked bar, well-patronized by Halloween revellers. The hired Filipino bartenders served a cocktail punch using “sadiqi,” a locally-made “moonshine.” While top-shelf liquor bottles were on display throughout the bar area, the original contents were reportedly already consumed and replaced by sadiqi. On the black market, a bottle of Smirnoff can cost 1,500 riyals when available, compared to 100 riyals for the locally-made vodka. It was also learned through word-of-mouth that a number of the guests were in fact “working girls,” not uncommon for such parties.

Additionally, though not witnessed directly at this event, cocaine and hashish use is common in these social circles and has been seen on other occasions.

¶5. (C) Comment: Saudi youth get to enjoy relative social freedom and indulge fleshly pursuits, but only behind closed doors — and only the rich.

So far, so routinely hypocritical. In this next cable though, the US diplomats responsible for the report seem to embrace double standards as signs of modernisation – just as the US did so damagingly 40 years ago in Iran, with the Shah – and thus seem to be applauding the inroads being made in Saudi society by Western media and cultural values. In the US Embassy worldview, David Letterman and Desperate Housewives are to be regarded as positive agents of social change – and not just as one more brick in the wall of privilege.

/David Letterman, Agent of Influence//
¶11. (S) XXXXXXXXXXXX said the American programming on channels 4 and 5 were proving the most popular among Saudis. A look at the December 17 programming menu for MBC channel 4 reveals a 24-hour solid block of such programs as CBS and ABC Evening News, David Letterman, Desperate Housewives, Friends and similar fare, all uncensored and with Arabic subtitles. Channel 5 features US films of all categories, also with Arabic subtitles. XXXXXXXXXXXX told us that this programming is also very popular in remote, conservative corners of the country, where he said “you no longer see Bedouins, but kids in western dress” who are now interested in the outside world.

¶12. (S) Over coffee in a Jeddah Starbucks, XXXXXXXXXXXX, and XXXXXXXXXXXX elaborated on the changes in the Saudi media environment. “The government is pushing this new openness as a means of countering the extremists,” XXXXXXXXXXXX told Riyadh press officer. “It’s still all about the War of Ideas here, and the American programming on MBC and Rotana is winning over ordinary Saudis in a way that ‘Al Hurra’ and other US propaganda never could. Saudis are now very interested in the outside world, and everybody wants to study in the US if they can. They are fascinated by US culture in a way they never were before.”

¶13. (S) So effective has US programming been, said XXXXXXXXXXXX, that it is widely assumed that the USG must be behind it. Some believe, he said, that Prince Talal’s relationship with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp and its sister company Twentieth Century Fox has a clear ideological motive behind it, noting that the Fox Movie Channel on “Rotana” is available for free to anyone with a satellite dish. Both XXXXXXXXXXXX and XXXXXXXXXXXX, liberal-minded supporters of US democracy and society with little use for conspiracy theory, clearly believed this was the case.

So in this branch of the culture wars., the recipe is Desperate Housewives for the masses, and party central for the elite. Oh, and Wahhabi penalties (beheadings etc ) for anyone who steps out of line. As with the Shah, this rotten monarchy isn’t something the West can afford to prop up any longer.


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    1. 7 Responses to “On disenfranchising prisoners, and ‘Desperate Housewives’ as a Saudi tool of oppression”

    2. By Western G on Dec 10, 2010 | Reply

      The power to vote, to have a say in how this country is run, should be available only to those who contribute to the economy. That should exclude the parasites who rob, injure — feed off — the productive who have contributed to the country’s prosperity and helped create the wealth upon which we all depend.

    3. By Joe on Dec 10, 2010 | Reply

      Western G, no government should have an incentive to imprison members of demographics that are unlikely to vote for them. And this isn’t just theoretical, just look at the US, blacks are imprisoned at a wildly disproportionate rate and therefore have less of a voice in that democracy. This hobbles there ability to effect policies which might lift them out of poverty, away from crime. This of course suits the republican party fine. Do you think the Act party would support this if it wasn’t confident that low-income, Maori etc aren’t gonna be voting for them anyway? Remember prisoner does not = evil person. Mandela was in prison for quite a while. Sometimes those at the sharp end of the penal system are those whose voice most needs to be heard. If an individual is in prison SOMETHING has gone badly wrong. Yes, individual responsibility is important, but so is collective responsiibility. Everyone should be heardin a healthy democracy. What next? No vote for benficiaries? No vote for non-landowners. Some sort of income threshold? Votes that are weighted according to the economic contribution of the individual? Ridiculous.

    4. By Gary Chiles on Dec 10, 2010 | Reply

      Western G.
      Democracy is not some sort of a financial transaction, it isn’t simply resevered only for those that can afford it.
      Your insistance that economic contributiuons are the criteria that qualify one to participate in the democratic process, speaks volumes of your ignorance of democracy and universal suffrage.

    5. By Nesta Devine on Dec 12, 2010 | Reply

      Joe and Gary Chiles make important points here. There is both a political and a moral problem to the question of prisoner disenfranchment. The support for it stems from the(false) claims of neo-classical economics to ‘rational’ thinking. One of the successes of neo-liberal thinking has been to shift our understanding of the word ‘citizen’ from someone who lives in the city/state to someone who has a specific role in the economy – focusing on the two roles of taxpayer and consumer. To be a citizen under this form of thought one has to be a) rich enough to pay tax and b) rich enough to be able to buy things which register ‘choices’ which are the defining elements of the ‘individual’. Those who are poor are neither, therefore not citizens. The imprisoned are simply an easy group of poor to identify and eject from citizenry.
      The argument goes further: in the end, since all that rational individuals want is more ‘freedom’ ie more money, any govt that gives them that is good government. The form of government which is most efficient and can therefore govern most cheaply, leaving maximum money in the ‘taxpayer’s’ pocket is a dicatorship. Hence dictatorship is the most desirable form of government. Look at the Supercity legislation for evidence of this idea in action. Democracy is considered to be inherently inefficient, and also immoral since it allows the poor majority to spend the tax monies of the rich minority. (These ideas are most explicitly stated in the works of James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock, and largely derived from Arrow’s work on voting).
      I trust this clears up any apparent inconsistency in the ACT position? Let me add, I think it is truly appalling, I’m not explaining to endorse, just to make it plain what is going on here, theoretically speaking.

    6. By paul on Dec 13, 2010 | Reply

      so if we exclude the parasites that rob,injure and feed off the productive from voting, does that mean that financial advisers will be inelegible to vote?

    7. By Samantha on Dec 14, 2010 | Reply

      I met a lovely indian family rrecently who told me that it is common knowldege in the Indian community that to even get a job interview you need to change your name to a european name. The mother was a qualified teacher with perfect English language skills and absolutely lovely and intellegent. But she refused to change her name and hence couldn’t get a job interview in New Zealand. She was someone I would have been happy to teach my kids.

      Is this what happens to Maori? Do they have to change their names to get an interview?
      Maori are bearing the burden of unemployment with between 20 and 35% of their people unemployed in some areas. The depression hasn’t hit white NZ too badly yet.

      Why are people ending up in prison. Could low benefit levels be to blame. The fact that mothers on benefits can barely aford to feed their children let alone give them any treats at all. Those kids are going to feel deprived when they see all the stuff they can’t have on television and in the shops.

      When you get a large group of people such as Maori bearing the burden of a nations poverty then crime can become rampant in that group. Those people are less likey to have family that have cash to help them out. They are less lieky to inherit money as a start for them to get a house. It doesnt mean maori cannot sucede but it makes it a lot harder than for a person with some family who can help them.

      And the mothers cannot work and satisfy NZ law which demands 24 hour care of their children under 14 years old. If they leave those kids alone the children are in danger and the mothers are subject to being charged by police with neglect.

    8. By Robert Miles on Dec 15, 2010 | Reply

      Every country has a class system and an IQ hierarchy. That is why at this stage in evolution the gap between public and private morality is growing and the rich, bright and beautiful increasingly live their real and social lives in private outside a few global cities. It seems rather biased to single out the Saudi royals and friends of the USA as being any different from rich, middle class and possibly more intelligent anywhere. There are probably reasons why the private lives of the middle and upper classes are more private in Auckland than in Wellington and Auckalnd and why the police and Auckland advocating earlier this year the closure of all Auckland suburban non CBD, Ponsonby or Parnell bars at midnight. I have to say I was certainly not invited to the sex and drugs parties when I was in Canterbury Law School in 2001.

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