Sunday, August 31, 2003

Crony Capitalism

Seen on Atrios, this tale from an Iraqi blogger:

One of my cousins works in a prominent engineering company in Baghdad- we’ll call the company H. This company is well-known for designing and building bridges all over Iraq. My cousin, a structural engineer, is a bridge freak. He spends hours talking about pillars and trusses and steel structures to anyone who’ll listen.

As May was drawing to a close, his manager told him that someone from the CPA wanted the company to estimate the building costs of replacing the New Diyala Bridge on the South East end of Baghdad. He got his team together, they went out and assessed the damage, decided it wasn’t too extensive, but it would be costly. They did the necessary tests and analyses (mumblings about soil composition and water depth, expansion joints and girders) and came up with a number they tentatively put forward- $300,000. This included new plans and designs, raw materials (quite cheap in Iraq), labor, contractors, travel expenses, etc.

Let’s pretend my cousin is a dolt. Let’s pretend he hasn’t been working with bridges for over 17 years. Let’s pretend he didn’t work on replacing at least 20 of the 133 bridges damaged during the first Gulf War. Let’s pretend he’s wrong and the cost of rebuilding this bridge is four times the number they estimated- let’s pretend it will actually cost $1,200,000. Let’s just use our imagination.

A week later, the New Diyala Bridge contract was given to an American company. This particular company estimated the cost of rebuilding the bridge would be around- brace yourselves- $50,000,000 !!

Which, of course, the Iraqi people will have to pay for, in oil.

This sickens me. An entire country is being forced to buy from the company store, at inflated prices, at gunpoint, for the profit of Bush's friends and political donors. When this sort of thing happened in Indonesia, the Americans called it "crony capitalism". But I guess it really depends on whose cronies they are, right?

The first action of an independent Iraqi government (assuming they are ever allowed to have one) ought to be to repudiate any debts owed for reconstruction. The above more than justifies it.

Hate and revenge

Tyler Cowen writes:

CONSISTENCY TEST? Today's New York Times tells us that the bombing in Iraq, which killed a moderate Shiite leader, "dealt a blow to American efforts to establish order..." Other papers have said pretty much the same. But when the United States, or Israel, kills terrorist leaders, are we not told that dozens will rise to take their place, making the movement stronger than ever?

Yes. And the reason why is because there is a fairly obvious link between hate and revenge and becoming a terrorist. But its not so obvious that hate or revenge motivates people towards respecting democratic elections...

Saturday, August 30, 2003

Why it matters

In the context of discussing a PolSci paper on the Palestinian right of return, Eric Muller asks:

To ask whether Israel's negotiating positions do or do not conform with liberal theory is, I think, rather like asking whether bumblebees ought aerodynamically to be able to fly. It's an interesting thing to think about, but how does the inquiry really matter?

Ask Locke. Ask Mill. Ask Hamilton, Madison and the fathers of the American revolution. Ask Voltaire, Mazzini, Marx, Lenin, Ghandi or King. Ask everybody who has ever decided that things as they are suck, and that they need to change.

I can just imagine someone like Muller, back in the times before the French Revolution, saying "Well, it's very interesting that Voltaire is asking whether the King's actions are right or justifiable - but why does it matter?"

It matters because we can change. Whether a bumblebee can fly or not is a physical fact, something that can't change. But how we or our governments (or other people's governments, for that matter) behave is something we can change. And comparing actions to some set of (ideally) commonly-shared or universal principles is one way of pointing out both the need for change, and a preferred solution.

I have no illusions that the current Israeli government will directly change its behaviour due to an academic paper, but that is no reason to discount the process of political inquiry in general.


Tony Blair's chief spindoctor has quit.

Hearts and Minds

If you're looking for an example of how the US is winning hearts and minds in Iraq </sarcasm>, check out this post from Salem Pax. The US army raided his house, humiliated his family, and stole his booze because their informer can't tell the difference between builders rennovating a kitchen and a terrorist cell. As he says, "way to go".

Thursday, August 28, 2003

Save it for Brian Edwards

There are big political stories this week - the foreshore & seabed issue, the revival of corngate - so you'd expect that some politician would be fronting up to Kim Hill tonight to try and get his views across. But instead she's interviewing some fucking ex-All Black. It's been a disturbing trend over the past few weeks, and it's almost enough to make you think that politicians don't want to be interviewed by her anymore...

Anyway, I'd rather have politics on Face To Face, thankyouverymuch. Save the lifestyle bullshit for Brian Edwards.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Restaurant Review: KK's

KK's is a terrible restaurant. The food is cheap, plentiful and good, and excellent value for money. The satay is delicious, and they do a mean Kung Pao. Unfortunately, its rather small, and it can be difficult to get a table, so you should never go there, except on friday nights when I'm otherwise engaged.

Tories want to close down the Beeb

Well, its website anyway. They don't see why commercial news agencies (most of whom happen to be owned by their friend Mr Murdoch) should have to compete with a publicly funded one.

As a compulsive user of, I think that that competition is precisely the point. Publicly-funded, high quality news organisations such as the BBC raise the bar for everybody else, and through this provide the sort of robust and watchful media environment necessary for a modern democracy. They also make it more difficult for wealthy media owners to manipulate public opinion to their advantage - which is precisely why Murdoch wants to get rid of them.

Anyway, if you'd like to do your bit to save the BBC, why not email John Whittingdale (the Shadow Media Secretary and chief agitator for eliminating the website) and let him know?


NZPundit is propagating the latest theory on Iraq: the Flypaper Plan. Invade Iraq, flood it with juicy targets (also known as "US troops"), and wait for the terrorists to come and get killed...

Even if we take seriously the idea that this was The Plan All Along, rather than yet another post-facto excuse trotted out after the last one has fallen over, it does raise an interesting question. If this was The Plan All Along, why didn't Bush present it to the American public beforehand? That's what's supposed to happen in a democracy, after all, and its not as if secrecy is an issue - hell, announcing the Flypaper Plan would have been worth a few "bring 'em on"s, which would have made it work even better, so why hide it?

The obvious answer (assuming that this was The Plan All Along etc) would be that the American public would react unfavourably to the idea of US soldiers - their loved ones - being sacrificed in such a way by their leaders. It's a bit rough on the actual flypaper, you see...

So, even if we're charitable to the NeoCons and accept their latest line, that still makes them undemocratic lying arseholes. But no doubt, their supporters will find some way to claim that these are in fact virtues...

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

New Fisk

We have a long and dishonourable tradition of smearing the dead

Monday, August 25, 2003

Opposing torture

The New Zealand government will be one of the first to sign the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention Against Torture.

But guess who's not signing?

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss

Great. The US occupation forces in Iraq are using Saddam's old secret police to help root out the resistance:

U.S.-led occupation authorities have begun a covert campaign to recruit and train agents with the once-dreaded Iraqi intelligence service to help identify resistance to American forces here after months of increasingly sophisticated attacks and bombings, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials.

Things under the US are beginning to look awfully like things under Saddam. The American viceroy rules from one of Saddam's palaces, protected from the people by an army of special forces bodyguards. People are "disappeared" in the dead of night, held without trial, and beaten. And now, even the faces will be the same. All it needs is for Paul Bremer to grow a silly moustache, and the transformation will be complete.

And this is supposed to be their "model of democracy" for the Middle East?

Sunday, August 24, 2003

"Helping Out"

More evidence that we have a National government in disguise: the government is going to help out landlords track down former tenants by allowing WINZ and Housing NZ to pass on personal details (such as addresses).

This is a gross violation of the Privacy Act's principle that information collected for one purpose (say, paying you a benefit, or enabling the collection of taxes) cannot be used for any other purpose. Though I suppose the government simply legislate themselves a loophole to exempt themselves.

Those whose kneejerk response is to be unsympathetic to debtors might want to consider a slippery slope argument: if this debt, then why not others? There's nothing special about debts owed to landlords, and no doubt the banks, credit card companies and everyone else who is owed money will be soon be demanding that the government be even-handed and open WINZ's books to them too. Do we really want the government acting as an agent for (or even supplanting) BayCorp?

I'd rather they kept out of this entirely. Landlords can use the courts and debt-collection agencies like everybody else does.

New Fisk

A corner of a foreign field desecrated

Saturday, August 23, 2003

I am obviously not an American

We had a power cut this morning, and I didn't for an instant think it was terrorism.

Friday, August 22, 2003

New Fisk

Why the US needs to blame anyone but locals for its latest catastrophe

"Chemical" Ali captured

"Chemical" Ali has been captured - which isn't bad, given that he was supposed to have been killed four months ago.

Thursday, August 21, 2003

US wants others to "contribute"

In the wake of the Baghdad bombing, the US is apparantly trying to get the UN to encourage other countries to contribute forces to Iraq. Steve Gilliard has some nasty, pointy things to say about this, but I think the best (and shortest) response comes from the wonderfully named Fuck Everything:

"What? You guys ignored us before the war, and now you want us to send people as fucking cannon fodder? Fuck you! Clean up your own goddamn mess!"

Ramos-Horta and the death penalty

NZPundit is crowing over an article by Jose Ramos-Horta in The Australian. The death of his close friend (and former UN administrator of East Timor) Sergio Vieira de Mello in the bombing of the Baghdad UN HQ has caused him to rethink his opposition to the death penalty:

Indeed, I am so angry about this act of terrorism that I now have second thoughts about opposing the death penalty for terrorists. Why should taxpayers pay for the rent, meals, electricity bills and medical care of a convicted terrorist who kills, maims, destroys and takes away the lives of the innocent?

Many times in the past, I have signed petitions pleading to spare the life of someone on death row. And I will continue to do on a case-by-case basis.

But I will not shed tears when those responsible for the countless terrorist bombings in Bali, Jakarta, New York, Washington and Baghdad are put to death. Clearly, Sergio's death has changed the way I look at life and the issue of the death penalty.

There's an old saying that a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged, and I think this is a classic case. While it's understandable that Ramos-Horta would want revenge against his friend's killers, it's also sad to see him abandon his principles. The whole point of human rights is that they are things that should be protected even for your worst enemy. And the right which makes everything else possible is the right to life.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

New Fisk

Attack underlines America's crumbling authority and shows it can guarantee the safety of no one

Tuesday, August 19, 2003


Ken MacLeod - author of several exceedingly cool books, and the most ironic recipient of a literary award since Terry Pratchett was given one by Christians for Small Gods - has a blog.

A disturbing look into the mind of the American Right

Seen via Mark Kleiman: Right Wing News had left and right wing bloggers vote for their list of worst ever Americans. The top three slots on the left's list were McCarthy, Nixon, and J. Edgar Hoover. The top three according to the right were the Rosenbergs, Benedict Arnold, and Bill Clinton.

Monday, August 18, 2003

It's a good start

The government has released it's response to the question of foreshore ownership, and predictably noone is happy. Maori who had their expectations raised by the Court of Appeal ruling are fuming at the thought of only getting those customary rights practised by their ancestors, rather than full alienable title. And the rednecks are unhappy because the government hasn't squelched those "bloody maaris" out out of hand.

I had previously opined that any eventual solution was likely to be a damn sight more complicated than National's "beaches for all" rhetoric would suggest, and we're seeing it now. It seems that the government is planning to explicitly recognise usage rights as well as freehold title, and try and steer the Maori Land Court to granting the latter only in extremis. This seems fair enough, and it's not exactly an alien concept (well, at least not to those of us who have studied a bit of history... once upon a time usage rights were all people had, and often they had to give scutage or 40 days military service in exchange for them to boot). Meanwhile, Maori still get to pursue recognition of their rights through the courts (and, in extreme situations, get freehold title), and everyone still gets to go to the beach.

Objections from National and United Future have focused on the government placing the beaches in the public domain rather than asserting ownership. I think this is a brilliant move, precisely because it makes it vastly more difficult for the crown to alienate our beaches in the future. We'll be enshrining the principle of open access in law in a way that is very difficult to go back on, no future government will be able to privatise and sell the beaches (or charge usage fees, or hand over exclusive title to Maori, for that matter), and the next time a wealthy foreigner comes demanding riparian rights, the government can say "we cannot give you what we do not have". It's a great way of ensuring that open access remains open and free; the fact that its sticking it to propertarians by reinstating the commons is icing on the cake.

So far we're still at the principles stage, and the precise legislation is yet to be written. But its a good start, and one which at least gives us a way out of this mess that doesn't involve breaching the good faith this country was founded on. There is apparantly a website for submissions; I'd encourage everyone to use it to have their say.

Sunday, August 17, 2003

Warrior Queen

I watched this on Brandname Sunday Theatre tonight, and it was quite good. Some suitably sociopathic Romans (though I'm not sure that Nero was quite that nasty at the start), and some good Roman-killing action. OTOH, it suffered a bit from a) overstating the importance of a pissy little provincial rebellion in a province that frankly did not matter; and b) trying a bit too hard to be topical. There's no need to use a sledgehammer; the parallels between then and now ought to be obvious to any marginally intelligent viewer.

Definitions of "virtue" may vary

NZPundit pines for a return to past virtue:

Bush is proving himself a bit of a big spending liberal when it comes to domestic politics. But if it keeps him in for another term and allows a generation of 'Bush' babies to be reared in a climate where the manly virtues are once again appreciated, it'll be worth the deficit.

"Manly virtues"? The chief character traits Bush has displayed so far are things like stupidity, ignorance, arrogance, vindictiveness, and aggression; a desire to use force as a first resort, not a last one. These are the "virtues" of a schoolyard bully. They are not admirable, and they should not be appreciated.

But then again, I'm just a limp-wristed liberal, not a Real ManTM, so what the hell would I know?

Saturday, August 16, 2003

The missing link

It has occured to me that there's a link between my posts about the hypocrisy of the NZ Herald and John Howard, which might put things in perspective. In both cases, the hypocrisy lies in claiming a right for yourself while denying that same right to others. The Herald is claiming the right to publish whatever it damn well pleases (and specifically, to not publish what doesn't please it), while having vigorously denied the right of the University of Canterbury to do the same. Howard has claimed that Australians should not have to face the death penalty, while saying that its perfectly acceptable for Indonesians to do so. In both cases there are consistent positions on either side of the respective arguments, and in both cases the people I'm venting at have tried to have it both ways... if you have any belief at all in consistency, then this ought to offend you, regardless of what you think of the positions the Herald and Howard are espousing.

Salon has an interview with an Iraqi resistance fighter. It's an interesting read, and may help some people understand why someone would oppose the US occupation.

Thursday, August 14, 2003

See it there

Predictably, NZPundit approves of the Herald's censorship, but he's also posted one of the cartoons in question. Check it out; it's pointy in exactly the way that you want a political cartoon to be.

Fucking hypocrites

The NZ Herald has sacked a political cartoonist for continuing to draw cartoons critical of Israel - which is ironic, given the song and dance they made over Thomas Fudge last month. Freedom of speech, it seems, is a principle which applies only to governments and "politically correct" academic institutions, a cloak which can be put on when its convenient and taken off the moment it gets difficult...

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

They still don't get it

NZPundit is puzzled by the allegation that John Howard is inconsistent:

Howard does nothing about an Indonesian citizen convicted in an Indonesian court, but does do something about an Australian citizen facing US justice.

And because of that he's somehow hypocritical or inconsistent?

Yes. Why? Because Howard has gone on record as saying that it would be wrong for a state to kill someone. He has also gone on record saying that it is perfectly acceptable for a state to kill someone. The inconsistency is not exactly difficult to notice.

Various commenters have attempted to draw a distinction based on the which state it is or the nationality of the victim, but these are simply not morally relevant facts - any more than they are morally relevant to the question of whether states should torture people, suppress their freedom of speech, or tax them.

The other attempt at a distinction - that countries should keep their noses out of each other's business - is simply a tarted-up moral relativism - and not taken too seriously by its proponents, I might add. But its abundantly clear that those approving of Howard's stance wouldn't recognise an inconsistency if it hit them in the face - unless it was committed by one of their enemies, of course.

Sunday, August 10, 2003

New Fisk

Even in death, Uday and Qusay keep the Americans on their guard

Once upon a time, shooting civilians was a crime...

Family shot dead by panicking US troops.

I'd like to see the defenders of the US occupation of Iraq explain how this is anything other than incompotence and murder.

And while we're at it

Has anyone else noticed that accusations of "playing the race card" are the right's first response to any demand for ethical consistency across cultural, racial or international boundries?

It's not about race, it's about consistency

NZPols has taken John Howard to task for his inconsistent stance on the death penalty (thinking its OK to kill the Bali Bomber, but not OK to kill David Hicks). But in the comments section, two well-known Kiwi bloggers are accusing her of "playing the race card".

NZPols could have chosen her words more carefully, but this issue is not about race - it is about consistency. If you are committed to any universal scheme of ethics, and you think that the death penalty is immoral, then it follows that it is immoral whether the victim is Australian or Indonesian.

Now, you could argue that Howard is in fact not commited to universalism, but I suspect that if you ask him pointy questions about ethics, he'll strenuously deny that he is any sort of relativist or particularist. And more importantly, you can bet your arse that he'd change his tune on "respecting Indonesian law" if that law said that you could kill Australians with impunity...

Sorry, but in this case, Howard is simply being a hypocrite. If Australians deserve to be protected from the death penalty, then so do Indonesians. It's as simple as that.

Saturday, August 09, 2003

A history lesson

One of the most important documents in our constitutional history is the Magna Carta, a charter of rights extracted by the nobility from King John in 1215. Among those rights are:

In future no official shall place a man on trial upon his own unsupported statement, without producing credible witnesses to the truth of it.

No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land.

Just so we're clear about what the government is pissing on here...

There are some things no government can be trusted with

Chris Trotter has an excellent article in today's Dominion-Post in which he calls the imprisonment of Ahmed Zaoui a crime against humanity. Read it if you can.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the blogosphere, NZPundit has some thoughts in reaction to Mike's post of the other night. He cuts right to the core of it, and says that it really comes down to whether we think we can trust the government on this. He thinks we can, which is interesting given the distrust he has for them on almost every other issue. I, OTOH, do not trust them. Not because I wear a tinfoil hat, but because I think that there are some things that no government can be trusted with, and the decision to imprison someone in solitary confinement for eight fucking months is one of them.

The system we have at the moment - where someone can be declared a security risk and locked up until the government decides to let them out - is essentially arbitrary imprisonment. The decision is in the hands of the SIS and the Minister, with no checks, no balances, and no independent oversight. Absolute monarchs used to operate like this, and it's one of the reasons we emasculated or overthrew them.

This is supposed to be a democracy, and in a democracy, the government is supposed to prove its case against someone before locking them up. "Trust us, we know what we're doing" is simply not good enough - people's freedom is simply too important to be taken away on faith. If the government has concerns about secrecy, then it can present the evidence against Zaoui to a court in camera. If it does anything less, then it is just as bad as the junta he is fleeing.

Friday, August 08, 2003

Another NZ Blog

The Listener's Gordon Campbell now has a blog of his very own. Now, if only he could stop confusing "Yes, Prime Minister" with House of Cards...

Geoff Cohen of Coherence Engine was recently having a rant about a particularly useless site about the safety of a sugar substitute - and specifically, the problem that linking to the site just improves the site's page rank. This has, in turn, lead to some discussion about how people have tried and failed to build a business model around various web annotation systems, the various technological failure and why it's still important.

Seems to me that this is a problem that Google's page ranking system is tailor made to address. The very tech that they use to discriminate against enthusiastic bloggers and journal writters artifically elevating a site's page rank is the same tech that can be used to generate a page of search results which are discussion pages that link back to the site you're interested in. Just add a link to each search result along the lines of "See what people say about this site". Sort the page of sites that link to your target site favouring blogs, discussion boards and mailing lists as more likely to contain customer opinion, and you have an instant annotated web.

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

My thoughts on Ahmed Zaoui

Isn’t life interesting in little old New Zealand? One minute you think you live in a free country where the authorities never do anything dodgy and the next you're looking at the case of Ahmed Zaoui and wondering if Helen Clark has been itching to try on a pair of jackboots all this time.

The other parties in parliament, with the exception of the Greens, are of course trying to out do each other to see who can be the most wrong-headed over all this. Winston Peters’ thoughts on the matter were typically disgusting. To be fair though, his confusion about the difference between being guilty of terrorism and merely being suspected of terrorism could all be due to the effects of a late night on Courtenay Place.

National's Foreign Affairs spokesman Dr Wayne Mapp has accused the government of wasting money on legal aid on Mr Zaoui and has suggested that we may need to change the law regarding whether "suspect refugees" (an odious phrase if ever there was one) can appeal a finding against them.

I think Dr Mapp is really on to something here. Refusing refugees the right of appeal would save the taxpayer piles of money and as our Government and justice system are completely infallible, these appeals are an outrageous and unnecessary drain on the public purse. Well done Dr Mapp!

Sarcasm aside, the idea of cutting legal aid and the right of appeal seems to be a popular one with the "right wing, hang ‘em high brigade" but in effect what they are advocating is not cutting dollars but cutting justice.

Never one to quit while he was ahead, Dr Mapp, while making some valid points on the structure of the appeals process in his press release, goes on to suggest that

"The Government can't expect New Zealanders to accept that it is sensible in such circumstances to spend so much money on helping a person who is not even a New Zealand resident."

Call me naive but I believe that a person deserves a fair trial as a basic human right regardless of whether they happen to have a NZ passport and the money for a shit hot lawyer or not. I don’t particularly want to live in a country where guilt or innocence is decided by the depth of ones pockets. If this costs taxpayers money… well tough shit… its worth remembering that although today its some refugee or criminal receiving legal, tomorrow it could just as easily be you or I. Justice is not something you can just cut corners on.

Getting back to Zaoui. The man deserves a fair trial and this includes the right to know what you are accused of, who your accusors are and for this to be made public. From time to time there may be cases where this information can’t be made public, but the reasons have to be spectacularly good and even then the decision has to be justified. This has not happened here.

The SIS issued a security risk assessment certificate on the grounds that Zaoui posed a threat to security, public order or public interest. Unfortunately Mr Zaoui and his lawyers are not entitled to see any of the "classified security information", or know who provided it. How in god’s name are they supposed to defend their client when they don’t have this information? Can you say "kangaroo court"? The Government and the SIS has made no attempt to justify their decision and unless they do so I can’t help but think that they are committing a huge injustice here. This just isn't the way we are supposed to do things in New Zealand.

It's just so... unseemly

So, the Privileges Committee has decided that Harry Duynhoven's seat has been vacant since June 11th, and so the government is using urgency to ram through a law to retrospectively amend the Electoral Act and thus keep him in Parliament. The relevant section of the Electoral Act is indeed a stupid law, and in need of changing (possibly even retrospective changing, given the number of MPs who may be affected by it and the chaos resulting challenges of Parliamentary votes could cause), but the way they're doing it leaves a lot to be desired.

Frankly, no matter which way they change the law, I'd prefer to see Duynhoven fight a by-election, just to keep things above board.


(Image stolen from Scoop)

New Fisk

British troops play it cool. But anxiously they eye the north

Tuesday, August 05, 2003


You know, the Greens seem to be the only party which consistently stand up for human rights at the moment. No matter what you think of their fixation on GE, their environmental policies, or their weird folk-dancing habits, it's difficult to fault them on this front.

Suicide by Google

NZFirst's Peter Brown - author of the late lamented Death With Dignity Bill - is objecting to the idea of Exit New Zealand publishing a "suicide handbook":

This handbook, in the wrong hands, could be responsible for all sorts of trouble. A graphic illustration of how to commit suicide is not the road to take. I am totally opposed to this book becoming available in New Zealand.

Sorry, Peter, but this is a straight freedom of speech issue, and the possibility of a suicide guide being used by teenagers or depressed people is not a sufficient reason to deny it to anyone. On the other hand, I don't see any reason to buy such a book, when Googling for the phrase FAQ will give you all the advice you'll ever need.

Labour has lost its soul

Last week, a Chris Trotter column in the Dominion-Post lamented the demise of the Alliance, because they had provided a "soul" for the previous Labour government; a voice at the cabinet table reminding them why they were in power. The "jobs jolt" is I think proof of this; an example of Labour losing its soul, sucking up to business and forgetting what it is supposed to stand for.

OK, so most of it (including the much-reviled plan to force people to move to find work) was in fact a reannouncement of programmes that had existed for years, but it is still disheartening to see a supposedly "centre-left" social-democratic government courting the right by beneficiary-bashing. And "beneficiary-bashing" is the right term for this, given the mean-spirited nature of the changes. Work-tests for 55-59 year-olds on the "transition to retirement" benefit? NZFirst calls them "ridiculous and humiliating", and for once I agree with them. Given the amount of discrimination people over 50 face in finding a job, I can't actually see it as doing much good. Forcing people to move to a better job market? Sorry, but that is unreasonable. Where you live is not something the government ought to be dictating to people.

Instead of hitting beneficiaries with the coercive power of the state, the government should be enabling them to make their own choices. You should be able to walk into a WINZ (or whatever they've rebranded as this week) office and say "I'm on the dole, there's no work for me here, and I want to move to Auckland to improve my chances" and get a no-strings attached grant to do so (or a "get a job in six months or this will have to be paid back" style "loan"). Or (and this also is becoming a standard rant) remove the harsh and punitive regime of clawbacks and standdowns which stops people from transitioning into employment through part-time work. As for the elderly, I'm not sure what can be done, but forcing them to attend "training courses" where you practice "job skills" such as fingerpainting is definately not the answer.

Labour needs to remember that they are not the only game in town anymore. Under MMP, we have choices, ways of punishing a government without electing the other bunch. Unless they wake up and remember their roots - and their core constituency - Labour may find itself in a much less powerful position with respect to its prospective coalition partners next time around.

Monday, August 04, 2003

SIS "evidence" doesn't stack up

Great, not only are we still holding Ahmed Zaoui when we've determined he's a genuine refugee, but it turns out that the evidence provided by the SIS to the Refugee Status Appeals Authority is highly questionable, to say the least:

The authority decision says the unclassified material was often unsourced but was apparently drawn from news reports and internet material.

"Many of the entries consist solely of unsourced extracts from various news reports with no attempt to excise opinion from fact."


"That the SIS was content to rely on such a self-evidently dubious source to construct its biography of the appellant is most surprising," said the decision. "The consequence was not only to reinforce the chronology's portrayal of the appellant as connected to the GIA but also to import into the biography a suggested al-Qaeda link."

This is the worst sort of heresay evidence, and a perfect example of why the government needs to make its case in court, before an independent judge. But then, given the quality of the evidence they've publicized, it's no wonder the government wants to hide behind secrecy - because they clearly wouldn't be able to make their case to any independent review body.

Sunday, August 03, 2003

He's Back

KiwiPundit has returned from his work-imposed hiatus, with a short post about conscience votes and the Death with Dignity bill.

Saturday, August 02, 2003

United Future goes from lapdog to 'guide dog'

United Future has decided to be more assertive in pushing for their policies. IMHO, this is a Good Thing. Firstly, because it's how MMP is supposed to work - parties pushing for their policies, and legislation passed by coalitions of the moment. And secondly, because I think that the more they show their illiberal attitudes (by throwing around phrases like "pink think", for example, or opposing the extension of marriage rights to gays), the more their support will dissipate. Rather than being the party of Common SenseTM, they will be exposed as just another party of backwards Christians, like Christian Heritage or Destiny NZ. And the sooner that happens, the better.

Free Ahmed Zaoui

The Refugee Status Appeals Authority has decided that Ahmed Zaoui is not a terrorist, and has granted him refugee status. Despite this, he remains incarcerated in Paremoremo prison because Immigration Minister Lianne Dalziel doesn't want to release him.

Think about that for a moment. We have a man who has not been convicted of any crime, imprisoned on the say-so of a government minister. That's the sort of thing that happens in shitty third-world dictatorships, like the one Zaoui was fleeing, not in a supposed liberal democracy like New Zealand.

The government cannot hide behind claims of secrecy on this. Either it should front up and clearly explain why Zaoui is a security risk who must be imprisoned or deported, or it should release him immediately. Anything else is an affront to the democratic values we're supposed to stand for.

Property rights for all - except brown people

According to a story in the Herald today, a third of the foreshore is already in private hands. You'd think that National's rhetoric at Beaches For All about "[legislating] to confirm Crown ownership of beaches foreshore and seabed" and ensuring "equal rights for every New Zealander, regardless of race, to enjoy our coast" would apply to those parts of the foreshore which are already owned, but no. According to the Herald:

National leader Bill English said yesterday that the party knew parts of the foreshore were privately owned and would not seek to expropriate those property rights.

Why not? Because property is sacred, of course - unless it's owned by (or potentially owned by) Maori. So much for "one standard of citizenship for all".

Friday, August 01, 2003

Fiskian link-worship

Iraq isn't working

A second bite at the cherry

Having failed to defeat the prostitution reform bill in Parliament, United Future is now campaigning for a referendum to overturn it.

No doubt they'll soon be working on one to overturn the homosexual law reform as well.