Tuesday, May 31, 2005

New Fisk

Son of murdered Hariri heads for poll win

New kiwi blog

Craig Ranapia

More on state racism

In his immigration policy launch speech, Winston Peters complained that

[w]e have now reached the point where you can wander down Queen Street in Auckland and wonder if you are still in New Zealand - or some other country.

The problem is that many of those whose presence Winston is objecting to, and who make Queen St an "alien" place to his elderly supporters, are citizens, whether by naturalisation or birth. And as such, they have as much of a right to be here as Winston himself. Unless Winston is proposing stripping people of citizenship on the basis of ethnicity - something which might stir some memories - so he can "send them back where they came from", those who are feeling culturally insecure will just have to get used to it. Just as they have had to get used to Maori asserting their cultural identity (though I expect many of Winston's mob of adoring pensioners aren't too happy about that either).

I should really have made this point in saturday's post, but I was pursuing another angle then...

Slow news day

It must be a slow news day - Stuff has even resorted to digging up the two week old news on the Alliance party list. But this does give me an opportunity to point at Joe Hendren's analysis of whether the Alliance will steal votes from the Greens. Drawing on the NZ Election Study's data on the 2002 general election, Joe points out that a hefty plurality of those who voted Alliance in 1999 went to Labour in 2002, while the Greens (who should have picked up a substantial portion) picked up only a small fraction. An Alliance return then depends not on cannibalising Green support, but on attracting their own supporters back from Labour (and if they managed to do that while holding on to their existing support-base, they'd be almost home). The problem is how exactly they're going to do that when they don't have the electorate candidates to give them visibility...

Joe also notes that a large percentage - almost 20% - of Labour's 1999 voters didn't vote in 2002. Doing the maths, this works out to over 7% of the total electorate - a substantial pool of soft support for left-wing parties to draw on. Again, if the Alliance can mobilise this part of the electorate, then they should have no problems. Unfortunately, I don't see anything of the sort happening in the polls.

New kiwi blog

Carnifex Senatoris (the executioner of senators?)

Monday, May 30, 2005

"We are all New Zealanders"

So if Don Brash thinks "we are all New Zealanders", then why is he implying that Maori aren't?

Is this what National's election campaign comes down to? Outright racism and outright lies?

Is the Maori Party on the left?

One of the givens in political discussion is the left-right divide. The right traditionally seeks to defend privilege, the left to demolish it. So where does the Maori Party fit in? According to Jordan Carter, on the wrong side:

It seems to me that the Maori Party's ambition is to work back towards an illusory golden past of Maoridom, where individuality is subsumed under collective whanau, hapu and iwi identities. This is highlighted by the constant references to whanau, hapu and iwi in their speeches; by their hostility to the inevitable effects of modernity and the Enlightenment on Maori society; by their desire to see social services dominated by a Maori "Aristocracy" (also known as iwi-based service agencies) rather than the universal services provided by the welfare state.


That party stands for the antithesis of left wing politics, and of liberal politics...

Jordan is right. To the extent that the Maori Party works to advantage and entrench the tribal aristocracy, they are clearly a party of the right, and the only difference between them and National is whose privileges they are defending. But at the same time, I'm not quite so sure as Jordan about the evil, aristocrat-entrenching effects of iwi-based service agencies. David Slack touches on them briefly in Civil War, and points out that they (mostly) work and achieve good results. And if they work, and are more accessible to Maori than the welfare state, then why not fund things that way? Provided they are well-run, and provided that we are not abandoning people in need to be abused by their own iwi or hapu (in other words, provided these service agencies deliver the same universal services as the state would), then what is the objection?

I also wonder whether the Maori Party would be able to promote aristocratic privilege even if it wanted to. One of the consequences of their taking the Parliamentary path is accountability. If they succeed in getting funding devolved, and there are governance problems, then they will be held to account in Parliament. More importantly, if they fail to deliver - if the people who see this as a solution to their problems are disappointed - they will be held to account at the ballot box. And this I think is ultimately what will drive the Maori Party back to the left - because the key problems facing Maori are ordinary ones of health, education, jobs and welfare, and if the Maori Party wants to get re-elected, it will have to focus on solving them. They're riding an enormous wave of anger and hope which should see them safely into Parliament this time - but if they don't deliver on those key issues, then the tide will just as quickly go out.

Peak oil

Kevin Drum has an interesting post on this subjecting, citing an ExxonMobil report that oil production in non-OPEC countries will peak in the very near future. The upshot is that all future demand growth for oil (which ExxonMobil underestimates) will have to come from OPEC (i.e. the Middle East and Venezuela). Given that OPEC reportedly has very little spare capacity (they're pumping as fast as they can pump), this means that we're likely to see significant price rises as demand begins to exceed supply.

Unlike some, I don't believe this spells the end of civilisation as we know it. However, the end of cheap oil is going to mean change - and fairly significant change at that. On a personal level, driving cars will become much more expensive - meaning that we will need to either get far more fuel efficient vehicles, start using public transport more heavily, or live closer to where we work. International air travel, which relies totally on hydrocarbons, will become more expensive as well, and the age of the cheap holiday or business trip will probably end. We will, in other words, become more local, more tied to one place, and we won't have much of a choice about it.

On a global level, the changes will be far more mixed. Price rises will probably not mean energy crises - the world has been moving away from burning oil for electricity in favour of coal and natural gas since the first oil shock. But higher transport costs will tilt the balance between our current globalised economy and local production. It won't spell a universal end to international trade in physical goods - bulk non-perishables will be relatively unaffected - but the rising cost of airfreight may make the shipment of some types of good simply uneconomic. Companies, and possibly even economies, will fail as a result. And as a country which depends on agricultural exports to make our way in the world, we may very well be one of them.

(On the plus side, it won't all be bad. Increased localisation may reverse the trend of company HQ's relocating across the Tasman, and will almost certainly result in businesses and branch offices returning to our suburbs and small towns. Which should cushion the economic impact somewhat...)

What can we do about this? Pretty much nothing. It will happen; the only question is the timing. The best we can do is plan now to reduce its impact, while hoping for economicly viable fusion power...


The French public have rejected the proposed European constitution in a referendum. Given that the constitution requires the unanimous assent of all EU members, this means it is effectively dead. So what happens next?

Well, in a way, nothing much. The current EU system, cobbled together over the past 50 years or so, will continue. France is not withdrawing from the EU. What they have rejected is progress - in particular, progress towards tighter political integration. And they've also rejected both the process of expansion which has made political integration necessary, and future expansion to include Turkey. The problem is that neither the EU's new members or the consequent need for a better and more democratic system of governance are going to go away. This doesn't mean that the proposed constitution is the only solution, but it or something very much like it is necessary if Europe is to continue down the path it has set for itself.

Much of the rest of Europe seems to want to continue along that path. Nine countries have already ratified the constitution. It is up to them to convince the French public that the European project is still worth pursuing.


United Future, our "centrist" party, is proposing significant changes to the tax system, including large bracket changes, corporate tax cuts, and a 0% rate on the first $3000 of personal income. Some of these ideas are good, some abhorrent (the key aim of income splitting seems to be to promote marriage and financially penalise divorce - something that no government should be setting out to do), but the real problem is how they propose to pay for it. Such reductions would reduce government revenue by between $2 and $3 billion a year - yet United Future are not proposing cuts in spending. Instead, in what seems to be a bizarre flashback to the 90's, they are proposing to fund it through asset sales.

This simply makes no sense. Firstly, tax cuts are not a one-off cost. As noted above, government revenue will be reduced by $2-3 billion a year. Secondly, privatisation will further reduce government revenue, as those SOEs are profitable and return significant dividends to the government. Under United Future's scheme, those dividends will be redirected to the pockets of the rich - exactly as they were during the 90's. Meanwhile, everyone else will suffer the usual side-effects of underfunded schools and hospitals. And if they don't believe that increased funding has made a difference in those areas, and that it can be forgone, I can only suggest they have very short memories.

Selling the family silver to fund tax cuts is not "centrist". Neither is it "sensible". It is now clear that rather being a moderate, middle of the road party of "common sense", United Future are just another bunch of born-again 90's neo-liberals...

If all you have is a hammer...

...then every problem looks like a nail. This seems to be the problem with DestinyNZ, who have just proposed reducing NZ's diabetes epidemic by "strengthening families". But I'm at a complete loss to see how "promoting" marriage (meaning banning divorce and stigmatising de facto couples), banning abortion, repealing the Civil Union Act and driving gays back into the closet is going to help at all...

Sunday, May 29, 2005

New Fisk

Civil war casts a sinister shadow on Lebanon’s election

Episode III

Well, it wasn't as shit as Episodes I or II. OTOH, it showed how completely and utterly redundant those movies were; the story of Anakin's (and the Republic's) fall could have been told without nearly so much crap or computer-game ads. Throw in a serious bout of prequelitis (the need to wrap everything up / set the scene neatly) and you have a film which is just a little disappointing. OTOH, after all the hype, how could it not be?

I'm also somewhat amused by the American right's desire to detect anti-Bush memes in the movie. Oh, you can see the fall of the Republic as a warning about the possible future of American democracy - but this isn't "anti-Bush" so much as showing an awareness of history. Look at the rise of Augustus. Look at the fall of the Weimar Republic and the passage of the Enabling Act. Democracies do die in times of crisis "with thunderous applause" - and this is something that every citizen of a democracy should be aware of. And anyone who thinks that people should be ignorant of that fact, or that it is an implied criticism of their political faction, clearly has a guilty conscience.

Dead, white and male

That's the National Party list in a nutshell. One woman in the top ten, four in the top 20, and (by my count) 13 overall, with a disproportionate number in the last 5 candidates. You'd almost think they were having trouble attracting women as candidates after Brash's treatment of Katherine Rich - and that they did not value the votes of women.

It's the same story with Maori candidates - around three four out of 65 - and with those of other ethnicities and cultures. This list does not look like New Zealand; instead, it looks like the same old boy's club that National has always represented, with a few grudging concessions to the modern world. With this list, National has made it clear that they are not "a party for all New Zealanders"; instead they are just a niche interest group for rich old men.

Update: Corrected number of Maori candidates after reading DPF's post.


According to the Sunday Star-Times, the SIS have been asking local Algerian refugees about Ahmed Zaoui, turning up unannounced on their doorsteps and conducting lengthy and intimidating interrogations. The refugees must have felt right at home - especially when the agents identified themselves as "mukhabarat". Isn't this sort of thing exactly what they came here to escape?

From the sound of it, the SIS are desperate. They know their "evidence" won't survive even cursory investigation, even by a patsy like the Inspector-General, and so they're desperately trying to dig up something - anything - to justify their decision. Shouldn't they have done that before having someone imprisoned for two years?

Saturday, May 28, 2005

State racism

Winston Peters launched NZFirst's immigration policy at a Grey Power meeting on Friday - and it has already attracted strong condemnation. An idea of the content can be gained by looking at the audience - as Scoop noted, there wasn't a brown (or yellow) face among them, and obviously no-one under 60. These people represented New Zealand's past, not its future.

The central theme of the policy is "protecting NZ's borders" - but what do they want to be protected against? Not criminals or people who are actually dangerous - despite their well-publicised failures, the NZ Immigration Service does a good enough job of that now. They want to protect against difference. They want to protect against a New Zealand that looks and sounds different from the little whites-only homeland they grew up in in the 40's and 50's.

This is an explicitly racist project, and Winston isn't too afraid about saying so, highlighting the projected increase in the asian population over the next 15 years and saying "we actually have a choice" - that is, a choice over the average skin colour of New Zealand, which is, apparantly, "a matter of national security". Frankly, this is the sort of shit you'd expect from the losers in the National Front, not from the leader of a supposedly "mainstream" political party.

Winston's response to this "threat" is outright state racism - closing the doors on people of one skin colour while opening them for others, setting up "flying squads" staffed by "patriots" to target those who are different and double-check whether they "belong" (on the basis that not being white is a sign of fraud), and fingerprinting, retina-scanning and DNA-testing newcomers to make sure they know they are unwelcome. Others have already noted the parallels with Nazi Germany, and they are apt. It's not genocide, but there's more than a whiff of "racial purity" about it, built on an idea of "New Zealander" which excludes anyone whose ancestors didn't arrive from Britain. And "New Zealand is for New Zealanders" sounds an awful lot like "Germany for the Germans". Unfortunately, judging from the enthusiastic response, it seems that an awful lot of our pensioners would be quite happy with that. Somehow, I think that its not our immigrants, but our elderly who do not share our core values...

Anyone but Brash?

Normally I don't comment on polls, leaving it to the party hack blogs to crow or mutter about respectively. But there is one interesting thing in the Herald's latest one:

Asked about Mr Peters leading a coalition with National, 45.7 per cent of poll respondents believed it would be better than Dr Brash leading it; 38.8 per cent thought it would be worse; and 15.5 per cent didn't know or refused to answer.

Support for the idea was obviously lower among National supporters, but still, what does it say about their leader when people would prefer Winston Peters over him? And what does it say about the popularity of the sorts of policies he would pursue?

Friday, May 27, 2005


No Right Turn had its 100,000th visitor just a few minutes ago. They were logging on from somewhere in Eastern Europe, and (like many readers) using Mozilla. If this sounds like you, then congratulations. Unfortunately, there's no prize.

Meanwhile, I'm off to celebrate with a chocolate martini...

If I could...

I've been tagged by Span to participate in the latest meme spreading across the blogosphere. I don't normally do these things, but in this case I'll make an exception:

If I could be a lawyer, I'd emulate Tony Ellis and Deborah Manning and specialise in human rights cases. The point about human rights is that they are universal, and if I want to enjoy them, I have to defend them for everybody else - even for scumbags who I detest.

If I could be a chef, I'd end up hating food because it was work. This would probably make me thinner, but not happier.

If I could be a scientist, I'd map the chimpanzee genome, and use the knowledge to work out how to uplift them (or at least allow them to talk). Chimps are already pretty smart - they demonstrate sophisticated tool use and hunting strategies, as well as social manipulation and an understanding of small-group politics - and some can learn sign language and communicate directly with humans (some even teach it to their children). Making them smarter would give us someone else to talk to, as well as establish their moral status beyond any shadow of a doubt.

If I could be a judge I'd work for the International Criminal Court, ensuring that justice is global and that those who commit crimes against humanity cannot hide from it.

If I could be a writer, I'd get paid for venting my spleen about the state of the world, rather than simply doing it for free.

I tag Jordan (because he has so much time for this), Holden Republic (because I really don't know how he'll answer), and Iona (who may say something interesting). Instructions are here.

New Fisk

Protesters beaten as Egypt votes on electoral reform

Democracy in Tonga

This morning's Dominion reports (offline) on a massive democracy protest in Tonga - between 10 and 20 thousand people, out of a total population of 100,000. And can you blame them? Tonga is one of the world's last absolute monarchies. It is ruled by a corrupt kleptocracy of aristocrats who use their control of state monopolies and even the tax system to enrich themselves at the public's expense. Ordinary Tongans want change, and an end to corruption - but this is impossible under their current political system.

Given the overwhelming weight of numbers on the side of the "commoners", change in Tonga is almost inevitable. The only question is how. Moving to a more democratic system where the government is accountable to the people will allow the change to be managed in an orderly fashion and without bloodshed. Delay will simply increase the backlash against the nobility when the dam finally bursts. At the moment, people are simply marching. but if things don't change, they'll start building guillotines. And at that stage, the Tongan nobility will either have to resort to vicious repression or flee a bloody revolution. Neither is particularly palatable.

New kiwi blog

NZ Paradigm

One man with a flag

One man with a flag forced the second most powerful politician in China to sneak into Parliament by the back door. It's a sign of immense intellectual insecurity; is he afraid that even seeing it will poison his mind with toxic "Free Tibet" memes? Or is he simply arrogant enough to think that his beliefs should not be challenged, and that anyone who dares to should be shot in the back of the head before having their organs sold to the rich? (the latter was certainly the opinion of his security detail, who didn't seem to understand that we have free speech in this country...)

Full marks to Rod Donald for voicing our disapproval of the Chinese regime - and to the NZ Police, for standing up for the right to protest for a change.

Twelve things I learned on a jury

  1. $80 a day buys a hell of a lot of lunch.
  2. Lawyers charge an awful lot of money to sit there and say "no questions, sir".
  3. The unusual tag on the back of lawyers' gowns is an atrophied remnant of a pouch for food - a sort of legal culinary appendix.
  4. The secret motto of the High Court is "hurry up and wait".
  5. Jurors with nicotine addictions are let out during deliberations to smoke. Jurors with caffeine addictions must resort to snorting instant.
  6. You can dial out for methamphetamine and have it delivered as if it were pizza, even in a dump like Levin or Foxton.
  7. P dealers don't know the first thing about digital scales.
  8. The secrecy of jury deliberations would not prevent jurors from serving as witnesses in court if one of their number decided to resolve a deadlock by murder.
  9. Her Majesty has poor taste in restaurants.
  10. You can find absinthe in unexpected places.
  11. "Twelve good men and true" may not be quick, and it may not be pretty, but it works well enough, even for something as complex as conspiracy.
  12. Finding someone guilty has a moral cost, no matter how clear the facts are.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Restaurant Review: Costas (Palmerston North)

Mexican in style, but not in flavour. Disappointing.

New kiwi blog

Maramatanga - "an attempt to provide a non-partisan commentary of New Zealand politics".

Candidate Survey: Twelfth Response

Matt Robson, Progressive list MP and candidate for Tamaki:

(Matt numbered his responses, so I've spliced the questions back in)

If you could ensure the passage of one act on one issue in the next Parliament, what would it be?

The cancellation of the student debt and the return to free tertiary education. Everyone requires a post-secondary school qualification. This step is good for our economic development, good for individuals, and it is just, in that irrespective of personal wealth the individual's talents can be developed.

What three other electoral candidates or sitting MPs do you think are most similar to you in their political views?

Jim Anderton - has commitment to a social wage for all new Zealanders
Keith Locke - on many, not all issues
Steve Maharey - if he could shrug off the careerism and opportunism of some of his colleagues

MMP is about coalitions: What sitting MP who is NOT in your party do you think is most similar to you in their political views?

immodestly foolishly? I can't think of many/any. But I can work issue by issue with many in Labour and in the Greens.

Do you support or oppose:

...raising the drinking age?

Raising the drinking age in tandem with controlling advertising, breaking the link with sport and enforcement of prohibition on supplying minors.

...legalising marijuana (or pharmaceuticals based on it) for medical use?

This is a perfectly legitimate use of marijuana as it is for many drugs that are banned for good use.

...decriminalising or legalising marijuana for recreational use?

No - the fact is that it is a "hard" not a "soft" drug, and such a step would be to forget its effect beyond the privileged classes.

...allowing same-sex couples to adopt children?

Of course - the criteria should be the happiness and welfare, primarily, of the children adopted.

...amending the Marriage Act to allow same-sex couples to marry?

I see it as a civil right.

...allowing voluntary euthanasia or physician assisted suicide?

Yes - with, of course, all the appropriate safeguards.

...state funding of integrated schools?

Yes, as with the current arrangement. But not at the expense of a total commitment to a free publicly funded school system.

...the retention of sedition as a crime in the Crimes Act?

No - this is a form of control and prevents free speech,

...the retention of blasphemous libel as a crime in the Crimes Act?

No - see 11.

...further restrictions on hate speech?

No - I think the answer to such speech directed at individuals, organisations and ethnic groups (in the main) is to allow the broadest use of democratic rights to rebut their propaganda.

...the use of indefinite detention without trial for those subject to a security risk certificate?

No - the state needs to have the onus of proof and to detain only for a specified crime on the state books

...restoring the death penalty for serious crime?

No - it is a state barbarism, whether it is "petty" or "serious" crime

...Georgina Beyer's Human Rights (Gender Identity) Amendment Bill?

Yes - it should be able to go to Select Committee. Human Rights should not/cannot be confined to "acceptable" groups.

...Gordon Copeland's New Zealand Bill of Rights (Private Property Rights) Amendment Bill?

No - property rights are protected. It is superfluous.

...entrenching the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act as supreme law?

I am in favour of a written constitution protecting the type of rights in the Bill of Rights. But these rights should be strengthened, such as complete protection of the right of habeas corpus, and to prevent the "detention without trial" scenario a la Ahmed Zaoui.

...New Zealand's participation in the International Criminal Court?

Yes - even though weakened by sabotage from the United States and other states, it sets norms and provides an avenue for ordinary people to pursue their persecutors.

...lowering MMP's threshold from the present 5%?

There is a case for not having such a high barrier.


With the benefit of hindsight, how should the government have handled the Ahmed Zaoui case?

Natural justice should have been applied throughout and the legislation which allowed for the national security certificate to be issued without normal legal safeguards should have been repealed.

As usual, Matt's opinions are his own, and do not necessarily represent those of the Progressive Party.

Back in the world

Or as Samwise Gamgee would put it, "well, I'm back". I have spent the last three days deliberating in a jury trial. I have spent two nights as a guest of Her Majesty, and eaten some truly terrible food. I have not seen a newspaper (or surfed the net) since Tuesday morning. Yes, this means I slacked on Monday, when I originally expected to be locked up, so sue me...

There will be a slight pause while I catch up with what has been happening, but I'll probably start spewing content again tonight. There may be a slight interruption again tomorrow morning as I queue in the rain for the annual Red Cross book sale (an irresistable temptation), but otherwise its back to bloggage as usual.

Oh, and if you're wondering about the verdict, it was sadly "guilty" on all counts.

Monday, May 23, 2005


Sometime today, I am likely to be locked in a small room with 11 other people and denied access to the internet. Normal service should hopefully resume tuesday evening.

There are various things I'd like to comment on - the Blackball vigilantes, the Listener piece on class in New Zealand, the police-rape investigation's descent into secrecy - but it'll have to wait.


Trade Negotiations Minister Jim Sutton is reportedly feeling betrayed by our ambassador to the WTO, who has resigned his position to stand for National - but this seems to be just a little hypocritical. To put it bluntly, high-level civil servants resign to stand for Labour all the time. Sutton can hardly complain when one of them decides to bat for the other team.

The cruelty of ASBOs

Early in its first term, the Blair government introduced a system of "anti-social behaviour orders" (ASBOs) - court orders, obtainable against people who acted "in a manner that caused or was likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to one or more persons not of the same household", banning them from doing certain things (like vandalising letterboxes, say), or going to certain places - backed by up to five years jail. The number of ASBOs issued has since exploded, as local authorities have realised the advantages of being able to do an end-run around the need for evidence (ASBOS require only a civil standard of proof, and allow gossip and hearsay to be admissible as evidence), jail people for offences for which people could not actually be imprisoned (such as prostitution), exile the obnoxious by barring them from their own homes, or simply punish non-conformity or unusual behaviour. The latter has led to a large number of "silly" orders - such as the boy who is forbidden to play football, the pensioner who is no longer allowed to be sarcastic, or the woman who is barred from being seen wearing her underwear through her windows or in her own backyard. It has also led to a great deal of cruelty, as ASBOs have increasingly been used to punish the mentally-ill. In one case, a woman who had repeatedly tried to drown herself was issued with an ASBO barring her from jumping into rivers. And more recently, they have been used to ban people with Asperger's syndrome (a mild form of autism) from staring at people. But the worst so far is the ASBO which bans a 15-year-old from swearing in the street. He has Tourette's syndrome - a mental illness whose symptoms include uncontrollable twitching and swearing - and is thus bound to go to jail. But I guess his problem won't be causing "alarm or distress" to anyone anymore...

Command responsibility

I've commented before on the different approaches taken by the British and American governments towards prosecuting their soldiers for atrocities committed in Iraq: the US drags its feet or simply denies any wrongdoing (and if cornered, hands out a slap with a wet bus-ticket), while the UK puts even accidental deaths before a civilian jury so as to send a message to its troops that the lives of Iraqi civilians are valuable. Well, now we have another one: the British believe in command responsibility. Four soldiers from the Queen's Lancashire Regiment will shortly be standing trial for the murder of Baha Mousa and for the systematic assault and torture of other Iraqi prisoners taken in the same incident. And their commanding officer is going to be right there in the dock beside them.

The contrast with the US couldn't be any clearer. With Abu Ghraib, in the words of Seymour Hersh, "the buck always stops with the handful of enlisted army reservists"; their commanders - who allowed the prison to turn into a zoo - have not been held responsible. Local commanders have recently been reprimanded or demoted - a slap on the wrist with a wet bus ticket (and an administrative, rather than criminal, punishment). Meanwhile, their superiors, such as Major General Geoffrey Miller, who ordered that Abu Ghraib be "Gitmo-ized", or Lt General Ricardo Sanchez, who explicitly authorised the behaviour one of his subordinates was reprimanded for (the use of dogs to intimidate prisoners during interrogation) - have simply walked away.

What's truly shocking is that, if anything, command responsibility has been applied more strictly at Abu Ghraib. I am unaware of commanders being held responsible for the actions of their subordinates in any of the other numerous cases of abuse and torture in Iraq. Which I think shows exactly how "serious" the US is about preventing it. Commanders who face prosecution have a strong incentive to prevent abuse. Commanders who don't, don't. It's as simple as that.

Another critic to be silenced?

Last month, the US had the UN Independent Expert on Human Rights for Afghanistan sacked after he criticised the behaviour of US forces. Now the UN special representative in Afghanistan, Jean Arnault, has joined the row over the torture and murder of Afghan prisoners by US forces at Bagram airbase, and called for US facilities in Afghanistan to be opened to international inspections.

I guess they'll have to sack him too...

Rendition violates the Convention Against Torture

It's official: the US practice of extraordinary rendition (by which the US outsources the messy business of torture to compliant tyrannies like Syria, Egypt and Uzbekistan) violates the UN Convention Against Torture. At least, that's the ruling of the UN Committee Against Torture in the case of a man rendered from Sweden to Egypt by US authorities.

The man - Ahmed Agiza - had applied for political asylum in Sweden in 2001, but was turned down on security grounds. According to a Swedish TV report, he was then arrested in the middle of the night by Swedish police and driven to the airport where he was turned over to hooded US agents. He then became one of the first unwilling passangers on the now-infamous "torture plane", and was flown - hooded, shackled, and sedated - to Egypt, where he was tortured. While the Swedish government had received an "assurance" that Agiza would not be subjected to such treatment, the UN Committee Against Torture ruled that they should have known better, as

Egypt resorted to consistent and widespread use of torture against detainees and that the risk of such treatment was particularly high in the case of detainees held for political and security reasons.

Sweden was thus found to have violated Article 3 of the Convention, which bans expelling, returning, or extraditing someone to another state "where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture". But the same applies to every other country which hands people over to the US for extraordinary rendition - and to the US itself. An "assurance" from torturers is not worth the paper it is written on; the current US practice of using such "assurances" as paper cover for torture is simply indefensible.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

New Fisk

A typically Lebanese story of betrayal at the hands of so-called civilised nations
Saddam handed blame for Iraq's eight-year war with Iran

National's unsustainable tax cuts

Don Brash's promise of "tax cuts by Xmas" if National is elected underlines the complete reversal that has occured in New Zealand politics. Once upon a time, National were supposed to be the responsible economic managers - but now they're promising to blow the budget with no thought for the future. Meanwhile, it is Labour that is carefully ensuring that the government's books are balanced, that it has enough for bad times as well as good, and that today's spending is not simply a transfer of wealth from our children. The fact that they're able to do this without compromising on social spending makes it all the more remarkable: it shows that National's claim that such spending is unsustainable is simply rubbish.

By contrast, it is National's promised tax cuts which are unsustainable. While they look good against record surpluses, those are expected to disappear as economic growth slows; the OBERAC (effectively the rise in the net value of our assets) will drop by $2 billion next year, and the government will start running cash deficits again. This means that a significant tax cut would have to be followed by deep cuts to government spending - which given where the money is spent, would have to come out of the core areas of health, education, and welfare. Unless they sell assets, of course - or borrow (something they seem disturbingly comfortable with). Either way, future New Zealanders will be paying for it - whether it be as serious illness, poverty, and crime, as lost income, or as outright debt repayments. We're still paying for the last time National did this (why are we having to spend so much on rebuilding hospitals and roads now? Because National didn't do it during the 90's. Why are we having to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on bribing teachers and doctors and nurses to stay here and educate our children or care for us when we are sick? Because National didn't do it during the 90's). We shouldn't let them do it again.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Another apologist for sadism

Commenting on the allegations against David Benson-Pope, Dr John Langley repeats the myth that past actions are being judged by today's standards - and makes the stunning claim that sadism makes school more interesting:

When done in anger, things such as whacking someone on the head with a tennis ball could be assault.

When done in good humour, it will usually be seen by pupils for what it is - something that makes classrooms more lively and interesting.

Legally, this is dead wrong. "Assault" is not defined as "an attack in anger", but as the intentional application of force to another person. "Accident" is a defence; "good humour" is not. More importantly, in the days of corporal punishment, teachers were only permitted to apply force "by way of correction" - not for making the class "more lively and interesting". Langley, like Garth George, is nothing more than an apologist for sadism.

More answers

A couple of months ago, I used the Official Information Act to inquire about the prosecution of Tim Selwyn for sedition. The answers I received were less than satisfactory, so I sent a followup request for

a list of all communications and advice between the police and other agencies (such as, but not limited to, the Crown law Office, or government Ministers) regarding the prosecution of Mr Selwyn.

The request specifically noted that I was seeking information regarding the existence of information, which would not be covered by either by privilege. The focus was on outside agencies to avoid information covered under the Police Act (which covers only internal police communications)

Last week - ten working days late - I received the following reply:

As part of the Prosecution of Mr SELWYN, the Police have dealt with the following outside agencies;
  • Telecom
  • Vodafone

The contact with the above agences and content thereafter is now before the District Court, and therefore withheld under the provisions of Section 6(c) of the Official Information Act 1982.

I'm a little dubious about the accuracy of this response; at the minimum I would expect both Mr Selwyn's lawyers and the Department of the Courts - or alternatively, the Crown Law Office - to appear on the list. I'm sure its an oversight, but it still calls into question the Police's compliance with the Act. My request for clarification will be on its way shortly...

Budget thoughts


That's the at-first-glance description of today's budget. Another would be "uninspiring" - and in an election year, the government should have been looking to do something a little more impressive. Instead, we have a few moderate rises for some programmes, coupled with expanded eligibility for others, all with a good couple of years lead-time to give people time to adapt (or alternatively, the government time to cancel or defer). Plus an utterly insignificant change in tax brackets. Woo hoo.

The tax change (adjusting tax brackets for inflation every three years from 2008) represents a lost opportunity - not to cripple the budget with huge tax cuts, but to undermine tax as an election issue. Bracket changes are relatively cheap compared to cuts in tax rates and are widely (and correctly, IMHO) seen as being fair; implementing them ASAP would have been a cheap and easy way of robbing National and ACT of a talking point without significantly undermining Labour's key contention that large-scale tax cuts are unaffordable without cuts in services. Instead, by delaying them, the government has provided yet another rod for their own back.

The "KiwiSaver" savings scheme is designed to help people save for retirement or home ownership, and is pretty much borrowed wholesale from the New Zealand Institute. The plan I think though is to start encouraging employers to match employee contributions - though this will probably be done through the market (by having government departments do it and relying on competition for employees to get other employers to follow suit) rather than legislation. The home-deposit scheme - basically a free $5000 if you save for five years - is a solid, social democratic programme, aimed at promoting greater equality and helping people achieve the kiwi dream of owning their own home. Unlike the suggested tertiary savings scheme, the government contribution is not linked to the amount saved, so it does not advantage the wealthy more than the poor (except insofar as the former can afford to save 4% of their income while the latter cannot). It is however means-tested, rather than being universal - though probably more accessible than assistance from the Working for Families package. Overall, its good - though hardly anything to stir the blood.

Most of the media coverage has focussed on the above two policies, giving the impression of a fiscally conservative, sensible, boring budget. Overlooked has been a far more impressive package: a billion dollars a year extra for health. Now that's inspiring.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

A cheerleader for sadism

Garth George is spreading his poison memes in the Herald this morning, with his condemnation of the investigation into David Benson-Pope. According to George, Benson-Pope

...has become the latest victim of those who judge historic behaviour by the "standards" of today, which are not standards at all but an amorphous mass of prejudice parading as "tolerance" - and "rights".

Mr Benson-Pope is alleged, in his long-ago schoolteacher days, to have shoved a tennis ball into the mouth of some disobedient and yappy young punk, then taped his hands to his desk so he couldn’t pull it out. And to have thrown tennis balls at inattentive pupils.

So what? It sounds hugely creative and highly effective to me. And it’s a damn shame there isn’t a bit more of such discipline in our schools today - cricket balls, perhaps.

Unfortunately, George makes exactly the same mistake he did when trying to whitewash the abuse of army cadets at Waiouru. Benson-Pope's behaviour is not being judged by today's standards, but by the standards of his time. And as the Herald's editorial points out, some of what is alleged - striking someone across the face so that their nose bled; the use of a tennis ball as a gag - was illegal even in the 80's, and if substantiated, should result in criminal charges. It is therefore only appropriate that they have been passed on to police.

George's sickening attempt to justify sadism and abuse does serve one useful purpose, however, in pointing out why complaints weren't laid at the time:

Complaints weren’t made at the time because to complain was to be labelled a tattle-tail and a wimp and to become a pariah. As it was in my day.

But who promoted this culture of silence? Bullies, abusers, and their supporters - supporters like Garth George.

Candidate Survey: Eleventh Response

Sue Bradford, Green candidate for Northland. Sue is ranked 3rd on the Green Party list.

If you could ensure the passage of one act on one issue in the next Parliament, what would it be?

A brand new Social Security Act that reformed our whole social welfare system on principles of simplicity, sufficiency and universality.

What three other electoral candidates or sitting MPs do you think are most similar to you in their political views?

Jeanette Fitzsimons, Nandor Tanczos, Metiria Turei.

Do you support or oppose:

Raising the drinking age?


Legalising marijuana for medical use?


Decriminalising marijuana for recreational use?


Allowing same sex couples to adopt children?


Amending Marriage Act to allow same sex couples to marry?


Allowing voluntary euthanasia or physician assisted suicide?


State funding of integrated schools?

Support as long as they do not require payment of high fees, maintain good teaching standards and deliver the core curriculum.

The retention of sedition as a crime in the Crimes Act?


The retention of blasphemous libel as a crime in the Crimes Act?


Further restrictions on hate speech?


The use of indefinite detention without trial for those subject to a security risk certificate?


Restoring the death penalty for serious crime?


Georgina Beyer's Human Rights (Gender Identity) Amendment Bill?


Gordon Copeland's NZ Bill of Rights (Private Property Rights) Amendment Bill?


Entrenching the NZ Bill of Rights as supreme law?


NZ's participation in the International Criminal Court?


Lowering MMP's threshold from the present 5%?


With the benefit of hindsight, how should the government have handled the Ahmed Zaoui case?

Mr Zaoui should not have been imprisoned on the basis of a shonky Security Risk Certificate; he should have been treated the same as other seekers of refugee status.

As usual, Sue's opinions are her own, and do not necessarily represent those of her Party.

Uzbekistan: simply laughable

If ever we needed a graphic illustration of the way in which the war on terror can be used to provide a blank cheque for atrocity and oppression, now we have one: the Karimov regime has claimed that "only terrorists were liquidated by government forces" last week. But the accounts of eyewitnesses, not to mention the bodies of civilian demonstrators who have been killed execution-style, show that this claim is simply laughable. What next? They all committed suicide by shooting themselves in the back of the head?

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The right to live

The Schiavo case has recently raised troubling issues over the right to die - the right of people to refuse medical treatment or even actively choose death rather than a life of pain and suffering - and of who decides when someone is not competant to decide for themselves. But what about the flip side of the issue? In the UK, doctors are currently challenging a patient's right to demand life-prolonging treatment on the basis that leaving that decision in the hands of patients is not in their best interests. Instead, the UK's General Medical Council insists that doctors should be able to refuse to provide care which may cause suffering or be "too burdensome in relation to the possible benefits". There are two reasons for opposing this paternalistic attitude. The first is that while we may not be competant in diagnosis, or to choose which treatment is best suited to resolve a particular problem, we are competant to choose the ends of treatment, whether it be "make my headache go away" or "keep me alive". And we're perfectly entitled to insist that doctors do what they can towards those ends within certain parameters of cost and risk. But more importantly, it does not respect patients' autonomy.

Autonomy - the idea that people are both owners and authors of their own lives - is the central issue in many "right to die" cases. Respecting autonomy means allowing people to choose how much pain and suffering they are willing to tolerate. But if we accept that individuals are allowed to choose to die to avoid suffering, there should be absolutely no question that if they instead want to fight to the last and squeeze every precious second out of life regardless of how much it hurts, then that wish should be respected. If we accept a right to die, we must also accept a right to live.

Wind vs the RMA

Not PC asks whether the proponents of the RMA will

be just as happy with the RMA when also closes down proposals for electricity generation by wind turbine?

Several windfarm projects have been challenged under the RMA. Genesis's 19 MW Awhitu project was initially rejected, while plans to further expand windfarms in the Tararua ranges are exciting local opposition. But this is all part of the process. Some of these projects may very well fail, but others will succeed - wind farms generally enjoy significant public support (far higher than other forms of energy generation).

But addressing PC's question, my answer is "yes". The RMA exists in part to determine the property rights of existing users (such as the right to silence or to an unimpeded vista) and to balance these against the rights of developers and benefits of development. And where development is destructive of existing rights (and cannot either buy off those rights-holders or show a clear benefit to the community which far outweighs the damage done), then I have no problem with it not going ahead.

Opposition to the RMA is generally founded on a denial of existing rights - or rather, as it tends to be linked to the idea of dealing with all problems via the courts, a denial of rights to those that cannot afford lawyers (rich NIMBYs, however, get to keep right on going). This is yet another example of the difference between their stunted version of freedom and that promoted by the left. Mechanisms to protect rights must be available to all, regardless of means. We do this to protect other rights - we provide police and public prosecutors to ensure that justice for crimes against persons is available to all, not just those able to afford it - and the same principle applies here.

Good news?

China has condemned confessions extracted by torture, and promised to crack down on the practice after an innocent man was jailed for 11 years after confessing to murdering his wife. They've even promised to hold police legally responsible if torture is "severe" (though what counts as "severe" in China is anyone's guess).

This is good news - assuming they actually stick to it.

I was wondering about that

Over the past few days I've received an unusual amount of German neo-Nazi spam, some apparantly forged from one of my home addresses. My ISP had suggested a local virus infection (unlikely, since I don't use The Gaping Security Hole Known As Outlook) - but finally I have an explanation: a "perfect storm" of spam...

It's amazing what you find if you actually bother to look

Wanted terrorist Luis Posada Carriles has been arrested in the US. US officials had previously denied he was even in the country. It's amazing what you find if you actually bother to look...

Next step is hopefully extradition.

Candidate Survey: Tenth Response

From Robert Guyton, Green candidate for Clutha-Southland:

If you could ensure the passage of one act on one issue in the next Parliament, what would it be?

That the Government takes the leading role in modelling energy efficiency in building practice by incorporating state of the art, sustainable technologies in new and remodelled government buildings.

What three other electoral candidates or sitting MPs do you think are most similar to you in their political views?

Metiria Turei (Green)
Mike Ward (Green)
Ian Ewan Street (Green)

MMP is about coalitions: What sitting MP who is NOT in your party do you think is most similar to you in their political views?

Guy Salmon (National)

Do you support or oppose:

...raising the drinking age?

Oppose - Raising the drinking age, having previously lowered it would complicate the issue further. A better approach would be to address the other causes of the misuse of alcohol. The unbalanced portrayal of the qualities of alcohol by the advertising industry would be a good place to start.

...legalising marijuana (or pharmaceuticals based on it) for medical use?

Support - Where pharmaceutical quality marijuana is the best form of treatment, it should be available to patients.

...decriminalising or legalising marijuana for recreational use?

Support decriminalising - Decriminalising marijuana will open up the practice of marijuana-use to the scrutiny of the health and education sectors where real progress can be made in managing its effects on the health of consumers.

...allowing same-sex couples to adopt children?

Support - children in families with same-sex parents are statistically safer from harm (physical and sexual abuse) than those in families with heterosexual parents. Communities with such children amongst them will benefit from the diversity of experience the children bring.

...amending the Marriage Act to allow same-sex couples to marry?

Support - given that the Marriage Act has been explored and shown to not have aspects incongruous with same-sex couples marrying.

...allowing voluntary euthanasia or physician assisted suicide?

I support the right to choose freely and not be thwarted by a law or the religious or philosophical agenda of another person.

...state funding of integrated schools?

I support diversity in educational institutions and forums and support the funding of these by the state, where the standards of teaching and learning are on par with or above those of state schools. Those integrated schools receiving funding should be subject to the same assessment procedures as state schools.

...the retention of sedition as a crime in the Crimes Act?

Crimes of a seditious nature are also crimes in an ordinary sense and should be tried in that light.

...the retention of blasphemous libel as a crime in the Crimes Act?

No informed opinion

...further restrictions on hate speech?

Oppose - let ‘hate speakers’ get it out into the light of day where others can apply common sense to what they hear.

...the use of indefinite detention without trial for those subject to a security risk certificate?

Oppose - if a security risk certificate exists and that is regarded as enough to keep a person imprisoned, then it must be enough also to go to trial with.

...restoring the death penalty for serious crime?

Oppose - utilising the penalty of death is a serious crime - violence begets violence and excessively harsh penalties do not deter a sufficient percentage of criminals to justify their use.

...Georgina Beyer's Human Rights (Gender Identity) Amendment Bill?

Support - I cannot see why a group of people such as these (transsexual, transgender etc.) should be denied their full range of human rights and be discriminated against in law.

...Gordon Copeland's New Zealand Bill of Rights (Private Property Rights) Amendment Bill?

Support. If the proposed Private Property Rights are balanced against the rights of the public to access public land, then it has merit.

...entrenching the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act as supreme law?

Cautious support at this stage

...New Zealand's participation in the International Criminal Court?

Support - the experienced gained will be good for our judges and they can bring a NZ perspective to the international proceedings.

...lowering MMP's threshold from the present 5%?

If there were compelling reasons shown to do this I would support the move. As it stands, I don’t see any need to change now.


With the benefit of hindsight, how should the government have handled the Ahmed Zaoui case?

With greater transparency and with greater consideration for the imprisoned man. A more efficient and humane process is needed in cases like these.

As usual, Robert's views are entirely his own, and do not necessarily represent those of the Green Party.

UK Electoral Reform: Time for change

A poll commissioned by the Independent has shown that 62% of UKanians support a switch to proportional representation, with only 17% opposed. This despite New Labour's scare tactics over smaller parties ever holding influence. I guess the existence of the LibDems (a far larger "third party" than we had in New Zealand for a long, long time under FPP) has got people comfortable with the idea.

This is a solid base to work from, and hopefully it will provide sufficient public pressure for the UK to become a real democracy, rather than one stacked in favour of the larger parties.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The problems of democracy

Writing in the Guardian, Peter Preston discusses Professor John Dunn's new book, Setting the People Free - and its subject matter, the problems of democracy. Democracy has spread around the globe since the end of the Cold War, and yet just when it seems to be succeeding on an international level, it is failing on a national one. Democracy has failed to satisfy the people of East Germany (who felt better off living in Stasiland, where one person in eight was an informer). Declining voter turnout is a constant problem in the west, as there is less of importance to vote about; the market consensus and economic globalisation have tied democracy's hands so tightly that it hardly seems worthwhile. At the same time, democracy seems unable to deal with the big problems of our age - global warming, world poverty, the power of multinational corporations. Faced with this, it seems we just have to haul out the tired Churchill quote:

Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

In other words, this is as good as it gets, and so we might as well stick with it.

At the same time, there's also a strong argument (made by George Monbiot in The Age of Consent) that the reason democracy seems helpless in the face of global problems is because we haven't got enough of it. While we've spread democracy globally, we haven't globalised democracy. We have an incipient global governance structure - a hodgepodge of international organisations such as the WTO, IMF, and UN - and we clearly need it - but this system represents national governments, not people. It is therefore easily captured, and in practice works in the interests of the powerful rather than of the majority. This has to change. If globalisation is to continue (and it seems unstoppable), then the international system has to grow stronger. But if that system is to have any legitimacy whatsoever, then it must be democratised, and its officials regularly held to account by the people whose interests they purport to be working in.

On a national scale, we get the democracy we deserve. If we don't take an interest in our government, and raise holy hell whenever it does something indefensible (or when it gives away our power in ways we don't like), then we only have ourselves to blame for the consequences. If we want our governments to start paying attention to the problems that concern us (rather than those concerning international investors), then we need to let them know - and by utterly ruthless application of accountability mechanisms if necessary.

This may not be enough. But as Preston says, democracy is "a beginning, not an end". It is one of the few systems that contains the potential for its own improvement. If we remain committed to that improvement, we might manage to get by.

Uzbekistan update II

The death toll from the weekend's massacre of protestors in Andijan is now estimated at 700, and the massacre is now being compared to Tiananmen Square. The chief difference of course being that the US didn't beat around the bush in condemning that particular atrocity.

The US has hardened its stance, with Condoleezza Rice calling for political reform and saying that Uzbekistan needed "pressure valves that come from a more open political system" - but it's a long way short of the criticism coming from the Europeans. And it's a long way short of the rhetoric spouted by her boss. Remember this?

Today, America speaks anew to the peoples of the world:

All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.

Democratic reformers facing repression, prison, or exile can know: America sees you for who you are: the future leaders of your free country.

The rulers of outlaw regimes can know that we still believe as Abraham Lincoln did: "Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves; and, under the rule of a just God, cannot long retain it."

The leaders of governments with long habits of control need to know: To serve your people you must learn to trust them. Start on this journey of progress and justice, and America will walk at your side.

That was Bush's 2005 inauguration address. It would be nice if the US actually acted on those ideals, rather than treating them as pretty words for the children.

Candidate Survey: Ninth Response

From Peter Cresswell of the LibertariaNZ. Peter is ranked 6th on the Libz list; he may also be standing in Epsom.

If you could ensure the passage of one act on one issue in the next Parliament, what would it be?

Putting a stake through the heart of the Resource Management Act, and resurrecting the common law protection of property rights and environment that planning legislation has buried for half-a-century.

The common law has over seven-hundred years of sophistication in protecting property rights and associated environmental values. The RMA has a failed dozen. Time to kill it.

What three other electoral candidates or sitting MPs do you think are most similar to you in their political views?

Bernard Darnton, Libertarianz leader and Wellington Central candidate. The cancellation of the Wellington Street Race has made this electorate a battleground over the RMA. As Minister for the RMA Marian Hobbs is presently holding Wellington Central. Presently.

Russell Watkins, Libertarianz Tauranga candidate. Like me he is against the easy bigotry of Winston's followers and in favour of immigration policies in which peaceful people are allowed to move freely, but not at the expense - as long as it is extant -- of State Welfare.

Tim Wikiriwhi, Libertarianz Hamilton West candidate. Tim is vocal in opposing the practice of passing laws and granting largesse or special government favours to anyone or any group, particularly if the favours or largesse are granted on the basis of race. To say that Maori need special favours such as special race-based electoral seats is patronising; to have special race-based clauses in legislation, or to give away taxpayers'money on the basis of race is apartheid. "One law for all, regardless of race," sys Tim, "and without fear nor favour."

MMP is about coalitions: What sitting MP who is NOT in your party do you think is most similar to you in their political views?


Some MPs have a similar commitment to freedom in particular areas in particular areas, but they let themselves down in most others. Nandor Tanczos for instance is a good advocate for drug law reform but is appalling in most other areas -- and even in this area his imperfect commitment to real freedom undercuts him and leads him to advocate only partial decriminalisation rather than full and immediate legalisation.

When it comes to coalitions, Libertarianz recognises that no MMP coalition has yet been successful, and each has ended with the destruction or near-destruction of the minor coalition partner.

How would Libertarianz function in parliament then? Libertarianz wants to drastically roll back the coercive state. We would therefore and as a binding principle commit to supporting every measure in parliament that advances freedom in any measure and - crucially - introduces no new coercion.

On that basis, any party would have our firm and unswerving support for any measure that fits those two criteria.

Do you support or oppose:

...raising the drinking age?

Oppose. Adulthood brings with it responsibility. Raising the drinking age just raises the age at which responsibility is expected, and encourages illegal drinking without the usual social restraints that are in place when drinking is legal.

...legalising marijuana (or pharmaceuticals based on it) for medical use?

Support. And not just for medicinal use. In order to get criminals and corrupt policemen out of the business of supplying and profiteering from the illegality of drugs, and in order to remove these lowlifes from being the ones who have carte blanche over the quality of recreational drugs, we say that as a matter of urgency consensual drug use should be legalised for adults.

Legalising with an accompanying amnesty would overnight effectively double police numbers and get them on to real crimes, ie., crimes with victims, and would effectively half the prison population.

...decriminalising or legalising marijuana for recreational use?

Support. As above

...allowing same-sex couples to adopt children?

Support. This is not the business of the government. Provided the rights of the children are protected, then whatever agreements adoption agencies and responsible adults choose to make is their own business.

...amending the Marriage Act to allow same-sex couples to marry?

Support. The business of government in this respect is simply recognising agreements that adults voluntarily agree to. Whatever agreements adult couples choose to make is their own business. Government's job is simply recognising and protecting their agreement as they should with any contract.

...allowing voluntary euthanasia or physician assisted suicide?

I support voluntary euthanasia. If you own your own life then you have the right to end it at the time of your own choosing, should you wish to do so. Others assisting with your choice should have the protection of the law. I would expect that should the courts be asked to do so, they could quite easily set some basic legal tests in place to ensure that if these are followed, then it is clear that the process has been a voluntary one and help has been offered on that basis.

I would prefer this form of court-based precedent as a protection than any legislation drawn up by a government, but provided the necessary protections are in place the latter would be an improvement on the present situation.

...state funding of integrated schools?

Don't support. I don't support state funding of schools. I advocate all schools be given back to taxpayers; the Ministry of Education be disbanded and NZQA closed down, and keys and shares to schools given to existing parents, teachers and trustees to do with as they see fit.

Taxes should of course be cut to reflect education being free of the state's shackles.

...the retention of sedition as a crime in the Crimes Act?

Oppose. As John Locke argued, government derives its just powers from the consent of the governed. As such, the present laws against acts of violence are sufficient to protect against violence against the government.

...the retention of blasphemous libel as a crime in the Crimes Act?

Blasphemous libel? I would strongly support its removal. No argument for it, for God's sake.

...further restrictions on hate speech?

Oppose. I would oppose all restrictions on free speech. Free speech is the 'safety fuse' of liberty. 'Hate Speech' is a nonsense. Let people open their mouths and be shown to be a fool.

...the use of indefinite detention without trial for those subject to a security risk certificate?

Oppose. Charge or release. Or in the topical case, charge or deport.

...restoring the death penalty for serious crime?

Oppose. While a murderer morally deserves death themselves, the possibility of judicial error and killing an innocent person outweighs out the argument for the death penalty for murder. You can't sew back on a head once the innocent party's lawyers have won their case on appeal.

Arthur Allan Thomas would be the poster boy for opposition to the death penalty.

...Georgina Beyer's Human Rights (Gender Identity) Amendment Bill?

Oppose. People should be entitled to discriminate as they choose. Moral persuasion is the way to change opinions, not the big stick of the law.

...Gordon Copeland's New Zealand Bill of Rights (Private Property Rights) Amendment Bill?

Support. And would also support making the New Zealand Bill of Rights supreme law, superseding all other legislation and allowing law that violates the Bill of Rights to be struck out. This would be the death knell for the Resource Management Act.

As I blogged at the time, it was a pleasant surprise to find that a United MP had enough gumption to introduce such a bill.

...entrenching the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act as supreme law?

Strongly support, but would want to amend it severely first. For a model of what I would support see the Bill of Rights in the Libertarianz' proposed Constitution For New Freeland. http://www.freeradical.co.nz/content/constitution/index.php

...New Zealand's participation in the International Criminal Court?

No opinion.

...lowering MMP's threshold from the present 5%?

No opinion.


With the benefit of hindsight, how should the government have handled the Ahmed Zaoui case?

Charge, deport or release.

As usual, Peter's views are his own, and may or may not represent the opinion of the LibertariaNZ.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Welcoming a torturer

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf will be visiting New Zealand next month. In case anyone has forgotten, he overthrew the elected government of Pakistan in 1999. While he has allowed legislative elections since then, he has shown no sign of relinquishing power. But the illegitimate nature of his regime isn't the only problem; according to the Human Rights Watch report Torture Worldwide,

[t]orture is routinely used in Pakistan by civilian law enforcement agencies, military personnel, and intelligence agencies. While acts of torture by the police are generally aimed at producing confessions during the course of criminal investigations, torture by military agencies primarily serves to frighten a victim into changing his political stance or loyalties or at the very least to stop him from being critical of the military authorities. Suspects are often whipped to the point of bleeding, severely beaten, and made to stay in painful stress positions. A July 2004 Human Rights Watch report focuses on abuses against farming families in the Punjab, including testimony about killings and torture by paramilitary forces.

The US State Department 2004 country report for Pakistan found "serious problems". Part of the summary reads

Local police used excessive force and committed or failed to prevent extrajudicial killings. Sectarian killings continued to be a problem. Police abused and raped citizens.

It backs these claims up with numerous examples. It also noted that while torture was banned by Pakistan's constitution,

Security force personnel continued to torture persons in custody throughout the country. Human rights organizations reported that methods used included beating; burning with cigarettes; whipping the soles of the feet; prolonged isolation; electric shock; denial of food or sleep; hanging upside down; and forced spreading of the legs with bar fetters. Officials from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) estimated 5,000 cases of police torture annually; the Lawyers for Human Rights and Legal Aid Madadgaar Project recorded 1,101 cases of torture during the year. At times, torture resulted in death or serious injury.

President Musharraf leads and represents the regime responsible for all this. Is he really the sort of man we should be rolling out the red carpet for?

We should not be welcoming torturers in New Zealand. The government should stand up for democracy and human rights, and tell Musharraf that he is not welcome until Pakistan cleans up its act.

No pity for sadists

When Rodney Hide and Judith Collins used Parliamentary Privilege to allege that David Benson-Pope had seriously assaulted students while a teacher in the 80's and 90's, I suggested they take it to the police. Several of the students have now come forward and repeated the allegations to Three News, and I urge them to do likewise. I have no pity for sadists, and what Benson-Pope is alleged to have done clearly constitutes assault, even by the standards of a time which allowed corporal punishment. The allegations should be investigated by the police, and if there is a case, Benson-Pope should be charged and tried. In the meantime, he should be stood down from his ministerial role until the public is satisfied that there is no case to answer.

As for the Prime Minster's concerns about "digging up the past", too often corporal punishment served as a cover for sadism, and I am more than happy for elderly teachers who were too eager with the cane and who went beyond the bounds of the law to be dragged out into the light of day and prosecuted.

The wrong direction

Over the past few months, Don Brash has been highlighting the wage gap between new Zealand and Australia as a justification for a return to radical free market policies of the sort we saw under Ruth Richardson. But yesterday's Sunday Star-Times had an analysis of the gap with some interesting statistics which suggests Brash would be moving in the wrong direction.

Figures from Statistics NZ and the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that wage growth in Australia has easily outstripped New Zealand's.

In the five years to last November, Australians' average weekly earnings rose 27.5%, from $A801.60 to $A1021.90.

In New Zealand, average weekly incomes for the five years to last June went up 22.3%, from $619 to $757.

These figures show the wage gap between the two countries is widening, but they become an even greater cause for concern when GDP growth in each country is compared.

Over the same periods, New Zealand's GDP increased by 21.8% compared with Australia's more modest 16.3%.

That means Australian wage growth outstripped economic growth by 68.7%, while New Zealanders' pay packets merely kept pace with their economy, staying ahead of GDP by 2.3%.

This suggests Australian workers have been far more successful than their Kiwi cousins at carving themselves a larger slice of the economic pie.

And the reason for that is fairly obvious: Australians still have unions. Ours, OTOH, were smashed by National's Employment Contracts Act - resulting in a decline in wages and conditions which is only now starting to be corrected. So you'd think that a party which wanted to raise wages to be competitive with Australia would try and promote unionisation as a way of doing so, right?

Wrong. National's employment policy is a return to the bad old days of the 90's - limiting union access to workplace and the right to collectively organise, as well as slashing holidays and rights to take personal grievance cases where employers have violated their agreement. This won't achieve what they claim it will - instead, it will perpetuate the low wage, low skill economy that National established in the 90's and which we are trying to escape.

It is practically Orwellian for National to claim that screwing the workers is the road to riches. Instead, it will simply transfer wealth from the many to the few, from the pockets of employees to those of employers and business-owners, just as it did in the 90's. Our wages will continue to decline relative to Australia's, and our skill base will continue to be eroded by competitive pressure from Australia. But National's backers will be laughing all the way to the bank...

(Just Left also talks about this here)

Alliance list

The Alliance have released their party list, along with details on the top ten candidates. It's a measure of how far they've sunk that (according to another press release) they're standing only 12 electorate candidates - about the same number as the LibertariaNZ. This will make it far more difficult for them to make a comeback; the visibility granted by electorate candidates is a good tool in getting out the party vote. Unfortunately, they show little sign of coming even close to the 5% threshhold, which means that they're pretty much doomed.

Vote Brash, get Winston?

With the election less than five months away, the big question is whether Winston will be able to play kingmaker again, and if so, who he will support. Winston remains evasive as ever (his Agenda interview on Saturday was a classic example), and if he's true to form, will go with whoever creates the most impressive-sounding (but functionally pointless) cabinet positions for him and his mates. But there's another option - the Herald has raised the spectre of Winston becoming Prime Minister with the support of National, and National and NZFirst MPs are reportedly discussing it at an informal level.

IMHO this would be a disaster for National - the only thing worse than being forced into coalition with Winston is having Winston as PM. It would also be a disaster for the country - can you imagine what sort of kooky policies a government run by demagoguery and the prejudices of pensioners would develop? But it's an electoral godsend for Labour. I can see the billboards now: "vote Brash, get Winston!"

Update: National has issued a quick denial ruling out Winston as PM in a National-NZFirst coalition. Unfortunately, it's dripping with arrogant, FPP-thinking:

"This speculation is nothing but wild talk. This is a two-horse race National, or Labour, and this is an attempt by a small party to try and squeeze in and we're not having a bar of it."

MMP means that elections are no longer a "two horse race". While the large parties will form the core of any government, the smaller ones have a chance to gain substantial support, and thereby exert influence over the direction of any government they back. They also have the chance to fight the larger parties on an even footing, and possibly displace them if their public support grows. Brash seems to be denying that this is legitimate - which simply shows that he is stuck in FPP mode and out of touch with the modern, democratic New Zealand.

Te Wanaga: 21st century Raupatu?

In his column in the Dominion-Post on Friday, Chris Trotter denounced the government's engineering a financial crisis at Te Wananga O Aotearoa as "without precedent in the tertiary education sector":

What are we witnessing here? What is taking place before our eyes that we have been trained all of our (Pakeha) lives not to see?

The answer, I'm afraid, is the legal dissolution of a politically autonomous Maori institution by the executive branch of the Government - a process set in motion to facilitate the liquidation of millions of dollars' worth of Maori property.

What we are seeing is a raupatu: confiscation 21st-century style.

According to Trotter, this is driven by Pakeha alarm at Maori success. But it is nothing of the sort. It is driven by Te Wananga's failure to conform with the expectations we have for how public money is spent - notably, that it should be spent for the education of its students, rather than the enrichment of its management and their families. Nepotism and cronyism have no place in our public institutions, regardless of the colour of your skin, and I think the government is perfectly entitled to enforce that.

I do not want to see Te Wananga shut down. Despite its management, it has done an excellent job of encouraging Maori to pursue education. I want that to continue - and without money being corruptly diverted by management, it should be able to do a much better job.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

In case anybody hasn't seen it

(Hat tip: About Town)

Doing the dance of victory

I've just acquired a copy of David Slack's latest book, Civil War & Other Optimistic Predictions. I haven't read it yet (maybe next week), but I have checked out the chapter on political correctness, where David quotes from two of my posts on whether we have become a moral wasteland and the meaning of "political correctness". Idiot does the dance of victory...

As for political correctness itself, I think John Campbell is also worth quoting. In a recent Listener interview, he railed against both the "sad, old right-wing wankers" who "carry on" about political correctness, and their nostalgic vision of the past:

"We were a nasty, racist, homophobic, sexist, miserable bloody society," rails Campbell. "The fact is now we have a burgeoning of Maori identity, women are running the bloody country. Gay people don't have to live secret, miserable lives. This is a direct result of manners and I thank God for manners!"

I don't think manners are the full story - there's more than a little power and privilege in there too - but they're certainly a part of it. We now think its downright rude to call people "faggots", "horis" or "front-bums" - and this has reduced discrimination in other areas as well.

New Fisk

Let us rebel against poisonous academics and their preposterous claptrap of exclusion

Plus ca change

December 1983: Donald Rumsfeld shakes hands with Iraq's Saddam Hussein, during a visit to Baghdad. At the time, Iraq was fighting America's enemies in Iran. The US government ignored Saddam's human-rights abuses, including the gassing of Kurds, until Saddam turned against them in 1991 (when he suddenly became "the next Hitler")

October 2001: Donald Rumsfeld shakes hands with Uzbekistan's President Karimov during a visit to Tashkent. The visit successfully secured Uzbekistan's assistance in the "war on terror". The US not only ignores Karimov's human rights abuses, but actively exploits them - notably by rendering suspected terrorists to Uzbekistan to be tortured.

(More photos of US officials cozying up to this regime of torturers can be found here).

Uzbekistan update

Registan is the site to check out if you want to track what is happening in Uzbekistan at the moment. From there and other sources, the death toll has risen to 200, and there are more protests, with huge crowds back on the streets chanting "killers, murderers" and demanding that President Karimov step down. Large numbers of refugees have tried to cross the border to Kyrgzstan. The EU has issued a strong statement condemning the massacre and blaming the Uzbek government's lack of respect for human rights for the protests. The UK foreign secretary has followed suit. Meanwhile, the US seems more concerned by the fact that those demanding their freedom are Muslims (and therefore "extremists" and "terrorists") than the fact that innocent people were mowed down in the streets by a tyrannical government which systematicly uses torture...

Saturday, May 14, 2005

New kiwi blog

Tuatara left

Repeating the same mistakes

Last week, in Latvia, President Bush denounced the WWII-allies' allowing the Soviet Union to occupy Eastern Europe as one of "the greatest wrongs of history", and promised that

"We will not repeat the mistakes of other generations - appeasing or excusing tyranny, and sacrificing freedom in the vain pursuit of stability"

Yesterday, in Uzbekistan, the government brutally suppressed demonstrations in the town of Andijan, killing dozens of people in the process. The demonstrations started after 23 people were imprisoned for "Islamic extremism"; an armed mob later stormed the jail where they were held and released them. They were then joined in the city's central square by up to 5000 protestors demanding better living conditions, "justice", and "freedom". The government responded by sending in troops:

Armoured vehicles carrying Uzbek troops arrived in the square, where protesters had seized the mayor's office, and opened fire.

Men, women and children fled the square in panic as protesters occupying the mayor's office reportedly returned fire.

News of casualty figures was slow to emerge, but Uzbek officials did say that nine people died and at least 34 were injured in clashes early in the day.

Eyewitnesses in the square told how protesters lay flat on the ground as troops fired into the crowds. One spoke of "indiscriminate firing", and said she saw "bloody corpses" lying in a ditch.

Hospital officials told the BBC that dozens had died and many more were wounded throughout the day.

A government which indiscriminately massacres protesters is not exactly supportive of freedom - but the White House's response was a relatively mild call for both sides to exercise restraint. Why? Because Uzbekistan is a US ally and provides some useful services in the "war on terror"... Despite his promise, Bush is making exactly the same mistake as his predecessors, excusing tyranny for stability.

Hardly surprising...

Every year, we hear orchardists whining about not being able to find enough seasonal workers to pick their fruit, coupled with outrage from right-wing politicians that this is happening when there are x hundred unemployed "in the region" (meaning nowhere near where the work is). The problem is clearly that they are not offering enough money to make the work worthwhile - but I didn't quite realise how bad these jobs were. It turns out that prevailing piecework rates worked out to less than the minimum wage, so it's hardly surprising that people didn't want to take them.

Friday, May 13, 2005


Via Frogblog: the government can find NZ$10 million for a boat race and NZ$20 million to host the rugby world cup, but can't scrape up NZ$4 million to not have a cricket tour to Zimbabwe? You really have to wonder where their priorities are...


If you're wondering why we haven't heard about Winston Peters' Principles of the Treaty of Waitangi Delection Bill being voted down, it's because it hasn't happened yet. Debate on Matt Robson's Sale of Liquor (Youth Alcohol Harm Reduction) Bill was interrupted, and this has delayed those bills coming after it - including both Winston's bill, and Larry Baldock's American-style attempt to license government discrimination on the grounds of marital status. Which means we'll just have to wait another month before seeing these bills go down in flames...

Doing a Winston II

Hide and Collins are very definitely doing a Winston with their allegations about David Benson-Pope. Neither is willing to repeat them outside Parliament (despite truth being an absolute defence in a defamation suit), and Hide is now making mealy-mouthed excuses along the lines of being required by Parliament to accept Benson-Pope's word (only within the chamber, and only if you don't have evidence to the contrary that could support a claim of breach of privilege), and "I didn't put these as allegations I put these as question[s]".

Like the beer ad, says, "yeah, right".

What Hide seems to be missing is that two can play at this game. Anyone could stand up and ask him whether he (for example) has ever evaded taxes, vivisected cats, or sacrificed babies to Shub Niggurath. Not as allegations, you understand, but as questions. The fact that Hide would likely regard such "questions" as defamatory allegations in disguise shows that he is dealing in bad faith here.

Assessing the impact of MMP

With the UK election demonstrating for all to see the unfairness of their first-past-the-post electoral system - Labour won 55% of the seats on just 36% of the vote, while the LibDems got less than 10% of the seats on 22% of the vote - the pressure for electoral reform is mounting. The Independent has delivered a powerful series of articles on FPP's failings and the way things work in other countries. Today, Jack Straw raises his voice on behalf of those who benefit from the current unequal arrangements. But it all seems rather familiar. Proportional representation will result in small parties exercising disproportionate power, and governments being paralysed and unable to make "tough" (grossly unpopular) decisions if they have to consult other parties or build a coalition to pass legislation. FPP allows voters to hold MPs directly accountable, and allows the winning party's manifesto to be a "contract" between them and the voters. Here in New Zealand, we heard all this over a decade ago...

Straw attacks proportional systems on the basis that they lead to "unstable minority governments where small third and fourth parties often dictate terms". But this is very much a function of political culture. And I'd argue that, given the similarity of our political cultures, people wanting to assess the possible impact of proportional representation on the UK should look at New Zealand, rather than Italy.

So, how has proportional representation worked out here then? Fairly well, IMHO. We've had three elections under our mixed-member proportional system. None has produced a majority government, and in fact in 2002 voters punished the leading party when it seemed that they would gain an outright majority (the British electorate might feel differently; that's up to them). In one election - the first - we did have the sort of case Straw talks about - a smaller party holding the balance of power, using its influence to "wag the dog". But the general consensus is that this was due to that party's opportunistic leader, rather than the system that elected him, and there is a strong desire not to let him do it again. The problem has not recurred in subsequent elections, and coalition formation has been relatively painless.

Rather than having unstable governments, New Zealand seems to have unstable parties. On two occasions, the government's smaller coalition partner has disintegrated under the pressures of coalition. This has not led to new elections - the government has been able to cobble together a majority for confidence and supply - but it has led to smaller parties being fearful of entering formal coalition (which has limited their power and influence somewhat). Because of this, the most recent election saw the government conclude a looser arrangement, with the small United Future party providing confidence and supply, and granting support for legislation on a case-by-case basis. This has worked rather well - not least because there are three parties which could provide the necessary majority to pass legislation, thus allowing the minority government to effectively do whatever it wants.

Going into our fourth MMP election, there is a feeling that we are past the "teething problems" stage. It's given us a greater diversity of views in Parliament, reduced the power of the government, and led to a far more consensual and cooprative political culture (among most parties; the main opposition party still hasn't figured it out yet - but that will change as their holdouts are deelected). It has also produced more representation for women and ethnic minorities, and made all politicians accountable to the voters through the party vote. These have all been positive changes.

Going back to the UK, one of the key questions is whether those in the centre of the political spectrum (who are therefore likely to hold the "balance of power") are opportunistic mercenaries or cooperators. But more important is the question of whether British voters really want to limit the power of their government. And that is a question that should be placed in their hands, not in the hands of self-interested politicians.