Friday, April 30, 2004


For people who missed it on last night's news: some of the photos of US soldiers abusing their prisoners can be found here (WARNING: disturbing)

Update: More here and here.

Update 2: There is also another set of pictures circulating, purporting to show a gang-rape by soldiers. There's some speculation as to their provenance, so I won't post the link. The CBS photos are foul enough, without having to muddy the waters.

Fresh Python

The war of the words

Expectations of condemnation

Mike wasted his time replying by email to PNN, saying:

NRT doesn't bother to post articles condemning Palestinian suicide bombers because we don't need to. We don't support people who target innocent civilians and we assume our readers are in the same boat and that being the case, there's no interesting angle to write about. The mainstream media covers these stories already.

To that I will add that there's also a difference of expectations. I don't spend a lot of time on atrocities commited by terrorists because I expect them to be monsters. But I expect something far better from the military forces of organised governments. These people are supposed to be "the good guys"; therefore I expect them to act like it. They have more power, and therefore a greater obligation to show restraint. Whether fighting an all-out war or the "war on terror", I expect them to act with the restraint and respect for civilian lives and human rights demanded by international law. And if they don't, they're no better than the "thugs and terrorists" PNN denounces.

Standing by her principles

Listening to Tariana Turia being interviewed on Radio Waatea, and she's decided to stand by her principles and do the honourable thing - resign her portfolios, resign from Parliament and fight a byelection. She's also decided that it is time for Maori to have their own party. Fair enough. Take it to the ballot box, and see how much support there is within maoridom for the idea.

Reading the entrails

Steve links to the CNN version of this poll, commenting that:

Idiot at NRT is going to be screaming at the top of his voice that this validates his opposition of the war

You betcha.

According to the poll, most Iraqis hate Saddam (%) and are glad to be rid of him (61%), but increasingly (71%; or 81% if you don't count the Kurds) view the Americans as occupiers rather than liberators. The CNN version has self-reported historical data, indicating that the split was much more even a year ago. Then there's the really interesting result:

Asked about when they wanted U.S. and British forces to leave, 57 percent chose immediately, as in the next few months, the poll said; 36 percent said troops should stay longer.

At the time the question was asked, 53 percent said they would feel less safe if the U.S.-led coalition left immediately.

Contrast this with the result from a mere six months ago, when 71% of Baghdad residents said that US troops should not leave in the next few months.

(As an aside, USA Today notes that the polling was conducted before the recent uprising. Given the way the US have handled things since, those numbers will probably have got worse)

So what's going on? It can be summed up as "thanks, now goodbye". Of course Iraqis think that getting rid of Saddam was worth it - who wouldn't? It's the subsequent clusterfuck by the Americans that is pissing them off. The American's inability to guarantee basic services or security, unwillingness to hold elections, and casual disregard for Iraqi civilian lives has taken its toll. When people want you to leave despite the fact that they think it will hurt them, then they're pretty pissed off.

I regard it as axiomatic that if Iraqis want the US to leave, they should leave. Iraq's destiny should be decided by Iraqis, not Americans. It's an indictement of America that they have not been able to win over the Iraqi people and gain broad consent for a transitional government. But what did they expect when they insisted on working with Chalabi...?

Can this situation be rescued? Not by the Americans, I think. They've simply got too much baggage now. Replacing US troops with international peacekeepers may help, and while there are some hopeful signs in that area, I think recent decisions by the US (notably with regard to Israel and Iraqi sovereignty) are working against it. I suspect that the only way to ensure serious international cooperation in Iraq is regime change in the US. But by November, it will almost certainly be too late...

The Civil Unions Bill has its own swanky new educational website...

Thursday, April 29, 2004


National's Wayne Mapp will be addressing the foreshore Hikoi on "equality before the law". Perhaps he'll explain why his party supports due process and property rights for pakeha, but not for Maori?

"We will be paid back for this"

CBS's 60 Minutes has broadcast images of US soldiers abusing and humiliating Iraqi prisoners at Baghdad's notorious Abu Ghraib prison

There are shots of the prisoners stacked in a pyramid, one with a slur written on his skin in English.

In some, the male prisoners are positioned to simulate sex with each other. And in most of the pictures, the Americans are laughing, posing, pointing, or giving the camera a thumbs-up.

The allegations of mistreatment go beyond humiliating photos to psychological torture, murder, and rape. National Guardsmen assisted civilian interrogators to "fear up" prisoners. Sometimes they did this with beatings, sometimes with humiliation, and sometimes they did it by attaching wires and telling prisoners they would be electrocuted if they lied. They're even taking pages from Saddam's book - the Army apparantly has photos of a prisoner with electrodes attached to his genitals. And then there's this bit:

Part of the Army's own investigation is a statement from an Iraqi detainee who charges a translator - hired to work at the prison - with raping a male juvenile prisoner: "They covered all the doors with sheets. I heard the screaming. ...and the female soldier was taking pictures."

There is also a picture of an Iraqi man who appears to be dead -- and badly beaten.

To its credit, the US Army is prosecuting those involved - they at least understand what the Geneva Convention means, even if their Commander-in-Chief doesn't. Not that everyone there is a POW - Abu Ghraib is where "security detainees" go; those disappeared in the middle of the night, caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, or arrested for chanting anti-coalition slogans. Every Iraqi has a story about their friend who was detained and sent to Abu Ghraib; every Iraqi therefore is eventually going to know what has gone on there. And, as one of CBS's interviewees says, "[the US] will be paid back for this."

Finally, consider this: the day job of one of those being court-martialled by the Army... is as a prison guard. No surprises there then.

Isn't this what the health system is for?

So, the government has a plan to get people off the sickness and invalid's benefits by paying for them to have operations. This isn't such a bad idea on economic grounds - if an operation substantially improves work chances, then it may be a net saving to the government's welfare bill - and its almost certainly better from the beneficiary's perspective (after all, who likes being sick?). At the same time, though, isn't this what the health system is for? Shouldn't we be asking why sickness beneficiaries aren't getting proper medical care in the first place?

Of course, we already know the answer to that question: underfunding. It's something that those complaining about "queue-jumpers" don't get: contrary to Lynda Scott's claims, there is spare capacity in the health system. The problem is that the government doesn't fund enough operations, not that we don't have the operating theatres and staff and tools to do them. What this scheme does is fund extra operations by the backdoor.

However, that doesn't mean its a great thing. What pisses me off about this is that it's not about patient need or quality of life - it's about saving the government money. And that is gettig things arse-backwards as far as I'm concerned. We shouldn't be funding medical procedures for sickness beneficiaries through the social welfare budget; we should funding the health system properly so that they're not on the sickness benefit in the first place.

One law for all?

Canada is experimenting with allowing Muslims to resolve civil disputes through voluntary arbitration under Sharia law.

It's an intersting idea, and certainly not a bad thing if it takes off. Voluntary arbitration is nothing new, and is already encouraged as a way of relieving pressure on the court system. If Canadian Muslims are happier using Sharia rather than suing one another, who am I to argue?

(There's a nice irony here too: the hallmark of Islamic states was the existence of different legal codes for different religious communities. So the Christians were subject to one law, the Jews another, and Muslims a third. In the case of the Ottoman Empire, the French managed to get their own citizens covered by their own legal code, at least with respect to one another. OTOH, this is not a case of different laws, but of a parallel voluntary system of dispute resolution which must abide by Canadian law.)

On the down side, divorce cases are included, and the freedom to refuse arbitration and use the Candian courts (and Canadian family law) instead may not mean much in a social group with strong prohibitions against apostasy. That may be an area better left to the State, I think (especially since its marriages granted and recognised by the State which would be being dissolved...)

Search term of the week

Geothermal+explain how it is used to produce gay energy

Yes, they were American...

The massacre has started

AC130s, airstrikes, and helicopter gunships employed without regard for civilian loss of life. NZPundit must be creaming his pants.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004


Theoretically, I'm writing an assignment today...

Fighting Talk's Lyndon Hood has an excellent post on Machiavelli and Iraq.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Good riddance to bad rubbish

Prebble's gone. Huzzah! Now we just have to hope that the rest of his party follow him into political oblivion...

It gets worse

And at the same time the British government is being criticised for misusing anti-terrorism powers, the Home Secretary is saying that he wants to introduce guilt by association, allowing them to jail the friends and associates of suspected terrorists. No need to prove conspiracy, no need for there to be anything more than suspicion to underly it all, just "you talk to this man so we are throwing you in jail". Jesus H Christ, they're returning the the fucking dark ages over there...

Confirming our fears

People's fears about British anti-terrorism legislation are being confirmed, with the government's own independent reviewer reporting that police are misusing them to curb legitimate political protest.

Lord Carlile QC noted particular problems with the police "kidnapping" of protesters attempting to reach RAF Fairford, and the excessive use of "stop and search" powers at an arms fair in London. He also drew attention to the fact that "emergency" powers allowing the police to search anyone without reasonable suspicion were being used far more widely than anticipated, and were in effect constantly in London.

This is exactly what people warned about when the legislation was passed, and a graphic warning to all of us of the dangers of kneejerk security legislation. The purpose of such legislation is purportedly to defend democracy; at the moment it loks as if the British are destroying it in order to save it.

Monday, April 26, 2004

How much is that photo worth?

There's been a procession of Presidents, Prime Ministers and politicians "visiting the troops" in Iraq recently. Unfortunately, the stakes of such visits just got higher:

Shots have been fired at a motorcade carrying Bulgarian President Georgy Parvanov during an unannounced visit to Iraq.


"A brief exchange of fire took place between unknown assailants and the convoy," BTA said.

While no-one was killed or injured, politicians seeking a photo-op in Iraq should all be asking themselves "how much is that photo worth?" Visiting Iraq not only puts VIPs at risk, it also risks the lives of their staff and bodyguards, and those of ordinary soldiers tasked to protect them. Is a self-serving photo to bolster political popularity at home really worth that? I don't think so.

"Not in a dangerous part of the country"

Whoops. Looks like the British zone is far more dangerous than you'd think from the media reports. While the British casualty rate is still far lower than the American, they have still been forced to give up their "soft hat" policy, and are facing increasing levels of armed resistance. Not good.

If this trend continues, then the New Zealand deployment should be reconsidered. If they can't do any good there, and are simply risking their lives for no good purpose, then they should come home.

Picture of a war crime

Boy tied to Israeli jeep

Inquiry After Israeli Forces Caught Using Boy as Shield

"Us or them"

Fran O'Sullivan recounts being ranted at by a US uber-hawk, who told her that New Zealand must make a choice: the US or China, "us or them". Well, let's look at our options: one the one hand, we have a country which is demanding total subservience, which screws over its closest allies on the trade front, and which says that we cannot have a trade relationship without also having a security relationship (one that requires that we ditch our anti-nuclear policy - a matter of fundamental sovereignty over our own country - and send our soldiers to die for other people's interests to boot). On the other hand, we have a country which will negotiate an equitable trade relationship on its own merits, without making any other demands whatsoever.

That seems like a fairly clear choice to me...

Sunday, April 25, 2004


I've been generally supportive of the deployment of New Zealand army engineers to Iraq, on the basis that they're not in a dangerous part of the country and their primary task is rebuilding things rather than oppressing the locals. But today's news on how little they've done was disappointing.

NZAID budgeted $5 million for "reconstruction and humanitarian aid tasks", but so far they've only been able to do $400,000 of work in five months, and its expected that they will have used less than 15% of the money by the end of the financial year. While the projects they've done - rebuilding five schools and installing water systems - have been worthwhile, I can't help but feel that this has been a poor use of resources. Iraq is awash with unemployed engineers and construction workers; surely we would have achieved better results for the Iraqi people by contracting the work out, selecting projects and paying vetted teams of Iraqis to rebuild the place themselves?

New Fisk

A Warning to Those Who Dare to Criticize Israel in the Land of Free Speech

Saturday, April 24, 2004

University challenge

Kiwipundit has some thoughts on the PBRF research survey and a by-department breakdown of the results. Compare the quality of your department today!

Shrinking coalition watch

Norway is not renewing its troop deployment to Iraq. Their 180 troops will leave in June. As with Spain, they would rather commit their soldiers to helping fight terrorism in Afghanistan than prop up an American imperial adventure.

A backwards step

The Italian government is taking steps to legalise torture - but only in "small doses". One wonders what a "small dose" is. Pulling out only one fingernail? Mild electrocution? "A little bit of smacky face"?

The reason is to protect police interrogators from torture charges. I'm sorry, but people who do this should be charged with torture - and sent away for a very long time.

What Bush doesn't want you to see

Photos of dead US soldiers returning to the US in flag-draped coffins, banned by the Bush administration, can now be found at The Memory Hole.

I'm not sure what the fuss is - it's just coffins, row after row of them. It does kindof ram home the human cost of the war - at least to the Americans. But I guess that's why Bush banned them.

Friday, April 23, 2004

John Maynard Smith is dead. There's no Nobel prize for biology, otherwise he probably would have got one for his work on applying game theory to evolution.

Good news

A group of Muslim nations have offered to send troops to Iraq - if the UN gets to call the shots.

This is good news. So many of Iraq's problems come back to the trigger-happy attitude of American soldiers. Getting them off the streets (and ideally, out of the country entirely) will almost certainly result in fewer dead Iraqis and a better overall security environment. Arguably it's what should have happened in the first place, but Bush's poisoning of world opinion against him put paid to that.

Of course, it all rests on power being turned over to the UN. At this stage Bush is probably willing to do anything to dump the hot potato in someone else's lap (and boost his re-election chances), but other people in his administration are going to fight this tooth and nail. Hopefully Pakistan, Malaysia etc will use their new leverage to push for a real transfer of power, rather than just a fig-leaf.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Missing the point

PNN misses the point of my criticism of Israel's treatment of Mordechai Vanunu. My objection is to their continued persecution of him after he has served his sentence. Vanunu's movements are still restricted; he may not travel overseas, or even talk to foreigners. This is not a parole condition. It is not part of his sentence (which he has served in full). It is a punitive measure imposed post-facto under anti-terrorism legislation.

This is not the action of a democracy with a strong respect for human rights. But then, its clear from Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, its systematic discrimination against citizens of arab descent, and its continued use of torture, that it is not such a country.


The Whig takes issue with my claim that the 80's and 90's showed that not everyone shares in growth:

I get sick of the "failed policies" claim being made without statistics and facts. Social democrats don't provide them because they know it's rhetoric and the evidence doesn't support it.

OK, here's some statistics and facts, sourced from the Department of Statistics' report New Zealand Now: Incomes (1999):

  • New Zealand's gini coefficient (a common statistical measure of income inequality) rose significantly between 1986 and 1996, indicating greater inequality. This happened no matter how you slice it, whether you look at individuals or households, market, gross or disposable income.
  • Over the same period, the percentage of total income going to the top three deciles of income earners rose while everybody else's fell or stayed stagnant (Figs 2.15, 3.16, 3.17). The same results are mirrored in household data (Fig 4.9). This indicates that the fruits of growth were unequally shared, with most going to the already rich, and everyone else missing out.
  • But it's worse than that, because the same trend is evident in people's actual disposable incomes. Only the top three deciles of personal income earners earned more in real terms than they did in 1986. Everybody else got poorer, and in some cases remarkably so (Fig 4.7 - though I should note that this is market income and doesn't take transfers into account. The actual interpretation of those low deciles halving their market income is more people driven onto benefits)
  • The same trends are evident in household data (Figs 4.9 and 5.5). The report has this to say:
    the top deciles have increased their level of income significantly while there has been a decrease in incomes for those households in the middle of the income distribution. Average income in the bottom decile has not changed significantly over the study years [because they receive benefits - I/S]. The increase in income inequality has therefore been driven by the increase in income at the top end of the distribution and the decrease in income for those in the middle
  • Between 1986 and 1996, average household incomes rose, while median household incomes fell (Fig 5.1). That means that the rich got richer (pushing the average up) while more people got poorer (pushing the median down). This is backed up by the distribution of household income relative to the median - the curve flattened, the middle was squeezed, and while some people got richer, the general effect was to drag the middle down.
  • Poverty has increased - in 1986, only 16% of families fell below the 1996 lower quintile benchmark. In 1996, it's by definition 20%.

This is not just rhetoric. Rogernomics and Ruthanasia increased income inequality in New Zealand. They undermined the middle class, and drove people into poverty. And they directed what growth there was into the wallets of the already wealthy. The Whig points out that this makes perfect economic sense - inequality is a great incentive to work - however, past a certain point, it is politically insane. The thrust of my "cake" post was that people have no incentive to vote for or work towards policies that do not benefit them - and the policies currently promoted by National and ACT as promoting growth benefit nobody but the rich.

Salon interviews Neal Stephenson about Quicksilver and The Confusion.

The holy grail

Scientists have made a mouse with no father, mixing chromosomes from two eggs then mucking with the gene-regulation mechanism to force the resulting egg to develop.

It's a "low efficiency" technique - only 2 out of 600 embryos made it to full term - but that's just teething problems. If perfected, this is the holy grail, at least for lesbians. Given an egg and someone willing to carry it, any two women will be able to have children together. Lesbians really will be able to be fathers, in the genetic sense. Suck on that, Peter Dunne!

Unfortunately, it's not the grail for men, as it relies on at least one set of chromosomes being from an egg. However, there are other promising avenues of research, and I've no doubt that we'll eventually find a way so that any two people can mix their DNA to conceive a child, irrespective of gender.

Yesterday's Doonesbury

(View it here)

I didn't think I could get so upset over a cartoon character. I've only been following Doonesbury for a few years, but seeing B.D. with his leg blown off was like a kick in the guts. Prosthetics can work miracles these days, but he'll never coach football again.

Of course, B.D. is only fictional, lines on a page. But almost 4000 US soldiers have been wounded in Iraq. Many of them have lost limbs. Another seven to ten thousand have been evacuated for illness, non-combat injury, and psychological reasons. Those are relatively small numbers compared to the size of the US population, and so the human cost of Bush's war has not made much of a psychological impact. I guess that's something Garry Trudeau wants to change...

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Resistance comes to Basra

At least 30 people have been killed in three attacks on police stations in Basra.

This isn't good. The different approach of the British (not treating the Iraqis like conquered subject peoples or untermenchen) has made southern Iraq practically a different country from the rest of the place - relatively peaceful, with demonstrations (albeit sometimes violent) rather than ambushes and bombings. It's been far closer to the way people hoped the occupation would go at the beginning, rather than the clusterfuck the Americans have turned the rest of the country into. Here's hoping it stays that way.

And if it doesn't stay that way? I'll let the British army speak for themselves here:

[T]he commander of British troops in southern Iraq, Brig Nick Carter, admitted that he would be powerless to prevent the overthrow of Coalition forces if the Shia majority in Basra rose up in rebellion. Brig Carter, of the 20 Armoured Brigade, who has been in Iraq for four months, said British forces would stay in Basra with the consent of local Shia leaders, or not at all.


"A crowd of 150,000 people at the gates of this barracks would be the end of this, as far as I'm concerned," Brig Carter said. "There would be absolutely nothing I could do about that."

Unlike the Americans, the British are not willing to perpetrate a massacre, or kill Iraqis in order to "save" them. They recognise that that would obviously and grossly contradict the premise of the occupation - helping Iraqis - and destroy any hope of achieving any semblance of its stated political objectives. They also recognise that their continued presence is entirely dependent on the goodwill of local Shi'a leaders:

"The moment that Sayid Ali [Ayatollah Sistani's local representative] says, 'We don't want the Coalition here', we might as well go home," Brig Carter said.

And we might as well go with them.


Mordechai Vanunu - the man who told the world about Israel's secret nuclear program - has been freed from prison. However, it doesn't stop there. Despite the fact that he has completely served his sentence, he is still forbidden to travel, or to speak to foreigners, and faces constant intrusive monitoring.

And Israel has the gall to call itself a democracy...

New Fisk

Iraq power handover 'a fraud'

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Scary reading

George Monbiot's latest article, about the power of Christian fundamentalists (I believe the technical term is "dispensationalists", but I could be wrong) in the US: their beliefs are bonkers, but they are at the heart of power.

If US foreign policy seems insane at the moment, it is because it is being driven by and for loonies. And really, there's no other way to describe people who believe that they must start a world war so they can sit at the right hand of god...

Shrinking coalition watch

Honduras is out. Their troops were working with the Spanish, and are following their lead in withdrawing "in the shortest possible time".

Bulgaria meanwhile hasn't pulled out - but has allowed its soldiers to leave if they want to. So far 15% of them have voted with their feet, and more are likely to follow. They're also having trouble finding volunteers for the next deployment. So much for the support of the people of "New Europe"...

More on growth and values

Kiwipundit has an in-depth response to my post on growth and values. To respond to some of his points:

The graph shows that 67% regard economic growth as either very important or important, and only 4% regard it as not important. You can make anything seem unimportant if you rank it in a list that also includes things like health and quality of life. Countries with high GDP per capita have better health and education systems, cleaner environments, better working conditions and higher quality of life generally. The notion of a tradeoff between economic growth and other goals is misguided.

The GIAB analysts clearly believe that the "very important" results tell their own story, and I agree with them. There's an enormous disparity and clear demarcation between a top-tier of values (things like quality of life and the environment) and a lower tier. You can claim that this is because the top tier issues are just motherhood and apple-pie, but I'd say the same about economic growth - in fact, practically all the issues in that part of the survey were apple-pie. And what's clear is that we favour some types of apple-pie more than others.

However, support for economic growth is not just weak in relation to other goals; it's weak when looked at in isolation as well. Just look at the distribution of answers to the question of "how much do you support or oppose [economic growth] as a primary goal for New Zealand to pursue?" (this is on a 0 to 10 scale as before):


I'll let the report speak for itself here:

in response to a first up question about support for economic growth, New Zealanders generally responded in the affirmative. Their response has the character of 'polite support' and lacks passion. Graph 3 illustrates this point. Few register as opposed to growth, but a significant number are at the 'lukewarm' end of positive.

However, this apparent familiarity and support belies deeper concerns. Once questioned in depth, particularly in the focus groups, attitudes to economic growth become more fragile.

Whatever way you look at it, this is not good news for the proponents of growth uber alles...

I agree that countries with high GDP are generally better in all sorts of ways; the problem is that the policies promoted as giving New Zealanders a higher rate of economic growth (cuts in government services, lowering of the working standards and removal of environmental regulations) are seen as being highly destructive of the very things growth is supposed to deliver. This creates very definite tradeoffs - as does the sheer existence of multiple values. Denying that is simply denying reality. That said, it is not necessarily a zero-sum tradeoff, and policies may be found which both promote growth and our other values.

The survey respondents didn't say that income inequality was a negative effect. In fact the list of 'negative effects' includes 'more immigrants coming into New Zealand' and 'an improved balance between work and family life'. The 'negatives' label reflects the prejudices of the survey authors, not the views of the respondents.

I don't know where NRT gets his claim that 40% don't believe higher growth will deliver significant tangible benefits [...]

"A growing gap between rich and poor" (that's "income inequality" for those not in denial) was one of the two negative factors that was seen as more likely (as measured by number of "very important" respondents) than any of the positive factors, or indeed any other negative factor, the other being traffic congestion. It was identified as a negative effect by the initial focus groups, not by the survey authors.

(The inclusion of "work-life balance" in negative effects is I think due to concerns that growth would be destructive of that balance - that we'd all have to work harder. Interestingly, more people think that we will get a better balance than a worse one. This is perhaps something for the advocates for growth to work with...)

The 40% figure came from this part of the report:

The survey then looked at whether respondents believed growth would result in tangible benefits in such key indicator areas as better health and education, more secure jobs, more interesting and rewarding jobs, better pay and conditions of work. While a majority believed this would happen, a substantial minority, around 40%, is neutral or negative. This neutral/negative response climbs to around half when asked if growth will result in a better health system. This is a significant level of doubt making it difficult to build consensus messages around growth, as it is currently constructed or viewed.

KiwiPundit objects to my claim that "Politicians trying to sell economic growth and 'getting back into the top half of the OECD' as an end in itself are pushing shit uphill" by pointing out that "all parties except the Greens claim their policies will grow the economy". This is true - however, they're not all promoting it as an end in itself (maybe I should have emphasised that in the original). They're not all suggesting welfare cuts, reductions in government services, rolling back the ERA and RMA, and turning the whole of the West Coast into a giant open-cast coal mine. And that's where the difference lies.

Something I should have pointed out in the original is that the GIAB's take on this is actually quite positive, as can be seen from their conclusions and the subsequent press releases. They believe we can build a vision for (or version of) growth which supports and is supported by our values, rather than one which stomps all over them. "Kiwis will support growth if it supports Kiwiness" is one of their slogans, and it pretty much sums it up. That's a goal I - and even the Greens - support. The attitudes revealed here are only a threat if you believe that economic growth is fundamentally incompatible with, or should be pursued regardless of the cost to, our other values.

One Big Mac too many?

The CEO of McDonalds has died... of a heart attack.

Would you like irony with your burger?

"A man of enormous experience and skill"

George Bush has appointed John Negroponte to be the new US ambassador to Iraq, calling him "a man of enormous experience and skill". Experience at what?

Previously Negroponte had had a distinguished career as the US ambassador to Honduras, where he armed the Contras and covered up the activities of the Honduran government's death squads. But it wasn't just a case of lying to the US public, media and congress - in 1994 the Honduras Human Rights Comissioner "specifically accused John Negroponte of a number of human rights violations".

If Bush thinks Negroponte is the right man for the job, then Iraqis should be very, very worried.

New Python

Invade Iraq? It's a no brainer

Monday, April 19, 2004


One of the metaphors commonly used for economic growth is "growing the pie" or "making the cake bigger", the idea being that a bigger cake means that everybody gets a bigger slice. Of course, the 80's and 90's have shown that this isn't necessarily true - a rising tide does not lift all boats (to use the other metaphor). Most of the new cake goes to those who already have the lions share, with most people seeing little or no increase in the size of their slice. Worse, some people get even get less than they had before. Stripping away the metaphor, free markets exacerbate existing inequalities, and funnel wealth to the already wealthy.

This is interesting when thinking about the GIAB survey. We already have a large class of people who, because they see no benefits for themselves in economic growth, have no reason whatsoever to support it (and, to the extent that it will reduce their position relative to their neighbours, every reason to oppose it). Now we find out that there are also many people who want to have their cake and eat it too. And to the extent that business leaders and right-wing politicians say "you can't", they too have no reason to support growth. After all, if you can't eat it, then what's the point of having cake in the first place?

If you listen to our business leaders, making the cake bigger requires concerted social effort. And this presents them with something of a problem, because they need the support of those people who don't want cake, or want it, but aren't getting any.

The obvious solution is to buy us off. Let people eat their cake, and distribute new cake so that everyone's share grows. Or, to strip away the metaphor again, promote policies encouraging quality of life, environmental protection and work-life balance; commit to funding extensive education and health services; and distribute the benefits of growth more widely, either directly as higher wages and better working conditions, or indirectly through benefits and better government services.

Or else, to put it bluntly, nobody's getting any more cake.

Growth and values

There was an interesting series of articles in yesterday's Sunday Star-Times about the results of the Growth and Innovation Advisory Board's survey of our attitudes to economic growth. The results are pretty startling, as should be obvious from the graphic below:


(Graphic stolen from GIAB's research summary)

Economic growth, and the economy in general, are not a central concern for most New Zealanders. We care far more about "soft" factors such as quality of life, the environment, education and health instead. Questions of how important these issues are to the country as a whole give similar results; environment and quality of life come out on top, with economic and financial issues again taking a back seat (though less of one).

Other results are that economic growth is seen as having significant negative effects (particularly with regards to income inequality and traffic congestion) and as primarily benefiting future generations and younger New Zealanders (who, interestingly, don't agree with this at all), and that a shocking 40% of people don't believe that higher growth will deliver significant tangible benefits to them in health, education, jobs etc.

What does this mean? The obvious conclusion is that the neo-liberal program in New Zealand is dead. We just don't believe that shit anymore, if indeed we ever did. Politicians trying to sell economic growth and "getting back into the top half of the OECD" as an end in itself are pushing shit uphill.

The alternative strategy is to sell growth as a means to an end. Don Brash in particular has taken this line, arguing consistently that growth is the way we get and pay for the things we want. The problem with this line is that a) so many "business-friendly", pro-growth policies seem to be destructive of those other, more highly-valued goods; and b) a huge segment of the population don't believe it will have significant benefits to them. If there are no benefits, then why support it?

The temptation for the right will be to dismiss these attitudes as stupid, ignorant, or "ill-informed" (Brash calls them "worrying"). I'd welcome that, because I can think of no surer way to guarantee the right another three years in opposition than to deny the validity of people's values and abuse them for believing the evidence of their own experiences. No-one who lived through the 80's and 90's can seriously believe that wealth "trickles down" or that "a rising tide lifts all boats". No-one living through the aftermath can seriously believe that economic growth is an unquestionable good with no social costs. And no-one but an economist can seriously believe that the sole good human beings pursue or ought to pursue is private profit.

The flip side of this is that the survey reported some very positive results about individual attitudes. New Zealanders place a high value on ambition, hard work and innovation - values seen as central by business leaders. We seem to be relatively pro-business - except "big business", who we think are parasitical wankers. And we're keen enough to get ahead in our personal lives; we just don't see it as the be-all and end-all of existence. We will accept economic growth, just not at the cost of other goods we value. The challenge for growth's advocates is to find ways of growing which don't undermine those goods.

Keeping his promises

Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero was sworn in as Spanish PM, and just hours later he was ordering his defence minister to "do what is necessary for the Spanish troops stationed in Iraq return home in the shortest time possible". Hopefully this will rule out their helping the Americans do something stupid at Najaf.

At the same time, he is promising to double the number of Spanish troops in Afghanistan. "Soft on terror"? Hardly.

Update: It gets worse. One of Kos's commentors translates Zapatero as saying that the troops are being withdrawn because "it is not forseeable that the UN is going to adopt a resolution that would accord with the reasons set out for staying". He's originally said "put the UN in charge or we leave"; now he seems to be saying "you've fucked things up so badly that the UN can't fix them". Ouch.

Defending United Future

This column by United Future's Marc Alexander seems to have attracted some comment. Alexander begins by lambasting the government's policies for being driven by "liberal ideology", but then goes on to say:

United Future did not choose to work with Labour because we find Labour's policies irresistible, we simply work with the hand that voters have dealt because we are committed to our country. The alternative was to pass up on our responsibilities, shout from the sidelines with everyone else and abdicate the opportunity to contribute.

The past failures of the National / NZ First and the Labour / Alliance coalitions made us determined that stability must be assured for the good of the country. The result has been a reasonable working relationship demanded by the new MMP realities.

Darkness clearly sees this as just making excuses. United Future "have supported the government throughout" - how can they then disclaim responsability for that government's policies? I think the answer is obvious - United Future have indeed supported the government throughout on confidence and supply. Legislation is another matter entirely, and they have very clearly not lent their votes to support the legislation Alexander attacks. The support of other parties (particularly the Greens) have allowed the government to pass it anyway, despite United Future's opposition.

(Obviously none of that legislation has been bad enough from United Future's perspective to be a deal-breaker and undermine the confidence agreement - though this is mostly because they want to establish themselves as a serious party rather than a bunch of Winstons, and in the end because the existence of alternatives (the Greens) would reduce it to a gesture. While the potency of that gesture should not be underestimated, it could also easily backfire, and isn't something to be done lightly.)

MyRight, meanwhile, attacks them for "swinging with the polls on each issue". I don't think this is the case at all. United Future clearly has a core set of principles which they advocate, centering around traditional family values and being "business friendly". They've consistently sought to push government legislation in the direction of these values, and haven't been afraid to oppose it when there is conflict (for example, in the case of the changes to holiday entitlements or the minimum wage). In answer to MyRight, I think that this will allow them to brand themselves come electiontime - they have some policy victories to point to, and their defeats, while defeats, allow them to say "and we're not just patsies for the government" (of course, how effective this is won't be known until the votes are counted).

Overall, I think United Future has adopted a mature, MMP-style attitude. They fight their corner, and accept that they'll win some battles and lose others. And while they support the present government, it is clear that they'll support whichever party is largest and try and act as a moderating influence. I don't see any dishonour in this at all; hell, isn't it how Parliament is supposed to work?


Pointless and Absurd comments:

I've been finding the likes of Russell Brown, NZPundit, No Right Turn, etc, etc a tad tedious of late, and this is why.

Yep, it does all get the same after a while, hence the comings and goings and silences and people dropping out. But hey, newsgroups and BBSing were no different, and neither is bitching about the State of The World around the coffee table with your friends. Eventually everyone's opinions become known and predictable.

I don't think that's a good reason for people to shut up, however.

New kiwi blogs

John Tamihere (yes, that one)
It just makes me mad

New Fisk

By endorsing Ariel Sharon's plan George Bush has legitimised terrorism

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Five hundred days

Today marks the 500th day of Ahmed Zaoui's imprisonment. That's 500 days without charge and without trial, many of them spent in solitary confinement.

Today I am not proud to be a New Zealander.

Taking the Piss (part II)

Last week's Employment Court judgment allowing Air New Zealand to drug test its employees, but only in safety sensitive areas is a victory for common sense...which is good because neither the airline nor the unions had showed any up to this point.

The court judgment means that they will have to come to an agreement over what drug testing will be carried out...which is what they should have done in the first place and saved everyone all this bother.

That said, for reasons mentioned in my post back in October when the case started, I think that unless they are very careful there could be a sequel to this case the first time they try to sack someone for a failed test. (See Taking the Piss 8/10/2003)

Friday, April 16, 2004

On the road again

I'm travelling again, so there'll probably be nothing substantial until monday afternoon. Unless I find a terminal, that is...

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Why Iraq is rebelling

An Iraqi has died of his wounds after US troops beat him with truncheons because he refused to remove a picture of wanted Shiite Muslim leader Moqtada Sadr from his car, police said today.

Full story here.

As an interesting aside, while US soldiers have been prosecuted for mistreating POWs, none have ever faced charges for mistreating or killing Iraqi civilians.


What's my opinion on the government opening free-trade negotiations with China? Well, we should at least consider it. We should look at what we'll get out of it and what we'll lose and whether we're morally comfortable with expanding links to an abhorrent regime.

Easy pros:

  • It's difficult to see this as anything other than a boon for our agricultural sector and for consumers
  • We can use the negotiations to press for improvements in human rights and labour standards, particularly in the area of forced labour and unionization.
  • Its poking a giant stick in the eye of the United States.

Easy cons:

  • It will be bad for the manufacturing sector - and contrary to the beliefs of neo-classical economists, the workers who lose their jobs will not go off to the country and work on farms
  • The Chinese are authoritarian wankers
  • It will stop us from doing the right thing and recognising Taiwan.

We should also recognise that this is not really about trade, but politics. What the Chinese really want from us is not access to our markets, but our "endorsement" that they are ready to fully join the international trading community. New Zealand has a reputation as a consistent supporter of multilateralism and free-trade and a member in good standing of the international community. Merely agreeing to talk about an FTA allows China to point to us and say "New Zealand thinks we're OK"; actually signing one gives them ammunition to use in negotiations with other nations. That's incredibly valuable to them, and we should not sell our reputation lightly.

More on mercenaries

NZPundit seems to think that my comments on mercenaries apply to people like this man. I repeat: "Bodyguarding journalists and third parties is probably OK" - it's difficult to construe that as participating in armed conflict, especially when you are forbidden by your employer to carry weapons (as is the case with BBC security staff). Guarding the CPA, OTOH, is a whole different kettle of fish...

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Royalist sycophancy

National wants Prince Edward to be our next Governor-General.

God, couldn't they think of anything else to do with him?

Najaf is next

The shaky truce around Fallujah seems to be holding, but meanwhile the Americans are busy gearing up to go into Najaf. They've deployed 2,500 troops around the city, and just seem to be waiting for the right moment to go in and "capture or kill" Moqtada al-Sadr.

The problem? Sadr is reportedly headquartered in the Shrine of the Imam Ali. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is practially Mecca for Shi'ites (obviously it's not Mecca, but it's bloody close); Ali was the founder of the sect, the guy Shi'a think should have been Caliph instead of the Caliph. US soldiers stomping round in there would piss off every Shi'ite in the world. Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani, the eminence grise of Iraqi Shi'a, has warned the US not to set foot there. If they piss him off, it really will be all-on.

Fallujah has already become an Iraqi version of the Alamo - a rallying cry for further resistance. A similar massacre in Shi'a Islam's holiest shrine will provide an even louder one. Quite apart from the loss of life involved, it would be a political foot-bullet of tremendous proportions. Is that really what the Americans want to do?

New Fisk

Deaths of scores of mercenaries not reported

Must Read

Empire Notes, reports from someone on the ground in Iraq. Particularly his post on his trip to Fallujah...

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Falling behind

Hugo nominations are out - and in a sign of my continuing failure to keep up, I haven't read any of them. Worse, I don't even own any of them. S'funny - I thought I'd bought plenty of SF last year; my unread book stack has certainly grown. Have I been buying crap, or just doing backfill?

(Actually, looking at the nominees, there's an obvious answer: Robert Sawyer? Robert Charles Wilson? I wouldn't be seen dead with these guys on my bookshelf. The only guaranteed buy in there is the Stross, and I just haven't seen a copy. In other words, those bloody Americans are voting for crap again. Philistines!)

Ah well, time to get my arse over to Infinity Plus and see whether any of the shorts are online...


The Whig writes:

Still, if America has to make a complete balls-up of the war on terror, at least with the balls up you can see that Dubya actually has some.

Needless to say, I don't think that "showing you have balls" is worth the death of even one civillian, let alone ten thousand.

Must read

Via Hard News: Late Night Thoughts of a Defeatist

Zaoui update: whispers and suspicion

Over the weekend, the Herald published a pair of articles citing unnamed "European intelligence sources" accusing Zaoui of acting as a "bridge" between the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) and the Armed Islamic Group (GIA). These allegations have been raised constantly since Zaoui arrived in the country - but as the Herald's reporter points out, "none of these suspicions features in any publicly accessible evidence in the Zaoui case in Europe".

I think its important to point out here that Zaoui has never been convicted of (or even charged with) terrorism. While he was convicted in France and Belgium on charges of "criminal association" and possession of stolen passports, the Refugee Status Appeals Authority has cast doubt on the safety of those convictions. Absent real evidence, all we have are whispers and suspicion. And suspicion is not enough. We would not tolerate the police imprisoning people on this basis, and neither should we tolerate the SIS doing so.

The demand of Zaoui's supporters has always been "freedom or a fair trial". If there is evidence against Zaoui, then it should be assessed in court where it can be properly examined. If the government is unwilling to do that, then they should release him. That's the bottom line in human rights terms, and it is simply shameful that our government is refusing to acknowledge it.

Monday, April 12, 2004

The British view

While Blair pledges his eternal support to Bush, the British Army don't seem to be so keen. In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, a "senior Army officer" lambasts the Americans for casual racism and a disproportionate use of force:

"My view and the view of the British chain of command is that the Americans' use of violence is not proportionate and is over-responsive to the threat they are facing. They don't see the Iraqi people the way we see them. They view them as untermenschen. They are not concerned about the Iraqi loss of life in the way the British are. Their attitude towards the Iraqis is tragic, it's awful.

"The US troops view things in very simplistic terms. It seems hard for them to reconcile subtleties between who supports what and who doesn't in Iraq. It's easier for their soldiers to group all Iraqis as the bad guys. As far as they are concerned Iraq is bandit country and everybody is out to kill them."

The Americans respond aggressively to any threat, using helicopter gunships and artillery in residential areas; the British are restricted to firing only if fired upon, using minimum force and only at identifiable targets. Which response is more effective at winning hearts and minds and preventing future attacks is left as an exercise for the reader.

"We did not sign up to fight Iraqis"

One of key strategies of the US occupation in Iraq has been "Iraqification" - getting the Iraqi police and newly reformed army to carry more of the burden of handling security duties. The problem? When push comes to shove, these forces side with their fellow Iraqis, rather than with the CPA. A freshly trained battalion of the Iraqi army reportedly refused to join the fighting in Fallujah, saying "we did not sign up to fight Iraqis". Overall, around 25% of local security forces have deserted or changed sides over the last few days.

This is bad news for the Americans. Without local stooges to stand between them and the Iraqi people, they'll have to do all the oppressing themselves. This not only exposes them to higher casualties; it also fatally undermines their political strategy. What sort of "handover" will it be on June 30th, if it is still American boots kicking down doors and American soldiers dragging people off to Abu Ghraib? Why, none at all...

Sunday, April 11, 2004

The Iraqi resistance have apparently released the three Japanese hostages. Good. They should be leaving civillians out of it, not using them as bargaining chips.

Update: Obviously I spoke too soon. Bloody One News...

Kiwis flout rules to moonlight as security in Iraq

New Zealand soldiers and police are taking extended leave or simply perfing out to work in Iraq as "private security contractors", and a former Diplomatic Protection Squad officer is actively recruiting more.

This is interesting in light of the Mercenary Activities (Prohibition) Bill currently progressing through Parliament. The bill would outlaw participating in mercenary activities, as well as recruiting, using or financing mercenaries - and establishes extraterritorial jurisdiction to allow prosecution of New Zealanders working overseas.

The bill defines a mercenary as anyone fighting in armed conflict (or a concerted act of violence, such as a coup) for private gain, who is not a member of their side's armed forces (or a citizen or resident), and who is paid substantially more than ordinary soldiers of equivalent rank. The only point of contention for those wanting to work in Iraq is whether what they are doing is actual fighting - and I think that in many cases, it is. "Private security contractors" are increasingly used to guard CPA facilities, and not just in a "guy with a white shirt and big torch" fashion. They are working as soldiers (albeit with defensive duties), not security guards. Bodyguarding journalists and third parties is probably OK, but waving guns for the CPA runs a real risk of prosecution when this bill passes.

The smoking gun?

The controversial memo, "Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US", is now online.

New Fisk

The planners of the war in Iraq have just one answer to their critics: 'shut up'

More on Iraq

The Independent's Patrick Cockburn has an excellent series on current happenings in Iraq, named (appropriately enough) "Apocalypse Now":

Apocalypse now? Part 1: The War Front
Apocalypse now? Part 2: The White House
Apocalypse now? Part 3: The Home Front

Also check out Juan Cole for the views of an expert on the region.

Saturday, April 10, 2004


The gas incident in Sofia is now being described as an accident - someone accidently dropped a personal tear-gas sprayer, and gassed a room full of people.

Guess it shows how twitchy we all are...

Liberation Day

Apparently April 9th is Iraq's new national day. Riverbend has some choice words on the subject here and here.

Not-so-new Kiwi blog

ACT MP Heather Roy's The Right Prescription has moved from BlogSpot to BlogNZ. It has some new content, even. I guess we'll have to see whether it continues to be updated, or whether it just gets a speech every couple of weeks.

Shock, elation, horror and hope

I didn't have access to a TV while I was away (in fact, due to a screwup by the power company, I didn't even have electricity on my first night), so I had to get all my news on the uprising in Iraq from the Net. I spent my infrequent logins siting there being progressively more and more shocked by what I read. Demonstrations greeted with gunfire. Clashes between US troops and Shi'ite militia. A bloodbath in Ramadi. Guerillas actually seizing control of Najaf and Kut. Fallujah being strafed by AC130s (can you get any more indiscriminate?), leading to hundreds of civillian casulaties. Hell in a handbasket, practically overnight.

Shocked, but also elated, because Iraqis were fighting to free themselves from an occupation which long ago lost any pretence of moral legitimacy. The people doing so may be thugs and fanatics, but I cannot condemn their efforts. A little more than a year ago I said that I wanted the Iraqi people to win, and I stand by that: Iraq should be ruled by and for Iraqis. The United States has worked against that goal at every turn, undermining the possibility of elections and attempting to install an unelected puppet regime to rubberstamp their decisions. They deserve to be overthrown. To steal a line from Bush, any future the Iraqi people choose for themselves will be better than what Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld and Achmed Chalabi have chosen for them - simply because it will be their choice, rather than that of their occupiers.

There's also horror as well, because (to state the blindingly obvious) people are being killed and injured, and the vast majority of them are civillians. I prefer bloodless revolutions as a rule, such as those which occured in Yugoslavia and Georgia (OK, while neither was entirely blodless, both were much closer to the ideal). But civil disobediance and mass protest only work against governments which are "nice", and I'm not sure that the US Army with its twitchy trigger-fingers and emphasis on force protection really qualifies.

And finally, there's hope. What ought to be scary for the Americans is that this is no longer about "Ba'athist diehards", "foreign fighters", or "Islamic fundamentalists"; it seems to have become a true popular uprising which has united both Sunni and Shi'a. That is something of an achievement for the Americans, though a rather ironic one. Last year, everyone was worried about Iraq disintegrating into civil war - now it looks as if shared struggle against the occupation will be what holds it together.

Four emotions, deep ambivalence. I don't like bloodshed, but I can't condemn the people commiting it. Insofar as they are working to free Iraq, and not killing too many people in the process, their cause is just. Which is more than I can really say for the poor US soldiers being sent in to put them down.

Holy shit!

Someone has attacked a police station in Bulgaria with poison gas. The chemical used was chloropicrin, a lung agent used in WWI, and now used as a pesticide (in other words, not exactly impossible to obtain). It's not a particularly effective weapon, so there's only one dead.

Police have apparently arrested the person responsible, but there's no word yet on motive. The obvious conclusion would be that this is an attempt to punish Bulgaria for its contribution to the Coalition of the Willing, but that may not be the case. More news in the morning, I guess.

Friday, April 09, 2004

New Fisk

A war that was founded on lies and illusions has one simple truth: Iraqis do not want us

Corruption at Immigration

As if the Immigration Service didn't have enough bad press, now they've got more, with One News reporting widespread fraud and corruption:

A report by consultants KPMG reveals that while Lianne Dalziel was in charge of immigration, staff falsified documents, sold information and gave preferential treatment to their friends.


In just two years from 2001-2003, the report said some 49 staff members were involved in corruption. So far, 13 staff have resigned or been sacked

At first glance, 49 people doesn't sound like many, but the Immigration Service only has about 750 staff. While its over a three year period, we are still talking about around 5% of the service as a whole. And by New Zealand standards, that's "widespread"...

This simply isn't good enough. The concentration of power and need around immigration means that it will attract corruption, or at least attempts at it - any fool can see that. So why weren't we watching our bureaucrats? Why weren't staff subjected to background checks and high levels of scrutiny to ensure honesty? The problem and the solutions are so blindingly obvious that there's just no way to see this as anything other than a gross failure by the government - even if previous governments didn't put them in place, the present government should have.

But blame aside, the Immigration Service needs a shakeup, if not a full-on purge. They have a toxic internal culture, a hostility to public and government oversight, and a history of continued incompetence. None of this should be tolerated in our public services; we should spare no effort in rooting it out.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Catching up

Seems a lot happened while I was away - Iraq has gone to hell in a handbasket, with the US fighting the nightmare of a popular Shi'a uprising, the government has released its foreshore and seabed policy and pleased no-one, and Leto has decided to give up blogging for a while.

Hopefully I'll get round to commenting on some of this soon, after I've caught up on the news and on sleep - the night train isn't exactly comfortable.

New Fisk

A PoW's exit: US airlifts Saddam out of Iraq

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

New Fisk

Iraq on the brink of anarchy

This is just daft. The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons should really stick to talking about medicine. They've called for New Zealand's 1400 level crossings to be removed to put an end to accidents.

Where this is not possible they want to install automatic boom gates, rumble strips, warning signs with flashing lights and speed restrictions. They also want crossings illuminated when being used and railway vehicles to have reflective markings.

Have these people been prescribing themselves drugs? As the report says, you might as well ban intersections to stop car accidents. Reflective markings??? How the fuck can you fail to see a train? They do tend to stand out a bit. Who would pay to put underpasses in instead level crossings anyway?

People die because they don't bother looking...if they didn't die on a level crossing they'd probably get killed crossing the road anyway. People will happily drive around the barrier arms to avoid having to wait for the train. The underlying problem here is matter how much money (other people's money incidentally) is spent its not going to change this.

At some point people have to be responsible for there own actions and their own safety you can't wrap the entire country in cotton wool.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

New Fisk

Dust off the flak jacket. Lay low. And stay off the streets...

Monday, April 05, 2004

New Fisk

Three more families now rage against the American occupation of their land
A bloody day in Iraq: Eight US troops die as battles erupt

Sunday, April 04, 2004

Opportunity goes begging in Iraq

I had pretty much stopped reading about Iraq...its just too depressing but since I promised to hold the fort while Idiot is in Auckland, here goes.

If you can't stomach reading Robert Fisk anymore, this excellent article by Naomi Klein gives a good perspective of what is really happening down at street level in the new Iraq.

Meanwhile, Colin Powell has acknowledged that the "most dramatic" part of his presentation to the United Nations making the case for war on Iraq was based on flawed intelligence.

It makes it sound so innocuous though, doesn't it?

"Whoops, those silly duffers at the CIA gave me shonky intelligence info and made me look like a bit of a muppet in front of the UN...oh well no harm done."

The thousands of people maimed and injured because of this conflict, the children who have been horribly injured due to the coalition's indiscriminate use of cluster bombs, the families of the 10,000+ civilian casualties, unknown numbers of Saddam's poorly equipped cannon fodder or the 600 dead American military personnel will be comforted to know that America went to war because of some bureaucratic mistake (and that's being charitable).

Some people think that the ends (ousting Saddam) justified the means (giving the UN the finger). No Right Turn disagrees for reasons that Idiot has already gone into. But despite the dubious legality of the Invasion, America had a fantastic opportunity to make a difference in the Middle East.

Building a prosperous democratic Iraq would have shown the Arab world that America could be a friend and partner and that Western values weren't so bad after all. It could have helped fix the perception on the Arab street that America was just a tool of Tel Aviv. They could have done a lot to address the root causes of Islamic terrorism and reduce the support for these extremists as our memes took root and spread throughout the area.

Once Saddam was toppled they had a blank slate to work with and a population who, while stopping short of throwing a carpet of rose petals down in front of their tanks, were largely happy to see them.

One year on its all gone to custard. Despite getting rid of Saddam's evil regime, the Americans are despised to the point where in places, it is no longer safe for Westerners to go there lest they get killed by a suicide bomber, have their hotel blown up or worse, be set upon by a mob, burned, hacked up with shovels and hung from a bridge (I think that was how it went...I was trying not to watch).

Due to the actions of the occupiers Iraqi citizens have been radicalised and delivered into the hands of extremists...Al Qaida couldn't have done it better themselves if they'd tried...nice one George.

Saturday, April 03, 2004


Posting will be light to nonexistent until Thursday, as I'll be in Auckland.

Friday, April 02, 2004

We're getting out of Iraq September. However, the New Zealand provincial reconstruction team will be staying in Afghanistan for another year.

This is fair enough. Thanks to American mismanagement, Iraq is simply getting too dangerous for us to continue to play a role. And we are better to direct our limited resources to places where we can actually help, rather than wasting them trying to clean up Bush's messes.


Helen Clark has given her strongest signal to date that the laws surrounding oversight of the SIS will be reviewed. However, what's strange is her insistence that the review will not happen until after the Zaoui case is resolved. If the process is so grossly flawed as to need serious revision, then the outcome of that process in the Zaoui case must surely be in doubt.

Justice will not be served by continuing to expose Zaoui to a flawed and secretitive process. The government would be better to move the whole case to the courts, rather than continuing to rely on the SIS Inspector-General. That's the only way we can have any confidence in the outcome.

Pictures from Fallujah

If you really have to watch people being butchered, there is video here.

"Paper trail? We don't need no stinking paper trail..."

There's a lot of worry in the US at the moment about electronic voting machines. Doubts about their security and suspicion of their opaqueness has led many states to pass laws demanding that they produce a paper "audit trail" - effectively a receipt which can be checked by the voter, then deposited in a ballot box, allowing for recounts. The big exception to this trend is Florida, where Republican legislators are instead considering banning any such receipts, and forbidding any recounts of votes cast electronicly.

They must be really confident that the machines will give the "right" result...

New Fisk

Atrocity in Fallujah
Things are getting much worse. It's not just a 'spike' or an 'uptick' in violence


Another question from the referrer-log: What's the constitutional problem if Tariana Turia will not vote (for the foreshore & seabed legislation)?

The answer is "Cabinet collective responsibility". We have a convention in this country that once a decision is made inside cabinet, they present a united front. This obviously rules out voting against legislation cabinet has approved, and even forbids criticising it publicly. Ministers who break this convention are almost always forced to resign.

This isn't a constitutional convention as such, but a matter of political pragmatism, in that it allows the Prime Minister to leverage the support of a small clique of supporters into a majority in the House. If the PM has a dedicated voting bloc (and she wouldn't be the PM if she didn't), then they can dominate Cabinet; collective responsibility turns Cabinet into a larger voting bloc which can dominate caucus; caucus (at least under FPP, where the system evolved) in turn dominates the House and allows the PM to push her program through. At the same time, collective responsability allows dissenting voices to be silenced, by bringing them inside the tent and then forcing them to shut up or mouth the party line.

This is a crock by any anarchist or democratic principles, and under MMP it has taken a bit of a beating. The requirements of coalition government have weakened the convention, and now there is an understanding that coalition partners sharing a Cabinet can "agree to disagree" and take different stances on a policy. This hasn't extended to members of the PM's party, however, and so Tariana Turia will be forced to toe the party line or be fired.

Update: Mike adds: "Labour has historically been far more intolerant of its MPs dissenting than National has. Labour MPs risk expulsion from the party if they cross the floor and I imagine they take a pretty dim view of abstentions... so the cabinet collective responsibility is probably only half the story."

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Energy: incentivising the market

One of the questions raised by our adoption of a market structure for electricity is how we can discourage the market from taking the cheapest, dirtiest option and instead encourage generators to use clean, renewable technologies. Our current government has chosen to do this by handing out Kyoto credits. And it seems to be working - last year's allocation has spurred plans for 240 MW of new generation, which must be active and generating by 2008 in order to claim the full amount of credits (all but 5 MW of this is in addition to the 685 MW announced earlier in the week).

This year's budget will apparently include a further allocation of carbon credits to spur new projects. If there's a similar response, New Zealand will be well on the way towards meeting our demand growth from purely renewable sources. This doesn't solve the problem of Maui running out - only finding a large new gas field in the North Island or the commisioning of new, non-gas generating capacity will do that - but it does help.

Biffing CYFS

United Future has a detailed proposal for massively reforming CYFS. Certainly CYFS is dysfunctional enough to need serious restructuring; however what cannot be ignored is that it also needs serious resourcing. If we want to care for our children more effectively (whether by prevention or intervention), we are going to need to spend more money on them. Fortunately I think that United Future will be quite sympathetic to the idea...

The Leopard dosn't change its spots

Don Brash is back to promising tax cuts for the rich...

Berlin to introduce talking rubbish bins

Why am I thinking of Red Dwarf's "talkie toaster"?

NZPols has a moving tribute to Dr Michael King

It's getting ugly

Resistance to foreign occupation in Iraq has moved beyond military attacks and suicide-bombings to mob violence. Today in Falluja a mob attacked a pair of SUVs apparently occupied by westeners, set them on fire, dragged the corpses out, and mutilated them with shovels. Other reports suggest the dead were Americans, possibly security guards, and paint a similarly gory picture of their death.

These sort of attacks reveal a lot of hate - and should cause people to fundamentally question the US view of the occupation. "Liberators" are not generally torn apart by mobs in the street...

Once things have got to this stage, an occupying army basically has only two choices: commit atrocities or leave. The first discards any pretence of attempting to win hearts and minds, and any shred of moral decency. It also jars with the US's purported war aims - taking hostages or "mowing the whole place down" at the slightest hint of a threat is neither a credible nor effective tactic if your goal is to build a free and democratic society (it's also a war crime, BTW). But leaving means that Bush loses the election. I wonder how many Iraqi civilians he's willing to kill for another term?

Update 02/04/04: The four victims were mercenaries, not civilians. For those who don't know, mercenaries, or "private security contractors" according to current euphemism, are playing an increasing role in Iraq, making up for the lack of international support (and shortage of US troops) by taking on basic security duties. South Africans and Chileans are particularly popular, bo doubt because they're used to keeping a subject people in line. The Independent had a pair of articles on it last week, which I should have linked to at the time:

Britain's secret army in Iraq: thousands of armed security men who answer to nobody
Occupiers spend millions on private army of security men

Mmmmm... chocolate...

Tom Goulter over at Fighting Talk has a modest proposal: he and his friends want to buy votes from non-voting Americans. With chocolate. If you're a non-voting American, I'd like to stress that we make damn good chocolate here - the milk that goes into it has actually been near a cow - and if anything is worth selling out for, it's chocolate. And I'd also like to point out 42 U.S.C. 1973i(c), which imposes a fine of up to US$10,000 and/or up to five years imprisonment on anyone who "pays or offers to pay or accepts payment either for registration to vote or for voting". ("Payment" is interpreted in the widest possible terms, including lottery chances, and chocolate definately counts).

So, rather than violate US law (and election bribery is a Bad Thing), I'd urge all non-voting Americans to do it out of the goodness of your hearts. We too are affected by your government. If you don't care enough to voice your opinion on who rules you (and, to some extent, us), then how about voicing our opinion instead?