Sunday, October 31, 2004


People complain about the arrival of Halloween and trick or treating in New Zealand, but I don't mind a bit. In fact, it's the only holiday I greet with utter glee. Probably this is because in spite of its roots in Roman and druidic custom, it is effectively an entirely secular celebration of a human universal: fear. The fact that fundamentalists hate it is simply another reason to celebrate. And so rather than being burdened by history, culture, or religion, we can settle down and have some fun and a good laugh at all the things that haunt our imaginations and terrify us (or, alternatively, a good scare, just to remind us what its like).

I have spent the afternoon carving a pumpkin; after dark I will light it, and hand out chocolate to anyone who comes to the door.

New Fisk

The truth is that Yasser Arafat died years ago.

Victory to the European Parliament!

The Italian nominee to the Eurpean Commission, Rocco Buttiglione, has stepped down in the face of overwhelming opposition from the European Parliament. This is a significant victory for democracy in the EU - the European Parliament has basically acquired the power to vet and veto individual members of the Commission (rather than the Commission as a whole), and will therefore be able to enforce some minimum standards over the EU's executive.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Bin Laden's October Surprise

Al-Jazeera has broadcast a video featuring Osama bin-Laden, in which he threatens to repeat the attacks of September 11th and says that the security of the US people depends on US policy - not on who their president is. From the BBC report, he seems to mention Kerry by name, which suggests that he's a) still alive (or was three or four months ago), and b) not in CIA custody. Which I guess means that Bush won't be pulling him out of a sack tomorrow, as people half-expected.

As for what this means for US politics, god only knows. It's a powerful reminder that Bush has utterly failed in the chief objective of the war on terror: capturing bin-Laden (who he once famously called "irrelevant"). And OTOH, there are plenty of Americans stupid enough to say "who cares about Osama? We got Saddam!", or who will rally behind the President in the face of this "new" threat (which is really the old threat that Bush just let lie around for three years).

Friday, October 29, 2004

Dirty tricks

Via Daily Kos: an example of the dirty tricks being used by Republicans in Wisconsin to suppress the African American vote:

What sort of a party uses fear and lies to "win"?

Tariana Turia on Zaoui and human rights

Tariana Turia has come out in support of "freedom or a fair trial" for Ahmed Zaoui. In a speech delivered in New Plymouth yesterday, she compared Zaoui's plight to that of Te Whiti-o-Rongomai, one of the leaders of Parihaka who was arrested and imprisoned without trial for two years after government troops destroyed the pa. She goes on:

Some have said it is not our business because this is war time. But that was said also of Te Whiti as people washed their hands of responsibility.

So understand this. The Maori Party stands for Justice, for Maori and for all. We seek an honest country, for the sake of Maori, and for the sake of everybody. We are not here just to define ourselves but to define the country.

I support the call of Amnesty International that Zaoui should have a fair trial, with public exclusion only in respect of those parts of the evidence that the Judges find necessary for national security. I seek your licence to take this position so in honour of the memory of Te Whiti o Rongomai.

The rest of the speech is quite interesting as well, calling for a written constitution and an entrenched bill of rights.

Second-guessing the Reserve Bank

The political kerfuffle surrounding the Reserve Bank's latest rate increase has reminded me of something I read earlier in the month, and which has been chewing at the back of my mind for the last few weeks. While in Washington a month ago, Michael Cullen warned of the danger of an "overshoot" by the Reserve Bank, but noted that the government was "in a very fortunate position", and that fiscal policy would "come into play". While he was quick to back away with talk about "automatic stabilisers" (the tax-take declining and benefit spending increasing during a recession), there's a definite implied threat there: if the Reserve Bank does a Brash and tries to strangle the economy to keep inflation down, the government could simply start spending the surplus. It's unclear whether this threat played a role in the Bank's decision to forswear further rate increases in the near future, but it's a possibility.

What's interesting is that this exposes a possible problem with our monetary policy framework, and perhaps with independent central banks in general. The idea that central banks should be independent came about during the 70's, in response to the failure of Keynesian demand-management policies. The Keynesian response to a recession was for the government to spend money to create jobs. This drove up inflation, but this was seen as an acceptable cost for pulling the economy out of a recession. However, in the 70's, this seemed to stop working; recessions continued, and we got "stagflation" (a stagnant economy with high inflation) instead. The neo-liberal response was to claim that the government should stop intervening in the economy, and instead focus on "price stability" (low inflation) - if left to itself the market would naturally work itself out and solve all problems. However, there was a significant impediment to this goal, as politicians would constantly be tempted to pursue Keynesian policies to secure re-election - exactly as Muldoon did in New Zealand - and this would detract from the credibility of low-inflation policies (Kydland and Prescott just won the Nobel in Economics for pointing this out).

The neo-liberal answer was simple: remove the economic levers from democratic control, thus allowing central banks to pursue "credible" low-inflation policies. Which is why we have the Reserve Bank of New Zealand Act 1989.

The problem is that there are two major levers on the economy: monetary policy, to do with the money supply, and fiscal policy, to do with how much the government spends. The Reserve Bank only controls one of them. While they are interdependent, and the Bank can with time adjust to changes in fiscal policy, the government could still in theory pursue old-style Keynesian policies. This wasn't a problem when the idea of independent central banking was first conceived or when the Reserve Bank Act was passed, because back then governments were invariably running deficits - in order to "prime the economy", the government would have to borrow, and this was countered by a commitment not to do so (backed in New Zealand by the Fiscal Responsibility Act 1994 and fear of foreign investors). But if the fiscal policy is tight enough and results in large surpluses (as ours has), the government has no need to borrow. And this puts it in a powerful position to second-guess the Reserve Bank. If the government thinks the Reserve Bank is unnecessarily strangling the economy or driving up unemployment (as Don Brash did repeatedly in the 90's), it can actually do something about it. While I don't for a minute think that the government is going to go to war with the Reserve Bank, the fact that it could is a constraint on the Bank's behaviour. As long as they continue to run surpluses, we're unlikely to be Brashed again.

Businessmen, brains, and risk

First Against the Wall has a few thoughts on NZPundit's claim that Bush has a businessman's brain. Quibbles about how good a businessman Bush actually is aside, there's also the question of whether an autocratic, "executive" style is appropriate in a democracy. It's fine if private individuals want to play entrepreneur and risk everything in pursuit of their goals - but Bush is gambling with a country, and it isn't his to risk.

Sending a message

MusiCal thinks that the main value of the Chilean lawsuit against President Bush is not its remote chances of success, but that it sends a message. I agree. It sends a message to Bush and his cronies that they will be held accountable for their decisions. It sends a message that they will be hounded to the ends of the earth by those wanting justice. It sends a message that they can never relax, and never forget, because we will never forget, and never rest. And it sends a message that justice will prevail: we will get them in the end, just as we are finally getting Pinochet and sundry other torturers and murderers from South America's military despotisms.

Not enough intellectual muscle

NZPundit's attempt at a right-wing "high-brow" group blog, No Free Lunch, seems to have finally withered away: the URL now points directly to NZPundit, and he has ceased advertising it on his site. Before its demise, No Free Lunch suffered from a chronic lack of serious content - it seems that even collectively, our local right-wing bloggers couldn't put together the intellectual muscle to sustain it...

At least they're dying free

A study published in The Lancet claims that the US invasion of Iraq has led to one hundred thousand extra deaths.

Scientists from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in the US city of Baltimore gathered data on births and deaths since January 2002 from 33 clusters of 30 households each across Iraq.

They found the relative risk of death was one-and-a-half times higher for Iraqi civilians after the 2003 invasion than in the preceding 15 months.

That figure jumps to two-and-a-half times higher if data from Falluja - the scene of repeated heavy fighting - is included.

Before the invasion, most people died as a result of heart attack, stroke and chronic illness, the report says, whereas after the invasion, "violence was the primary cause of death."

Women and children are reportedly the biggest casualties of air strikes

Violent deaths were mainly attributed to coalition forces - and most individuals reportedly killed were women and children.

Dr Les Roberts, who led the study, said: "Making conservative assumptions we think that about 100,000 excess deaths, or more, have happened since the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

One hundred thousand extra dead. And note that this is on top of the already terrible death toll wreaked by sanctions. This makes a mockery of claims that the Iraq war was "worth it" and that Iraqis are better off today than they were under Saddam.

The US excuse will no doubt be a flippant comment that at least they're dying free. I'm sure that that will be a great comfort to the grieving families of the deceased.

Update: More here. The BBC article has downplayed the involvement of local Iraqi doctors. And in response to the expected post from NZPundit claiming that the article "isn't peer-reviewed" and that the author is a communist or similar undesirable: The Lancet is one of the most respected journals in the world. Any article published there has met high academic standards. While there's no doubt some of the authors had an axe to grind - they deliberately timed publication in the hope of influencing the US election - it does not follow from that that the study is flawed. In fact,

Richard Peto, an expert on study methods who was not involved with the research, said the approach the scientists took is a reasonable one to investigate the Iraq death toll.

However, it's possible that they may have zoned in on hotspots that might not be representative of the death toll across Iraq, said Peto, a professor of medical statistics at Oxford University in England.

To conduct the survey, investigators visited 33 neighborhoods spread evenly across the country in September, randomly selecting clusters of 30 households to sample. Of the 988 households visited, 808, consisting of 7,868 people, agreed to participate in the survey. At each one they asked how many people lived in the home and how many births and deaths there had been since January 2002.

The scientists then compared death rates in the 15 months before the invasion with those that occurred during the 18 months after the attack and adjusted those numbers to account for the different time periods.

Even though the sample size appears small, this type of survey is considered accurate and acceptable by scientists and was used to calculate war deaths in Kosovo in the late 1990s.

(Emphasis added). Note that the 100,000 additional deaths excludes data from the obvious hotspot of Fallujah.

The full article should be going up sometime today or tomorrow.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Democratic transparency VII

Someone has just pointed out to me some interesting exchanges on the matter of secret split voting in last wednesday's Hansard. First, in the debate on the Human Assisted Reproductive Technologies Bill, the National Party digs its heels in and clings to the secrecy gained two weeks before; their greatest concession to transparency is to say "give us a ring and we’ll tell you". Having been able to hide behind the Standing Orders, they and United Future then proceeded to split their votes in the subsequent debate.

A few hours later, the Animal Welfare (Restriction On Docking Of Dog's Tails) Bill comes up, and the debate is revisited. This time, though, NZFirst is in a position to deny leave for a secret-split vote, and is therefore able to ensure that names are recorded when a party splits its vote.

Hopefully, the latter is how it is going to be until the Standing Orders are amended: leave for any split vote should be denied unless names are recorded.


One of the architects of Reserve Bank autonomy criticising the bank's decisions.

If Richard Prebble wanted interest rates to be under the ultimate authority of Parliament, he shouldn't have pushed so hard for the Reserve Bank Act 1989.

Shrinking the democratic deficit II

ObservatioNZ has a few thoughs on the EU crisis as well:

It is interesting that the MEPs who are opposing the new Commission are doing so against the wishes of their "home" political parties. One interesting scenario would be that one or more Euro-Parties (these are currently alliances of various national parties) establish themselves independently and contest future Euro-elections on a Europe wide policy platform. This could involve a commitment to agricultural reform, for instance. It is conceivable, if unlikely, that a victorious grouping could face up to national governments and demand that their nominee be made Commission President.

This would turn the EU (or rather, the European Parliament) into a government in its own right, seperate from the national governments, and with its own source of democratic legitimacy. The question is how much this change can be accomodated within a constitutional structure that explicitly views the EU as being an organisation of nation-states - and how much those nation-states will resist. It's easy to see an active European Parliament effectively being able to dictate member-state's choices of commissioners (by building a tradition of vetoing any commission containing anyone chosen without their consent, in the same way that our Ministers are chosen from Parliament because otherwise the King doesn't get his taxes) - but it's also easy to see member-states getting very upset about this usurpation of power. The EU has an exit clause, and its possible that a member-state who felt their interests were consistently being trodden on by the parliament (for example, by continually forcing them to choose commissioners from parties that were locally in a minority) could use it. And OTOH, they're Europeans, and their politics tends far more towards consensus rather than US-style winner-take-all hardball. What's most likely is that things will slowly evolve towards European Parliamentary democracy, working out the balance of power through crisis and compromise - in exactly the way we (or rather, Britain) did.

Brash on Zaoui

There's an interesting report on Scoop about Don Brash's view of the Zaoui case:

National Party Leader Don Brash this morning told 95bFM listeners that the length of time Ahmed Zaoui has spent detained in prison is "unsatisfactory".

Brash said, as leader of the opposition, he has been privy to a SIS briefing on why it issued a security risk certificate against Zaoui, but added that he remains unhappy with the way the Zaoui case has been handled.

He said Mr Zaoui has been detained for "near on two years" and that for almost half of this time Mr Zaoui was detained in solitary confinement.

Which is great as far as it goes, but at the same time looks unconvincing against the background of successive National Party immigration spokesmen claiming that the court cases are "vexatious", demanding that Zaoui let the Inspector-General decide rather than pressing for a fair and open process, or screaming that he should simply have been thrown on the first plane out of the country. Until we see a formal repudiation from the National Party of those views, and a statement demanding the full application of due process and human rights standards, then it simply looks like Brash is trying to have it both ways.

Who said this?

"A political candidate who jumps to conclusions without knowing the facts is not a person you want as your commander-in-chief"

No, it's not Kerry attacking Bush for his decision to invade Iraq seeking weapons of mass destruction that only Bush believed were there - it's Bush attacking Kerry. He really has no shame, does he?

Florida again?

Thousands of absentee ballots go missing in Florida. Why am I not surprised...?

Shrinking the democratic deficit

The current power struggle in the EU is absolutely fascinating to watch, and not just from schadenfreude, but because of the way it mirrors the early struggles of the British Parliament and the birth of our own democracy. For those of you who don't follow such things, the incoming president of the European Commission has been choosing his team and assigning portfolios among his commissioners. Neither the president nor the commissioners are elected - the presidency rotates, and the commissioners are appointed by the member-states - but they are subject to confirmation by the elected European Parliament, in that the EP can vote down the entire commission. Now they seem to be trying to leverage that power into a veto on the roles of individual comissioners. The Italian appointee, Rocco Buttiglione, is a conservative Catholic who hates gays and thinks women should stay in the home. Naturally then he's been nominated for the portfolio of justice and home affairs. The European Parliament's socialist, democrat and liberal groupings won't stand for this, and have threatened to vote down the entire commission if he is appointed. And last night, the president blinked, saying he could not name a commission at this time.

I'd originally thought that the likely result would be shuffling Buttiglione off into a portfolio without human rights implications - agriculture, anyone? - but it now seems that the EP wants to assert itself even more, and that there are "three or four other commissioners who do not appear to be up for the job". In other words, the ability of national governments to appoint any old hack or crony to a powerful position in the EU government is at an end. This represents a significant shift in power in the EU away from the national governments and towards the elected European Parliament, and therefore a significant shrinking of the EU's "democratic deficit". And that's something that ought to be welcomed.


Archaeologists have discovered the remains of a new hominid species on Flores Island in Indonesia:

The 18,000-year-old specimen, known as Liang Bua 1 or LB1, has been assigned to a new species called Homo floresiensis. It was about one metre tall with long arms and a skull the size of a large grapefruit.

The researchers have since found remains belonging to six other individuals from the same species.

Because of their size - only 1m tall - the media have been quick to dub Homo floresiensis with a new name: hobbits!

The discovery raises new questions about the technological sophistication of our earlier relative Homo erectus, from which H. floresiensis is believed to have evolved. You need boats to get to Flores Island - modern humans made the journey around 40 - 50,000 years ago on the way to Australia - which is something believed to be beyond the toolmaking ability of H. erectus. But what's really interesting is that the Hobbits were contemperaneous with human settlement in the area - and that this is reflected in local legend:

Flores' inhabitants have incredibly detailed legends about the existence of little people on the island they call Ebu Gogo.

The islanders describe Ebu Gogo as being about one metre tall, hairy and prone to "murmuring" to each other in some form of language. They were also able to repeat what islanders said to them in a parrot-like fashion.


The last evidence of this human at Liang Bua dates to just before 12,000 years ago, when a volcanic eruption snuffed out much of Flores' unique wildlife.

Yet there are hints H. floresiensis could have lived on much later than this. The myths say Ebu Gogo were alive when Dutch explorers arrived a few hundred years ago and the very last legend featuring the mythical creatures dates to 100 years ago.

12,000 years is an awfully long time for oral history to survive, but not entirely inconceivable, and people are probably already gearing up to go Hobbit-hunting...

But the best of all is that the remains are recent enough to possibly yield DNA. We'll be able to test it and find out exactly where it fits in the human family tree.

I wish them luck

President Bush is scheduled to visit Chile for the APEC summit next month. And so the locals have decided to greet him in the best way they possibly can: with a lawsuit demanding he and his cabinet be arrested and questioned regarding human rights violations in Iraq.

I don't fancy their chances, but I wish them luck. And I hope the Americans are taking note: while they may enjoy impunity within the US, if they travel internationally after retirement, they may face arrest and prosecution. If there is any justice, then Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Cheney, Rice and Bush himself will join Henry Kissinger in being unable to travel to large parts of the world for fear of facing an extradition warrant with their name on it...

More evidence that Hersh was right

High-level Bush administration officials - Powell, Wolfowitz, and Rice - knew of the "ghost detainees" kept at Abu Ghraib and at various other prisons in Iraq and elsewhere, and specifically denied the Red Cross access. I guess those "bad apples" aren't just at the bottom of the barrel...

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Something to be proud of

New Zealand has been ranked ninth in the world in Reporters sans frontieres' annual worldwide press freedom index. We were the highest ranking country outside of Europe, and scored better than the United States (22nd equal), Britain (28th equal), or Australia (41st). The index measures the practical freedom of journalists and the media to do their job - whether they are assaulted, imprisoned, murdered, censored, or simply harassed, the legal framework surrounding the media, and whether those violating press freedom are punished or enjoy impunity. As a stable, liberal, and above all peaceful democracy, we rate fairly well on all of these things. The US fell down for arresting journalists and denying visas; Australia for similar actions and for its efforts to prevent coverage of its treatment of refugees.

I guess it's another sign that GDP per capita isn't everything...

The Grey Shade has a good defence of STV.

Frankly, I'd find the criticism of STV's teething troubles more credible if it wasn't coming from sniffy conservatives who have so obviously benefitted from the undemocratic features of FPP in the past, and who have opposed any representation of minority interests at any level...

Liberals and civil unions

David Young argues that liberals are wrong to support the Civil Union Bill as it is a half-measure, and asks whether we will join a fight for full marriage and parental rights. To which my answer is "absolutely". I have made it clear from the beginning that I think Civil Unions do not go far enough and that we should simply amend the Marriage Act instead, but that under the circumstances progressives should grit their teeth, support progress now, and keep on fighting for true equality. As for parental rights, opposition to gay parents is nothing more than bigotry which equates homosexuality with paedophilia, or regards liberal attitudes towards sexual orientation as a parentally transmitted disease which must be stamped out. There's no good reason why gays shouldn't enjoy exactly the same parental rights as anybody else - including the right to adopt children. And when that battle comes up, I'll fight for it too.

Broken records

One of the more memorable bits of In A Land Of Plenty, the documentary on the rise of unemployment in New Zealand that was on the other night, talked about how neo-liberals at Treasury wanted to increase the economic gap between workers and the unemployed, and so gave us the 1991 benefit cuts. Then, when the ECA had lowered wages at the bottom end of the scale, wanted to do it all over again.

Now we're hearing the same broken record from the OECD - except this time they want to target solo mothers and slash the DPB. Fortunately, the government isn't having a bar of it:

"We have invited people in the OECD to come and live on a benefit here. I haven't actually seen any of them volunteer to do it yet," Social Development Minister Steve Maharey told the Herald.

But isn't that always the way with those proposing welfare cuts?

Ending work testing for those on the DPB was one of the best decisions the government made. It sent a clear message to single parents that it was acceptable to spend time on their children. Forcing single parents into low-paid work simply compounds disadavantage; allowing them time to get their lives together and actively assisting them to find decent work that does not interfere with parenting may be slower, but is far better strategy for both parents and children.

Riverbend Endorses Kerry

Here. And she has the perfect answer to those Americans who claim that it's none of her business:

who is *in* the White House *is* my business- Americans, you made it my business when you occupied my country last year

You can't really argue with that, can you?

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

More on the March for a MultiCultural Aotearoa


I will however, give a big thumbs down to whoever it was that thought getting violent with the NF would solve anything. Poking fun at them was entirley effective, pissed them off no end and best of all completely diminished their power. Getting violent not only sunk to their level but it also proved the NF point that their not the only intolerant ones and it gave them opportunity to claim that they're being victimised.

Left and Lefter:

We in the left cannot condone violence. As Ghandi once said, "an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind". If we are going to truly oppose these National Front idiots, we have to show that we ARE the bigger, more moral people. We cannot let them drag us down to their level, where violence is the only way to solve problems.

I'm in complete agreement with both of the above. The left's vision of a better society is one that is free of violence as well as racism. Trying to promote that vision with violence is self-defeating in the extreme.

I have no illusions that truth will naturally win any battle in the marketplace of ideas, but that is where we must compete, simply because there is no epistemic link between your beliefs being true and beating someone with your fist.

Election speculation

Speculation about an early election is growing thanks to the John Tamihere saga. I'm hoping it doesn't come to that. Even if Tamihere loses his seat, the government is no worse off with regards to enacting its legislative program - they've always been a minority government, and have had to negotiate for every bill. The only problem is confidence and supply - but here they can easily cut a deal with either NZFirst or the Greens, or even the Maori Party for that matter. While it would require policy concessions (which I'd hope would be relatively minor, given that they're after less than a year's support and won't have much time to enact new legislation), it's perfectly do-able. The only barrier is pride and stupidity.

Films from the Revolution

As a dedicated political junkie, I spent much of my Labour Weekend watching TV One's excellent trio of documentaries on the NeoLiberal Revolution: Reluctant Revolutionary about David Lange, Someone Else's Country on the Revolution itself, and In A Land Of Plenty on the rise of unemployment.

Tom Scott's Reluctant Revolutionary seemed to be trying to eulogise Lange before he dies - and in some ways this seems appropriate. There's no question that he's our best-loved former Prime Minister, thanks to his excellent representation of our stand against nuclear weapons in the 80's and because he tried (unsuccessfully) to stop the madness. Lange has defined our foreign policy for the last twenty years, and in the process helped us define ourselves and our place in the world. That's something worthy of a little eulogising.

And OTOH, Scott did seem to go a little beyond eulogising and into whitewashing over the USS Buchanan incident. According to Reluctant Revolutionary, Lange had been on the verge of working out a deal with the Americans but had mysteriously failed to brief Geoffrey Palmer on it; Palmer was then strongarmed into refusing entry by then-Labour Party President Margaret Wilson. Unfortunately, as the Herald's John Roughan pointed out on Agenda on saturday morning, this wasn't actually the case - Palmer expounded at length on how the government was going to squeeze the Buchanan through its anti-nuclear policy (essentially by operating a "don't ask, don't tell" standard), and was rightly crucified by his party for doing so. As for Richard Prebble's contention that Wilson's involvement was somehow unconstitutional and that the decision was one for the executive branch, last I checked the Acting Prime Minister is very much a part of the executive. Wilson's involvement was essentially to point out that he might not remain part of the executive if he blatantly went against the wishes of the people who elected him, but there's nothing at all unconstitutional about taking such political considerations into account.

Someone Else's Country skimmed over the 1984 - 93 period. It's familiar ground to many - the grey suits, the bad haircuts, the rampant neoliberal ideology - and I'd have thought relatively uncontentious. I'm surprised it hadn't been screened earlier.

In A Land Of Plenty was more interesting, focusing on the link between unemployment and monetary policy. Until the 80's, New Zealand had pursued a policy of full employment, ensuring that there were jobs for all, even if it required spending money to do so. Much of our pre-1984 economic mess was the result of trying to sustain this policy in the face of a changing economic climate which made it vastly more difficult (if not impossible). Post-1984, we simply gave up, and instead pursued low inflation instead. The cost was thousands of people thrown out of work, and the embedding of significant unemployment as a permanant feature of the New Zealand economy.

Much of the focus was on Treasury, and frankly they were simply evil. There's simply no other word for people who decide that we need more unemployment to drive wages down, or who take a budget sufficient for minimal nutrition and then cut it by 20% when calculating "optimum" (starvation) benefit levels. But there's also a very familiar face involved in all of these decisions: Don Brash. As Governor of the Reserve Bank, he seemed to think that 6% unemployment was too low, and so hiked interest rates to throw people out of work whenever things started heading that way (one shudders to think at how he's reacting to the current figure of around 4%). Once the ECA had taken effect and lowered wages, he argued that benefit levels were once again too high and had to be lowered. And then there's his Hayek Memorial Lecture, "New Zealand's Remarkable Reforms", in which he says that things had not gone far enough, and advocates abolition of any minimum employment standards, further welfare cuts, further "reform" of the health-care sector, and further privatisations. It's a powerful reminder of just how involved he was, and the message is clear: if Brash is elected, be prepared for more of the same.

There's also a lot of information on the plight of the unemployed during the "reform" period. Just in case anyone needs reminding, thanks to welfare cuts and market rents we had people living in garages, and food-banks were a growth industry (along with pawn-shops and loan-sharks). That is the New Zealand Don Brash wants to return us to, and that is why he should never be allowed to influence policy ever again.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Removing discrimination

Georgina Beyer has drafted a private member's bill to declare "gender identity" a prohibited ground of discrimination in the Human Rights Act; if passed, it would prevent discrimination against transgendered people or transvestites in matters of e.g. employment, housing, or the public provision of goods and services, and insist that they are treated just like everybody else. It's a small thing, and doesn't affect an enormous number of people, but is worth doing all the same. If we want a society in which everyone can participate, then that means everyone, not just "most" people.

Here's hoping the bill gets drawn from the ballot...

Possible good news on torture outsourcing

According to TalkLeft, US legislation that would allow the US government to outsource torture to despotic regimes looks set to die in committee. If the conference committee cannot agree by Tuesday, the bill is effectively dead.

Maybe the American Dream isn't dead after all...

Smaller every day

A few months ago, we learned that the US Department of Justice had authored a memo in which they used semantic nitpicking to try and argue their way around the US constitutional ban on "cruel and unusual punishment" and the UN Convention Against Torture to claim that torture was entirely legal. Today more documents have been leaked, showing that they provided legal justification for the US to violate the Geneva Conventions and transfer detainees out of Iraq:

United States intelligence officers have taken detainees out of Iraq for interrogation, according to The Washington Post.

At the request of the CIA, the Justice Department allegedly compiled a secret memo allowing transfer of a dozen detainees over the last six months.

International Red Cross officials have not met with the detainees, an unnamed officer told the newspaper.

This contravenes Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which forbids "individual or mass forcible transfers" or deportations, "regardless of their motive". For those wanting to quibble over whether the convention applies, both the US and Iraq have ratified, and it protects anyone

who, at a given moment and in any manner whatsoever, find themselves, in case of a conflict or occupation, in the hands of a Party to the conflict or Occupying Power of which they are not nationals

In other words, any Iraqi or any non-US citizen in Iraq.

As for why this is important, Senator John McCain summed it up perfectly when he said

"The thing that separates us from the enemy is our respect for human rights".

Under the Bush administration, that seperation is looking smaller every day.

Another foreshore and seabed rethink

First it was (seemingly) John Tamihere, now the Progressives are rethinking their support for the foreshore and seabed bill. Like others, they favour a trusteeship solution. Those filled with fear at any retreat from expropriation and crown ownership have nothing to be afraid of; the Herald sums it up pretty well:

"Trusteeship" would leave open the possibility that some Maori could claim ownership rights - customary title - in the High Court while overriding legislation would guarantee navigation and access.

In other words, we'd all still be able to practice our customary right of going to the beach.

In itself, the Progressive's move isn't a problem for the bill, but Labour's Maori caucus are also rethinking support, and if they change their minds, then the government will have to do some serious rethinking of its own.

Progressive opinion seems to be moving towards trusteeship as a solution. It would be nice if Labour remembered its progressive roots and followed along.

Updated blogosphere graphs

I've finally got around to updating my graphs of the New Zealand blogosphere to incorporate several results sent to me (not so) recently. The political compass is getting a little crowded, and I'm tempted to post a culled version. The political survey is a lot less popular, but I did have to extend the left/right axis to accomodate Left and Lefter.

If you'd like your political blog to be added to either graph, please take the respective tests (found from the graph pages) and email me the results.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

NZPundit hypocrisy watch

NZPundit is disgusted at an article in the Guardian which calls for Dubya's assassination. However, as I have pointed out before, NZPundit himself has repeatedly called for the assassination of political figures he doesn't like, notably Yasser Arafat.

NZPundit should make his mind up: either political assassination is acceptable, or it isn't. But he can hardly complain about people calling for political figures to be murdered when he does exactly the same thing.

Update (26/10/04): If you followed the link above and found the Guardian's apology, ObservatioNZ has saved the original from the memory hole...

Putting my money where my mouth is

I've long argued that the answer to distasteful speech is more speech, and that people should oppose groups like the National Front by speaking out against them, and so yesterday I put my money where my mouth is and joined Chinashop, Beautiful Monsters, Archaeology and hundreds of others in standing up for tolerance, diversity, and a decent society. The march itself was good - people old and young, from all cultures and ethnicities, standing up for a society based on inclusion rather than exclusion. Some of the speeches were a little dull (though Tze Ming Mok (from MultiCultural Aotearoa) had a good one focusing on politicians using recent immigrants as a political football), and it was sometimes more a shuffle than a march, but that goes with the territory I guess.

Unfortunately, there were a few dickheads along. A group called the "Scary Faeries" counter-protested the National Front gathering, then followed them around downtown Wellington harassing them. Which is fair enough as long as it's confined to (noisy) speech. Unfortunately, they went further than that, trying to steal flags and placards and eventually starting a fight when the National Front wanted to go home for the day. In the process, they proved themselves no better than the fascists they were opposing. One of the things that is absolutely definitive of fascism is its use of street violence in pursuit of its ends - and that is one of the things we are supposed to be opposing, not just the exclusivist and racist ends themselves.

The tragedy here is that this thuggery has handed the National Front a propaganda coup, and is likely to discourage people from opposing them in future for fear of being caught up in a similar incident or tarred by association. The National Front themselves are fairly insignificant and not a real threat; all that is necessary to defeat them is for people to stand up and say "no, we don't agree". Today's violence is going to make that much less likely in the future.

More from RebMob, Left and Lefter, DPF, IndyMedia, Scoop, more Scoop, and even more Scoop.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Fresh Python

George, God here: President Bush has words with the Almighty

Impotent frustration

Nick Bryant in the NBR today laments the fact that "the current splitting of the vote on the right is causing Act and the right serious harm", and pins the blame squarely on United Future. He demands that United Future either merge with National or publicly renounce the possibility of coalition with Labour - which just goes to show that a) he's arrogant; and b) he doesn't understand MMP.

While Bryant refuses to recognise it, there clearly is some difference between United Future and National. It's hard to imagine the latter supporting assistance to first home-buyers or the government's "Working for Families" package, for example. Instead, National's policies are dominated by its right wing. But while United Future would clearly belong in the National Party - they're in pretty much the same position as centrist National MPs - there's a very good reason for them not to merge: they have more power seperately than they would if subsumed into a larger grouping. As a seperate party, they are accorded an independence that would not be granted to a group of centre-leaning MPs.

Questions of power aside, Bryant is demanding that anyone who leans vaguely right should shut up and let the extremists dominate, rather than advocating their own position. That's the sort of arrogance you expect from those on the left who try and bury dissent beneath "solidarity". But it also shows that he does not understand MMP. Under MMP, wing parties are not the "vote stealers" they are under FPP systems. Voters switching between parties in a faction (say, from Labour to the Greens, or National to ACT) do not affect that faction's overall share of the vote or ability to form a government. To the extent that United Future has common ground with National, then, vote-splitting on the right does not affect National's ability to govern. And this exposes Bryants real beef with United Future: they don't have enough common ground with National (or rather, with the right-wing faction that is currently dominant), and b) National has no ability to govern anyway - the right's share of the vote simply is not big enough. He's just lashing out in impotent frustration at the thought of neo-liberal policies being rejected yet again (as they have been in every election since 1990).

And while I'm at it: if Bryant was seriously concerned about ACT, he should advocate for abolishing the undemocratic, distorting threshhold - or rather, reducing it to 0.8% (the level required to get a single MP). That would allows ACT's support to stabilise at it's natural level of around 2%, without the worries every election about them being evicted from Parliament.


The Sock Thief notes Ahmed Zaoui's comments in his essay about Islam being an all-encompassing system of law, and tries to use it to tar Zaoui's supporters:

If liberals here in NZ want to support some one who does not believe in the separation of Church and State then that's their choice but perhaps they should moderate their criticism of the influence of certain Christian church groups in NZ. Or maybe its OK if you're a Muslim fundamentalist. I'd be very interested to see Destiny Church or the Maxim Institute appear on the Public Address web site.

Unfortunately, he's deliberately conflating support for someone's human rights with an endorsement of their views. I do not support Zaoui's position on Islam or the separation of church and state, any more than I support the position of David Irving or Destiny Church - but that does not mean that I think they should be silenced, imprisoned without charge or denied a fair trial.

Liberals do not have any sort of double standard over Zaoui. They are consistent in standing up for human rights, regardless of the views of the person in question. Sadly, it seems the same cannot be said of Sock Thief.

Democratic Transparency VI

NZFirst's Peter Brown is trying to get Parliament's standing orders changed to end the practice of secret split voting:

"New Zealand First will not stand by and let this practice continue, and I have raised the issue in the House. I have also written to the Standing Orders committee asking them to make an amendment to Standing Orders that will make it compulsory for each party whip to table with the Clerk the names of its members who voted for, against or abstained.

The Standing Orders Committee consists of Jim Anderton, Peter Brown, Michael Cullen, Rod Donald, Peter Dunne, Jonathan Hunt, Jill Pettis, Simon Power, Richard Prebble, and Clem Simich. If you support an open and transparent Parliamentary process, why not drop one of them a line, just so they know we're watching?

Thursday, October 21, 2004

New kiwi blog

Front: Leftire

The other 9/11 report

Previous investigations into 9/11 by Congress and the Independent 9/11 Commission were scrupulous in their refusal to point the finger and name names. Instead, they blamed "systematic failure", and talked of "lost opportunities" (while being exceedingly careful to apportion what blame they did allocate in a bipartisan manner). However, there is another official report which does thoroughly investigate 9/11 and names those whose failure allowed it to happen. It's by the CIA, and they're suppressing it:

According to the intelligence official, who spoke to me on condition of anonymity, release of the report, which represents an exhaustive 17-month investigation by an 11-member team within the agency, has been "stalled." First by acting CIA Director John McLaughlin and now by Porter J. Goss, the former Republican House member (and chairman of the Intelligence Committee) who recently was appointed CIA chief by President Bush.

The official stressed that the report was more blunt and more specific than the earlier bipartisan reports produced by the Bush-appointed Sept. 11 commission and Congress.

"What all the other reports on 9/11 did not do is point the finger at individuals, and give the how and what of their responsibility. This report does that," said the intelligence official. "The report found very senior-level officials responsible."


"The agency directorate is basically sitting on the report until after the election," the official continued. "No previous director of CIA has ever tried to stop the inspector general from releasing a report to the Congress, in this case a report requested by Congress."

I guess it must look really bad for the Bush admininstration then.

More on Tamihere

The Herald has a summary of the case for and against John Tamihere. It leaves out the bonus authorised at a meeting which seemingly did not occur, but other than that it's fairly complete.

People have asked why we need an inquiry when it is quite clear that Tamihere lied about refusing to accept a golden handshake? The answer is that it's for the other allegations - tax evasion, fraud, failing to declare gifts given to him as a Minister. There's no question that he mislead the public, and (more importantly), no question that he has embarassed the PM. The latter alone is a sacking offence.

What the inquiry is really for is to determine whether Tamihere has to quit Parliament as well as Cabinet; and if he only has to go from Cabinet, how long he must stay out. It's quite possible for him to come back from misleading the public over a golden handshake (though I'd expect him to spend a while in the sin bin for that). It's far less likely that he will be able to return if he is tainted by the perception of fraud and corruption.

Meanwhile, the government's tactic of trying to muddy the waters about whether Tamihere received a golden handshake (by calling it an "ex-gratia payment", for example) is truly pathetic. He got paid a large bonus on leaving. It wasn't to get rid of him - the parting was amicable - but it was still a golden handshake. They wouldn't accept this sort of semantic quibbling if they were on the other side of the house, and we should not accept it from them.

Enabling the kiwi dream

According to Stuff, the government is planning on including assistance for first-time home buyers in next year's budget. This is a Good Thing. Quite apart from the economic benefits of encouraging home ownership pointed out recently by the New Zealand Institute, it's always been part of the kiwi dream. We're supposed to be a middle class nation, a "property owning democracy" of people who own their own homes rather than renting. But over the past decade, this dream has been slipping away. While the housing boom has played a role, it is only a proximate cause; the real reasons are the growth in inequality during the 80's and 90's and the student loan scheme (which makes it far more difficult for university graduates to pay off a mortgage). It's good to see the government trying to counter this trend and make the kiwi dream attainable for all (or at least more).

New Fisk

Kidnapped: The heroine who offered hope for Iraq

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Words of a terrorist?

The full text (rather than the excerpted Herald version) of Ahmed Zaoui's lecture on the clash of civilizations is here. It's interesting reading, and stresses the need for tolerance and understanding - hardly what you'd expect from a "terrorist".

It's quite significant that he mentions Averroes. The intellectual tradition Averroes represents was a liberal one of tolerance and scientific inquiry; it was suppressed during the thirteenth century for much the same reason as the Catholic Church attempted to suppress Galileo: because the results of that inquiry did not match religious dogma. This suppression is considered to be one of the causes of Islam's subsequent decline.


The Wellington launch of Selwyn Manning's I almost forgot about the moon is being held tonight at Parliament. Details here.

Also, there's the March for a Multicultural Aotearoa in Wellington on Saturday. The National Front have responded to the march by changing their theme from opposing "asian influence in New Zealand" to "defending the New Zealand flag". I guess those who worry about wannabe nazis "stealing our flag" may want to bring one. Things kick off outside Te Papa at noon; here's hoping the weather holds.


I see that the opposition is already trying to label the inquiry into John Tamihere as a "whitewash", with Gerry Brownlee noting yesterday that the QC has no power to compel evidence and asking how the government can be certain that Tamihere will co-operate . I would have thought that the answer was obvious: if he fails to co-operate to the satisfaction of the Prime Minister, she'll sack him.

So far the government has acted properly on this, in swiftly standing Tamihere down while an independent inquiry investigates the allegations against him. While I would expect him to be sacked anyway on the grounds of what we already know (that he mislead the public and failed to declare gifts received while a cabinet minister), given the existence of further allegations (fraud, tax evasion, receiving a large payment in exchange for work done in Parliament) it is probably better to deal with it all at once.

Progress report

Looking at their online progress counter, I see that the Campaign for Civil Unions is 84% of the way towards putting their ad in the Herald. Why not help make it 100%?

Back for another go

David Irving is once again applying for permission to enter New Zealand. I've said everything that needs to be said about why he should be allowed in here; hopefully this time the government will do the right thing rather than trying to suppress his unpopular views.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004


Two memes floating round the blogosphere this morning which I thought I'd bring to your attention. The first is Matthew Yglesias' coining of a new phrase: the Putinization of American life, in reference to

the Sinclair incident, the threatening letter to Rock The Vote, the specter of the top official in the House of Representatives making totally baseless charges of criminal conduct against a major financier of the political opposition [shades of Mikhail Khodorovsky], the increasing evidence that the 'terror alert' system is nothing more than a political prop, the 'torture memo' asserting that the president is above the law, the imposition of rigid discipline on the congress, the abuse of the conference committee procedure, the ability of the administration to lie to congress without penalty, the exclusion of non-supporters from Bush's public appearances, etc.

He's right - under the Bush administration, there has been a disturbing trend in American politics towards the sort of dictatorial tactics used in Russia. But hopefully, they'll be able to correct that in a couple of weeks.

The second is a piece by Ron Suskind from the New York Times which discusses the role of faith and certainty - rather than facts - in the Bush administration. It's packed with anecdotes of Bush being (as Kerry put it) certain and wrong, or just plain dumbshit ignorant - but it's not just Bush. As Suskind points out,

Each administration, over the course of a term, is steadily shaped by its president, by his character, personality and priorities. It is a process that unfolds on many levels. There are, of course, a chief executive's policies, which are executed by a staff and attending bureaucracies. But a few months along, officials, top to bottom, will also start to adopt the boss's phraseology, his presumptions, his rhythms. If a president fishes, people buy poles; if he expresses displeasure, aides get busy finding evidence to support the judgment. A staff channels the leader.

A cluster of particularly vivid qualities was shaping George W. Bush's White House through the summer of 2001: a disdain for contemplation or deliberation, an embrace of decisiveness, a retreat from empiricism, a sometimes bullying impatience with doubters and even friendly questioners. Already Bush was saying, Have faith in me and my decisions, and you'll be rewarded. All through the White House, people were channeling the boss. He didn't second-guess himself; why should they?

The resulting attitudes are truely scary:

In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn't like about Bush's former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House's displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn't fully comprehend -- but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''

Once upon a time, comments about the "faith-based Presidency" were a joke. Now it's a mark of pride for the Bush administration that it rejects reality in favour of its own faith in itself. The results of that faith - that deliberate rejection of facts, analysis, or "discernible reality", not to mention self-doubt or second thoughts - are beamed live into our homes from Iraq every evening, and can be seen in the bodycounter to your left.

More American stupidity in Iraq

At the moment there are serious questions about the ability of the UN to assist in organising January's elections in Iraq. The UN withdrew after the bombing of their headquarters and death of Sergio Vieira de Mello last year, and will not return unless there is adequate security. As a result, they have only a skeleton staff in Iraq.

However, it turns out that there was a solution to this problem: a special security force solely to protect the UN, made up of troops from Muslim nations (who would hopefully be better able to negotiate with Iraqis and therefore far less likely to be shot at). The UN and the Saudis had lined up several countries to contribute troops, and the interim Iraqi government was on board - but the deal was nixed at the last minute by the Americans. Why? Because the troops "would have been controlled by the UN instead of by U.S. military officers who run the Multi-National Force in Iraq". A compromise deal where the troops would have been under Iraqi command was similarly rejected (I guess allowing the Iraqis to control foreign troops in their own country would have set a bad precedent...)

American pride and stupidity have once again undermined the prospects for democracy in Iraq. But given their past actions, this is hardly surprising.

Bring it on

Michael Cullen has hinted that other MPs may be subjected to the same financial scrutiny currently being enjoyed by John Tamihere. Good. I have no stomach for political corruption, and if John Tamihere's misbehaviour results in a general airing of financial dirty laundry and exposure of dubious practices to public scrutiny, then he will have done us all a tremendous favour.

As for Tamihere himself, I agree with Colin James that his departure from Parliament would be a loss for New Zealand - but OTOH if the charges against him stack up, we are well rid of him.

Elections and DHBs

According to Stuff, I'm unlikely to know who my District Health Board is until the end of the week. I really hope DataMail doesn't get paid - and they get taken to the cleaners for such a blatant screw up.

As for the DHB, the lack of results doesn't make a blind bit of difference, because DHBs are essentially powerless. While they are nominally in control of hospital finances, much of their spending is pre-allocated by central government, meaning that they have very litle discretion to change things. At the same time, their elected nature means that the government gets to use the DHB as a blame sink - it's not the government underfunding hospitals and underpaying medical staff, oh no, it's the DHB. While I'm very keen on democratic governance, straight-out bureaucracy would at least make it clear where the responsibility really lies.

I guess what we need are DHB members who will not only exercise proper oversight, but ruthlessly hold the government to account when funding is inadequate. But I suspect that that would result in a swift neutering rather than any real change.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Liberals and Zaoui

The Sock Thief looks at the FIS article in the Herald and declares that Zaoui should go. He also comments:

There has been this very odd tendency for Western liberals to go soft on Islamic extremists. In New Zealand the human rights industry is up in arms trying to ensure Zaoui stays in NZ. Bizarre. I think it unlikely that there would be the same reaction if some American Christian fundamentalist was trying to enter the country illegally.

Hardly. We who oppose the government's treatment of Zaoui don't do it because of who he is or what he believes; we do it because of who we are and what we believe - namely, that imprisonment without trial on secret evidence cannot be countenanced and should be opposed, no matter who it is done to. Algerian or American, Christian or Muslim, no-one should be treated like that.

As for going "soft" on Islamic extremists, one of the basic tenets of liberalism is tolerance. Thus, we can not oppose people living amongst us simply because we do not like the way they think - that would make us no different from the extremists. As I've argued in the case of David Irving, the proper way to fight extremist memes is in the marketplace of ideas. If Zaoui wins his freedom and then attempts to establish a fundamentalist Islamic party in New Zealand, I will be raising my voice against him, just as I will be raising my voice against the National Front in Wellington next Saturday.

Worse than dogs

Another story which caught my attention in yesterday's SST was their expose on third-world conditions in police remand cells. Remand prisoners - who have not yet been convicted of any crime - have been imprisoned in police cells for up to three weeks, without natural light, fresh air, exercise, or even washing facilities, in violation of New Zealand guidelines and UN conventions. That's quite apart from other violations to do with visitors, mail, reading material and communication with the outside world.

The linked article is only a teaser for a larger feature (sadly not online), entitled "I can't wait until I get to prison". Yes, conditions are so bad that people want to be convicted to escape them. Prisoners have no sense of time, are fed on microwave TV dinners and pies (this should raise warning bells with anyone who has recently seen Supersize Me), and individual police officers have ended up bringing them clothes and buying them toothbrushes. The feature article has a rather interesting table, which I'll reproduce below:

How police cell conditions compare - minimum standards for prisoners (and dogs):

UN Human Rights Commission minimum standards Dept of Corrections minimum standards MAF animal welfare code for dogs Conditions in police cells
Exercise One hour a day At least one hour a day Between 30 minutes and two hours a day No guaranteed exercise
Food Nutritional, wholesome food, well prepared Nutritional, wholesome food Nutritious, balanced food Microwaved TV dinners
Lighting Enough natural light to read or work by Natural light. Even isolated prison cells must have windows Should have access to fresh air No natural light or fresh air
Remand rules Prisoners not convicted must be seperate from convicts Remand and sentenced not to mix - Remand and sentenced mix. Remand dressed in convict clothes
Access to reading material Books, magazines, and newspapers must be available Books and other reading material must be available - No guarantee. Some police bring books from home

To summarise: remand prisoners (who remember have not been convicted of any crime) held in police or court cells are treated worse than dogs. People can go to jail for animal mistreatment, and yet the Department of Corrections is not held accountable in any way for the conditions these prisoners are held in.

We should not be doing this. Not only is it grossly indecent, it also wastes police resources and threatens an uncontrolled release of prisoners on bail. Given these conditions, it is only a matter of time before a prisoner uses a writ of Habeas Corpus to win bail and possibly compensation. If the government wants to have any choice over who is released, then it needs to start remedying this situation now.

Shrinking coalition watch

Faced with enormous grassroots opposition and a confidence vote in Parliament, the Polish Prime Minister has promised to start withdrawing troops from Iraq from the beginning of next year:

"Poland will reduce its contingent from the start of 2005 and will discuss subsequent reductions," Belka said Friday during a speech to Parliament.

Democracy beats Bush again. And it's particularly ironic in light of Bush's angry accusation of "you forgot Poland!" in the first Presidential debate...

Speaking of the Third Way...

Over the weekend Helen Clark attended the Progressive Governance Summit in Budapest. The Progressive Governance Network is a loose affiliation of "third way" and social democratic governments founded by Bill Clinton and Tony Blair as an alternative to the more traditional Socialist International. It gets together every year to network, talk shop, and issue a joint communique. This year's communique reflected the summit's broadening membership - leaders from South Africa, Ethopia, Chile and South Korea attended as well as the usual Europeans - and thus had a heavy focus on development aid and building an "open and fair-rules based global economic and trade system" (which isn't necessarily a bad thing - it all hinges on what the rules actually are). The "peace and security" section also took a wider view, including HIV/AIDS and environmental degradation as threats to global peace, rather than just terrorism and WMD. However, it does seem that you can't invite the British to a meeting without their trying to ram an American agenda through; if they were really concerned about WMD, they'd start by getting rid of their own.

Interestingly, two key terms missing from the communique were equality and human rights. Sure, there was talk of "empowerment" and the need to "increase opportunity and social mobility", even of "social justice", but this is all equality of opportunity stuff. The old egalitarian ideal of striving to improve equality of outcome seems to be entirely absent. As for human rights, they don't even get a look in. I guess this is what happens when you have to share a meeting with a "progressive" regime which "continues to deny its citizens' basic human rights and to repress the unarmed opposition"...

Alien mindsets

Every culture has its moments when they come across like utter martians, and one of our particular ones is up on BBC at the moment. A BBC reporter asked farmers how they coped without subsidies. The answers exposed an alien mindset...

Sunday, October 17, 2004

New kiwi blog

Left and Lefter - "random thoughts from a left wing, socialist, zionist New Zealand Jew on modern day politics, war, poverty, and more".


John Tamihere has retracted / repudiated the comments reported in this morning's Sunday Star-Times. I guess political reality asserted itself...

Ahmed Zaoui: background and attacks

The Herald has a good background piece on the FIS, the political party Zaoui was a member of before he was forced to flee Algeria. It's an interesting look at the sort of chaos you get in broad-based movements in aspring democracies, where there's little agreement even on what would seem to be the fundamentals.

Meanwhile, the Sunday Star-Times has launched a stinging attack on the government's handling of the case, accusing it of "breathtaking arrogance and an amazing contempt for civil liberties". Here's a sample:

Last week the Supreme Court threw out the government's reprehensible bid to continue the ban on TVNZ's proposed interview with the Algerian. The government will never recover the damage it has done to itself over this affair. Apparently its case is so weak that it is too frightened even to let Zaoui speak. In this, it not only treats him with contempt, it also shows it does not care for fundamental democratic rights. It is telling the people of New Zealand that they will not be allowed to hear Zaoui put his case in his own words.

In other words, this is a government which spurns one of the most basic principles of justice. The behaviour of this government is profoundly offensive to anyone who cares about democracy. And if Attorney-General Margaret Wilson agrees with this policy, she should resign. Her support would be just as repellent as David Benson-Pope's outbursts. "Get on a plane," he yells at Zaoui in parliament. Zaoui's detention "is not an imprisonment", says Wilson. Zaoui is free - to return to Algeria and an uncertain future.

There's more, and it's brutal. Stories on Stuff tend to disappear after a while, so best to read it while you still can.

Tamihere and the foreshore

John Tamihere has withdrawn his support for the government's Foreshore and Seabed Bill. This means he'll almost certainly be sacked from Cabinet, meaning he'll resign from Parliament, meaning a by-election and possible loss of the government's majority.

The timing means that this probably isn't a reaction to the allegations against him - according to the Sunday Star-Times article, he told them the day before the scandal broke. But it's not going to be making him any friends in Labour, and it's hardly going to inspire people to stick their neck out to defend him (not that anyone really was, because the allegations against him are such that nobody wants to be tainted by association).

The article talks up the possibility of a rebellion by some of Labour's Maori MPs. This would mean that the Foreshore and Seabed Bill is unlikely to pass - getting both NZFirst and United Future on side is unlikely. On the one hand, this is good - the bill as introduced unjustifiably extinguishes aboriginal title and violates the Treaty's guarantee that Maori will enjoy the same rights as other New Zealanders, and while it is held up in Parliament, the court cases are progressing. And OTOH, there's a danger that Labour will decide that if they can't pass a good bill, they'll pass a bad one, and try and get together with National to ram a simple but stupid solution through.

While there's always the hope that National would play political games - they would benefit greatly the longer the government's discomfort is dragged out - that's not really a comforting thought. Now would be a very good time for someone like the Greens to advance a compromise trusteeship solution, to get the Maori caucus back on side with the government and prevent National from making an issue of it. Is that too much to hope for?

As for Tamihere, I think he's finished. He's definately out of Cabinet for the foreseeable future, and while he may be able to win a by-election, that won't save him. The charges against him aren't political in nature - they're criminal. That's something that not even the mandate of the people can wash away.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Answers on the BMR

Last month I submitted an Official Information Act request to the Department of Corrections seeking answers to some questions regarding the Behaviour Management Regime and whether anybody had been held responsible for the poor decisions which had cost the government (at that stage) a little over half a million dollars. The following is a summary of the response.

  • The BMR was introduced and implemented by Auckland Prison management. Its introduction was approved by Phil McCarthy, the General Manager of the Public Prisons Service.
  • The Site Manager / Superintendent of Auckland Prison was originally responsible for decisions to place inmates on the scheme. They were guided in this by "established criteria for placement" and recommedations from prison management. A recommendation from the Chief Ombudsman in October 2001 resulted in the decisions being moved to the Public Prisons Service's National office, where they were made by Phil McCarthy.
  • The BMR was suspended indefinitely following the court judgement.
  • The total legal cost to Corrections of defending its unlawful and inhumane system of imprisonment was $635,914.87. As the Herald pointed out, this takes the total cost of the BMR fiasco to over a million dollars.
  • Bringing the Department into disrepute, failing to comply with the law, or costing the Department over a million dollars in legal fees and compensation payouts may not necessarily result in disciplinary action. Such action requires "deliberate actions" amounting to "serious misconduct".
  • Finally, and most importantly, no Department of Corrections staff have been disciplined in any way for this fiasco.

It's the last point which is truly staggering. Prisoners have been subjected to inhumane conditions, the law has been broken, and the taxpayer faces a bill of over a million dollars, and no-one has been held responsible. Where is the accountability?

Another reason not to vote Labour

I've previously argued that the government's approach to prisoner compensation means that those who support human rights should not support Labour. Their approach to the Zaoui case is also a strong argument against them. But now we have another reason to give our suport to parties which actually support human rights rather than sneering at them: David Benson-Pope. Scoop reports that during Question Time on thursday, they noticed several interjections urging Zaoui to "get on a plane". The source of these comments was Mr Benson-Pope. Scoop talked to Benson-Pope's spinner, and had this fascinating conversation:

Pete Coleman: I had a chat to David and he thought the comments he made were 'tell him [Zaoui] to get on the plane' but you may have heard it differently in the bluster of the House. Those comments are sincere and he [Mr Benson-Pope] was trying to emphasise the same point that Margaret Wilson was in fact making that he [A genuine refugee adjudged to be at risk of torture and death] is free to leave anytime.

Scoop: So he was actually saying to 'get out of the country' then - that was pretty much it wasn't it?

Pete Coleman: Yep

This is the sort of attitude I'd expect from NZFirst, not from a progressive party like Labour.

Unfortunately, Benson-Pope has a majority of more than 14000, so there's little hope of using electoral pressure to change his mind. But if you'd like to let him know how disgusting you think his comments are, you can email him here.

Friday, October 15, 2004


What to say about John Tamihere's latest scandal? Firstly, the issue of tax may very well be a misunderstanding: Tamihere may have thought that the Waipareira Trust was paying it, while the Trust thought that he was. But as Rodney Hide pointed out on Holmes tonight, the question can be resolved very clearly by Tamihere's tax records: if he declared the payment to the IRD, both net and gross figures, then he's essentially in the clear. If he failed to declare it - almost $200,000 - then he should go - and not just from Cabinet, but from Parliament as well.

There are other issues - among them whether it was proper for the Trust to bankroll Tamihere's election campaign. I'm more comfortable with this: an iwi or urban Maori organisation wanting to send someone to Parliament is in principle no different from the rich wankers in the BRT who bankrolled ACT. Provided it was not done with government money, and complied with the rules regarding electoral funding, then I have no problem with it. What I do have a problem with is MPs being paid large sums of money once elected, especially in light of the comments by a Waipareira Trust spokesperson on 3 News tonight that it wasn't a golden handshake, but a payment for things they'd wanted Tamihere to do while in Parliament (which sounds suspiciously like bribery to my untrained ear). I'm also disturbed that such a large payment could be kept secret. Shouldn't we be demanding that our politicians declare all such gifts and payments in the interest of political hygiene?

Finally, one point that none of the commentators seem to have raised so far is that if Tamihere is forced to resign from Parliament, the result will be a by-election. This will threaten the government's majority (already razor-thin following the defection of Tariana Turia). While I don't think that this will result in the government falling - they can almost certainly cut a deal with the Greens or NZFirst for confidence and supply - it does make the stakes rather higher than they first appear.

First thoughts on the Third Way

I've been reading a lot about the Third Way recently. For those of you who aren't familiar with the term, the Third Way is the name for the sort of nominally (but maybe not really) left-wing policies pursued in the UK or here. It represents an attempt to reconcile social democracy (the first way) with neo-liberalism (the second) in order to produce a more centrist ideology which remains true to social democratic values while being relevant to a world in which class is dead and markets are triumphant.

At first glance, this doesn't sound too bad. After all, markets are a tool, just like government; does it matter so much which tools we use in pursuit of our goals? Unfortunately, the theory of the Third Way - as espoused by Anthony Giddens in his book The Third Way: The Renewal of Social Democracy - goes a little further than that. He lays out a list of "Third Way values":

  • Equality
  • Protection of the vulnerable
  • Freedom as autonomy
  • No rights without responsibilities
  • No authority without democracy
  • Cosmopolitan pluralism
  • Philosophic conservatism

...except that they don't realy mean what they seem to mean. "Protection of the vulnerable" turns out to mean "tough on crime", "no rights without responsibilities" means workfare, and "freedom as autonomy" is not about personal liberty but about obligations to the community. As for equality, it is first recast as a neutered equality of opportunity with a slight mention of redistribution, and then (in his later book The Third Way and its Critics) weakened still further: having noted that "equality of opportunity typically creates higher rather than lower inequalities of outcome", Giddens goes on to say that social democrats should accept this outcome; his comments on redistribution later in the same section are little different from those seen from neo-liberals.

And in terms of concrete policy specifications, a joint pamphlet by Tony Blair and Gerhard Schroder The Third Way / Die Neue Mitte advocates the usual neo-liberal recipe of price stability, tax cuts, shrinking government and tough welfare policies.

So looking at the theory, the Third Way seems to be nothing more than neo-liberalism cloaked in Orwellian newspeak.

What about the practice? Here we run into another problem: the Third Way is a broad path (so broad that one critic has compared it to a carpark), and there are many different variants. Blair's version seems to be little more than Thatcher in drag; while he has made important moves on child poverty, the rest of his program seems distressingly familiar to those who voted against neo-liberalism in 1997 (which is why they stayed away in droves at the last British election). In other words, his Third Way is just an attempt to disguise a continuation of neo-liberal policies from the left. But in New Zealand, it seems that the opposite is the case - our Third Way is far lefter than Blair's, and the label seems more an attempt to hide a (gradual) return to social democracy from the local right!

While the Clark government has left the underlying neo-liberal foundations mostly intact, it has not abandoned its commitment to equality of outcome. Neither has it abandoned low-income workers in favour of flexible labour markets, or government provision of core services in favour of the market. And so we've seen the renationalisation of ACC, the Employment Relations Act, and, in Working for Families, the first serious expansion of the welfare state in over twenty years. I guess the strategy of subterfuge works both ways.

As for how we have this seemingly ridiculous situation of an ideological platform which is objectionable in theory but (at least sometimes) acceptable in practice, I think the answer lies in its origins. The Third Way was conceived and propagated as an electoral strategy, a grab-bag of disparate positions chosen to appeal to the supporters of neo-liberalism, by disillusioned social democrats who seem to have taken Francis Fukuyama's "end of history" far too seriously. They didn't believe social democratic values could be defended any more, and so sacrificed them. However, as the Clark government - and the poor reaction to Blair - shows, that isn't really the case. And it shows the way forward for the Third Way: not by abandoning social democratic values such as liberty and equality, but by re-confirming them. Buried under the Third Way's hype is something that can be defended: an attempt to update social democracy for an era where class isn't so relevant, and where the old tools seem less effective. But it cannot be defended if that "update" involves sacrificing the core values which made social democracy worth pursuing in the first place.

Public Address has a new section, The Great New Zealand Argument, dedicated to republishing important speeches, pamphlets, essays and opinion pieces from the past so that they will not be forgotten. This week's offering is David Lange's 1985 address in the Oxford Union debate, that Nuclear Weapons are Morally Indefensible. It is well worth reading as a reminder of why we established an anti-nuclear policy, and why we continue to hold to it.

Existing processes

Critics of compensation payouts to prisoners have argued that they should only be allowed access to the courts once they have exhausted existing processes. Unfortunately, those existing processes don't seem to work. A report by the ombudsman has revealed that Corrections were uninterested even in complaints of serious assaults by guards on inmates, and uninterested in taking simple steps to prevent them:

In his annual report to Parliament, John Belgrave says prisons were not dealing promptly with assault allegations against staff, and had yet to install surveillance cameras in "volatile units", where many incidents were claimed to happen.

In a statement, Mr Belgrave said Corrections had been told in 1999, 2002 and last year that there were concerns about delays in investigating assault claims, but had failed to act. The department had also been asked in 2002 and last year to install video cameras in trouble spots to allow incidents to be monitored.

(I guess Garth George won't be complaining about their loss of "traditional values" then...)

Under these circumstances, the demand that prisoners with complaints exhaust existing processes is nothing more than a cruel joke designed to deny them any form of justice or redress. But then was there even any pretence to the contrary...?


The Herald is up in arms today about a manslaughterer who was "released from prison on a technicality" (to quote their front page lead). Except that when you look into the story, you discover that he is currently suspected of arson, and the "problem" is the inability of Corrections to recall him to prison on the manslaughter charge because he had legally completed his sentence.

Next no doubt they'll be complaining about people being set free on the "technicality" of being found innocent...

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Zaoui event at Parliament next Wednesday

Amnesty International, Matt Robson and Keith Locke are hosting a Wellington launch at Parliament next Wednesday (October 20th) for Selwyn Manning's book about the Zaoui case, I almost forgot about the moon. The thing kicks off at 17:45, and speakers will include Selwyn Manning (author), Ced Simpson of Amnesty International, Ross Wilson from the CTU, and Deborah Manning (one of Zaoui's lawyers). Due to Parliamentary security, you'll need an RSVP with your name on it - email or to get one.

It's also good to see the unions coming out in support of Zaoui - the CTU has called for the government to accept the Court of Appeal judgement and assess Zaoui's security risk certificate by the rules the court has laid down, while the Association of University Staff has called for his release. And if you're at Vic, please go to the SGM tomorrow to award Zaoui life membership of VUWSA.

A use for the Cullen fund

One of the longstanding problems with the New Zealand economy has been a shortage of capital. Because we have no "old money" here - no aristocratic families with vast wealth accumulated from centuries of squeezing every last groat out of the peasantry - we are forced to look offshore when we need to borrow for capital expenditure or infrastructure development - or when we need to find a purchaser for any sizable business. Which is why we persistantly run large trade deficits: money borrowed from overseas results in interest being paid overseas, while the foreign owners of our large businesses naturally want to take their profits back home with them.

The Cullen Fund has some capacity to fix this, simply by virtue of being a large pot of money controlled by New Zealanders. While we can't invest very much of it in New Zealand (it is simply too big for our sharemarket), the income from the profits it is supposed to make will be returned to us, helping to offset the flow of foreign investment.

But there's also another problem, which the Cullen Fund can help with: venture capital. We see the story in the news all the time: a kiwi entrepreneur comes up with a brilliant idea, but is unable to fund it properly. Either they lack the capital to turn it into a successful business, or having turned it into a business, they find themselves unable to expand it to meet market demand. In both cases, the result is usually the same: they sell out to foreign investors (assuming the IRD doesn't bankrupt them first).

This is a particularly New Zealand problem. In the US, where they have old money (though slightly newer, and made from slaves and corruption rather than peasants), they have venture capital companies, which provide funds and investment in these sort of situations. The entrepreneur gets the money they need to make a go of it, and the venture capital company gets equity, which (they hope) will eventually pay off. While the venture capital firms do their best to "pick winners", they are effectively gambling: some (most?) of the companies they fund will fail or only be marginally profitable, but enough are successful for it to be profitable, and there's always the hope of getting in on the ground floor of the new Microsoft.

There isn't much in the way of venture capital in New Zealand (due to not having enough capital in the first place), which is where the Cullen Fund comes in. Part of it could easily be spun off into a wholly-owned venture capital firm with the purpose of making a return for the fund by helping to establish New Zealand companies. This would not only provide something not currently provided by the market, but it would also help keep New Zealand companies in New Zealand, and in New Zealand hands, thus helping to fulfil the government's economic development goals.

Obviously a business case would have to be made, but if the key problem is that there's not enough money to fund startups, rather than there not being enough decent startups to fund, then it would seem to be a worthwhile venture.