Thursday, March 31, 2005

At least they're starving free

The US invasion of Iraq was supposed to turn that country into a better place. Instead, it has led to a doubling of serious childhood malnutrition, and almost a quarter of children being chronically undernourished. Iraq already had appalling statistics in this area due to the cruel international sanctions regime, which is estimated to have killed at least half a million Iraqis children. To make things worse from that baseline really takes effort.

But at least they're starving free, right?

I need a researcher

So, is there anybody out there reading this who regularly visits (or better yet, works at) the National Library?

I need some more seditious material photocopied, but am unlikely to be able to pop down to acquire it. If you can help, please email me at the address to your left.

Franks on judicial recalls

In an opinion-piece in the Herald yesterday, Stephen Franks attempted to exploit current tensions between Parliament and the judiciary to argue in favour of judicial recalls - letting the public vote out judges. There are two problems with this. The first is that our judges are not "activist"; Franks' chief example - the court of Appeal decision in Ngati Apa v Attorney-General is entirely in accordance with earlier precedent from both New Zealand courts (e.g. R. v Symonds) and the Privy Council. It was the decision in In Re: Ninety Mile Beach which was out of step with New Zealand law, not Ngati Apa. Likewise, no matter how embarassing the government finds the decisions in the Ahmed Zaoui case, they are consistent with earlier rulings. The only way these cases can be judged as "activist" is if you dislike the outcome and don't care what the law says.

But the bigger problem is what this would do to judicial independence. Judges are supposed to impartially interpret the law without fear or favour. But judicial recalls would allow any group or (wealthy) individual who is unhappy with a decision to threaten their position. Judges would therefore be at risk of being intimidated into ruling in certain ways, regardless of what the law actually says. And preventing that is exactly why we introduced life-tenure in the first place...

Rather than promoting an impartial and independent judiciary, Franks' proposals would promote one that was beholden to public opinion and the powerful. And that is something we should all be highly suspicious of.

Sedition in the news II

It looks like Ben Thomas of Dog Biting Men has been having fun; today he was outside the Auckland District Court protesting the sedition charges against Tim Selwyn:

The protest was small and low-key, and one of those involved, Ben Thomas, said the aim was to "show the hypocrisy of New Zealand's outdated sedition laws".

Mr Thomas said the fact that he was not arrested called into question why Selwyn was facing the sedition counts.

Well, it does and it doesn't. On the one hand, subsequent distribution for the purpose of public discussion is almost certainly covered by the "good faith" defence. And on the other hand, if the material is so vile and dangerous as to be worth prosecuting over, then surely it doesn't matter whether you are the first to distribute it or the second? It's yet another way in which our sedition laws and their enforcement simply do not make sense...

Against compulsory voting

A month or so ago, Jonathan Hunt gave up the Speaker's Chair to Margaret Wilson. And now, after 39 years of service, he has finally left the House. His parting suggestion? Compulsory voting. Despite being an ardent democrat, I'm not sure that I like this idea; it seems to me that the freedom to vote must also include the freedom not to vote - and this goes beyond simply allowing people to spoil their ballots in imaginative (and unimaginative) ways, to allowing them to choose to have nothing at all to do with the process, lest they be sullied with the implication that they supported any of the candidates. And while I am concerned about declining turnout, the answer there is for politicians to work to reconnect people with formal politics. Electoral turnout is an important indicator of the health of the overall system (as seen in the US, and more recently the UK); allowing politicians to boost it simply by passing a law is simply cheating.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Open and shut

A while ago I reported that Lt General Ricardo Sanchez, previously commander of US forces in Iraq, was facing legal action in both Germany and the US alleging that he was responsible for the torture and abuse of Iraqi detainees by US forces in Iraq. Those cases just became open and shut. The ACLU has obtained a copy of the September 2003 memo in which Sanchez lays out the techniques which may be used by US Army interrogators when questioning detainees. Twelve of the 29 techniques authorised violate either US Army regulations or the Geneva Conventions. Several of these techniques, including isolation, "stress positions", and use of military working dogs to "exploit(s) Arab fear of dogs" were used to abuse and torture prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

So far the US government has not done anything to hold Sanchez responsible, even for his gross violations of US military regulations (in another incident, he personally ordered a prisoner of war to be held "off the books" and hidden from Red Cross inspectors). It's a sad indictement of the current state of the US that private individuals have to do this through the courts, rather than being able to rely on the federal government to enforce its own laws.

Not a joke

No, this isn't a joke. But while it sounds ridiculous, it may actually work to solve two of our pressing environmental problems: the pollution of lakes and streams with nitrogen runoff, and our high level of agricultural greenhouse emissions. The first will help make New Zealand a better place for all New Zealanders (by ensuring for example that we can still go swimming), and the second will ensure that we meet our Kyoto targets (and in the process probably save a large amount of money). And as a bonus, it should improve pasture growth - meaning better returns to farmers. The question is just how to deliver it...

Slandering judges

Does anybdy else feel disquiet about the government's new tactic of openly slandering judges in Parliament?

That's what Michael Cullen did yesterday, when he claimed in response to a Parliamentary question that information on Whakatohea's claim for customary rights over the Bay of Plenty foreshore had been leaked to the media by Chief Maori Land Court Judge Joe Williams. Unfortunately, it's simply not true - the information was not confidential and had been obtained openly from the Registrar of the Court.

So we have an Attorney-General, who has openly stated that part of his job is to defend the judiciary against political attacks - engaging in a political attack on a judge for the simple reason that they have decided to hear a claim before ruling it out. It's more than a little unseemly.

What's also disturbing is the government's schizophrenic attitude towards the Foreshore and Seabed Act. When they passed it, they claimed that it would help protect and recognise Maori customary rights. Now that it's law, they're embarassed (and indeed, "furious") that Maori would take that claim at face value and seek to use its provisions. What did they expect? That Maori would not pursue their claims through every avenue at their disposal? That they would treat the law as a joke?

Neither answer makes the government look very good, and both are likely to drive Maori voters even further towards the Maori Party.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Sedition in the news

Today's Herald piece on "President Clark" has this little bit about the Tim Selwyn case:

More seriously, there are issues about to how the police play out their role in relation to the Prime Minister, and that of other citizens, particularly the judiciary.

Take the charge of "seditious conspiracy" which police filed against Timothy Selwyn, the activist who put an axe through Clark's Auckland electorate office. The charge - which basically means orchestrating a "rebellion against the state" through exciting disaffection against the Government - has not been laid since the early 1900s.

Police said Selwyn's attack was a pakeha protest at the Government's attempts to steal Maori land through legislation.

But constitutional lawyers believe the police may have over-egged the situation.

They say Selwyn could have a strong defence of free speech under the Bill of Rights Act.

The implication being that the sedition charges are the result of the police's desperation to please the PM. This is probably correct, though as long as police records of the case remain secret, we'll never know for sure.

Police underfunding: the legacy of the 90's

Like DPF, I'm outraged to hear that the police are sending letters to victims of crime telling them that their cases will not be investigated. Unlike DPF, I'm willing to lay the blame squarely where it belongs: with the National government of the 90's. Like our schools and hospitals, the police were subjected to the "shrinking cap" during the 90's. In an effort to reduce government expenditure relative to GDP (and fund tax cuts for the rich), departmental budgets were not increased to keep pace with increased costs or inflation. Instead, core departments - such as the police - were expected to do more and more with less and less. The result was a "hollowing out", a loss of experienced staff, and a decline in the level of service offered to the public. In the case of hospitals, it meant longer and longer waiting lists. In the case of the police, it meant cases such as burglaries being dropped due to being "low priority". And in both cases, the people who suffered were not those who were driving the changes (and enjoying those tax breaks), but ordinary people who couldn't get a hip operation or find out who had stolen their TV.

This sort of damage cannot be repaired overight. Instead, it requires a sustained increase in funding to make up the lost ground. Labour has delivered to some extent - police funding has increased by over $120 million, or roughly 5% in real terms - but when things like the above are happening, it clearly still has some way to go.

As for the right, I find their complaints on the issue fairly hypocritical. They made the mess in the first place, yet have consistently opposed the increases in government spending required to clean it up. Worse, they actively promote a return to the "sinking cap" and further attempts to wring "efficiencies" out of public services (including the police) by deliberate underfunding. So, how would they fix the problem again...?

Hugo nominations

For best novel:

  • The Algebraist, Iain M. Banks (Orbit)
  • Iron Council, China MiĆ©ville (Del Rey; Macmillan UK)
  • Iron Sunrise, Charles Stross (Ace)
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke (Bloomsbury)
  • River of Gods, Ian McDonald (Simon & Schuster UK)

It's a mark of how far I've slipped that I haven't read any of them. Oh, I own one, and have plans to acquire at least another three, but I'm a long way from the good old days when I'd have read the majority and many of the short nominations as well.

Oh, and if you're wondering why there's so many Brits nominated for an award traditionally dominated by Merkins, it's because the con is being held in Glasgow.

We now return to your regularly scheduled politics...

Here's hoping

A Zimbabwean Archbishop has urged a Ukraine-style "non-violent, popular, mass uprising" against Robert Mugabe. Here's hoping. Like other autocrats in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, Mugabe tries to cloak himself in legitimacy through sham-elections marked by ballot-rigging and intimidation (not to mention threats of starvation). The sooner people decide that enough is enough and that they want their votes to be honestly counted the better.

The worry of course is that unlike the rulers of Argentina, Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan, Mugabe may not be willing to go quietly. "People power" tactics work as long as autocrats are unwilling (or unable) to perpetrate a massacre to remain in power; most look at how much blood they would have to shed and decide that it simply isn't worth it. Mugabe may be more willing than others - and the absence of international media may lead him to think he can get away with it.

Monday, March 28, 2005

More from the ACLU

The ACLU has obtained another batch of documents as part of its investigation into torture and abuse of detainees by US forces. This batch is from the Department of Defence, and relates even more tales of abuse and official indifference. In Mosul, a teenage detainee's jaw was smashed. The subsequent investigation found that it was the result of "an intentional act" (most likely direct physical abuse), that claims by guards that the victim simply fell were "neither plausible nor credible", that there was "misconduct on the part of coalition forces" and that guards had not followed their standard operating procedures or proper detention procedures. It also found that detainees "were subject at times to direct physical abuse" and that

There is evidence that suggests... [Military Intelligence] personnel and/or translators engaged in physical torture of the detainees

(My emphasis).

Other cases report brutal beatings, "exercise till exhaustion" (or even death, in one case), soldiers being ordered to "beat the fuck out of" detainees, and endorsement of "pay back" (meaning illegal beatings and abuse) by superior officers. And these are not the allegations of suspected terrorists who "hate America", but the findings of the US Army's own internal investigations.

As with previous cases, though, nothing seems to have been done. In the Mosul case, investigators recommended that the local commander "should be disciplined for allowing abuse of detainees as standard operating procedure". No action was ever taken. I think that shows more than anything how "serious" the US is about punishing torture and abuse.

Groundless fear

Local reaction to the Whakatohea foreshore case has taken the expected turn, with locals expressing fear and outrage that Maori might be allowed even limited property rights over something rich Pakeha are allowed to own outright. But much of this fear is rooted in ignorance, as the comment below clearly demonstrates:

Stephen Bonne, owner of the Aquarius Motor Lodge, 100m from the beach at Ohope, said people could get "pretty greedy".

"Maori say they will not restrict the access, but what's to stop them charging money once a claim goes through?"

The law, for a start. S40(2) of the Act expressly forbids the charging of fees for the use of the foreshore, while 40(3) makes it clear that the granting of a foreshore reserve does not affect public rights of access or navigation. The same applies to customary rights orders. But hey, why let the facts get in the way of a little racial fear?

Sedition by Example XI: James Kellman

(A continuing protest against the existence of ThoughtCrime in New Zealand law)

Poster distributed in Wellington, July 1940:

Fraser, Mason and Semple - Guilty of


A wave of horror has swept Wellington on receiving the following word from Keva Bronson :

"24/6/40 - We are nearing Panama and I am writing to you for all members of our organisation. Many thanks for all they did for Golda (Mrs. Bronson) and myself. I think they understand how much we appreciate it.

I am not writing much except that Golda lost the baby five days ago. The distress caused her by our "friends" Peter and Robert had its effect. There was no doctor on board and not even another woman, and Golda and I had to manage with the assistance of the steward. Golda had a bad time."

Keva Bronson was seized and, without trial placed on board the ship "Port of Wellington", for deportation because of his anti-war activities. Mrs. Bronson chose to go with him rather than remain here, unprovided for, and facing the permanent or indefinite separation from her husband.

We recall to you that leaflets and deputations at the time of the deportation publicised the fact that Mrs. Bronson, an expectant mother, was being placed on a boat without a doctor, and had, after a period of great anxiety, to travel over war swept seas.

Mr. Fraser as Prime Minister, Mr. Mason as Attorney-General and Mr. Semple because of his personal antagonism to Bronson, which was in part responsible for his deportation (Semple referred to Bronson as "a dirty East London Jew"), are directly indictable for wilful murder of a human life.

These twentieth century cannibals deserve the greatest scorn and contempt from all workers and humanitarians!

Fraser assured women in Wellington that Mrs. Bronson would be alright - he assured women in Auckland that there was a doctor on the boat.

Perhaps it is not surprising that those gentlemen who occupy so much of their time in organising the destruction of human life have no sympathy for the creation of life.

MOTHERS ! Would you entrust your son's life to these people?

Protest by letter, by telephone and by telegram to private residence of Ministers and direct to the Government! Demand to know where the Bronsons are now!


The poster's author, James Kellman, was prosecuted for sedition and jailed for twelve months.

(Source: Out in the Cold: Pacifists and conscientious objectors in New Zealand during World War II, by David Grant, Reed Methuen, 1986)

Correction: I have been led astray by my source; as explained here, Kelman was not prosecuted for sedition, but subversion - a slightly different (though equally odious) "crime".

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Testing the Foreshore and Seabed Act

A Bay of Plenty iwi has filed the first case under the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004. Whakatohea is seeking customary rights and guardianship over 40 kilometers of coastline between Whakatane and Torere. This may ultimately result in some or all of the foreshore in question being co-managed as part of a foreshore and seabed reserve.

So, I guess we should batten down the hatches for a renewed outpouring of angst from righties outraged at the thought that brown people might be allowed even limited property rights...

New Fisk

When weeping for religious martyrs leads to the crucifixion of innocents

A shameful level of scientific illiteracy

New kiwi blog Sir Humphreys opens with an attack on "global dimming" - and in doing so displays a shameful level of scientific illiteracy. The idea that aerosols both increase albedo and promote cloud formation (further reducing the amount of sunlight reaching the earth's surface) is uncontentious. What is contentious is how great the effect is, and how it will feed into other climate effects, such as that of increased CO2 emissions.

Wikipedia has some interesting facts here. The size of the effect has been estimated at:

  • 5.3% (9 W/m2) over 1958-85 (Stanhill and Moreshet, 1992)
  • 2%/decade over 1964-93 (Gilgen et al, 1998)
  • 2.7%/decade (total 20 W/m²) up to 2000 (Stanhill and Cohen, 2001)
  • 4% over 1961-1990 (Liepert 2002)

with the largest reductions being found in the northern hemisphere. As for Sir Humphrey's "explanation" - "sunspot activity" -

the value of the solar radiation at the top of the atmosphere has not changed by more than a fraction of this amount

The change is clearly due to the atmosphere, not the sun.

As for consequences, this may help counteract some of the expected global warming (due to increased albedo) - or amplify it due to trapping heat (something clouds are very good at). But I'd like to see some modelling done before dismissing it out of hand.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Will ACT contest the list?

Earlier in the week, ACT refused to disclose its membership numbers to the Electoral Commission, on the spurious grounds that they feared them being "leaked to opponents". But according to Robson-on-politics, they're not just refusing to disclose membership for broadcasting funding:

Will anyone honestly say ACT has 500 members?

ACT yesterday apparently said it won’t obey the law of the land by having of its senior officers sign a Statutory Declaration on the party’s membership. What they meant was ACT can’t find anyone prepared at this time to sign a form saying that it currently has at least 500 current financial members.

If true, this is quite significant. The Statutory Declaration in question is required to register the party under the Electoral Act 1993; such registration is a requirement to contest the list. If no-one is willing to sign it, then ACT cannot contest the list vote or receive any list MPs. It would, in other words, mean electoral oblivion.

Why might people be unwilling to sign? The obvious implication is that they would be making a false declaration - a crime that carries a penalty of up to three year's imprisonment. I guess that prospect would focus the mind somewhat...

Why we need "Working for Families"

With the Working for Families scheme kicking in next friday, the Herald has a salutory reminder of why we need it: child poverty. For those who missed the OECD statistics, New Zealand has the fourth-worst rate of child poverty in the developed world. Children and their parents make up over 70% of those whose incomes fall below the minimum level needed to participate in New Zealand society - with the children of solo parents making up a vastly disproportionate share. And contrary to right-wing opinion, this doesn't just mean kids "just missing the latest iPod" - it means missing out on basic medical care, prescriptions, books and newspapers, and living in garages (or, as the "Children of 1984" documentary showed us last week, nine to a room in a damp and overcrowded house). Quite apart from the issue of human suffering, this has significant effects on health and educational attainment, directly disadvantaging those who grow up in poverty before the meritocratic "race" has even begun.

This is not something we should be tolerating. A "fair go" means ensuring that every child gets a decent start in life, regardless of the circumstances of birth or wealth. Working for Families will do this, and that is why it is necessary.

Subverting open government in the UK

Three months ago, the UK finally got a Freedom of Information Act. And the Blair government is already trying to subvert it, by setting up a "spin department" to provide responses (or rather, excuses for refusing) queries that could embarass or damage the government. This is a gross violation of the spirit of the Act - not to mention its letter. While the Act provides numerous reasons for refusing to provide information (personal privacy, legal privilege, defending free and frank advice etc), "being embarassing to the government" is not one of them. And in fact, allowing such information to be uncovered is one of the chief purposes of this sort of legislation. The whole point is that the public gets to watch the politicians - not that the politicians get to conceal their errors.

Hopefully the Information Commissioner will step in and subject the decisions of this spin department to the closest scrutiny - and the full penalty of law if they are in any way dubious or politically-motivated.

Friday, March 25, 2005


In New Zealand, the question of how dissatisfied left-wing voters can convey their disgust to Labour centres around which minor party to vote for. In Britain, it seems to have a different answer: not voting. With an election imminent, it seems that Labour voters are not even bothering to enrol; voter registration is down nationally, but the drop is overwhelmingly concentrated in safe Labour seats. And the reason is fairly obvious: Iraq. What's sad is that rather than registering a protest vote against Blair over this issue, traditional Labour voters are turning off elections entirely.

Not that this is a particularly new trend. In 2001, spurred by disgust at Blair's continuation of Thatcherite policies, traditional Labour supporters stayed away from the polls in droves. The utter collapse of the Conservative party meant a landslide for Blair, but it was a "landslide" of a mere 10.7 million votes - less than the 14 million which saw John Major hold onto power by his nails in 1992, and less even than the 11.5 million which saw neil Kinnock defeated. Nationally, turnout plummeted from 71% (itself a record low) to 59% - and to as low as 35% in parts of Labour's former industrial heartland.

This is the sign of a democracy in crisis. Turnout could drop below 50% this election, and the blame can be laid squarely at the feet of one man: Tony Blair. Oh, the politicians will blame "apathy", of course - but it is not apathy, it is disgust. And under the UK's archaic simple plurality ("first past the post") voting system, with its carpet-bagged safe seats, there's no real outlet for it.

What's ironic is that Blair came into office full of Third Way ideas about "democratising democracy" and getting people to vote. Well, I can think of one obvious way he could achieve that: resign.

But why?

It's commonly claimed that the US is a more violent society than any other in the western world. Crooked Timber has the proof.

The question this begs, though, is why? What is it about Americans which makes them three to five times more likely to kill each other as anywhere else in the western world? Is it something in the water? Or are they just not properly socialised against it?

Success in Kyrgyzstan

I went to sleep last night seeing reports that protests in the capital of Kyrgyzstan had "turned violent". I woke up this morning to find that another democratic revolution had been successful. After weeks of protests at fixed elections, the people Kyrgyzstan had seized control of state-run media and stormed the presidential palace. The Supreme Court has annulled the fixed poll, and the old Parliament has named an interim President and Prime Minister pending proper elections. Former President Askar Akayev is reported to have fled the country. While there has been some looting, and clashes with riot police around the seat of government, generally things have been fairly bloodless. In other words, another victory of democracy over autocratic rule.

The message to autocratic governments is clear: people will not tolerate sham elections. If you're going to play at democracy to claim legitimacy and satisfy the international community, you'd better do it properly. The governments of those other Central Asian autocracies, Uzbekistan and Tajikstan, and their autocratic patron, Russia, ought to be worried...

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Labour and the left

There's a fascinating discussion going on over at Spanblather about the Labour Party and whether it is left enough, sparked by Span's declaration that

I just find the whole concept that the Labour Party is somehow the Left so depressing. Sure there are (IMHO misguided but well-meaning) individuals in Labour who are genuinely left of centre. But the Party itself? Even those who argue their policy is leftish must be feeling secretly uncomfortable about the massive gap between party policy and what the caucus implement.

It's that old slogan all over again - I'd rather have a revolution than a Labour Government.

Obviously whether you agree with Span on that particular point is going to depend on where on the political spectrum you lie - but I don't think you need to be an Alliance supporter or a Marxist to be dissatisfied with Labour's leftness. Even those on the moderate left have good reason to question the direction of a party which, rather than standing up and advocating for a center-left position, tries to outflank National on the right whenever it is challenged. Likewise, I think they also have good reason to be disattisfied with how little Labour has done with its time in office. By any measure, the Labour government has enjoyed an unusually long spell of political golden weather - good economic times, declining unemployment, and ever-growing budget surpluses. But rather than using this extraordinary good fortune to repair the wounds left by the Revolution, they've done... what? While there has been some progress, particularly in the labour market (the ERA, four weeks annual leave, repeated increases to the minimum wage), and there is no question at all that things are far better than they would be under a Revolutionary National government, in most areas things have simply been frozen as they were in 1999, with the government content to tinker round the edges (if at all). And in other areas, policy has been downright regressive...

The government can of course cite reasons for its extraordinary apathy. They were elected in 1999 not to impose radical social and economic change, but to end it. And the MMP environment demands that they pursue the center, rather than the left, vote. But the former doesn't cut so much ice when Labour is on its second term and approaching a third. As for the latter, I think it is based on a fundamental misreading of where the center lies in New Zealand politics. As GreyShade pointed out, the New Zealand Way has traditionally been one of pragmatic state intervention to directly improve the lives of ordinary people - or what Michael Bassett called "socialism without doctrines". While the Revolution threatened this ideal, it did not eradicate it. The political centre in New Zealand is thus fairly left-wing by international standards, and there's solid support across our political spectrum for policies which Labour seems to have discarded as "too left". For example:

  • there is extremely broad support for decent, universal, publicly-funded health-care. The running down of the system and the cutting of entitlements in the 90's caused widespread outrage, yet Labour has not tapped this. While it has increased funding and tried to repair some of the damage, it has not tapped this support by e.g. publically committing to "rebuild the health system" and provide full, universal care.
  • there is a growing consensus that the student loan system is unsustainable in its present form, and that something must be done not just to prevent further debt from accumulating, but also to eliminate the burden on those who have already borrowed. This isn't driven by student protests, but by middle-class parents - center voters - who are seeing the effects of debt on their children's lives.
  • there is also smaller (but growing) support for the reintroduction of a universal student allowance, driven mainly by revulsion at the idea that anyone in our society should have to borrow to eat.
  • there is near universal support for the idea of kiwis owning their own homes (about the only person who doesn't support it is Don Brash), and concern that this is getting progressively out of the average family's reach.

So why isn't Labour tapping this support for universal health care, easier access to tertiary education, and assistance for home ownership? One reason is fear of a backlash from local business or international investors, who look disfavourably on anything resemblying "socialism" (or indeed, on any government expenditure which does not directly benefit them). Another is leftover baggage from 1984, the survival of Cabinet Ministers who may not have disapproved of the changes (remember, it was Phil Goff who introduced tertiary fees and means-tested student allowances...) But the most important reason is that, with National firmly in the grip of Revolutionaries, they simply don't have to. In other words, our political "marketplace" isn't working properly due to a lack of competition.

As for what left-wing voters can do about this, I think the answer is strategic voting. Under MMP we're not so much voting for a party to form a government as to be a component of one. So if you want a left-wing Labour government, then the best way of getting one is to support one of the smaller left-wing parties to pull Labour in the right direction come coalition-time.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

An uprising for democracy

Earlier in the month, Kyrgyzstan held a typical Central Asian sham election, characterised by widespread vote-buying, intimidation, and fraud. The opposition was outraged by this parody of democracy, and took to the streets. Now the protests seem to have grown into something more serious: a full-fledged uprising for democracy. Towns have been taken over, government buildings and police stations seized, and troops called out. Fortunately no-one has been killed... yet.

It will be interesting to see how this turns out - whether we will see another democratic revolution (though more violent than those of Ukraine or Georgia), or another brutal crackdown. It will also be interesting to see how the US reacts; Kyrgyzstan is an ally in the "war on terror", and they may react with disfavour to such instability - even when it is in the cause of demcracy.

Trying to game the system?

ACT has refused to disclose its membership numbers to the electoral commission, even in confidence, out of fear that the numbers "will be leaked to opponents". While they're not legally obliged to disclose the figure, party membership is one of the criteria on which broadcasting allocations must be judged - and failing to disclose it may result in a lower allocation. But it may also result in a higher allocation, as the Commission may not want to risk underestimating - and given the contempt ACT has previously shown for election registration (they have previously outright refused to disclose funding or file post-election returns), I'm more than a little suspicious that they're trying to game the system in this way.

In the absence of proper disclosure, I'd suggest that the Commission go on the sole membership figure it has available: ACT's declaration that it has at least 500 financial members, required in order for it to contest the list. And if ACT is unhappy with that, they know exactly what they can do about it.

The promise of stem-cells

If you were looking for a reason why we should allow stem-cell research, tonight's news about Willie Terpstra ought to provide one. Terpstra suffers from Motor Neurone, and has flown to China to receive an experimental treatment aimed at halting the disease. The treatment consisted of injecting stem-cells directly into her brain; the result was an immediate improvement in her condition. Before the treatment, she could not speak and could barely swallow; after she could do both (though her vocal cords are obviously out of practice).

The treatment is experimental, and the effects may last as little as two weeks. There's also some risk of the stem cells forming tumours within the brain. But this is still nothing short of a medical miracle, and the effects are likely to improve (and become more predictable) as the treatment is perfected.

So why the hell would people object to a technology that shows so much promise? Why did Terpstra have to go to China rather than be treated here in New Zealand? The problem is that stem cells are currently sourced from human embryos, either from aborted fetuses (as in this case), or from blastocysts created by artificial insemination and grown in vitro specifically for the purpose. This has caused widespread opposition from the anti-abortion lobby. But their chief objection - that obtaining stem cells requires killing a human being - is about to become moot, as researchers have discovered that human adult stem cells can be differentiated into neural tissue in chicken eggs. In English, this means no need for abortions or embryonic cloning, as the cells can be sourced from the patient's own bone marrow (eliminating rejection problems into the bargain). I'd hope that even those who currently object to stem cell research on religious grounds would see that as a Good Thing.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

New Fisk

The impact of the Iraq war is now being felt across Middle East


Cabinet has decided to defer funding for the broadcasting of Parliament until the 2006 budget. The media is hailing this as a "retreat", and "a victory for media freedom", but I think its better characterised as spite. It smacks of a deliberate attempt to punish us for our insistence on open and transparent Parliamentary proceedings: "naughty public! No free broadcasts for you!"

The government did not need to do this, and it should not have done it. Instead, it should have done what the public is clamouring for: broadcast Parliament while relaxing the rules on filming MPs and allowing independent cameras as a check and balance. But I guess not allowing National, ACT and NZFirst to claim a "U-turn" is more important than democratic transparency.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Labour's list: winners and losers

Labour has published its party list for the next election. Just Left has some commentary here, which focuses on the new faces. Meanwhile, I've been comparing it to their 2002 list. There's some obvious big winners: Ashraf Choudray has been elevated 15 places, and the Maori Caucus has generally done well. Big losers include Lianne Dalziel (dropping 12 places for dishonesty over a guinea pig), Mark Gosche (dropping 19 places for doing nothing much), Georgina Beyer (who publicaly wibled over the foreshore) and Nanaia Mahuta, who has disappeared entirely.

Here's a list showing the top 42 candidates and their relative placements with last time.

2005 RankName2002 RankDifference
1Rt. Hon Helen Clark10
2Hon Michael Cullen20
3Hon Margaret Wilson9+6
4Hon Steve Maharey40
5Hon Parekura Horomia50
6Hon Phil Goff60
7Hon Annette King70
8Hon Trevor Mallard12+4
9Hon Marian Hobbs17+8
10Hon Dover Samuels11+1
11Hon Jim Sutton8-3
12Hon Pete Hodgson13+1
13Hon Taito Phillip Field----
14Hon Ruth Dyson22+8
15Hon Mita Ririnui32+17
16Hon Mark Burton160
17Hon Paul Swain18+1
18Hon Judith Tizard21+3
19Hon Chris Carter25+6
20Luamanuvao Winnie Laban200
21Hon Rick Barker24+3
22Mahara Okeroa33+11
23Hon David Benson-Pope36+13
24Jill Pettis27+3
25Ashraf Choudhary40+15
26Lianne Dalziel14-12
27Shane Jones----
28Dianne Yates29+1
29Hon Mark Gosche10-19
30Ann Hartley35+5
31Hon David Cunliffe37+6
32Martin Gallagher31-1
33Steve Chadwick34+1
34Darren Hughes51+17
35Georgina Beyer23-12
36Maryan Street----
37David Parker47+10
38Russell Fairbrother----
39Dave Hereora38-1
40Lynne Pillay39-1
41Moana Mackey410
42Steven Ching56+14

One other thing that is very noticable is that this is a very multicultural list; it looks like New Zealand. It will be interesting comparing it with National's, given that party's seeming desire to eject or demote anyone who isn't a dead white male or a sufficiently submissive servant thereof...

Update: Fixed title. It's really embarassing when your browser suddently steals the focus and you don't notice.

Electoral funding II

I acquired a list of parties which have applied for funding from the Electoral Commission today. I was just wanting to check whether the Alliance had remembered to apply (they have - meaning that they're going to try and contest the election, I guess), but the list of smaller, non-Parliamentary parties has proved a great distraction. There's not one, but two republican parties ("The Republic of New Zealand" and the "Republic Aotearoa New Zealand Party", a party promoting a smaller Parliament ("The 99 MP Party"), and one promoting family values (the "New Zealand Family Rights Protection party"). Probably on the left are the "Labour Coalition Party" and the "Beneficiaries Political Party", and on the right are the National Front and (probably) the "New Zealand Patriot Party". There's also a "Cook Islands Maori Party of Aotearoa", though as only 1.3% of New Zealanders identify as Cook Islanders, they're probably going to run into threshold issues. Noticibly absent from the running are the smaller Maori parties. Mana Motuhake, Mana Maori and Te Tawharau have all disappeared, their supporters and activists presumably vaccumed up by the Maori Party.

Higher up the political foodchain, DestinyNZ, Christian Heritage, the Alliance and the Democrats have all applied for funding - as have the LibertariaNZ. yes, that's right, or local libertarian party, who normally disapproe of such things, is sucking on the teat of the state. I wonder how they justify that one?

Election funding

The Electoral Commission is currently holding hearings into the allocation of election funding and free television time - and it seems to have become a source of political contention, with Labour demanding a bigger share to match its dominance of the polls, and ACT accusing the government of doing all it can to control our TV. But the problem isn't with the government, but with the rules laid out for the process. According to s75(2) of the Broadcasting Act 1989, the commission can only consider:

  • Party and electorate vote at the previous general election; and
  • Votes at any by-election held since the previous general election; and
  • The number of MPs before the dissolution of Parliament; and
  • any relationships that exist between political parties; and
  • any other indications of public support such as the results of public opinion polls and the number [of] party members; and
  • the need to provide a fair opportunity for each eligible political party to convey its policies to the public by broadcasting election programmes on television.

According to their press release on the issue, they cannot consider other matters.

Under these criteria, there is no question that Labour should receive a larger share than National. They got twice its vote at the last election, and have consistently outpolled it by a wide margin ever since. The same rules that allow National to claim more money and time than (say) ACT also allow Labour to claim more than National. If National now considers that arrangement unfair, maybe thry should have thought of that before they colluded with Labour to establish those rules (and stack them against small parties) before the 1996 election?

But while its amusing seeing National hoist by its own petard in this way, it's not exactly good for our democracy. They are the core of any alternative government, and its important that that alternative is able to be properly presented to the electorate. So I'd support giving them more money than they may strictly be entitled to, simply to ensure that the government faces a proper challenge come election time.

Raising the minimum

The minumum wage increases to $9.50 an hour today - but the CTU isn't happy. And they have a point. The value of the minimum wage has been eroded over the last 15 years, and while Labour has increased it by over $2 now, it is still worth less in real terms than it was in 1987. And at the present rate of increase, its unlikely to reach the 1987 level for another three years.

(Which would mean that after three terms of a Labour government, we'd be back where we started in 1987, before the revolution turned really toxic. Which tells us something both about how much damage was done in the 90's, and how much (or rather, little) Labour is committed to undoing that damage).

At the moment, the government is trying to raise wages. It is also trying to raise productivity. One way of doing both would be to seriously hike the minimum wage, in a couple of steps, to $12 / hour. This would both put increased pressure on wages at the bottom of the market, as employees sought to retain their existing relativities with the minimum, and it would provide employers with a greater incentive to invest in improving productivity rather than simply hiring another warm body. And at a time when there aren't really a lot of new warm bodies to go around, the latter especially seems like a good move.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

New Fisk

Beirut car bomb fuels rumours of Syrian plot
Memories of war, fear and friendship in my home city, where time has stood still

Promoting work-life balance

Something else from the now departed Green test blog: Sue Kedgley's Employment Relations (Flexible Working Hours) Amendment Bill (I'll put up a link when it shows up on Knowledge Basket) has been drawn from the ballot. The bill

would give employees with children under five the right to request reduced, part-time or flexible hours. Employers would have a legal duty to consider any such requests seriously, and must be able to demonstrate good reasons for a refusal.

Like Big News, I think this bill is a great idea. Forcing employers to consider reasonable requests for flexibility in the case of parents will not only make it easier for people to juggle work and family, but it will also help promote the idea of work-life balance more generally. And as someone who believes that we work to live, rather than living to work, that can only be a Good Thing.

My major concern is that the bill does not go far enough. Parents are not the only people who need flexibility at work, and the provisions should be extended to cover those with (say) significant caregiving responsibility for a sick or elderly relative, or any other reasonable demand on their time. This shouldn't be just about allowing parents to participate more fully in the workforce, but about helping all of us to achieve work-life balance.

This is definitely a bill the government should support, and I'd also hope United Future comes to the party for such "family-friendly" legislation.

Update (03/04/05): Added link to bill.

Out of control

The Observer today has a special report into the US's secret global gulag. While it mentions all the obligatory background elements - Guantanamo, the torture plane, Maher Arar, and the outsourcing of torture to compliant despotic regimes like Syria - the focus is somewhere else: Afghanistan, which since the US Supreme Court started enforcing constitutional limits over what went on at Guantanamo, is increasingly acting as a hub for the whole system.

The US has dozens of prisons in Afghanistan, away from the eyes of the international media and human rights organisations (and the US courts). There are US-run detention centres in Gardez, Khost, Asadabad, Jalalabad and Khandahar, as well as 20-odd smaller facilities scattered around the country. Then there's Bagram, which seems to be a central "collection point", where several prisoners have died in US custody in highly suspicious circumstances. Prisoners are transferred between the prisons in armed convoys who shoot at anyone or anything which gets in their way - even the Afghan police:

Inside a frozen courtyard, a former policeman, Said Sardar, 25, was sat beside his crutches. On May 1 2004, he was manning a checkpoint when a car careened through. "Inside were men dressed like Arabs, but they were western men," he said. "They had prisoners in the car." Sardar fired a warning shot for the car to stop. "The western men returned fire and within minutes two US attack helicopters hovered above us. They fired three rockets at the police station. One screamed past me. I saw its fiery tail and blacked out."

He was taken to Bagram, where US military doctors had to amputate his leg. Afterwards, he said, "an American woman appeared. She said the US was sorry. It was a mistake. The men in the car were Special Forces or CIA on a mission. She gave me $500." Sardar showed us into another room in his compound where a circle of children stared glumly at us; their fathers, all policemen, were killed in the same incident. "Five dead. Four in hospital. To protect covert US prisoner transports," he says. Later, US helicopters were deployed in two similar incidents that left nine dead.

There's more reports there as well: US soldiers shooting a man dead when he objected to them dragging a woman out of their way, and clearing a crowd of children with a grenade. This casual attitude towards he use of force has attracted complaints - not just from Afghanistan's powerless government, but also from CIA staff. Naturally, nothing is being done.

The Observer interviews former prisoners, who described being abused. And they have obtained

prisoner letters, declassified FBI files, legal depositions, witness statements and testimony from US and UK officials, which document the alleged methods deployed in Afghanistan - shackles, hoods, electrocution, whips, mock executions, sexual humiliation and starvation - and suggest they are practised across the network.

While I'm sure that our local apologists will once again try to muddy the waters, the above is torture by any reasonable definition. And who is it being applied to? The same sorts of people who are in Guantanamo: people are are usually entirely innocent, or of "negligible" intelligence value, who have been swept up on suspicion or fingered by someone under torture in a desperate attempt to get the pain to stop. The system

owes more to Stanley Milgram's Six Degrees Of Separation - where anyone can be linked to everyone else in the world in as many stages - than to analytical jurisprudence.

How much more of this do we need to see before the truth sinks in? The "war on terror" is out of control. The US is no longer "defending western civilisation" - they stopped doing that the day they started applying electrodes to people's genitals. Neither are they "promoting freedom" - not when they look the other way at Uzbekistan's abuses, and throw in a few of their own for good measure. Instead, they are simply providing a never-ending stream of outrages to drive people into the arms of the terrorists.

Friedrich Nietzsche warned that those who fight monsters may become monsters themselves. Sadly, in the case of the US, this warning seems to have come true.

New Fisk

Security chief ’sues himself’ to clear name over Hariri

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Talk is cheap

More thoughts on the "battle for the cameras": it's unquestionably a Good Thing that ACT, National and NZFirst have changed their minds on this issue and decided that independent cameras should be allowed to film our elected representatives going about the public's business in the public's House - but talk is cheap. The true test of whether these parties actually support real press freedom will be seen by their actions. In particular, each of them should now:

  • explain why they supported the ban in the first place, and why they have changed their minds;
  • instruct their representatives on the Standing Orders Committee to work together to ensure that independent cameras will be permitted to stay;
  • also instruct those representatives to push for a repeal of the present restrictions on the filming and photographing of MPs (or front up and explain why they think those restrictions are justified).

Unfortunately, Parliament itself is exempted from the Official Information Act (how... convenient), so we won't really have any way of knowing whether these parties are walking the talk or not. But I'm sure that their rivals will be quite happy to leak the minutes of any relevant meetings if they are blatantly saying one thing while doing another.

I'll be writing to Don Brash, Rodney Hide and Winston Peters (or rather, Peter Brown, because Winston doesn't do email) asking them to do this. Feel free to do likewise.

The Greens and Parliamentary coverage

Reading the Herald's report on Parliament's "backdown", I was quite surprised to see that the Greens appear to support the exclusion of independent cameras:

Greens co-leader Rod Donald accused the other parties of "extraordinary hypocrisy" and "caving in" to network pressure.

The Greens' test blog (found through Technorati) provides some context to these remarks. The Greens view the entire thing as self-interested reporting (which it is), but the chief target of their criticism is the other parties. As they (and the Herald) point out, Parliament's Standing Orders Committee unanimously agreed that having "physically intrusive" independent cameras cluttering the galleries was "unacceptable". To have parties which endorsed that view now posing as defenders of press freedom and trying to cast the restrictions as being the idea of the government is extraordinarily hypocritical on their part - and it is something the media should be exposing. This is not about the government or the Speaker, but the (previously) shared interest of all our elected representatives in stymie-ing democratic oversight.

The Greens are also right in pointing out that the opposition's sudden change of heart is a result of media pressure; on Agenda this morning, one of the media commentators mentioned that the media had threatened a boycott of Parliament. The opposition would lose far more from this than the government (just think of where their profile would be without daily footage of Bill English or ken Shirley crucifying the government in the House over NCEA or tertiary funding), so its hardly surprising that they've changed their minds.

Finally, the Greens point out that the issue of who films is mostly a red herring. What really matters is the standing orders relating to what is allowed to be filmed - not who is behind the camera. Where they're wrong is in alleging that these rules have been unquestioned by the media up until now. The media has complained in the past about Parliamentary censorship; what's different this time is that those complaints have got some traction. And I can't really blame them for exploiting it to the fullest (and attempting to leverage a repeal of those restrictive standing orders) when the opportunity presents itself.

But before anyone gets the idea that I'm complaing that the Greens have been unfairly misrepresented, I'm not. Because what is clear from all of the above is that the Greens support the restrictions - and I'm at a complete loss as to why. The Greens have generally taken a strong stand on democracy and accountability (particularly with regard to introducing better electoral systems which make it easier for voters to hold their representatives accountable), so its a bit of a surprise to see them opposing the transparency which is an essential precondition for the above.

Perhaps Rod Donald or someone else from the Greens would care to explain...?

Update: as mentioned in the comments, the Greens' test-blog has been taken down, presumably because they didn't expect other people to be reading it. Which is a shame, because it had some very interesting content...

Backing down?

The Herald reports that Parliament is likely to back down on the issue of excluding independent cameras from the debating chamber when they introduce a public feed of parliamentary debates. But according to the Dominion-Post, this "backdown" will come "provided the flagrant breaches of the rules are addressed". In other words, Parliament is still insisting that all coverage of its business be sanitised. Some backdown!

This simply isn't good enough. The present rules are a deliberate attempt to stymie democratic oversight. They should be removed in their entirety, and the media given free reign to film and photograph what they wish. Information is the lifeblood of democracy, and if we are not allowed to see what our elected representatives get up to in the debating chamber (or even whether they turn up at all), then our democracy is fundamentally compromised.

"A decent fellow"

Today's proof that different parts of the political spectrum see the world completely differently at times: Aaron Bhatnagar's description of former Immigration Minister Tuariki John Delamere as "a successful businessman, a good cabinet minister, a very level headed and decent fellow". In case anyone has forgotten, Delamere was sacked for corruption, after he abused his office to grant permanant residence to applicants who agreed to invest in specific businesses within his electorate. To describe him as "a decent fellow" really begs the question of what would be considered indecent...

Friday, March 18, 2005

A change of opinion

Last week, Roger Sowry voted for an amendment to the Relationships (Statutory References) Act to strip the prohibition on discrimination on the grounds of marital status and sexual orienation from the Human Rights Act. Would this be the same Roger Sowry who made the following speech in support of the then Human Rights Bill during its third reading debate?

I am happy to support the passing of Bill. I have to say, first, on the disability aspect, that it has been a long time coming. It is a great shame that it has taken us until 1993 to pass legislation to outlaw discrimination in this country against those who find themselves with a disability.

I suspect that the disability part was left aside for so long because it became obvious that, once discrimination was to be outlawed on the basis of disability, members would also have to face up to the vexed question of discrimination because of sexual orientation.

On that subject I say that the Bill will go some way in helping our society to change attitudes that have become entrenched against people because of their sexual orientation. But it will take a lot more than the passing of this Bill really to change those attitudes; it will take time. Earlier I heard the member for St. Kilda rightly point out the changes in attitudes that have taken place in society since the House passed the legislation that was brought in by the previous member for Wellington Central that decriminalised homosexuality.

As I remember, surrounding the passing of that legislation was a debate on the sort of dire consequences that would come to this country and to our children as a result of it. Time has proven that not to have been the case. Time has also proven New Zealanders to be a much more tolerant people than many would have given them credit for being.

I believe that the passing of this Bill will not cause the world to come to an end nor cause any great decline in the moral values of New Zealanders. It will cause New Zealand to become a much more tolerant place in which to live than it was before the Bill was passed, but that will take time.

The Bill is an important step along the road of changing attitudes. I believe that it is one of those milestones that any member of Parliament should be proud to see passed during his or her term in this House.

Sowry of course voted for the bill to become law, as did Richard Prebble and Nick Smith - both of whom likewise voted last week to gut it. I wonder what their justification for their change of opinion is?

Supreme moral courage or total stupidity

When Don Brash first became leader of the Opposition, he portrayed himself as "fiscally conservative but socially liberal". Since then he has voted in favour of restricting the access of teenagers to abortions, and against both the Civil Union and Relationships (Statutory References) Acts, and advocated strongly that prisoners be denied recourse to the law for wrongs committed against them. I think this record speaks for itself: some "social liberal".

But what's most curious is his recent siding with National's moralist ultraconservative faction in an effort to remove the Human Rights Act's prohibition on discrimination on the basis of marital status or sexual orientation and to explicitly allow discrimination on those grounds against those who contravene the moralist's prejudices. Given the circumstances surrounding his divorce, this is either an act of supreme moral courage (though really, how much moral courage does a guy on a six-figure salary need to vote for a law, which owing to his wealth and status, he will never suffer from), or one of total stupidity. You really have to wonder whether he had read the amendments he was voting on...

"Freedom for the pike"

I seem to often use this phrase when talking about how freedoms are balanced in a liberal society. It comes from a saying by Isaiah Berlin: "In a lake stocked with minnows and minnow-eating pike, freedom for the pike means death to the minnows." It means a freedom only for the strong or the rich.

As someone who values personal autonomy and believes that freedom should be for everyone, not just the wealthy or powerful - as someone on the left, rather than the right, in other words - I favour limiting the freedom of pikes. As Berlin pointed out, "the liberty of some must depend on the restraint of others". In order for all of us to be free, the ability of those who would limit the freedom of others must be restricted.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

But who voted for it?

There's a screaming match going on over at Just Left over Stephen Frank's attempt to gut the Human Rights Act by removing marital status and sexual orientation as prohibited grounds of discrimination. The amendments were contained in Supplementary Order Paper 336, and came in two parts. The first would have repealed sections 21(1)(b), 21(1)(m), and 21(1)(l)(iii), governing marital status, sexual orientation, and family status respectively. The second would have inserted a clause into the Human Rights Act specifically allowing individuals - but not the government - to refuse to provide employment or goods and services on the basis of "specified conduct", meaning

extra-marital sex, extra-marital child bearing, the breach of promises exchanged in marriage, desertion, same sex relationships in the nature of marriage, and homosexual sex

The above covers a whole lot more than gays; just off the top of my head, it would also permit refusing accommodation to unmarried couples or others in "immoral" relationships, denying employment to divorcees, adulterers, or anyone who has ever broken an engagement. It would also allow humiliating questions probing into every aspect of someone's sex life to be imposed as a precondition of employment, tenancy or service - and licence discrimination against those of us who think that there are some things that are simply none of an employer's fucking business. But what's really interesting is what it doesn't permit. While Franks justifies this provision on classical liberal grounds - that people should be free to discriminate however they like - his proposal does not permit discrimination against married people. Neither does it permit gay employers or shopkeepers to discriminate against straights, or adulterers or swingers to discriminate against monogamists. It is only those who don't conform to Franks' prejudices that are singled out.

In other words, what we have here is yet another example of Franks' gross intellectual dishonesty: a licensing of private coercion, but not on a level playing field. They guy isn't even a classical liberal; he's just a bigot in liberal clothing.

But it's not just about Franks, either. While he proposed this licence for prejudice, 30 other MPs voted for it. Here's a list of the guilty parties according to the relevant Hansard Advance:

  • Adams (UF)
  • Alexander (UF)
  • Baldock (UF)
  • Brash (N)
  • Brown (NZF)
  • Carter J (N)
  • Catchpole (NZF)
  • Collins (N)
  • Connell (N)
  • Donnelly (NZF)
  • Eckhoff (ACT)
  • Franks (ACT)
  • Gudgeon (NZF)
  • Jones (NZF)
  • Mark (NZF)
  • McNair (NZF)
  • Newman (ACT)
  • Ogilvy (UF)
  • Paraone (NZF)
  • Perry (NZF)
  • Peters J (NZF)
  • Peters W (NZF)
  • Prebble (ACT)
  • Roy (ACT)
  • Shirley (ACT)
  • Smith M (UF)
  • Smith N (N)
  • Sowry (N)
  • Stewart (NZF)
  • Turner (UF)
  • Woolerton (NZF)

So, the whole of New Zealand First, two-thirds of ACT (including Ken Shirley, who I'd thought of as a relatively decent liberal), three-quarters of United Future (with the honourable exceptions of Peter Dunne and Gordon Copeland), and the moral ultraconservative rump of National (which now seems to include Don Brash) voted for a return to the morality of the 50's. This is something we should all remember come election-time.

As for the issue of the Human Rights Act itself, I've previously addressed it here. Preventing discrimination is vital to protecting human freedom, and every reason for abhorring it on the part of the government is also a reason for opposing it on the part of individuals. Discrimination is either unjust, or aims to coerce, or both - but injustice does not cease to be injustice, or coercion cease to be coercion simply because the perpetrator is a private individual rather than the state. Rather than offering us freedom, classical liberals are offering us a society where those with social or economic power can victimise or coerce those without, and usurp our autonomy in some of the most central decisions of our lives. That is freedom for the pike, and we are as justified in limiting it as we are in limiting the freedom of the strong to impose their will on the weak by physical violence.

New Fisk

The mystery of Mr Lebanon’s murder
Murder of Mr Lebanon continues to poison political air

What they want to hide II


(Image stolen from Stuff)

So he was asleep, he admits it and that it breached Parliament's rules - but its not allowed to be shown lest it detract from the dignity of our representatives. This is, to put it bluntly, a crock of shit. If MPs are worried about their reputations being damaged by such behaviour, they have a very simple solution: don't do it in the first place.

Protesting sedition

Further to the Tim Selwyn case: Ben Thomas of DogBitingMen has organised a protest against the use of sedition charges. From midday today, they will be outside the Auckland District Court handing out seditious material in an effort to show that the law is an ass. Technically, this is "exciting contempt for the administration of justice", and so seditious in itself - but then, this simply reinforces Dicey's point that if applied consistently, the law of sedition would criminalise most forms of political agitation.

I'd be there, but I don't live in Auckland...

Sedition by Example X: Tim Selwyn

(An ongoing attempt to procure the alteration of our archaic law of sedition)

Text of a pamphlet left near the scene of the axe-attack on the Prime Minister's electorate office:

Confiscation Day

This morning concerned Pakeha vented their anger and disgust at the Government’s attempts to steal, by confiscation, Maori land in the form of the Seabed and Foreshore Bill that is currently being disgracefully rammed through Parliament as part of a desperate back-room deal.

By attacking the electorate office of the chief instigator, the Prime Minister - who is due to abandon the mess she created by fleeing the country today - we signal that a threshold has been crossed.

The broken glass symbolises the broken faith, broken trust and shattered justice, our axe symbolises the steadfastness of our determination.

The ruthless Prime Minister will leave behind a vindictive law that will haunt this nation should the M.Ps be mad enough to pass it. Maori M.Ps complicit in this farce will never live down their betrayal.

If this is destined to be Confiscation Day, then we have marked it.

We call upon all like-minded New Zealanders to take similar action of their own to send a clear message that such a gross, blatantly racist injustice to the Maori people will never be accepted.

Ake! Ake! Ake!

The alleged author of this document, Tim Selwyn, has been charged with seditious conspiracy and making a seditious statement for inciting "violence, lawlessness, or disorder". These charges rest not on his alleged involvement in the attack itself - that is covered by a seperate charge of conspiracy to commit criminal damage - but on the above words alone. He will appear in court today for a pre-depositions hearing - 83 years to the day of Bishop Liston's infamous speech.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

What they want to hide

There's a perfect example of the benefits of independent cameras in the debating chamber in today's Question Time:

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I wonder whether I could seek the leave of the House to have the bell rung in order to wake up the Minister of Education, David Benson-Pope, for question time.

TV3 showed some footage of the snoozing Minister. Needless to day, we would not have seen it - and therefore not have had the opportunity to punish him for it at the ballot box - if Parliament was filmed the way our MPs want it to be.

45 days for murder

What's the penalty in the US military for forcing three men into a river at gunpoint and laughing while one of them drowns? 45 days, after charges of manslaughter are plead down to assault. Do we really need any further evidence that Iraqi lives are valueless in US eyes...?


Fourteen months ago, a woman alleged that she had been repeatedly raped in the 80's by a group of policemen, who had then covered up the whole thing behind the "blue wall of silence". Today, she's finally getting some justice. The three men she accused have been charged, and have appeared in court. The exact charges have been suppressed (most likely to prevent contamination of the jury pool), but the police investigating the case clearly think there's a case to answer for something.

Garth George will probably lament this - exactly as he lamented the investigation of "hazing and harassment" like rape among Army cadets at Waiouru - but I will not. If we are to have any faith in our police, we must be able to rely on them obeying the laws they enforce. Otherwise we don't have a police force - we have a gang with batons and uniforms.

Sedition by Example IX: The New Zealand Celt

(An ongoing series aimed at exciting contempt for the administration of justice regarding the archaic law of sedition)

Article from the New Zealand Celt, 21st February, 1868:

Demonstration of the Irish in Charleston.
(From Our Own Correspondent)

A numerously attended meeting was held at the Belle de Union Hotel, on Monday evening, 10th instant, for the purpose of forming a committee to raise funds for the widows, wives, and families of Allen, O'Brien, and Larkin, and the Irish state prisoners, and to express condemnation of the British Government in regard to the murderous executions of Allen, O'Brien, and Larkin.

Mr A. M'Carthy, having been voted to the chair, said - Gentlemen, you will allow me to testify my thorough appreciation of the objects for which the present meeting has been called. I am sure there are none amongst you who will not sympathise for those brave and patriotic men who laid down their lives for their fatherland. it now remains for you to testify your admiration for those martyrs to the cause of Irish liberty by subscribing liberally towards those who have thus been impoverished by the acts and oppressions of the English Government. He would now call on Mr. Cullen to move the first resolution.

Mr. C. Cullen said - Mr. Chairman and gentlemen, before reading the resolution, I beg leave to make a few remarks. This meeting has been convened, in the first place, to express sympathy for those brave men who have suffered for the cause of Irish independence, and to aid their wives and families; secondly, to express our views of the course adopted by the British Government towards Allen, O'Brien, and Larkin; thirdly, to form a committee to receive subscriptions at the present meeting, and all over the Charleston diggings, the same to be forwarded to the editor of the Nation or the Ladies' Committee in Dublin, as the meeting shall decide. I am quite sure there are none in this room, but sympathises with the object of this meeting. Great sympathy has been expressed in England towards the executed men - not by Irishmen alone, but also by Englishmen. It is now high time that we take immediate steps to show our thorough disapproval of the tyrannical and bloody course pursued by the English Government. (Hear, hear.) Gentlemen, did these men die as felons? No. (A voice: 'They were murdered.') Hear what Allen, that brave boy of nineteen, said: - 'If I die, I die not as a murderer, but as a martyr for Ireland.' The mother of this brave youth is reported to have said, 'That she would sooner see her boy on the scaffold than to see him standing beside Corrydon, the informer.' All honour is due to such a mother. Let us look at O'Brien, in his lonely cell, no friends or relatives to cheer him, but that Friend, the best that he or any other man can have sustained him through the trying ordeal. He had faced death on many a battle-field, and was not afraid now to meet it. He died as a Christian should - bravely and honourably and religiously, the victim of an unjust and tyrannical Government. in England large meetings have been held to sympathise with these brave and patriotic men. As many as 15,000 or 20,000 men had attended those meetings, and stigmatised the course pursued by the Government as bloodthirsty, cruel, and unjust. If those men had the courage to beard the lion in his den, although many thousand miles distant from the scene of the action, it is no less our duty to appreciate the mighty sacrifice made by those noble-minded men for the good of our country.. .. Allen, Larkin, and O'Brien met their doom bravely. Although an ignominious death was their fate, they died gloriously, proudly, and defiantly, and deserve the admiration and respect of every patriotic Irishman .. ..

The speaker (Mr. Cullen) drew attention also to the partiality shown by England towards the rebels of other nations. He said they always sympathised and aided them; but because those rescuers of Deasy and Kelly were Irishmen, and trying to aid in Ireland's freedom, the British Government thought they should be hanged, executed, and murdered! Gentlemen, I say, murdered. (Great applause.) ... Now, gentlemen, it may be said we are sowing the seed of dissension amongst the community of Charleston, but I say whoever makes such a statement, is guilty of a great falsehood. I say we are here not as sectaries, but a mixed body of cosmopolitan sympathizers, as the Hyde Park people were in London. No, gentlemen, we have not assembled here tonight for any such purpose, but here have we assembled to show to England and the world, and most particularly to suffering Ireland that there are Irish, English, and Scotch, 20,000 miles away who sympathize with her, and denounce the conduct of the British Government in those late executions. (Hear, hear.) I shall now, gentlemen, conclude and content myself by calling on all of you to arise and bestir yourselves to immediate action in aiding the cause of poor old Ireland. (Immense applause.)

Mr. T. Keenan in moving the second resolution, said: - We are called here for a just and noble object. As Irishmen we are bound to respond to this call - it is a duty which is due to our country and to humanity - it is a duty incumbent on all to hate oppression, resist tyranny, and to sympathize with, and relieve suffering; but with you, Irishmen, how much more imperative is that duty, when it is connected with a cause which is embalmed by the noblest blood of your countrymen. Irishmen, cherish that cause, hate oppression, and resist tyranny, for they reign over Ireland at the present time, and have sent many of her bravest sons to prison and to death. Talk of the great and equitable laws of England, the liberty of the subject, their trial by jury - they are high sounding titles signifying nothing. the laws cannot be equal or just which imposes a church and Government on Ireland opposed to the wishes of the people, opposed to their religious opinion and reason and common sense. The liberty of the subject is not safe when they can imprison at their pleasure, and keep men in jail till their health is impaired, without even the form of a trial. I say you would be as safe amongst the most barbarous tribes of Africa or under the sway of King Theodore of Abyssinia as you would be this day in Ireland. Their juries applied to political cases are but farce-like tragedies which end in imprisonment or death. We are called here tonight to express our sympathy with these sufferers of English injustice, but more especially with those three brave fellows who have laid down their lives for the cause of their country, and to condemn as base, brutal and bloody, the Government that condemns such men to a death fit only for a murderer of the blackest type, such as Burgess, Kelly, and Levy. But though they would brand them as murderers, and disgrace their memories, they have miserably failed in the attempt. They have only made their names glorious as three of the noblest and bravest patriots that ever suffered on a scaffold in the cause of liberty. To ask you for sympathy for those, I know, is needless, for I know that there is not an Irishman here worthy of the name that does not heartily sympathize with them. Ah yes! well I know your feelings, with many, it assumes a silent, determined hatred of British rule, and though you may not openly express it, yet your feelings are as true as those who suffered death for the cause. Alone in your tents in the midnight gloom, or in the silent woods with none present but God and your conscience, you clench your hand and wait only for the time to be revenged. Wait awhile. 'God is slow but just' are the words of our dead patriot - that is a prophecy from the grave - a prophecy bequeathed to Irishmen, and one which will surely be fulfilled, for God would not be just if a day of retribution did not follow. Yes, it will follow, and may the wrongs which Irishmen have suffered be revenged both soon and sudden. Take off your hats, gentlemen! Stand uncovered! I am about to mention three names which are sacred to you and to generations to come. Allen, Larkin, and O'Brien are dead. They were hanged, Irishmen - they were hanged by the common hangman for the cause of Ireland. May God rest their souls! They died for our country. It is theirs no longer; they are citizens of a brighter and a better kingdom; they have died the founders of freedom in the vanguard of liberty, and a noble example have they left to their countrymen. Fitzgerald was a lord; Lowe a soldier; and Emmett a scholar.

They died nobly in the same cause, but not more nobly than our last three heroes - the carpenter, the tailor, and the draper. They died as became the cause they represented, as Christians and patriots. All the sable engines of death were visible to their sight, and the train of thoughts they suggested; but in spite of all they bore themselves like men through the fearful trial. Ah! it must be a trying moment for men in the prime of youth and health, and guilty of no crime but serving their country too well, to meet death so willingly. 'Oh,' said our brave countrymen, 'However much I would like to live, I cannot regret dying for Ireland.' Surely they were brave men. Such are the men they would brand as murderers and assassins. What robbed death of its terrors, and the gallows of its shame and ignominy, but the conviction that their memories would not be disgraced but honoured and revered by their countrymen, and we are here tonight to pay our tribute of honour and respect to their memories. Yes; let us cherish their names in our hearts as martyrs who, could they inspire us with the same noble fortitude and heroic resolution, would teach us to defy England with all her power, persecution, and perjury, and be again,

'The land of song, the home of the free;
First flower of the earth, first gem of the sea.'

But our brave countrymen are gone to prison and to death. Sympathy with them will never bring them back to their dear friends and dearer country; it will not reck them in the prison or the grave, but they have friends who will suffer by this loss, and it is our duty to testify our respect to their memories, not merely by words, but by more tangible proofs, that we are sensible of the great sacrifice they have made for the cause of their country ...

Moved by the speaker, seconded by Mr. C. Molloy, and carried nem. con.:

'That this meeting strongly condemns the action taken by the British Government in executing the Manchester prisoners; and that we consider such an act as brutal tyranny which would not be perpetrated at the present time by even the most tyrannic and despotic government in Europe, except in England; and that we sincerely sympathise with all who have suffered for political offences in Ireland, more especially those three men who have died for the cause and liberty of Ireland.'

Mr. Hehir then moved, seconded by Mr. M'Carthy, and carried - 'That the minutes of this meeting, together with the names of those subscribing to this object, be published in the New Zealand Celt, the Dublin Nation, and the Irishman, and that all moneys collected by [sic] transmitted to the Ladies Committee in Dublin without delay.'

For publishing this and other similar articles, the Celt's proprietors, John Manning and Father William Larkin (no relation) were prosecuted for sedition. They eventually pleaded guilty, and were sentenced to one month's imprisonment. Those who actually made the speeches reported above were never charged.

(Source: The Lion and the Wolfhound: The Irish Rebellion on the New Zealand Goldfields, by David McGill. Grantham House, 1990).

Shrinking Coalition Watch

The Italians are going home in September. I guess Berluscioni could see which way the wind is blowing...

We now await the impending apocalypse...

The Relationships (Statutory References) Bill has passed its third reading. No information on the vote yet, but BlogGreen has a few details on the speeches.

The Rapture Index remains unchanged...

Low wages and Labour

If you haven't already seen it, go off and read Jordan's excellent post on our low wage economy. The question of wage rates is really one of distribution between wages and profits, and in New Zealand Rogernomics and Ruthanasia established a policy framework which answered that question decisively in favour of the latter. One-sided employment law and monetary policy which ensured that there was always a surplus of workers kept wages stagnant on average (and actually decreased those of people at the bottom end of the labour market), while the fruits of economic growth were funneled straight into the pockets of employers. As a result, the wage-share of Gross National Income shrank from 55% in the early 90's to a mere 43% now, with the difference going straight to corporate profits.

Labour has inherited this problem, and you would expect them to be sympathetic. But as Jordan notes, they have done SFA about it:

Labour's approach, though, has been timid. Some things have remained clearly seen as outside the realm of political possibility. A realised capital gains tax is held to be electoral anathema. Corporate tax increases are off the agenda. Income tax increases apart from those from 1999 are off the agenda. Public spending continues to be held down at levels below those needed to buy top quality health and education services, let alone redress some of the infrastructure and salary deficits in the public sector that have become apparent in the last 20 years. Labour's policy agenda is still well within the neo-liberal international mainstream; there has been no fundamental challenge to the power of capital in the interests of working and middle New Zealanders.

They have, in other words, been tamed. Their ambition to replace National as the "natural party of government" and their fear of a repeat of the Great Business Sulk of 2000 has led to a policy conservativism which completely betrays their origins and traditions as a party of the workers. And so now, when unions are agitating for their fair share, our "Labour" Prime Minister airily says that its for the market to decide. Why are we supporting her again?

But even with their commitment to the market framework, there are policies the government can implement to set a positive trend in the labour market. Chief among these is using its power as an employer. The PSA is pushing for a 5% wage rise for public sector employees whose collective contracts expire this year; the government should give it to them. Likewise, it should undertake to fund the substantial wage rises needed in the tertiary education and aged care sectors. This will increase wage competition, and send a message to the market: either raise your wages as well, or watch your workers drift away to sectors which do. Another obvious move is to continue raising the minimum wage. This will not only produce more wage pressure at the bottom end of the market (as workers push to keep their margin over what they could earn at McDonald's), but it will also help encourage employers to invest in improving productivity rather than simply trying to hire another warm body.

These are only short-term solutions, but they're better than nothing. More importantly, they will show that the government has not abandoned its roots. In an election year, people will be judging Labour on its commitment to workers - and expecting a lot more from them than simply standing back and "leaving it to the market". If the government doesn't take concrete steps to lift wages and ensure a more equitable division of the benefits of growth, their traditional supporters may well start looking for a party that will.