Thursday, August 31, 2006

Climate change: progress on the PFSI

Since the beginning of climate change policy in this country, there has been a recognition that the bulk of the effort in meeting our targets would be met with forestry. Planting tees provided the cheapest and easiest way of absorbing carbon from the atmosphere and thus reducing net emissions. But despite this, policy has consistently failed to encourage tree planting.

In the 90's, the then-National government simply assumed that removing "distortions" in the market around tax policy and losses would make the necessary trees magically appear - despite the absence of any incentive for people to plant them and no plans by the government to do so. But then, they believed that the market would also magically provide us with cheaper electricity, better health care, cheaper accident insurance, and better railways as well - and we know how well that worked out. In any case, reality failed to accord with government projections which assumed net planting rates of 100,000 hectares per year all the way out to 2020. NeoLiberals being the sorts who stubbornly insist that reality must change to match the theory, this fact was of course studiously ignored.

When Labour came to power, it realised it would have to do something to provide an incentive to plant forests, so it eventually proposed a Permanant Forest Sink Initiative: lock up your trees in perpetuity and promise to harvest them only in a sustainable manner, and you would get carbon credits for them. They balanced this carrot with the stick of the deforestation cap - if too many trees were cut down, then the additional liability would be imposed on those responsible. In a time of declining timber prices and rising land prices due to the dairy boom, this created a perverse incentive, and a mad rush to cut down trees and profit before the cap was imposed. Score one for stupidity. In the meantime, the PFSI was quietly forgotten, and the enabling legislation (the Climate Change Response Amendment Bill, which would allow the transfer of credits to private individuals and businesses) left to languish at the bottom of the Order Paper.

Now, it looks like the PFSI is back. There have been some minor changes, including a backdating of credits to 1990 for indigenous forest, and a lifting of the original restriction on harvesting (forests originally could not be harvested even sustainably for 35 years), but the program is essentially the same. The question now is whether forest owners will go for it...

An affront to justice

Normally, you expect that when someone is acquitted of a crime, the government does not punish them for it. But not, apparently, in the UK. An Iraqi man accused of making a video identifying potential terrorist targets will apparently be subjectd to a control order - despite being acquitted on all charges by a jury. This goes beyond double jeopardy to strike at the very heart of justice itself: the man has been found innocent, but will be treated by the government as if he is guilty regardless.

Really, if they're going to behave like this, you wonder why they even bothered with the pretence of a trial at all.

Cap and trade in California

While President Bush continues to deny climate change and refuses to act, California is about to implement a cap and trade regime.

Shows you what can be done with the right political leadership...

More on tasers

Opponents of the taser are gathering today outside Parliament to protest the start of the police's taser trial. Meanwhile, Keith Ng has an excellent post on the issue, compiling video of both the use and abuse of tasers by US police. The problem as he sees it isn't so much the danger of tasers themselves - as he points out, they are a weapon, whose primary purpose is to "quickly and effectively neutralise a [person]" rather than kill. The problem is the way they might be used. On this point, he argues that

[i]f the use of Tasers in mundane cases is the problem, then the solution should be to strictly limit their use on dangerous individuals and where other methods are not viable - i.e. *Make* it a weapon of (second to) last resort.

Unfortunately, this requires having some confidence in the police. And looking at the way they currently use pepper spray to "induce compliance" or sadistically inflict pain on those who are already restrained, I just don't think we can.

[Hat tip: DPF]

It's now a criminal investigation

The police have started a criminal investigation into Taito Phillip Field, based on both the Ingram Report and more recent allegations. The Labour Party has responded by placing him on leave.

Field isn't obliged to talk to the police, any more than he was obliged to talk to Dr Ingram; he has a right to silence, and judging by the Ingram Report, he will exercise it vigorously. But I think the police are still better placed to get to the bottom of this matter, and to ensure that any wrongdoing is properly punished.

Meanwhile, I hope the smaller parties are lining up their candidates for a by-election, just in case...

Anti-spam bill reported back

The government's Unsolicited Electronic Messages Bill has been reported back [PDF] from committee. I haven't been following this closely, but it seems the committee has tightened up the bill a little and removed the cloak of messages which are merely "promotional" rather than "commercial". Previously, promotional messages were considered a separate category and subjected to lower standards (they were opt-out rather than opt-in). This may have allowed spammers to exploit the confusion between what was commercial and what was "promotional". Now the bill is quite clear: there are only commercial messages, and recipients must expressly opt-in.

Strangely, they've also added a new subsection requiring the enforcement agency to monitor sexually explicit (but not indecent) spam, and report on means to control it in future. I blame Gordon Copeland.

As for whether any of this will work, I doubt it. It may deal with New Zealand spammers, but most are in foreign jurisdictions, and will continue to flood our mailboxes with ads for fake degrees, pirated software, counterfeit viagra, and offers of employment as a professional money-launderer. OTOH, it means that next time I get spam from Genesis Energy (yes, really), then I might be able to do something about it.

Carnival of the Liberals

The twentieth Carnival of the Liberals is now up at The Greenbelt.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

An end to re-sentencing

There's been a major upset to the prison system today, with the Court of Appeal ruling [PDF] that parole boards can not consider deterence when determining whether to grant parole or home detention. Parole boards have been doing this for years, effectively re-sentencing prisoners based on public pressure and their assessment of how much punishment they deserved. But now, the game is up. The ruling could affect hundreds of prisoners whose decisions had been made illegally, and result in their being granted parole, or being able to sue for damages for being imprisoned for too long and in contravention of the law. And this would be entirely justified - the government (through its agents, the parole board) have been making decisions illegally, which has almost certainly resulted in people serving more time in prison than they were required to. If that is not worthy of financial compensation, I am not sure what is.

The worry is that the Prisoners and Victims Claims Act 2005 could apply here. Such claims certainly meet the first criteria for being a "specified claim" under the Act - concerning "an act or omission by or on behalf of the Crown" which affects the claimant "as a person under control or supervision". It would seem to depend then on whether they are brought as BORA cases alleging a breach of the right to liberty, or on some other basis.

Wrongful imprisonment is a clear injustice, regardless of who it happens to,and if the Prisoners and Victims Claims Act prevents compensation in such cases, then the law is fundamentally broken.

Nobody likes Field

For those who haven't been keeping up with the Field saga, here's a quick guide to where various people stand:

Those who think Taito Phillip Field should resign his seat: Those who think Taito Phillip Field did absolutely nothing wrong and should stay:
Helen Clark
Labour's Pacific wing
The New Zealand public
Taito Phillip Field

I guess we just have to hope he gets the message.

Update: Apparently not. Field has once again denied that he has done anything wrong and announced that he intends to "continue as the Labour MP for Mangere". I think the onus is now on he Labour caucus to evict him.


The Justice and Electoral Committee has called for submissions on the Principles of the Treaty of Waitangi Deletion Bill. Two copies, by Wednesday, 20 October 2006, to

Justice and Electoral Committee Secretariat
Bowen House
Parliament Buildings

Or you can email

Making a submission is as easy as writing a letter saying "I support/oppose this bill" and giving reasons. The Office of the Clerk has a helpful guide here if you need further help. On a bill of this importance, I'd encourage everyone to have their say.


Looking at the list of bills before Select Committee, I see that Gordon Copeland's New Zealand Bill of Rights (Private Property Rights) Amendment Bill (currently before the Justice and Electoral Committee) has been delayed again. It was originally scheduled to report back tomorrow, but this has now been pushed back until the end of February. It's a bit annoying, as I'd gone to the effort of submitting on the bill and was interested in seeing what the committee would do with it; now it looks like I'll have to wait another six months to find out.

BTW, if anyone is wondering why passage of this bill in its current form is a bad idea, check out this story [temporary] in today's Independent, in which the Business Roundtable argue that the losses suffered by Telecom's shareholders in the wake of the government's unbundling of the local loop was "theft". If the bill was law, then they would be able to take action under the BORA for compensation for their loss. They might not win, but the risk of legal action would be a significant deterrent to the government. The net effect would be that the government could no longer effectively regulate, even in cases where monopolies were abusing their position. Which is of course exactly what the BRT - whose members corruptly purchased monopolies during the government asset-stripping of the Revolution - want.

A legislative logjam?

The KiwiSaver Bill passed its committee stage today (surprisingly fast), and looks set to receive its third reading tomorrow. But looking at the Order Paper [PDF], the government still has an awful lot on its plate to get through, including a lot of time-consuming committee stages. And they have more bills due back from Select Committee, meaning a steady buildup of business.

Normally, this would be handled by the simple expedient of going into urgency for a cleanout a few times a year (the government did this four times in 2005 before the election, and seven times in 2004). But the new Parliament is less willing to grant urgency than the old one - so far, they've had the traditional pre-Christmas cleanup, and then one brief period to correct the disaster of the Land Transport Amendment Bill. And apart from that, they've had to do things the slow way. Not that this is a bad thing - urgency results in a lot of bills being put through in a short time, meaning less scrutiny and attention paid to each, and it was grossly abused in the 80's for precisely that reason. But it is likely to mean that legislation is passed more slowly than in the past, and that there will be less of it. The upshot is that the government will have to really prioritise on which bills it must push through, and which ones it can bear to leave lying around as potentially unfinished business.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Asset forfeiture: rising from the dead

Last month, the government discharged its Criminal Proceeds and Instruments Bill due to "procedural issues" with proposed amendments on international crime. However, as the bill never received a vote (despite hanging around on the Order Paper for a year), there's no bar in Standing Orders to its reintroduction. And that's exactly what looks to be happening: I received a tip this morning that it would be reintroduced to the House within the next two weeks.

It is difficult to imagine NZ First or United Future opposing this, so if it gets to a vote, it will likely be passed. I guess we just have to hope that Labour accords it the same low priority it received last time round.

Giving the finger to democracy II

Dean Knight has a good post in which he argues that Parliament's ban on filming MPs who are not standing and speaking is inconsistent with the Bill of Rights Act, and that it cannot possibly meet the usual test for what constitutes a "justified limitation". Unfortunately, Parliamentary privilege means that Parliament is accountable only to itself, and the decision cannot be challenged in a neutral court. Yet another way in which our MPs give the finger to democracy...

Why we need secular secondary education

Last week, I blogged about secular education and the current compromise which requires that teaching in state primary schools "shall be entirely of a secular character", but allows schools to temporarily close so that those who want to can participate in religious education and observances. One of the problems with this is that due to a historical anomaly it applies only to primary and intermediate schools. As for what goes on in secondary schools, check out Asher’s experience. The high school he attended (Wellington High School College) forced students to participate in Christian prayers at assemblies, sing Christian hymns, and of course had a preacher round once or twice a year to tell them about Jesus and give them Bibles. Which is a bit problematic if you're a Jewish atheist (or indeed, anything other than a particularly noxious sort of Christian).

There is no question that this arrangement contravenes the Bill of Rights Act's affirmation of freedom of religion, in that students are being forced to participate with apparently no opt-out. This is simply not something that should be happening in our school system. If the new guidelines don't apply to secondary schools and force them to adopt a primary-school style scheme in order to comply with the BORA, then I think there's a very good case for legislation - either to extend the provisions of s77-80 of the Education Act 1964 to all state schools (and repeal s81), or to enact parallel provisions in the Education Act 1989.

Correction: Corrected name of the high school. This is what happens if I post at 2:30am...

Monday, August 28, 2006

Giving the finger to democracy


When Ron Mark was filmed giving the finger repeeatedly to fellow MP Tau Henare in the House, many MPs reacted as if the problem was not Mark's obscene gestures (which would not be tolerated in any workplace in the land) - but the fact that the hoi polloi had been able to see it. Unfortunately, Speaker of the House Margaret Wilson agrees - and so has banned TV3 from filming in the debating chamber for three days as punishment. Talk about giving the finger to democracy...

As I've argued repeatedly, transparency and oversight are vital parts of the democratic process. We cannot effectively judge our representatives unless we know what they are doing in the House. This doesn't just apply to their votes and speeches, but also their wider behaviour. And if someone turns up to Parliament drunk, sleeps on the job, or behaves like a hyperactive child with tourette's syndrome, then the public have a right to know so they can judge accordingly. If MPs are concerned that public scrutiny would "undermine their dignity", then they have a simple solution: behave as if they had some.

(BTW, I am seeking someone who can photoshop Wilson's head onto Mark's body to illustrate this post. Source material here and here)

Thanks to zANavAShi for the pic.

Here's hoping

I missed "Sunday" last night and its extra pile of wriggling maggots from Taito Phillip Field's rotting political corpse, but it seems to have been more than enough for the Prime Minister. She's now suggesting that Field should reconsider his future as an MP. I wonder if he'll take the hint? OTOH, given the complete lack of shame he's shown so far at his behaviour, it seems unlikely...

Climate Change: the Policy Challenges

VUW's Institute of Policy Studies is holding a one-day symposium on climate change policy in early October. Speakers will include Bert Metz (co-chair of the IPCC's Working Group 3 on mitigation), CSIRO's Steve Hatfield-Dodds (who gave a particularly interesting talk at the Climate Change and Governance conference), Dr Adrien Macey (New Zealand's newly appointed climate change ambassador), David Parker, and various officials from MfE, MAF, NIWA, and the Business Council for Sustainable Development. It looks quite interesting (and its a wireless hotspot, so I might be able to blog it).

When: Friday, October 6th
Where: Ilott Theatre, Wellington Town Hall
How Much: $175 (ouch!), $40 for NGO or unwaged (or only $20 if you register before September 15th). If you can't find an NGO to front for you, you can always get a gmail address and a web page and start one.

A full programme is here, and registration form here.

A terse rejection

The Justice and Electoral Committee has finally reported back [PDF] on Rodney Hide's (formerly Deborah Coddington's) Sex Offenders Registry Bill. The bill would have established a registry of sex offenders, tracking them for an extended period of time after release from prison, and requiring them to update it whenever they moved or face jail. It was, in essence, a tool for their continued persecution despite having completed their sentence. The committee's response was mercifully terse:

The previous Justice and Electoral Committee received advice from the Ministry of Justice and the Police. Both advised the committee that the bill would not achieve its intended purpose.

[In conclusion] we concur with the advice received from the Ministry of Justice and the Police. We also consider that this bill will not achieve its intended purpose and recommend that it not proceed.

(Emphasis added)

So, two moral panic bills disposed of in less than a week. Now, if only the Young Offenders (Serious Crimes) Bill will be handled so sensibly...

Parliament's new website

Parliament has a new website. It's far prettier than the old one, incorporates all the information from the Clerk's site (which I've been using pretty heavily), and is bilingual throughout. Unfortunately, it now seems to have melted under the load of everyone going to check it out...

The Pinochet argument

In his Sunday Star-Times column today, political commentator Chris Trotter argues that Labour's electoral overspending was justified because it prevented National from winning the election and restarting the Revolution. This shows an appalling contempt for democracy. The same argument - "those bastards will ruin the country" - was used, albeit from the other direction, by Franco, by Pinochet, by the Venezuelan elite, and by every other two-bit despot wanting to overturn popular rule. To see it coming from someone ostensibly on the left is more than a little jarring. With an attitude like this, you really have to wonder whether Trotter thinks we should have elections at all...

Democracy is not about what is "best for the country", but about what people want. It's not about making good decisions, but our decisions. This may result in the electorate making decisions that, to a disinterested observer, are mistakes. This is part of the process. If a Brethren-funded, BRT-backed, Brash-led National government's policies were even half as disastrous as Trotter suggests, then they would be de-elected at the first possible opportunity, and their term regarded as a warning of the dangers of electing radical market darwinists in future. And if they weren't, we can only conclude that people didn't think the policies were that bad compared with the alternatives on offer. Either way, it is for democracy to police itself, not for self-appointed "guardians" to do so by usurping popular choice.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

New Fisk

Why should Europeans protect Israel?

How many feet can he get in there?

Normally when people stick their foot in their mouth, they stop to take it out before putting the other one in. Not Bob the Builder though - he just keeps right on swallowing. Not content with yesterday's display of bigotry against Muslims, Bob has followed up by targeting gays:

Elaborating on his stance for the Herald on Sunday, he said he could tolerate homosexuality - even though he found it "unusual" and "not normal" - but he objected to gays promoting their sexuality in public.

"If you walk up and down the street picking your nose, you're a bit different, aren't you? You're going to offend somebody.

"Do it in your home if you want to," he said.

"Take that gay parade. They flaunted themselves out there that they're all different than us, and to a certain extent, in my mind, they're trying to make out that we should be the same as them."

Really? I don't see gays telling people that they should hide their sexuality in public, that they should "keep it in the closet", that they should pretend to be gay in order to avoid giving offence. But "hypocrisy" is probably too advanced a concept for someone who finds any sign that someone is different from himself to be disturbing and threatening.

As Helen Clark points out, this is par for the course for National. But most National MPs are usually too smart to say it...

Bringing out the worst in America

The September 11th attacks really seem to have brought out the worst in America. Quite apart from the foreign policy response - Guantanamo, Iraq, torture and disappearance - the attacks themselves were followed by a spate of hate crimes, as ignorant Americans sought to take out their rage on anyone who looked vaguely Arabic or Muslim. They were also followed by a massive increase in discrimination against those same target groups. And the effects of that discrimination extended far beyond the few cases which made it to court. A recent study has found that the wages of Arabs and Muslims working in America fell by 10% in the wake of the attacks:

The study measured changes in wages of first- and second-generation immigrants, from countries with predominantly Arab or Muslim populations from September 1997 to September 2005. It then compared them to changes in the wages of immigrants with similar skills from other countries.

The average wage was approximately $US20 an hour ahead of the attacks in 2001 and dropped by $US2 an hour after them, Robert Kaestner, co-author of the study and a University of Illinois at Chicago professor of economics, said.

That drop persisted through 2004 but showed signs of abating in 2005, he said.

"I was surprised," Kaestner said. "We see an immediate and significant connection between personal prejudice and economic harm."

And to rub that last point home, the size of the drop was strongly geographically correlated with the incidence of hate crimes. This is bigotry at work.

As with internment and torture, this isn't just a crime, it's also a mistake. Terrorism feeds off injustice. If the US wants to see domestic terrorist groups spring up, then its rednecks are going the right way about it...

Saturday, August 26, 2006

More foot-in-mouth from Clarkson

Russell Brown points his readers at Bob the Builder's latest foot-in-mouth incident (really, does he ever take it out?) in which he displays his bigotry and ignorance by saying that Muslims who wear burkas should "go back to Islam or Iraq". It would be funny - except that its pretty much official National Party policy, espoused by the supposedly liberal Don Brash himself.

But Clarkson isn't just a bigot - he's also a hypocrital one. In his Manawatu Standard interview (offline), he was asked about Palmerson North's long-running dispute about the cross on the top of the clocktower (don't ask), and had this to say:

"That's just ridiculous. Put the cross up there. I can't see any problem with that."

"I do have a bit of a problem with Islam religion-type people wearing scarves and burqas around the place. I think people should fit into the country."

So, public display of Christianity good, public display of Islam bad. But it's not just display he's talking about, but also enforcement:

"I think people in power should respect the Bible, they should respect the norm."

And yet at the same time, we have this:

"I don't practice religion, but I'm very tolerant of all types of religion"

If this is how he displays his "tolerance", you really have to wonder if he even knows what the word means...

Beginning to stink

The Herald has turned up more evidence that Taito Phillip Field corruptly abused his position to gain quid pro quos in exchange for immigration assistance - this time from Samoa. According to a Samoan immigration official, the Fields sponsored Thai tiler Sunan Siriwan's entry into Samoa by promising to employ him.

This conflicts grossly with the evidence both Phillip and Maxine Field gave to the Ingram inquiry [PDF], that there was never any intention that Siriwan work for them. It seems that they've lied to someone about that - either Dr Ingram or the Samoan authorities.

Meanwhile there'll be more on "Sunday" tomorrow night from one of Field's former electorate secretaries, which seems to be about the way Field handled payments of iafo from grateful constituents.

How much longer is this going to go on? Field's political corpse is really beginning to stink, and if Labour doesn't get rid of it soon, they may never be able to get the smell out...

Friday, August 25, 2006

A lot of hysteria over nothing

The Manawatu Standard gets into the act on secular education, reporting in shocked tones that Manawatu schools are beating prayer bans by delaying starting times, closing on Friday mornings to hold religious instruction sessions. But somehow missing from the story are the facts that

a) this is entirely legal under the law as it now stands; and
b) it is entirely in accordance with the Ministry of Education's new guidelines.

It would be nice if journalists would bother to get the basic facts right, before going off to report breathlessly on this issue. But instead, they seem to be doing their absolute best to generate a lot of hysteria over nothing. The government is not trying to ban prayer in schools - or at least, no more than it already is - and neither are they trying to introduce it. Instead, they've reminded schools of the law and their duty to comply with it and the Bill of Rights Act by not forcing religion on pupils. So what is the big deal here?

Its not unlawful until they ask you to leave

Three protestors against Solid Energy's Happy Valley coal mine had their day in court today over a protest last year in which they hung a banner from a building. While one was convicted and fined for trespass, the other two were acquitted on charges of being unlawfully on a building. The NZPA wire story on Stuff says that the acquittals appear to set new protest rules, but its not new at all. Section 29 (2) of the Summary Offences Act 1981 (is quite explicit:

It is not necessary in a prosecution under this section for the prosecutor to prove that the defendant had an intention to commit any other offence, but it is a defence if the defendant satisfies the Court that he had no such intention.

(Emphasis added).

The two protestors convinced the judge that they had no unlawful purpose there - protest in itself not being unlawful - and so they had a defence in law (leaving when the police asked probably helped here, and certainly prevented trespass charges). The convicted man, OTOH, had previously had a trespass notice issued against him for the premises, and had barricaded a door leading to the roof, so the defence clearly wasn't available to him.

If Solid Energy is unhappy with this judgement, they could always try asking people to leave next time...

Secular education

Earlier in the week, the Ministry of Education briefed the Education and Science select committee on new guidelines covering religion in schools. Freedom of religion is affirmed by s13 of the BORA, while s77 of the Education Act 1964 requires that teaching in state primary schools "shall be entirely of a secular character". s79 further provides that

No pupil enrolled at a State primary school shall be required to attend or take part in any [religious] instruction or observances...

if their parents object (in line with s15 of the BORA, s78 allows primary schools to close temporarily for the purpose of such instruction). The guidelines look perfectly reasonable and in line with current law - schools should have outside instructors rather than teachers provide religious instruction or observances, hold them outside normal school hours rather than in class time, and avoid "whole of school" activities such as prayer in assemblies to avoiding placing undue pressure on students. The big change is a shift from an "opt-out" system to one where those wanting religious instruction must explicitly "opt in", which removes implicit pressure to participate and is far fairer on those who may not wish to be involved. It's worth noting that Seatoun School's "KidsKlub", which provoked a public outcry last year when a new board of trustees tried to ban it, seems to comply perfectly with these guidelines.

Despite this, there has been an outcry from the principals federation claiming that the guidelines are "impractical" and that it somehow bans singing the national anthem (no, not that one, the other one) because it mentions god. And now we have the Maori Party's Pita Sharples calling it "Political Correctness gone berserk" and claiming that it will interfere with teaching:

“How could one possibly describe the process of colonisation in the history of Aotearoa, without discussing the impact of missionaries?”

“How can one discuss the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, our foundation as a nation, without reference to the role of Anglican, Wesleyan and Roman Catholics clergy within the negotiations, and Anglican and Wesleyan missionaries?”

I agree its impossible to adequately study those things without referring to the religious beliefs of those concerned (just as its impossible to understand the seventeenth century and the birth of the modern world without knowing a little about Catholics and Protestants) - but a history lesson is not a religious observance. And that's what's at issue here - not expunging any mention of religion from the curriculum, but forcing students to participate in religious observances. Sharples may see that as unproblematic - but I suspect he'd feel rather differently if a school proposed to start the day with a compulsory black mass.

Flying while asian

Yesterday, news bulletins were dominated by the story of a US airliner forced to return to Amsterdam under fighter escort because some passengers were behaving "suspiciously". Today, we learn that that "suspicious" behaviour was that the passengers were

of Asian appearance, [and] reportedly aroused suspicion by fiddling with mobile phones and plastic bags.

The plane was going to Mumbai.

They've fortunately all been released now, there being no evidence at all that they were actually doing anything. Instead, it seems that the jumpy and the bigoted and the ignorant have again persecuted the innocent in the name of "security". And the fact that every time they do this hands a significant propaganda victory to those wanting to recruit more terrorists seems completely lost on them.

Carbon neutral

Tonight, I did something I've been planning to do for a while: I went carbon neutral. I tallied up my CO2 emissions, then purchased an appropriate amount of carbon credits from Ebex21. They in turn will put the money towards a native forest regeneration scheme in the Queen Charlotte Wilderness. The net result is that enough trees will be grown to absorb my annual emissions - and as a bonus, they'll be trees that I actually like, rather than boring old pinus radiata.

How much did this cost? Not a lot. I'd calculated my annual emissions at 7.5T a year, and that set me back a mere $165 - less than fifty cents a day. Not a lot of money to pay to end my contribution to a global problem.

The one hole in the calculations is this blog. I'd like to purchase an offset for it as well, so I can then become New Zealand's first accreditted carbon neutral blog, but that would require information about how much energy blogger uses to host it - and they're not exactly forthcoming. I'm continuing to make enquiries, but in the meantime, I'll just have to be satisfied that all the emissions on my end of the internet are covered.

Thursday, August 24, 2006


The Education and Science Committee has finally released its report [PDF] on Gerry Brownlee's Education (Trustee Ineligibility) Amendment Bill. The bill passed its first reading in February last year, and would have made those convicted of certain sexual offences ineligible to serve on school boards of trustees. The Committee has recommended unanimously that the bill not proceed, on the grounds that it would not make children any safer and that it is difficult to see why school trustees, who rarely come into contact with students, should be held to higher legal standards than teachers. They also took serious issue with the retrospective nature of the bill (it would have been deemed to have come into effect on March 1st, 2001 - meaning that anyone covered would be retrospectively de-elected). Given that the committee included 4 National MPs, it seems certain that the bill will be voted down when it comes back for its second reading, or simply discharged.

Now, if only every moral panic bill would be handled so sensibly...

New Fisk

Hizbollah's reconstruction of Lebanon is winning the loyalty of disaffected Shia


The usual ballot for Member's Bills was held today, and the following bills were drawn:

  • Human Rights (Women in Armed Forces) Amendment Bill (Lynne Pillay)
  • Official Information (Openness of District Health Boards New Zealand) Amendment Bill (Dr Jackie Blue)

Both have previously been covered by an "In the ballot" post.

Today's ballot was smaller than usual, with the Greens failing to submit anything this time (so, no chance for the Green Ballot Mojo to work its magic again). There were two new bills: Rodney Hide's Local Government (Rates Poll Demand) Amendment Bill, and George Hawkins' Sale of Liquor (Objections to Applications) Amendment Bill. Hopefully I'll be able to cover both of them soon.

Making sausages

"Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made." -- Otto von Bismarck

Yesterday I went to Wellington to learn about the Ministry of Economic Development's 2005 Energy Outlook and participate in a "stakeholder engagement" session on the proposed New Zealand Energy Strategy. The Energy Outlook is a long-term projection of future energy supply and demand, and will hopefully be the subject of a later post. The Energy Strategy is intended to lay out the broad direction of energy policy for the next 40 years, and one of the questions under consideration is whether it should establish a solid commitment to sustainable energy in the form of a commitment to a totally renewable or carbon-neutral electricity generation system by 2050. This would (finally) be a step forward for climate change policy, as well as connecting with the high value placed on the environment by ordinary kiwis.

Of course, this being a "stakeholder engagement" session, ordinary kiwis weren't really part of the picture. Instead, it was central government, local government, and energy industry representatives. There was some token representation from environmental groups - Greenpeace and the Sustainable Energy Forum - but the conversation was dominated by the concerns of industry, notably people like Solid Energy and the Major Electricity Users Group. What these people want from energy policy is quite different from what ordinary kiwis want. Where we are at least nominally interested in the environment and sustainability, and see these as providing at least some constraints on acceptable policy, they are interested in the cheapest possible energy supply, regardless of environmental cost. That is when they're not market darwinists (the visiting Young Republican Falange was particularly cringeworthy), outright climate change deniers, or desperately trying to hype tooth fairy technology like carbon capture and sequestration because it is their only hope of staying in business.

With the policy development process so dominated by these voices, I'm wondering whether we'll see that strong commitment to renewables, or whether it will be watered down to nothingness so that vested interests can continue to profit from inaction. If you'd like to do something about this, then submitting some feedback on the strategy (documents linked above) advocating for a solid renewables commitment wouldn't hurt.

As for the process itself, it rather confirmed Bismarck's quote. What emerged at the other end, after all the sectional advocacy and grumbling that the government had policy goals at all (this apparently being considered illegitimate in a democratic society) was a collection of empty motherhood statements laden with the usual corporate buzzwords. This was of course taken down in great detail, though what the Ministry will do with it is anyone's guess - there wasn't much in the way of useful policy input there. But somehow, I suspect that the purpose of such functions isn't to seek useful input - that comes through detailed written submissions - as get an idea of how people feel about the policy and how hard they will oppose it. "They didn't set fire to the room, and no-one got lynched, so it must be alright"...


The pointseven campaign is holding a public debate in Wellington tonight on the topic of

Do our aid levels make New Zealand a good neighbour - or an international miser?

Speakers include former NZAID Ministers Marion Hobbs and Matt Robson, National's John Hayes (a former MFAT official), and political commentator Matthew Hooten.

When: Tonight, 6pm.
Where: Rutherford House, Pipitea Campus, Victoria University (that's the building right over from the train station).
How much: Free.

(Hat tip: Keith Ng)

No connection

In the lead-up to its illegal and immoral invasion of Iraq, the Bush Administration did everything it could to link Saddam Hussein to the September 11th attacks - even going so far as to establish an Office of Special Plans to manipulate intelligence to prove it. And when he invaded Iraq, Bush did so under the "justification" that such action was

consistent with the United States and other countries continuing to take the necessary actions against international terrorists and terrorist organizations, including those nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.

(Emphasis added)

So its a bit surprising to see Bush saying now that Iraq had nothing to do with September 11th. But I guess he doesn't have a war to start...

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

New Fisk

Untold story of the massacre of Marjayoun leaves blame on both sides of the border

Victory on probationary employment

The Maori Party have decided to oppose Wayne Mapp's Employment Relations (Probationary Employment) Amendment Bill when it comes back before the House next month, meaning that the bill will now fail. This is great news. The bill would have acted as a charter for bad employers to abuse and exploit their workers, effectively reducing them to peonage. I am very glad that it will fail, and very glad that the Maori Party has decided to help bury it.

Inappropriate inculcation

And while we're on the subject of schools, one of the criteria for a private school to be considered efficient caught my eye. In order to be registered, private schools or proposed private schools must meet basic teaching standards, have suitable staff and a suitable curriculum, and provide an education no worse that that of a comparable state school. But they must also

Provid[e] suitably for the inculcation in the minds of students of sentiments of patriotism and loyalty

This sort of jingoistic crap belongs more in the era of Bill Massey, and simply has no place in modern, liberal New Zealand. Isn't it time for it to go?


According to this morning's Herald an Auckland Christian school wants to beat its students, despite corporal punishment being illegal in schools. Their excuse?

It acknowledges the Education Act forbids corporal punishment, but quotes the Bible saying "we ought to serve God rather than men".

So, they're seeking "authorisation" from parents to beat their children. Unfortunately, this doesn't get them out from under the law. Section 139A of the Education Act 1989 states quite clearly that no person employed by managers of a private school, or supervising students on their behalf,

shall use force, by way of correction or punishment, towards any student or child enrolled at or attending the school, institution, or centre, unless that person is a guardian of the student or child.

For a private school to be covered by this clause, it must be registered in terms of s35A. Tyndale Park Christian School is. Their latest ERO report, which finds them to be "efficient" in terms of the Act, is here. I'm also not sure whether its possible to not be registered, as s35A (12) imposes a fine where "a school that is not a registered school operates as a school".

So, they are clearly breaking the law. The question is whether anything can be done about it. Section 139A imposes no penalty on a school which uses corporal punishment (though teachers and managers would be liable for assault charges, and hopefully jailed); the only option would seem to be to cancel their registration, which would stop them operating - something which the ERO would probably regard as being disproportionate.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Transgender discrimination is sex discrimination?

Attorney-General Michael Cullen has released a legal opinion from the Solicitor-General on transgender discrimination and the Human Rights Act [PDF]. The issue never having been tested in New Zealand courts, the opinion reviews overseas cases from the UK, US, Canada and South Africa, all of which have dealt with transgender discrimination under existing provisions barring discrimination on the basis of sex. The Solicitor-General concludes that "these decisions will be influential on New Zealand courts", and that therefore

there is currently no reason to suppose that "sex discrimination" would be construed narrowly to deprive transgender people of protection under the Human Rights Act.

This pretty much obviates the need for Georgina Beyer's Human Rights (Gender Identity) Amendment Bill, except for one issue: human rights laws aren't just there to give courses of action in court, but also to signal to the public that discrimination is unacceptable. A clear statement of law protecting the trans-community is preferable to one buried in precedent and government legal advice. Of course, saying that is probably "political correctness"...

Update: Beyer has responded and announced that she will be withdrawing her bill. Face-saving all round...

Climate change: the cost of coal

That's the cost of the CO2 emissions from their proposed 150 MW coal-fired power plant at Birchfield on the West Coast. The plant would burn 500,000 tonnes of Stockton bituminous coal a year. By my calculations, that would add 1.33 million tonnes of CO2 to our annual emissions, increasing annual CO2 emissions by 4% and total gross emissions by 2%. When we're trying to cut emissions by around 10% annually, that is not something we need.

Those emissions will have to be covered by the purchase of carbon credits on the international market. Without a carbon tax, the cost of those credits will be borne by the New Zealand government. Even at the ludicrously low Treasury estimate of NZ$9/t, that works out to $12 million a year. If OTOH we use a more credible price of NZ$30/t, based on the current price on the European market of 15 - 16 Euro per ton, we are looking at NZ$40 million. That's a lot of money we could be spending on other things.

Currently, we have no climate change policy. We have no carbon tax or price on carbon to ensure that companies pay the full cost of their activities, while regional councils are forbidden from considering greenhouse gas emissions under the RMA. There's every chance then that this proposal will slip through the policy gap, lumping us with increased emissions and an ongoing carbon liability we will be paying for for years to come. We should not let this happen. Jeanette Fitzsimons's Resource Management (Climate Protection) Amendment Bill, which would put greenhouse gas emissions back into the RMA, is due to be reported back from committee next month. I think Solid Energy's proposal shows that there is a clear need to pass it.

Punishing the victim

A disturbing story from this morning's Herald: a man in Lower Hutt was kidnapped, blackmailed, and assaulted by members of the Mongrel Mob - but refused to testify against his attackers at trial because he feared retribution. So the judge jailed him. So now we have courts which punish victims and which attempt to suborn testimony by threats of jail. And the difference between the judge and his less fashionably dressed defendants is...?


From the Telegraph:

Now, there's obviously a couple of other incidents that should be in the frame as well - but there also seems to be a distressing ability on the part of British police to discover Vast Terrorist Plots which later turn out to be nothing of the sort - usually after people have been shot. It's no wonder, then, that people are deeply suspicious of the current panic, even though evidence now seems to be turning up.


A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about the Kaitaia Shoplifter Trespass Notice Scheme, and mentioned that I was trying to obtain further information on it using the Official Information Act. Unfortunately, I've been scooped - Dean Knight has beaten me to it, and posted the Solicitor-General's legal advice [PDF] to his blog. As previously mentioned, it argues strongly that police participation in the scheme would be an abuse of power:

While crime prevention is certainly a "legitimate purpose" of the Police, to undertake a scheme in joint venture with the business community having the effect of banning the apprehended person from over 150 retail outlets in case they were to repeat their offending would inevitably be seen as excessive and out of proportion to the risk of further offending by those involved. What is being done by the Police is excessive both in its scope and effect.

While it doesn't delve into the BORA arguments (their being unnecessary given the previous finding), it does note the possibility of a challenge under the s26 ban on "double jeopardy", and that

[s]uch persons as had been convicted might well persuade the Court that the scheme simply represented further punishment wrongly applied by the Police in circumstances where the Courts had already punished them.

As for the application to Rotorua, if banning shoplifters from 150 shops in Kaitaia is excessive and an abuse of power, then banning them from every shop or building in central Rotorua certainly is. The "double jeopardy" argument also holds. While the police and Rotorua District Council would obviously argue that a trespass notice is a civil penalty rather than a criminal one, given its significant effect on everyday liberty (and effective exile from the centre of the town you live in is a significant effect), it is difficult to view it as anything else (and those that do are, bluntly, missing the forest for the trees). The police could avoid this risk by not pursuing charges against anyone they issued a notice to, but then they would be effectively punishing without trial. While that may be acceptable to an authoritarian Area Commander with an admiration for Tony Blair and ASBOs, it is certainly not acceptable in a free and democratic society.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Justice for al-Anfal

Saddam Hussein goes on trial again today, this time over the 1987-88 Anfal campaign. During the campaign, Kurdish villages were systematically destroyed by bombing, artillery, and poison gas, and Kurds subjected to execution, mass deportations, and imprisonment in concentration camps. An estimated 182,000 civilians were killed and hundreds of thousands more displaced, and so the charges are - quite appropriately - war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.

I only hope they handle it better than the farce they've had over Dujail. As I've said before, even Saddam deserves a fair trial, both on moral grounds and pragmatic ones. I want Saddam to face justice, not simply revenge. I want his crimes thoroughly documented and proven so that no-one can have any doubt about what occurred, not simply alleged with no room allowed for dispute. And I want his trial to serve as a warning to future tyrants and genocideres, rather than one to those seeking to hold them responsible for their crimes. And if the Iraqi trial is not going to deliver that, then I would rather that it not go ahead at all rather than see people able to excuse Saddam on the basis that his trial was nothing but "victor's justice".

Forced confessions aren't

The "war on terror" has resulted in an erosion of human rights around the world - but it has also resulted in court judgements which have protected them even in the face of intense government pressure to look the other way in the name of fighting terrorism. On Friday, we got another one of those judgements - this time from Australia. "Jihad" Jack Thomas was the first person to be convicted under Australia's post-911 anti-terrorism laws, on charges of receiving funds from al-Qaeda and holding a false passport (he had been acquitted of more serious charges of intentionally aiding Al Qaeda). The Victoria Court of Appeal has now quashed those convictions - not because of any problem with the laws themselves - but because of a far more fundamental problem: the evidence relied upon to produce them was unsafe.

The details aren't in the news story, but they are in the judgement, and they're pretty horrifying. Thomas was detained in Pakistan in 2003 for using an altered Australian passport. While in the custody of the Pakistani security services, he was starved, suffocated, threatened with electrocution, and with indefinite detention and being sent to Guantanamo. He was repeatedly threatened with torture and indefinite detention by an American CIA agent unless he agreed to become a covert agent for them, and in one instance the CIA even threatened to send someone to Australia to rape his wife. At the end of this process, he was formally interviewed by Australian Federal Police attempting to gather evidence for a terrorism charge. Naturally, he confessed. While the Australian media has focused on the AFP's inability to provide a lawyer for the interview, the problem is much more serious: given the context in which the interview took place, the ill-treatment and threats of disappearance and torture (which the AFP were well aware of), and the explicit statements by Australian interrogators that Thomas's fate would depend on whether he cooperated with them, there is simply no question that the "confession" could be regarded as voluntary. As the Court noted,

Put bluntly, there can be little doubt that it was apparent to the applicant, at the time of the AFP interview, as it would have been to any reasonable person so circumstanced, that, if he was to change his current situation of detention in Pakistan and reduce the risk of indeterminate detention there or in some unidentified location, co-operation was far more important than reliance on his rights under the law. Indeed, it is apparent that he believed – and, we would add, on objectively reasonable grounds - that insistence upon his rights might well antagonise those in control of his fate.

As for the contention of the trial judge that Thomas had "chosen" to confess, the Appeal Court judges are absolutely scathing:

Of course, the applicant could have declined to answer questions and subjected himself to what he clearly perceived would be an increased risk of indeterminate detention in a foreign country. Realistically, however, that alternative prospect was so daunting that few would be likely to have accepted the risk. Whatever the threat or inducement proffered, there is almost always a choice if the individual is prepared to accept the consequences of the threat being realised or the inducement denied. Even the threat "Confess or be tortured" can be said to involve a choice, and a chance that torture may not be applied. But it could never be regarded as a free choice in the relevant sense.

It's a longstanding legal principle that confessions in police custody must be voluntary - and the police have to be able to show it. This one wasn't, and the fact that it had been obtained overseas, where the conditions of detention were substantially outside the Australian authorities' control, doesn't matter. If evidence is to be admitted into Australian courts, it must meet basic Australian standards of justice. Otherwise, it's not evidence at all.

A victory for terrorism

As if the British government's plans to reintroduce internment weren't enough of a foot-bullet, now it seems British rednecks want "flying while Asian" to become illegal. 150 British passangers refused to board a flight from Malaga to Manchester until two Asian men were removed from it. Worse, the craven airline - Monarch, for anyone wanting to express their displeasure - bowed to it, rather than saying "they've passed security, there's nothing suspicious about them, and we cannot victimise innocent people on the basis of your racism".

Its so egregious that even the Tories object. Their "homeland security" spokesperson is quoted as saying

"This is a victory for terrorists. These people on the flight have been terrorised into behaving irrationally.

"For those unfortunate two men to be victimised because of the colour of their skin is just nonsense."

He may be a Conservative, but on this, he's completely right.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Against internment

When British authorities announced that they had foiled a plot to bomb airliners travelling between the UK and US, I said that it would be safe to bet that we would soon see the Blair government standing up and arguing for a further erosion of human rights in the name of "protecting the public from terrorism". Sadly, I was right. According to the Independent, Home Secretary John Reid now wants to suspend the Human Rights Act in order to allow suspected terrorists to be interned - detained indefinitely without trial.

This would of course be a fundamental attack on justice, and on the principle in democratic societies that the government actually needs evidence to imprison someone. It would be handing the terrorists an enormous victory by rolling the legal clock back five hundred years to the days of absolute monarchy, when people could be detained indefinitely at the monarch's (now the Prime Minister's or Home Secretary's) pleasure. It might also be legally ineffective, unless the British government also derogates from the relevant parts of the ECHR or somehow contrives to deny terrorist suspects access to the European Court of Human Rights. But in addition to all of that, to paraphrase Talleyrand, it would not just be wrong - it would also be a mistake. I've argued before that the "war on terror" is a war of ideas, aimed at depriving terrorists of the recruits, funders, and passive supporters they need to function. Injustices such as torture and detention without trial are absolutely counterproductive to this. And the British know it. In 1971, they began interning suspected IRA terrorists. The result was a radicalisation of the Irish Nationalist community, more support for the IRA - and more terrorism. Unless the British government wants to see the same happen with its Muslim population (many of whom already feel unfairly targeted by anti-terrorism measures), then they would be wise to resist Reid's plan and instead focus on gathering evidence and prosecuting terrorists, rather than taking the "easy" path of arbitrary tyranny.

New Fisk

A land reduced to rubble
No wonder the UN can't find volunteers

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Shifting ground on home ownership?

The Herald's John Roughan devotes his column this morning to what seems to be a common worry at the moment: the increasing inability of young people to own their own homes. And he has a few nasty truths to say about our current housing market:

It is very pleasant if you are a home owner with the mortgage paid and savings accumulating. You can safely put that money into another house and let tenants pay its mortgage.

If it turns out you have borrowed too much, or the rent does not quite cover all the expenses for any reason, you know you will be able to sell the place fairly readily at a capital gain.

The market is so good it keeps the value of rental houses rising at the same time as it maintains an ample supply of tenants who can't afford a mortgage.

Jordan sums up the problem nicely:

There is something wrong with a housing market that is structured to deliver endless capital gains to people who have capital, and deny the ownership of housing to the upcoming generation as the consequence.

This is not what most New Zealanders want. Being able to own your own home is supposed to be one of the basics of kiwi society - as is egalitarianism and the classless society. But both are under threat from the current housing market.

What can we do about it? Roughan suggests a capital gains tax on investment properties, while Jordan also stresses a need for more state houses and government "rent to buy" options. I'd like to see a capital gains tax - but as I've said before, I think this is one of those "third rail" issues and I'm not sure that its politically achievable. OTOH, I thought the same about doing something about student loans - but as more and more people got them, and more and more parents saw their children crippled by debt for life, the political ground shifted. Housing is a much broader issue than student loans - even in an age of mass tertiary education, only 40% of 18-24 years olds go to university or polytech, wheras the aspiration to home ownership is almost universal - so there's definite scope there then for a similar shift. The question then is which party will be first to recognise it...


Could the person who sent me the press-release with the interesting subject-line about blogs and the Official Secrets Act please resend it? It was misclassified as spam and accidentally (and irreversibly) deleted before I had a chance to read it.

Not the practice

Anyone doubting that the Acting Solicitor-General's claim that Parliamentary Services does not vet spending or make decisions, but only "administers funding", should check out Peter Dunne's reported comments in this morning's Herald. Dunne attacks both the Auditor-General and Acting Solicitor-General for not bothering to talk to MP's first about how Parliamentary funds were actually used - which Dunne notes is contrary to Natural Justice. But he also has this to say:

[Dunne] took issue with statements by Acting Solicitor-General Cheryl Gwyn over a private legal challenge to Labour's pledge card spending that Parliament's bureaucrats, the Parliamentary Service, did not have an opportunity to vet advertising expenditure before it was incurred, and had no statutory power of decision-making - merely administration.

If that was the law, Mr Dunne said, it was not the practise.

"Every advertisement we placed, or any other activity we undertook that was the subject of parliamentary funding, we had signed off in advance by the Parliamentary Service."

(Emphasis added).

So, why should political parties be held responsible for acting in a way they were assured by the relevant authorities was legal? There is a significant aspect of unfairness here, and one that will probably require retrospective validation to fix (though again, I doubt this applies to the pledge cards, which were apparently not run past Parliamentary Services first).

Meanwhile, Tony Milne points out that Don Brash's blatantly electioneering, post-budget "lemonade girl" leaflets bear a Parliamentary crest, and so were taxpayer funded. A case of "do as I say, not do as I do"...?

Friday, August 18, 2006

Man bites dog

No, really.

Parody really is dead, isn't it?

Blatant intellectual dishonesty

DPF has a post on the Acting Solicitor-General's opinion that Parliamentary Services does not vet spending or make decisions, but only "administers funding", which can only be described as blatant intellectual dishonesty. DPF worked in Parliament for eight years, and knows full well that actual Parliamentary practice bears little resemblance to the Acting Solicitor-General's opinion, and yet has decided to pretend that it does anyway because it advances his party's position.

This is what fucks me off about the political blogosphere. Too many of those involved are outright party hacks, willing to spread any shit even when they know it is false if it advantages their party in any way. I know that in the war of ideas truth is just a tactic, but even so the hypocrisy and intellectual dishonesty that is so frequently on display is sometimes too much even for my cynicism.


The Herald is reporting that a letter from the Solicitor-General's office contradicts political parties' claims that political spending was approved. According to the Acting Solicitor General, Parliamentary Services' job is to administer payments, they have no statutory power of decision-making, and are unable to vet spending before it is paid. Sure - but they certainly have a de facto power, and they definitely do vet spending, regardless of whether they're supposed to or not. According to one insider I've spoken to, their caucus would always ask whether a proposed publication had been run past Parliamentary Services, and the practice of informally running proposals past them before committing to spending money seems to be widespread. It's just a common courtesy, and it stops parties from wasting everyone's time and digging themselves financial holes.

More importantly, even if they have no vetting power, the fact that they administer spending and reject invoices for spending which they judge does not meet the criteria can only lead to the inescapable conclusion that if they paid up, (they thought that) the spending was OK. For the Solicitor-General to then say "actually, they got it wrong, and so the people who relied on them to get it right are responsible" seems more than a little unfair, and a perfect example of changing the rules after the game has been played. Dean Knight makes a strong case that this sort of shifting the goalposts runs counter to the Rule of Law, and makes it impossible for people to reasonably plan their lives or rely on government decisions, and I agree. It's one thing to find out that your own behaviour was illegal after the fact, its quite another to be held responsible because someone else's was.

New Fisk

The army is back, but don't expect it to disarm Hizbollah

"There are no hereditary kings in America"

The "war on terror" may be eroding human rights an civil liberties, but it is also giving us some of our strongest language in defence of freedom. First, we had the Supreme Court's memorable statement in Hamdi v Rumsfeld that

[A] state of war is not a blank check for the President when it comes to the rights of the Nation's citizens.

And now we have the statement by Judge Anna Diggs Taylor of the US District Court, in her decision [PDF] on Bush's warrentless domestic eavesdropping scheme, that

There are no hereditary kings in America and no powers not created by the Constitution.

and that therefore, the Administration's "arguments" about the "inherent authority of the President as Commander in Chief" are bunk. Even in a time of war, the President is bound by the constitution and the law. He is not, in the infamous words of Nixon's lawyers, powerful a monarch as Louis XIV, only four years at a time, and is not subject to the processes of any court in the land except the court of impeachment.

What of the decision? It is exactly as you would expect it to be: warrantless wiretapping violates the Fourth Amendment prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures. It violates the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the law Congress has established to govern wiretapping by the intelligence services, and the Separation of Powers, which vests legislative power solely in the Congress, and charges the President to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed". In this case, it also violates the plaintiff's First Amendment rights to freedom of expression and association, on the grounds that it chills expressions and associations with various people they communicate with in their professional and private lives (the plaintiffs are a group of lawyers and academics, who regularly communicate with people in the Middle East in their line of work). While Congress has authorised the use of military force against those responsible for the September 11th attacks, this was not a blank cheque, and cannot override existing legislation without explicit authority to do so (but even then, unconstitutionality would still apply; Congress can't authorise the President to violate the Constitution). So, the scheme is illegal and unconstitutional, and the Court has ordered the government to stop it immediately.

(Glenn Greenwald has a more thorough analysis here).

The Administration is appealing, of course, and this is likely to go all the way to the Supreme Court. The most likely target of an appeal will be the Court's dismissal of "state secret privilege" at the beginning, on the basis that the plaintiffs could establish a prima facie case based solely on publicly released material. A higher court reversing that decision would effectively nullify the whole judgement, but also leave the US in the rather interesting position of having a court say "what you're doing is illegal and unconstitutional - but no-one can go to court and argue it". In a country which is supposed to be "a nation of laws", that's an extremely problematic position to uphold.

Justice in Peru

When Ollanta Humala lost the Peruvian presidential election earlier in the year, I wasn't exactly displeased. Sure, he was on the left - but he had also tried to seize power through a military coup, and reportedly had a nasty history of human rights abuses. Now, it seems that that nasty history has caught up with him. Peruvian prosecutors have filed charges of murder, torture, and forced disappearance relating to actions by soldiers under Humala's command, and a judge is currently considering whether to issue a formal indictement. I guess Peru's disappeared are going to get some justice after all...

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Straight from the horse's mouth

President Bush, speaking to a campaign rally in Pennsylvania yesterday:

"[L]eaving before we complete our mission would create a terrorist state in the heart of the Middle East, a country with huge oil reserves that the terrorist network would be willing to use to extract economic pain from those of us who believe in freedom.

(Emphasis added)

There you have it, straight from the horse's mouth: it really is about oil. Americans have to die, and Iraqi civilians be killed, to ensure that Iraq's oil continues to flow to the right people at the right price, and to prevent anyone (such as the Iraqi government) from hiking that price or threatening to cut off supplies to "those who believe in freedom".

I am so glad that we are no longer involved in this immoral war.

More casual use of pepper spray

One of the worries around the police and tasers is the casual attitude they have already displayed to the use of pepper spray. Rather than being used only to subdue aggressive and violent suspects where the safety of police officers is in danger, it is also being used to punish those who are simply uncooperative or who verbally object to arrest. A Court of Appeal case from a few weeks ago provides further evidence of this. In The Queen v Ropiha [2006] NZCA 199, a man appealed his conviction for drug posession on the basis of an unreasonable search. He was arrested after a vehicle stop, and taken to the police station, where police attempted to perform a strip search. While he removed most of his clothes, he refused to strip down completely, instead sitting in a corner "in a stance which indicated... that he was not going to co-operate and he was not going to listen... any further". So they pepper sprayed him. In the ensuing struggle, he was found to be concealing drugs and a pipe between his buttocks.

The Court found that the search was lawful, and that the police were justified in using force given his refusal. However, they expressed significant concerns about the use of pepper spray:

Our only reservation is in relation to the use of pepper spray in a pre-emptive way rather than using it to subdue a suspect or arrested person after he has displayed physical aggression or at least threatened it. The difficulty for us is the absence of any evidence as to police practice or procedures in relation to the use of pepper spray and the circumstances in which it may be justified. If it had been intended to pursue this issue, it ought to have been properly raised in a s 344A application prior to trial so that the police had the opportunity to deal with the issue and to adduce evidence in relation to it. We can only deal with the evidence before us on this point. Given the warnings which were given, the appellant was well aware of the likely consequences of his continued refusal to co-operate and we are not persuaded on the materials before us that the use of the pepper spray was unreasonable in the circumstances. We are not however to be taken to be expressing the view that the use of pepper spray in circumstances such as this is generally acceptable.

There are two issues here. Firstly, this is more evidence that the police see pepper spray as a weapon of first, rather than last, resort - and lends weight to the Greens' call for an inquiry into how it is being used. Secondly, if the police are allowed to use tasers, then you have to wonder how long it will be before we start hearing similar stories of their tasering uncooperative prisoners in their custody, instead of "merely" pepper spraying them...

New Fisk

Lebanon's pain grows by the hour as death toll hits 1,300


I don't agree with much coming out of the Blair government these days, but I will agree with one thing: President Bush is indeed "crap". Now, if only the Deputy Prime Minister could have said it sooner...

Of course, the Americans will kick up a fuss, and of course, the Brits will issue a subserviant and grovelling apology for daring to malign the Leader Of The Free World and suggest that his performance could be anything other than exemplary and worthy of worship - but its good to see that the Poodle has occasional thoughts of turning on its master.

Dirty dairying II

Last week, I blogged about the decision of the Manawatu-Wanganui Regional Council to allow dairy giant Fonterra to dump 8,500 cubic meters of effluent a day into the Manawatu River from its Longburn plant. According to yesterday's Manawatu Standard, the decision is now being challenged in the environment court. Meanwhile, a letter to the Standard has pointed out exactly how filthy Fonterra is being. Water quality is typically measured as biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) - roughly the amount of oxygen pollution sucks out of the water as it biodegrades. The BOD of treated wastewater is around 30 g/m3, and that of raw sewage (which we don't usually allow to be dumped into rivers) around 200 g/m3. According to Fonterra's consent, the average BOD of their effluent is 2,600 g/m3, and can reach as high as 16,000. The net effect is graphically illustrated by the following:

[Palmerston North City Council] discharges about 720 kg BOD per day. Fonterra has predicted that it will discharge an average of 2546 kg BOD per day. This is the equivalent of a town the size of Wanganui dumping all its raw sewage into the river. In one in 20 days BOD discharged will reach over 6000 kg per day, the equivalent of a city the size of Dunedin

(Emphasis added).

In this day and age, we wouldn't let a town or city just dump its untreated shit into a river (the few that still do are being forced to clean up their act). We shouldn't let Fonterra do the equivalent - particularly when it relies on New Zealand's "clean and green" image to market itself overseas.

A bad habit

One of the most shocking things about the Ahmed Zaoui case - besides the pissing on legal principles dating back to the Magna Carta - was the incompetance and laziness it revealed in our intelligence services and police force. First we learned from the Refugee Status Appeals Authority that the SIS had apparently relied on Google to compile their "evidence" against Zaoui, assembling unsourced news extracts and internet material "with no attempt to excise opinion from fact". Then we learned that the police's threat assessment - used to justify Zaoui's solitary confinement - was compiled the same way, and relied upon an internet conspiracy website from conspiracy theorist Lyndon LaRouche.

Unfortunately, they seem to be making a habit of it. According to Keith Locke, much of the government's case against Rayed Mohammed Abdullah Ali, who was recently deported on "national security" grounds, appears to have been sourced from Google. The first hint was the government referring to a CBS news story which erroneously claimed that Ali had been released from prison in Saudi Arabia. But it's worse:

"...much of the New Zealand government's case against Rayed Ali seems to have been constructed on misleading 'googled' information. A Google search brings up the 9/11 Commission report, with a line accusing Mr Ali of giving 'extremist speeches' in a Phoenix mosque. This is included in New Zealand Immigration's dossier against Mr Ali and doesn't seem to have been checked - although the New Zealand media have, subsequently, discredited the accusation.

"The dossier also contained the easily googleable fact that September 11 bomber Hani Hanjour (briefly) flatted with Rayed Ali - but New Zealand Immigration seems to have made no attempt to discover Mr Ali's explanation or why the FBI, after interviewing him, was happy to let him stay in the United States.

"The only non-googleable "fact" in the dossier was an accusation from a 'not yet discloseable source' of a 'direct association' between Rayed Ali and September 11 bomber Nawaf al-Hamzi. Of course, this could be another intelligence agency making a 'google' mistake, because Rayed Ali had been met on his arrival in Florida in 1997 by a old school friend with a similar name, Bandar al-Hamzi, no relation to Nawaf.

No matter what you think of Mr Ali, surely deporting someone should require better evidence than this...

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

New Fisk

In the face of Bush's lies, it's left to Assad to tell the truth

Vaguely sinister

I got a phone call from the police this morning. Not in relation to any ordinary police business, but about an Official Information Act request I'd submitted recently seeking information on the Kaitaia Shoplifter Trespass Notice Scheme. Getting called by a government agency in response to an OIA request isn't that unusual, but normally they're seeking clarification on what is actually being sought or giving a heads-up about time frames or suggesting alternative ways of seeking the information - not inquiring about who I am, why I want it, and whether I am a Bad Person.

The officer in question was polite, and helpful, and recognised that the issue was a subject of public debate in which random members of the public would be interested. But its still vaguely sinister in a way, and raises questions about the way requests to the police are handled. There's no requirement under the Act to give a reason (and nor should there be - government must justify its decisions to the public, not the other way round), and being a Bad Person or "known to police" is not a legal reason for refusal. If there are concerns about protecting police officers from victimisation, or preventing interference with investigations, then these can already be handled under the Act (sections 6 (c) and (d) and section 9 (a) would be applicable) - but any decision certainly shouldn't depend on the identity of the requester, or on someone in uniform's assessment of whether they have a "good reason" for asking.

US$7 billion

That's the estimated cost of rebuilding Lebanon's roads, bridges, ports, airports, phone system and power plants, after Israel trashed them in its vile collective punishment against the Lebanese people. Remember, this is stuff belonging not to Hizbollah, but to a peopel and government Israel strenuously denied it was waging war on.

So, will Israel be paying reparations?

Outright economic prejudice

Auckland Grammar has evicted 45 school zone cheats. Ordinarily, I wouldn't pay any attention to this sort of story, filing it as one of the oddities of Auckland, except that it has revealed something rather disturbing. And that is that you can't send your kids to Auckland Grammar if you rent:

Any family renting in the Auckland Grammar zone must have a fixed-term rental agreement of at least 12 months. The school refuses to accept students living in homes on a periodic tenancy.

A periodic tenancy being what most people who don't own their own homes - and most of the poor - have. The upshot is that Auckland Grammar rejects poorer children within its zone, on the basis that they don't really live there, while still allowing those whose parents are rich enough to commit to paying a year's rent to buy their way in. It is outright economic prejudice, and if its not illegal for a state school to do this, it bloody well ought to be.

Sex for "P" and the Prostitution Reform Act

Today's Herald has a story about Kapiti teenagers prostituting themselves for drugs:

Senior Constable Mike Tahere said police on the Kapiti Coast had come across about five school-leavers who told them they had performed sexual acts with dealers in exchange for methamphetamine, or "P".

"These are young girls who've been introduced to P by dealers. They've told us, 'You know, we do favours', to fund their habit."

The girls had not broken the law by prostituting themselves because they were 16, Mr Tahere said.

The girls might not have broken the law, but the dealers certainly have. Section 22(2) of the Prostitution Reform Act 2003 states that

No person may receive commercial sexual services from a person under 18 years of age.

While s23(1) imposes a penalty of up to seven years imprisonment. "Commercial sexual services" is defined so as to include any reward, not just money. I'd say the legal case there was pretty clear.

There will be all sorts of barriers to prosecution - chiefly, the reluctance of witnesses to get on the stand and testify against their suppliers - but the possibility is there. Drug dealers may want to be just a little bit more careful about exploiting teenagers in future...