Saturday, September 30, 2006

Extradite him

A Parisian newspaper has reported that Gerard Royal, brother of French presidential hopeful Segolene Royal, was one of the agents who bombed the Rainbow Warrior:

"At the time, (Gerard) was a lieutenant and agent of the DGSE (intelligence agency) in Asia. He was asked in 1985 to go to New Zealand, to Auckland harbour, to sabotage the Rainbow Warrior," Antoine said.

"Later he told me that it was he who planted the bomb on the Greenpeace ship. He took a small craft with a second person to approach the boat."

"He was able to escape the New Zealand authorities, unlike the false Turenge couple who were arrested. My sister learnt that he was present during the operation from a recent article in the press."

Royal should be extradited and tried for manslaughter, and terrorism if the charge is available. And while we're at it, we should extradite and try his co-conspirator Louis Dallias as well.

An unnecessary erosion

Police are gloating that they have seized over $25 million in assets from convicted criminals. Clearly, the current conviction-based regime in the Proceeds of Crime Act is working well. So why do we need the new Criminal Proceeds (Rcovery) Bill again? From here, the move to allow assets to be seized without any need for conviction (or even charges) and introduce a "guilty until proven innocent" regime seems like a completely unnecessary erosion.

(For more on the government's asset forfeiture proposals, see here).

Friday, September 29, 2006

The "beacon of freedom" goes out

Last night, a western democracy did the unthinkable: the US Senate voted to effectively legalise cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of suspected terrorists. While its not stated so bluntly in the act, that is the net effect of setting a threshold for "cruel treatment" which exceeds that required for torture, granting the President blanket authority to decide the meaning of the Geneva Conventions, and forbidding any judicial review of the conditions of detention. Along the way, they also voted to allow the President to designate people "enemy combatants" on a whim, deny them a fair trial, use coerced "evidence", and to grant an effective amnesty to the US torturers who obtained it. The bill is not quite law - it has still to be signed by the President - but it's a done deal. The beacon of freedom which has been burning for the last 230 years has gone out.

No more posts today; I'm simply too depressed. If America can betray itself in this fashion, then we're all fucked.

Jorge Julio López


It has been over twenty years since the end of Argentina's "Dirty War", and messages like the above were thought to be a bad memory of the past. But the process of bringing justice for the disappeared, and prosecuting the junta's agents for their crimes has reopened old wounds and brought the past back to life. Last week, Miguel Etchecolatz, a former police chief under the dictatorship, was sentenced to life imprisonment for the kidnap, torture, and murder of dissidents. A key witness in the trial was Jorge Julio López, who testified about his detention and torture at Etchecolatz's hands. Now, he has disappeared - and Argentinians fear he has been kidnapped by former agents of the junta eager to intimidate those who would testify in future.

Fortunately, they're not taking it lying down; tens of thousands have marched in Buenos Aires to protest Lopez's disappearance and demand the government get to the bottom of it. The demand for justice for the past is strong. We just have to hope that kidnapping witnesses and threatening judges is not enough to thwart it.

Che retires

Public Address's Che Tibby has officially retired from blogging. That's what joining the public service will do for you, I guess. It's a shame, and I'll miss his valuable contributions on multiculturalism and citizenship, but I'm sure he'll do good work in the Unnamed Government Department he is now working for.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The campaign ad we'd like to see

US Congressional elections are in November, and Canadian blogger Rusty Idols has a campaign ad which should be playing all over the US until then. For those who can't be bothered waiting for YouTube, it has a very simple message. Against a backdrop of photos from Abu Ghraib, it asks:

President Bush and his Republican Congress support torture.

Do you?

And just to ram the point home to predominantly Christian US voters, it ends with a picture of a crucified Jesus and asks "Would He?"

This is what the US election is about. And we just have to hope that the decent Americans win out over the monsters.

[Hat tip: Vast Left Wing Conspiracy]

This is corruption

A wealthy foreign Labour Party backer reportedly offered the Maori party $250,000 if they would support Labour. And there's no question that it's corrupt: Section 103 (2) of the Crimes Act 1961 states:

Every one is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 7 years who corruptly gives or offers or agrees to give any bribe to any person with intent to influence any member of Parliament in respect of any act or omission by him in his capacity as a member of Parliament.

Money was offered in exchange for "support", which ultimately means support on a confidence vote - clearly an act as an MP. The Maori Party should name names, and the police should prosecute this offence to the full extent of the law. Bribery and corruption have absolutely no place in our democratic system. Meanwhile, Labour should be cutting all ties with the people involved, and thinking very hard about who it accepts money from in future...

Cook Islands election

The Cook Islands went to the polls yesterday in a snap-election, and returned the ruling Democratic party to government. The election was called after the government lost its majority in a byelection. Rather than allowing them to take their electoral medicine and a new government to form, the Queen's Representative (their equivalent of the Governor-General) dissolved Parliament - effectively overturning the byelection results (though it seems that that candidate kept their seat in the end).

While there are around 500 special votes and late registrations to be counted (against a total turnout of 7,300), and five seats with a majority of less than ten, I don't think the result will change much. The largest three of those seats with the tighest majorities (and thuse the most likely to change on the specials) are all held by the opposition Cook Islands Party, so if they change it will strengthen the government's position. By contrast, the two seats currently narrowly held by the government are relatively small, and have differences of 8 or 9 votes (from total electoral populations of 220 - 230), so seem unlikely to change flip. It looks like the Democratic Party will get to remainthe government.

Preliminary results are here. Final results will be released next week.

Carnival of the liberals

The twenty-second Carnival of the Liberals is now up at Writings on the Wall.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Make Poverty History

This month is the Make Poverty History campaign's Month of Mobilisation, culminating in White Band Day (more formally known as the International Day for the Eradication of World Poverty) on October 17th. The aim is to show our governments that we care, that we want them to help make poverty history, that we want them to act. In New Zealand, this means increasing our pathetic level of foreign aid, as well as committing to support trade justice and development at the WTO (meaning demanding that the US and EU open their markets, while acknowledging that poorer nations' development needs should take priority over trade in services). There is also a domestic aspect: Make Poverty History wants to see the government establish a timetable to end child poverty in New Zealand.

If you support these goals, then please take the opportunity to speak out about them. Join make Poverty History. Email or write to the Prime Minister. Sign the petition [PDF]. Or just wear a white band to show your support, and tell people what it means if they ask. Our government will act, if they see that there is public support. So let's show them that its there, and help Make Poverty History.


It looks like Don Brash's nonsensical claim that Maori don't exist - one he has been repeatedly making since his hugely divisive Orewa speech a few years ago - has caused some fallout. Quite apart from having his stupidity publicly pointed out by Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples, there's this snippet in this morning's Independent:

Meanwhile, in an interview with Radio Waatea this week Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia revealed Brash had sought a meeting with her after the current parliamentary recess. But given his latest efforts about the blood quantum and his apparent inability to accept another world view except his own, she would not be meeting with Brash, Turia said.

Why is this significant? Because currently, the Maori party effectively holds the balance of power in Parliament. If National wants to pass legislation or topple the government, it has to convince them. And this situation looks likely to continue, particularly if they increase their voter share. Put simply, National's ability to govern in future is likely to depend on good relations with the Maori Party.

Wiser heads in National have recognised this, and pushed for a more accomodating policy stance on Maori issues. Brash hasn't, and continues to reflexively Maori bash whenever presented with the topic. It's yet another example of his poor political judgement, and it may very well cost him any chance of power.


In a recent episode of The Sopranos, mob-boss Tony Soprano lamented to his counsellor that his recent brush with death had changed his crew's perception of him and undermined his leadership:

Tony: People misinterpret, they think you're weak, they see an opportunity. They're my friends, a lot of 'em, but they're also fucking jackals... It's subtle, but since I've been back I've been noticing certain looks, and people questioning my judgement where they never did before... In a perfect would I'd just relax, let 'em think whatever the fuck they want.

Dr Melfi: Act "as if". As if you're not feeling vulnerable. As if you're the same old Anthony. Strong, I'm sure, decisive. People see only what you allow them to see.

Tony: Yeah, I've been thinking the same thing...

That episode ends with Tony beating the shit out of his bodyguard in front of everyone, just to show that he's not weak, then puking up blood in the bathroom because he's torn a few stitches in his recently sewn-up innards. The comparison with yesterday's caucus suspension of Brian Connell ought to be obvious...

Republican structures

There's an interesting discussion going on between Nigel Kearney and Lewis Holden on republican government. In a post on "The Republican Debate", Nigel argues that there are essentially three constitutional options:

1) The status quo
2) Replace the appointed Governor General with an elected President, but keep his powers and responsibilities the same. Abolish the Queen's role altogether.
3) The full republican approach with separation of the executive from the legislature, i.e. a President and Ministers who run the government, while a completely separate Parliament is responsible for making laws.


However, as I intend to explain in this post, option 2 is markedly inferior to the status quo and should not be adopted. If we don't like option 3, we should stick with the system we have. Option 2 is actually an almost perfect combination of the worst elements of both 1 and 3.

Nigel's argument for this is essentially that our current system of government - and hence a "twink republic" where the Governor-General is replaced by an elected President - requires the complete impartiality of the Head of State in deciding e.g. when or whether to dissolve Parliament or who to appoint as Prime Minister. And this cannot be assumed where a President is independently elected.

There are two obvious responses to this: firstly, that its not only elected heads of state who can run amok and abuse their power for partisan advantage, and secondly that if election is seen as compromising the impartiality of the head of state, appointment is always an option. But a more important point is that Nigel completely ignores the role of constitutional convention. The Governor-General is decidedly not free to appoint anyone they wish as Prime Minister; by convention (and pure practicality), they appoint the person who can win a vote of confidence in Parliament. In cases where it is not clear where the confidence of the House lies, then it is a matter of waiting for it to become clear, rather than stepping in and choosing a winner. Likewise, they are not free to dissolve Parliament and call elections whenever they wish; by convention, that power can be exercised only on the advice of the Prime Minister. While it's not unreasonable to worry that these conventions could break down if we change our constitutional structure, that shouldn't rule out such change. After all, we can always codify to make clear the exact circumstances in which these powers can be exercised - a move which would protect us from rogue Governors-General as well as partisan presidents. This pretty much removes any "practical disadvantages" of a twink republic, leaving us with the very real advantage - namely, no monarch.

As for the broader question of Presidential vs Parliamentary structures, TIMTOWTDI of course, but I favour a Parliamentary republic for two reasons. Firstly, it is simply easier to get there from here; the changes required are minor, and therefore more achievable (and less likely to undermine existing convention). And secondly, as Lewis alludes, for reasons of accountability. In a Parliamentary republic, the chain of accountability is perfectly clear: Cabinet is accountable to Parliament, which is accountable to the people. Contrast this with the US: who exactly is Donald Rumsfeld accountable to? Who is George Bush accountable to, particularly now that he can no longer stand for re-election? The answer in the latter case seems to be "no-one but himself". As a final note, a Presidential republic would tend to go against the grain of recent political reform in New Zealand, which has been aimed at weakening rather than strengthening the executive.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Blair's successor?

This week, the British Labour party is holding its annual party conference in Manchester. It will be Tony Blair's last conference as leader, and just to remind him of the fact, 20,000 protesters turned out to demand his resignation. But with Blair having already promised to step down at some undefined time in the future, attention is focusing on his expected successor, Chancellor Gordon Brown. Brown's keynote speech today was widely regarded as his pitch for the leadership. Unfortunately, it's clear from that speech that his leadership will not be that different from Blair's. He wedded himself to the Blairite platform of cuddling up to America and being First Cheerleader in Bush's "war on terror", public service "reform" and privatisation, identity cards and indefinite detention, being "tough on crime" and even harsher on immigrants. So anyone looking for a serious change of direction following Blair's departure is going to be disappointed. However, he also laid out a few points of his own, focussing on constitutional reform. He's hinted at a written constitution and the possibility of electoral reform (though Labour, as a large party, naturally prefers preferential voting to proportional representation). And he seems eager to continue the program of devolving power away from Westminster (though it will be interesting to see if this is real devolution, or the clayton's sort pursued by Blair). Most importantly, he said that

it is in my view right that in future, Parliament, not the executive, makes the final decisions on matters as important as peace and war.

This is good news - but still my overwhelming feeling is disappointment that the UK Labour Party can't come up with anything better than this. The Tories are trying to reinvent themselves and push to the centre by discarding Thatcherism. If they are to win a fourth term, then Labour needs to offer something other than "more of the same".

Why not?

The Press reports that the Thai coup is no threat to continuing trade talks. Why not? A democratically elected government has been unconstitutionally overthrown by a military that thinks it knows better than the people. Surely that's something we should be protesting in the strongest terms - including by suspending negotiations until democracy is restored?

Brash does the decent thing

Don Brash has finally severed ties with the Exclusive Brethren, declaring that National wants nothing to do with a group which uses such underhanded tactics. Good. While he vacillated shamefully for a few days, he got there in the end, and that's what matters.

Meanwhile, Pete Hodgson, who since Saturday has been calling on Brash to renounce the Brethren, is now calling him a flip-flopper for doing so. It's a perfect example of the emptiness at the heart of politics - there seem to be no principles, only tactics.

Brash and Baragwanath

Yesterday's Herald reported that National Leader Don Brash had put his foot in his mouth again over Maori over a paper delivered to the Law Commission last month by Justice David Baragwanath. But rather than paying attention to his nonsensical claim that Maori don't exist (sorry, Dr Brash, but six hundred thousand Kiwis beg to differ - and those are just the ones who belong to that "nonexistent" group), I sat down and read the paper he was objecting to. And its clear after doing so that, despite pontificating upon it, Dr Brash hadn't even bothered to do that much.

The paper, What is distinctive about New Zealand law and the New Zealand way of doing law? New Zealand law and Maori [PDF], examines the topic of "how the law does and perhaps should treat Maori differently". The topic

embraces laws specific to Maori, laws that affect Maori, and the contribution of Maori custom and value to what Professor Frame calls "our common law with bicultural characteristics"

The sweep of the paper is rather broad, covering issues of international law (including New Zealand's position on the UN draft declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples [DOC]), domestic law, as well as the legal enforcement of economic, social and cultural rights in various jurisdictions. It also touches on the problem of the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004, which Justice Baragwanath regards as an example of the "tyranny of the majority". According to Baragwanath, the law

accepts a lower standard of protection than the Australian Commonwealth Native Title Act 1993. It infringes the principles laid down by the Privy Council [of respect for aboriginal title and compensation for compulsory acquisition] and is discriminatory and will sooner or later run into a Quilter v Attorney-General [1998] 1 NZLR 523 declaration from the Courts to that effect. The decision could not have been reached under English law where article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights protects even foreign suspected terrorists from discrimination and gives the courts power to strike down inconsistent legislation...

The latter point on the use of binding human rights instruments to protect the rights of the weak against government abuse and uphold basic standards of decency and the rule of law is a constant theme throughout, and Baragwanath clearly regards their absence as a significant flaw in our constitution. He notes:

We have traditionally assumed that, like the United Kingdom, our constitutional basics were protected by adherence to settled conventions. It has appreciated that they are not enough. Now that the final Privy Council link with the British Crown has virtually gone, we must not deprive our Supreme Court of tools to do justice as effective as those available in the jurisdictions which we benchmark ourselves. All New Zealanders, and not least Maori New Zealanders, are entitled to the protection of laws that meet international standards in content, as they already do in the quality of their drafting.

As for his conclusions, Justice Baragwanath does not suggest any "special rights" for Maori. Rather, he proposes amending the Foreshore and Seabed Act so that it conforms to those settled conventions, by (at minimum) allowing compensation to be awarded where ownership can be proven. We accept this principle with regards to Pakeha property, and we should do the same for Maori. And more generally, he argues that we need to

enact a measure equivalent to the European Convention on Human Rights to ensure that the words of our international obligations can be delivered on. Each of these would tend to remove a form of distinctiveness we can do without.

In other words, what Justice Baragwanath is proposing is "one law for all": universal human rights protection regardless of skin colour. I thought that would be something Don Brash would approve of...

Monday, September 25, 2006

Jared Diamond on National Radio

On Sunday, National Radio's Chris Laidlaw interviewed award-winning author Jared Diamond about Collapse and our future. If you missed it, you can listen here.

One of the things many people miss is that Diamond is an optimist. While he documents the ways in which past societies have failed due to exceeding their environmental resources, and warns that modern society is on the fast track to doing the same, he's very clear in thinking that we have the power to change that. What he's not sure about is whether we have the inclination. Contrary to the panglossians, avoiding collapse will not happen by itself; it will take political will to push our societies onto a more sustainable path and to ensure that the sustainable technologies we need are adopted (I say "adopted" rather than "invented" because much of it exists already). And if we don't do this, it really will work itself out - in a way that none of us will like.

Grudging compliance

For most of this year, the government has been fighting with GPs over its plans to subsidise doctor's visits for 45-64 year olds. The aim of the government subsidy was to reduce prices to patients and make primary healthcare more accessible, but GPs were adamant that they would charge whatever they wanted (in other words, they wanted to pocket the subsidy and use it to pay for another round of golf, rather than pass it on to patients). An agreement was finally reached in June which saw the doctors allowed to set their own charges - but also required them to publish them on the web so that patients could see whether the subsidy was being passed on.

According to a story by Kamala Hayman in this morning's Press, the GPs compliance with this can be described as grudging at best. Four of five PHOs have posted their GPs fees - but buried in the back corners of websites and in ways seemingly designed to make it difficult to compare fees between practices. So they've compiled the information themselves (their file is currently broken, but I've saved a proper version here). The good news is that most do seem to be passing on the subsidy, as they are contractually obliged to do. But shouldn't hey also be keeping their agreement, and publicising the fact, rather than engendering suspicion by trying to hide behind secrecy?

Blogs and debate

Recently, in a post on the major issues facing New Zealand, Tony Milne lamented the inability of the blogosphere to seriously discuss them:

When I started my blog these are the kinds of debates that I was hoping to encourage. It's clear to me that such debates can't happen on blogs (maybe the ideas, but not the debate). I do hope that such debates can start to happen through the media (the better part of it), because our country needs debate on matters of substance.

It's a point echoed by Jordan Carter, who asks whether there is any hope for "issue based political discussion". While I am highly cynical about the blogosphere, my answer to that question is still unquestionably a "yes". While most of what we do is the bread and butter of daily spin and commentary on the news, its perfectly possible to expand on or rise above that to talk about the wider issues, engage in serious wonkery, educate people, and encourage public participation. And its perfectly possible to do this while having strong or even nakedly partisan political views.

It is however difficult to do any of this when your comments section is a sewer of partisan shitflinging which precludes any intelligent discussion - or worse, the target of a constant campaign of disruption (and I'm with Span in thinking that the abuse in certain blogs' comments sections is a conscious attempt to bully people into silence). There is of course a simple answer to this: moderate or disable comments. Readers who object can always start their own blogs and respond there.

Which brings me to my second point: the sphere of debate isn't confined to comments, but can be between blogs. I think that both Tony and Jordan are possibly overlooking this aspect, as well as the use of blogs to inform the wider community. Remember, not every reader delves into the comments (particularly where they are known to be a sewer), and its not necessary that they do if the aim is to get them to think about a particular aspect of policy.

Finally, to paraphrase Napoleon, if you want to debate policy, debate policy. The extent to which bloggers set the tone and direction of their blogs also seems to be being forgotten here. As I've said before, if we want the blogosphere to be more than a sewer, we need to lift our game. And nobody else is going to do that for us.

Not the sort of politics I like to see

The Dominion-Post reports that the government is seeking to revenge itself on the Exclusive Brethren by removing their religious exemption from union access. Currently, sections 23 and 24 of the Employment Relations Act allow employers who are "practising member[s] of a religious society or order whose doctrines or beliefs preclude membership of any organisation or body other than the religious society or order of which the employer is a member" to deny unions access to their workplaces unless they have members there. Normally, unions are allowed reasonable access to workplaces even where they have no members there to both recruit and impart information. The exemption was introduced at the specific request of the Exclusive Brethren, who felt that allowing unions to talk to their employees would violate their deeply held belief in separation from "all groups, unions or associations of a business, shareholding, property, political, pleasure, social, medical, or superannuational nature".

The exemption is a bad law which explicitly discriminates on the basis of religion, and which violates the freedoms of association, expression, and thought, conscience and belief of employees. An employer may have a religious belief that his workers cannot belong to a union - but that doesn't give them the right to impose that belief on others. New Zealanders have a right to belong to, seek out and receive information from unions, and that is something the Brethren will just have to get used to. Just like homosexuals, civil unions, and women in Parliament.

And that said, I am extremely uncomfortable with the way this is being done. It is brutal and Muldoonist, and a clear example of a government using the power of the state as a weapon against its enemies. That's not the sort of politics I like to see, and while I want to see these clauses repealed, I'd rather the government restrained its urge to lash out at this stage.

Stating the obvious

According to the New York Times, the latest US National Intelligence Estimate reports that the US occupation of Iraq has fuelled terrorism:

The intelligence estimate, completed in April, is the first formal appraisal of global terrorism by United States intelligence agencies since the Iraq war began, and represents a consensus view of the 16 disparate spy services inside government. Titled “Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States,’’ it asserts that Islamic radicalism, rather than being in retreat, has metastasized and spread across the globe.

An opening section of the report, “Indicators of the Spread of the Global Jihadist Movement,” cites the Iraq war as a reason for the diffusion of jihad ideology.

The report “says that the Iraq war has made the overall terrorism problem worse,” said one American intelligence official.

This is stating the obvious, but I guess that in a political environment where the Administration believes it "creates its own reality" (and orders dissenting reports rewritten to suit), the obvious clearly needs to be stated. America's war in Iraq is not making the world a safer place. Instead, it is exposing the rest of the world (but not America) to greater and greater danger.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Blasphemous libel index

Posts relating to blasphemous libel:

(This is an index page so I have a central location to point to in future)

Would it matter?

A French newspaper has quoted a leaked intelligence report as saying that the Saudi Arabian government believes Osama bin Laden died of Typhoid in Pakistan a month ago. While refusing to confirm or deny anything, the French government has launched an inquiry into the leak.

There's too much of an aspect of "my brother's friend's cousin's tatooist said..." in this for it to be believed in the absence of a body (that's what we did for Pol Pot, after all). But it raises an interesting question: would it matter if OBL was dead?

At this stage, I don't think so. The US's overreaction to 9/11, its mindless quest for vengeance around the world, and the total lack of regard it has shown for civilian lives, international law, or simple morality in the process has transformed Al Qaeda from a bunch of loons living in caves into something much worse: an idea. And as Alan Moore pointed out in V for Vendetta, ideas are bulletproof. You can kill the people who believe them, but that does you no good if you do it in such a way that two more spring up in their place.

Knowledge of the tools and techniques of terrorism has spread. The US occupation of Iraq and its programme of rendition and torture and indefinite detention have provided a running sore of atrocities to motivate people to pick up those tools and use them. Osama bin Laden is now, in a sense, irrelevant; the only way this is going to stop is when the anger subsides. And given the scale of atrocity so far, that could take a while.

A lesson for National

The Sunday Star-Times quotes Katherine Rich as saying that accepting the help of the Exclusive Brethren cost National the last election. The full quote is in this longer piece about the Brethren and politics:

"I appreciate the Brethren thought they were being helpful to New Zealand in getting rid of Labour, but it's my personal opinion they lost us the election. The whiff of association was off-putting to a number of voters.

"My gut feeling is that their all-male line-up, in that famous Brethren press conference, made many women voters wonder just what their conservative vision for New Zealand was, and tipped the scales in favour of Labour," she said.

There's a lesson in here for National: don't crawl into bed with fundamentalist Christians who run anonymous smear campaigns. They are political poison, and the association will be punished at the ballot box.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Saying it doesn't make it so

I've spent too long this afternoon going over the Senate's "compromise" on torture and detainee treatment [PDF]. Firstly, as the New York Times points out, this isn't a "compromise", but a surrender - the White House got everything they wanted, with the "rebel" Republican Senators gaining concessions only on the use of secret evidence. Secondly, the bill raises significant constitutional issues in assigning to the President "authority for the United States to interpret the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions" (a judicial function), and in barring the use of any "foreign or international sources of law" in interpreting the US War Crimes Act (a violation of the separation of powers which, if permitted, would allow Congress to pass laws forbidding reliance on certain legal precedents. Roe vs Wade, or United States vs Nixon, say...) Thirdly, the bill has this lovely bit:

(2) PROHIBITION ON GRAVE BREACHES. The provisions in section 2441 of title 18, United States Code, as amended by this section, fully satisfy the obligation under Article 129 of the Third Geneva Convention for the United States to provide effective penal sanctions for grave breaches which are encompassed in Common Article 3 in the context of an armed conflict not of an international character.

Really? Let's look at that obligation, shall we?

Article 129

The High Contracting Parties undertake to enact any legislation necessary to provide effective penal sanctions for persons committing, or ordering to be committed, any of the grave breaches of the present Convention defined in the following Article...

Article 130

Grave breaches to which the preceding Article relates shall be those involving any of the following acts, if committed against persons or property protected by the Convention: wilful killing, torture or inhuman treatment, including biological experiments, wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, compelling a prisoner of war to serve in the forces of the hostile Power, or wilfully depriving a prisoner of war of the rights of fair and regular trial prescribed in this Convention.

The amendments to the War Crimes Act define many of these crimes, though in deliberately vague terms for inhuman treatment (and remember that the US government disagrees with the entire world in thinking that waterboarding - a medieval torture technique used by the Spanish Inquisition - is neither torture not cruel and inhumane) . But guess which one isn't included? That's right - the crime of denying a fair and regular trial. Which given that the rules for trials elsewhere in the bill (which allow hearsay evidence and coerced statements) constitute a clear breach of those standards, and of the "judicial guarantees... recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples" demanded by Common Article 3, would seem to be a significant and deliberate omission. Interestingly, the draft bill also completely ignores the war crime of ordering grave breaches to be committed (I wonder why that is?). The US government may claim that this bill "fully satisf[ies]" the US's obligations under international law - but saying it doesn't make it so.


The Herald this morning has the shocking story of a solo mother who owes $35,259.56 on a $9,000 car. And much of it seems to be due to the simple expediant of doubling the sticker price because she asked for finance; that "$9,000" car actually cost her $17,999, before the hidden charges and usurious interest rates kicked in. This is deceptive and exploitative, and if it isn't illegal, it damn well ought to be. People should not be charged more for goods simply because they are poor.

This is yet another sign that our local finance industry is full of predatory sharks, and in sore need of tighter regulation.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Very dirty pool III

So, it's been confirmed: National's allies the Exclusive Brethren hired private investigators to stalk the Prime Minister and her husband, as well as various other Labour cabinet ministers. And in another twist, the private investigator identified so far, Wayne Idour, claims that Labour has done the same to National MPs including Don Brash and John Key [video].

These are disgusting, Nixonian tactics, and I expect all parties to condemn them. I also expect National to rein in their proxies, publicly disassociate themselves from these efforts, and make it absolutely clear that they will not be doing any political favours for or accepting any help from a group which engages in such behaviour. As for Labour, if this is confirmed, then I expect the person involved to resign. This sort of vicious behaviour has no place in our political system - and neither does any politician who thinks it does.

Making friends and influencing people

Immediately after September 11th, the US had the problem of how they could wage war on Afghanistan, a landlocked country a thousand miles inland - and thus a thousand miles from the nearest US aircraft carrier. The cooperation of Pakistan was vital, both to provide overflight rights and staging posts for US special forces. But Pakistan was a Muslim country and the Taleban was its client regime. So the US threatened to bomb them:

Musharraf, in an interview with CBS news magazine show "60 Minutes" that will air Sunday, said the threat came from Assistant Secretary of State Richard Armitage and was given to Musharraf's intelligence director.

"The intelligence director told me that (Armitage) said, 'Be prepared to be bombed. Be prepared to go back to the Stone Age,'" Musharraf said.

"I think it was a very rude remark."

If this is how the US treats its allies, then its no wonder that that list is growing thin. But there's more:

Musharraf said some demands made by the United States were "ludicrous," including one insisting he suppress domestic expression of support for terrorism against the United States.

"If somebody's expressing views, we cannot curb the expression of views," Musharraf said.

On September 20th, 2001, Bush stood up in front of Congress and made his infamous "they hate our freedoms" speech. Among the freedoms "they" hated were

our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.

And yet around the same time, he was sending one of his thugs halfway around the world in an effort to convince an unelected dictator to suppress the fredom of speech of his citizens and deny them the right to disagree with each other, or with America - a right enjoyed by every American citizen and absolutely protected by that country's constitution. The hypocrisy is simply breathtaking.

Polish political crisis

Poland's government has been plunged into crisis, after Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski fired his left-wing deputy Andrzej Lepper. Kaczynski's Law and Justice Party is 76 seats short of a majority, and relies on the 56 votes of Lepper's Samoobrona Party to form the core of its governing coalition. Without those votes, they will either have to form a coalition with the Civic Platform (who they don't get along with), rely on getting enough breakaway MPs from Samoobrona, or call new elections.

The latter may be what they are after; back in January Law and Justice appeared to want to use a budget crisis to force an early poll in order to improve their position in the legislature. They may be playing the same game here.

Worse than under Saddam II

In the run-up to Iraqi elections last year, Iraqi President Iyad Allawi said that torture in Iraq was worse than it was under Saddam. Now his bleak assessment has been backed up by Manfred Nowak, the uN's Special Rapporteur on Torture:

Manfred Nowak said the situation in Iraq was "out of control", with abuses being committed by security forces, militia groups and anti-US insurgents.

Bodies found in the Baghdad morgue "often bear signs of severe torture", said the human rights office of the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq in a report.

The wounds confirmed reports given by refugees from Iraq, Mr Nowak said.


"What most people tell you is that the situation as far as torture is concerned now in Iraq is totally out of hand," the Austrian law professor said.

"The situation is so bad many people say it is worse than it has been in the times of Saddam Hussein," he added.

So much for the US's "humanitarian intervention". They've taken a torture state run by a murderous dictator, and - unbelievably - managed to make it worse. And now the Iraqi people get to suffer even more for their hubris.

The junta cracks down

The new Thai junta has taken the next step after their unconstitutional coup, banning all meetings and other activities by political parties, and demanding that TV stations not broadcast opinions sent in by TXT. I guess they're afraid that someone might raise a voice for democracy - or declare their support for ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The latter is a real problem for the junta; as Dr Ngo points out in a guest post on Obsidian Wings, the junta

need to have elections to restore democratic legitimacy BUT they don't have any obvious way to beat the proven power of Thaksin's vote-getting machine.

This is their first move in resolving that difficulty; first they ban politics, then they ban Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai party, then they hold "elections" in which a major player is forbidden to participate, in order to ensure they get the "right" government - backed of course by the threat of another coup if the people refuse to play along and elect the "wrong" people...

Guest column: the new tactics of the right

By Greg Stephens

Over the past few years, New Zealand has seen a dramatic increase of politicians playing the person, rather than the ball. David Benson-Pope provides one of the most salient examples. However, the recent furore over Peter Davis’s sexuality (and then Helen Clark’s marriage) is perhaps unprecedented within New Zealand.

However, there is more to these scandals than simply nasty politicking by a political party unable to accept three defeats in a row.

The anti-government Right have a lot more to gain in attacking Clark, Benson-Pope et al. than just damaging their reputation. Indeed, there has been little immediate poll damage to Labour after each fresh attack. One would then have to ask whether or not they are actually playing the game right at all.

However, there are other reasons behind the attacks. Each smear is part of a much wider game being played, and that is a long-term game.

Each attack is about discrediting the specific MP, and much, much more. Each MP discredited is not so much about that MP, but about the public’s impression of MPs in general. One MP being involved in something dodgy is not going to have much of an impact on how the public sees MPs in total. Yet each new attack, each new smear, whether true or not, hits the confidence the public has with our politicians.

Well, what does this achieve? No sane person would place their life savings into a bank known to rip people off. Likewise, no sane person would want to pay taxes to a government which is run by dodgy, corrupt or tainted politicians. The smears against each MP are a smear against every MP. The neo-liberal Right want the public to distrust each and every MP. In doing so, they want each voter to head to the voting booth thinking "do I want my taxes to go to a pile of dirty politicians?"

Hence, Rodney Hide’s "perk-buster", or in reality "reputation-wrecker" persona is a legitimate tactic. So too is Judith Collin's “pervert” remark. I am not arguing that they are a 'good thing'. But they are, in the long term, an advantage for the Right.

The Right want to create a deep mistrust of the elites. It suits their aims in reducing the size of the government. Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson achieved in creating that mistrust in the 1984-93 period. Unfortunately for them, the public was able to turn that mistrust into electoral reform. While a clever tactic, they misread how to create that mistrust. Simply lying to the public means you can vote in the other lot (or turn to a third party such as the Alliance or New Zealand First as happened in the 1993 election).

The current anti-government Right seems to have a much better strategy. Taint anyone associated with wanting "big government". Smear them, smear their husband. Whatever it takes to make the public not trust the government with their taxes.

There are methods for the Left to recourse however. For a start, they need to be clean, whiter than white clean. Over-the-top laundry powder ad clean. However, everyone has a skeleton in their closet. So they need to be honest. David Parker provides the best example. He simply stated that he has had business problems. He didn’t hide anything. And guess what? It shut down the controversy. Those that do transgress, especially Taito Philip Field-style, need to repent, and be punished. Reaffirm the public’s faith in the system, don’t dismantle it further.

Trevor Mallard's comments are probably the worst thing Labour could do. Sure there are rumours going around about National MPs, but releasing them will not be in Labour’s long-term advantage. Indeed, it means the public are more likely to see the dirt as being on all MPs, rather than just a few bad eggs.

I am not arguing that running a smear campaign is a 'good thing' to do. However, it does have tactical advantages for the anti-government Right, and they have embraced it. The Left have also taken part in long term strategic moves – numerous Right-wing bloggers would label the Working for Families package in that light.

However, I do argue that the Right is playing politics in a substantially different manner. Politics in New Zealand, and much of the world, has traditionally focused on being about policy and ideas. The Right have abandoned those focuses at the moment – they would rather use alternative factors to gain votes. The New Zealand public may, or may not, be taken with their new tactic – either way though, we are beginning to see a different era of politics.

The CIA thought it was torture

Why did George Bush make his shameless admission that the US had been holding suspected terrorists in secret prisons, and agree to transfer the detainees to Guantanamo Bay? Because the CIA wouldn't torture them anymore:

The Bush administration had to empty its secret prisons and transfer terror suspects to the military-run detention centre at Guantánamo this month in part because CIA interrogators had refused to carry out further interrogations and run the secret facilities, according to former CIA officials and people close to the programme.

The former officials said the CIA interrogators’ refusal was a factor in forcing the Bush administration to act earlier than it might have wished.

(Emphasis added)

This refusal was due to the US Supreme Court judgement in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld that the Geneva Conventions' Common Article 3 (which bars, among other things, cruel treatment and torture) applied to detainees in the "war on terror". And it tells us firstly exactly what the CIA interrogators think of Bush's "alternative set of [interrogation] procedures" (which include beatings, stress positions, freezing, and waterboarding), and secondly that contrary to Bush's assertions, Common Article 3 is in no way "vague".

But what's more interesting is this bit:

In an interview with the Financial Times, John Bellinger, legal adviser to the state department, went further, saying there had been “very little operational activity” on CIA interrogations since the passage last December of a bill proposed by Senator John McCain outlawing torture and inhumane treatment of prisoners.

That bill (the McCain Detainee Amendment, which is incorporated into the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005) included a provision that it would be a defence for those carrying out "officially authorized" interrogation procedures that they

did not know that the practices were unlawful and a person of ordinary sense and understanding would not know the practices were unlawful.

The fact that the interrogations basically stopped when this law was passed tells us that those involved knew damn well that what they were doing was criminal under US law. So shouldn’t they – and the people who laid down this criminal policy of torture – be prosecuted?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Sedition in Australia V

Six months ago, Australian Attorney-General Philip Ruddock asked the Australian Law Reform Commission to review Australia's newly passed sedition laws. The ALRC dutifully set to work, and duly produced a report in which they recommended that the "red rag" term of sedition be removed, and the law tightened to remove any suggestion that it could be applied to artists, journalists, or political dissent.

Philip Ruddock has decided to ignore it.

This naturally raises the suspicion that artists, journalists and political opponents are exactly what Ruddock wants to target and intimidate with this law, and that he sees it as a way of forcing people to be wary of criticising the government. As Australia's Shadow Attorney-General noted (with marvellous understatement), "surely in a robust democracy that is not ideal".

The reason I oppose these sorts of laws is because governments have consistently shown that they cannot be trusted with them. That's what the history shows in New Zealand, and its what it shows in Australia as well. Instead, they invite the government to pursue political prosecutions against their enemies, and to engage in public persecution of those deemed "disloyal" as a way of grubbing votes. Unfortunately, Phil Ruddock and the Australian "Liberal" Party seem to see that as a feature rather than a problem.

Why didn't anyone tell me about this?

Jared Diamond, author of The Third Chimpanzee, Collapse and Guns, Germs, and Steel, is speaking at Auckland University tonight and tomorrow night:

  • Thursday, September 21st: "Collapses of past societies, and their lessons for today"
  • Friday, September 22nd: "The reappraisals of values by individuals and groups",

Both lectures are held in Lecture Theatre B28, Library Basement, 5 Alfred St, starting at 7pm. Just for once, I wish I lived in Auckland...

Because the union made them strong

And so it's over. After 4 weeks, Progressive Enterprises has reached a settlement with their locked-out distribution workers. And while neither side can claim total victory, looking at the settlement terms, it looks as if the workers won. While they didn't get a national collective agreement, they got the next best thing: three agreements with the same terms, including pay parity between all three centres within two years, and grandfathering of current pay rates for existing Palmerston North workers so no-one is left worse off. They also gained above-inflation pay-rises for the next three years, 5 weeks annual leave for senior staff, and a $1000 interest-free loan to help them cover the costs of being locked out. And they got all this because they stuck together - the union made them strong.

More from Capitalism Bad, Tree Pretty here

Non-answers on Afghanistan

Earlier in the year, I lodged an Official Information Act request to the Minister of Defence seeking information about the NZDF deployment to Afghanistan, seeking information on how many times they had had to fire their weapons and under what circumstances (and specifically, whether they had been shooting at anyone, and how many had been injured or died as a result). It also sought information on injuries suffered. Last week, following a complaint to the Ombudsman, I finally received a reply - exactly six months after the request had been sent. Unfortunately, it was less than helpful. Where a previous request had given some information on the primary question, and talked about one incident where kiwi troops had been forced to use their weapons, this time round I was given the blanket denial:

It is government policy not to comment on military operational matters when this would be likely to prejudice the security or defence of New Zealand, or endanger the safety of deployed personnel. Accordingly, I decline to release information bearing on operational matters under s.6(a) and s.6(d) of the Official Information Act.

So, New Zealand soldiers are engaged in what is becoming an increasingly dangerous combat zone, and we are not even allowed to know whether they are having to shoot at anyone.

Fortunately, the rest of the response was somewhat more helpful:

The following answers to your questions apply to NZDF personnel deployed to the New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team (NZ PRT) in Bamiyan Province, and to the seven personnel posted to Headquarters International Security Assistance Force and Operation Enduring Freedom.

Members of the NZDF deployed to Afghanistan undergo weapons training, but no record is kept of the number of times they fire weapons during that training. I must therefore decline to meet that part of your request under s.18(e) of the Act: the information you have requested does not exist. On the other hand, a record of weapons firings in contravention of Defence Force Orders is kept for disciplinary purposes. In the period February 2005 to February 2006, there were nine unauthorised weapons discharges.

To indicate the amount of ammunition used in the past year, the cost of the ammunition used during training in New Zealand and in Afghanistan (including explosives, coloured smoke grenades, mortar rounds and small arms ammunition) was approximately $1.25 M (GST exclusive).

Medical statistics for the period 7 March 2005 to 12 March 2006 for NZDF personnel deployed to Afghanistan are:

Non-infectious diseases286
Infectious diseases177

Please note that the figure for injuries will count some personnel more than once; that is, injuries are recorded separately, although more than one injury may have been incurred by an individual member of the NZDF.

To provide some context for the figures, there's about 100 people in the PRT, rotated every 4-6 months. Still, that seems to be quite a high injury rate - how many times were you injured badly enough to require medical attention in the last year?

I'll be submitting an identical request in March or thereabouts, and hopefully the Ministry of Defence will be a damn sight faster about answering it.


The Thai king has endorsed yesterday's military coup, ending any hope of an immediate return to democracy and the restoration of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. So, it's pretty much a done deal then - the Generals will rule until they find a civilian patsy to take over (which sadly will not be difficult), and meanwhile the elections scheduled for November will be delayed for a year or more while the constitution is rewritten. Which I guess saves the generals from the embarassment of seeing the man they just ousted regain government at the polls, but cannot be considered good for Thai democracy.

In the meantime, I can't think of a better disproof of the monarchist claim that "monarchy protects democracy". Rather than being the guardian of the constitution, Thailand's monarch explicitly endorsed its overthrow. Some constitutional safeguard...

Darfur: the AU stays

The African Union has agreed to extend the mandate of its peacekeeping force in Darfur until the end of the year. The AU force will also be strengthened, and receive logistical support from the UN. This is good news, and it means that there will at least be someone on the ground to act as an independent witness and try and protect the civilian population. At the same time, we should remember that the AU aren't really up to this job, and we need a full UN peacekeeping force as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, despite enormous international pressure, the Sudanese government seem to be as far from accepting that as ever...

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Extreme Rhetoric

Today in an interview [audio] with Radio New Zealnd's Brent Edwards, Helen Clark complained about the National Party's use of extreme rhetoric in its attacks on Labour. She then launched into an outright attack on National Party leader Don Brash:

Labour regards Doctor Brash as a corrosive and cancerous person within the New Zealand political system. From the time he became National party leader, he started his polarising, extreme attacks and behaviour. He tried to divide New Zealand down the middle on race relations issues. He was prepared to stoop to involve the extreme moral right in an election campaign. He has thrown around words and language which are simply unacceptable and have no place in the New Zealand body politic, and it is very hard to deal with such a person.

All of which is basically true. But "cancerous"? You can hardly complain about "extreme rhetoric" when you go around using language like that. Clark would no doubt hide behind the principle of "you give it out, you get it back" - and National has given out plenty over the last few months. But if the aim is to calm the political atmosphere and prevent a further degeneration of politics into new depths of viciousness, this isn't going to help.

Unfortunately, we're likely to see more of this. With Parliament basically deadlocked and neither major party able to enact substantive policy, frustration levels are rising. And as Chris Trotter pointed out back in March, this leaves them little to do other than tear strips off one another. Barring a major political realignment (which I really don't see happening), they're just going to continue to bite and savage and claw at one another for the next two years. And they wonder why politicians are held in such low regard...

Written questions

DPF has produced some statistics on written questions in this term of Parliament. I did a similar exercise last year (covering three years, not one), with similar results - there are a handful of top questioners (Tony Ryall and Katherine Rich rate consistently highly), followed by a long tail of those less active. United Future seems to be asking more questions than the Greens this term, but otherwise the party order is pretty much the same.

DPF's data is however incomplete - he's left out the results for the leader of the opposition, (National's) chief whip, and deputy speaker. For the curious, their numbers are:

  • Lindsay Tisch: 5
  • Don Brash: 1
  • Clem Simich: 0

DPF justifies this omission on the grounds that these three MPs have significant other duties. This is fair enough in the case of Simich, but as for the others it is worth noting that DPF has listed the stats for every other (non-government) party leader and whip. The inescapable conclusion then is that he has omitted the data just to avoid making two major players in his party look bad.

Repealing the Foreshore and Seabed Act?

The Maori Party are finally set to introduce their first Member's Bill, with the aim of repealing the Foreshore and Seabed Act. As someone who opposed the Act, I think this is a laudable goal, but I also don't think it can get the numbers. While the Greens and ACT will vote for repeal, I doubt that United Future will - while they voted against, their objection was primarily terminological, and they supported the Act's general aims. More importantly, there is the question of National. While they have talked about repeal, we should not forget that they opposed the legislation not because it was a denial of the equality under the law they claimed to be demanding, but because they thought it was too generous to Maori. So I don't think there's much hope of such a bill passing. Still, it is worth putting in the ballot, if only to remind the government of its betrayal and put it on the spot with Maori voters again.

Hopefully this means the Maori Party's other proposed bills will be appearing soon as well.

Brash's "integrity"

In a short interview with the Manawatu Standard yesterday, Don Brash claimed that

"I have never, to my knowledge, misled the New Zealand public."

Really? Quite apart from his deceit over his relationship with the Exclusive Brethren, and over his connections with the Business Roundtable, I think we really only need to remember three words: "gone by lunchtime".

But while we're at it, I am at a complete loss to understand how a man who not only believes in a "moral obligation to lie" but acts on it can claim to have any integrity or credibility at all.

Thai coup

As you all probably already know, Thailand's caretaker government has been overthrown by a military coup. The Thai constitution has been suspended, Parliament dissolved, and martial law has been imposed. The new junta are claiming that the seizure of power is temporary, that they are acting to overthrow a corrupt and treasonous government and end "social division", and that elections will be held shortly - just as juntas always do. But the stark fact remains that they have stepped outside the role of the military in a democratic society and overthrown a constitutionally-appointed government at gunpoint. This cannot be allowed to stand.

The government of Thaksin Shinawatra is corrupt, and had attempted to manipulate the recent elections - but that does not justify their overthrow. The problem was being dealt with constitutionally, with the courts overturning the results of the elections and calling new ones (scheduled for November). Thaksin's government was widely expected to win those elections - despite its corruption and dirty tricks, it clearly still has majority public support - and so this coup looks more like an attempt to subvert democracy than "defend" it.

We'll have to wait and see how this turns out, and whether international pressure can make the junta back down. And we should hope that this doesn't follow the usual pattern of coups in Thailand. The last one, in 1992, ended in a massacre when people turned out to demonstrate against the new regime. We just have to hope this doesn't have a similar bloody ending.

On the radio

I'm being interviewed just after 11 by Wammo on KiwiFM about the Brethren's election campaign in Sweden. You can listen online here.

Update: The interview is no online here.

And now in Victoria

The Australian state of Victoria goes to the polls at the end of November to elect a new state government. And goes who's come to the party? That's right - our friends the Exclusive Brethren. They've explicitly endorsed the National party after a series of meetings with state National leader Peter Ryan, and if they follow the usual pattern, will soon be spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on anonymous smear ads. Though having seen that pattern in three elections in Australia and New Zealand so far, the Australian media are wise to it and are already asking pointy questions about the Brethren's involvement and the extent to which the Nationals will cooperate with a group which uses such tactics. And it seems those questions are already bearing fruit:

The Victorian Nationals will not accept campaign funding from the Exclusive Brethren until the religious sect is cleared of dirty politics allegations in New Zealand.

Unfortunately, they are still quite happy to see them wage the usual sort of smear campaign. So much for the moral high ground...

You really have to wonder why a group which thinks itself too pure to sully itself with voting is trying to buy elections. But I guess they're just trying to ensure that their god makes the right choice this time round. Which I think says something about their (lack of) faith...

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The cost of lying to win

Yesterday, we learned that the ruling Hungarian Socialist Party had lied to win Parliamentary elections earlier in the year, deliberately misleading the public about the state of the economy and the effectiveness of their policies in order to win another term. Today, there are riots in Budapest. Cars have been set alight, and a TV station stormed by protesters demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany. Now the opposition is threatening to boycott Parliament, while Hungary's president is calling it a "moral crisis" and calling on Gyurcsany to recognise that he has undermined people's faith in democracy.

This is the first real test of democracy in post-Soviet Europe, and it will be interesting to see how things go. While there's clearly some appetite to settle things by street protests and rioting, the proper method in a democracy is to work within Parliament to break up the ruling coalition - and if that fails, to vote the bums out at the first opportunity.

Suffrage Day

Today, September 19th, is Suffrage Day. On this day in 1893, the Governor Lord Glasgow signed the Electoral Bill into law, granting women the right to vote in Parliamentary elections. It wasn't full equality - New Zealand women did not gain the right to stand for election until 1919, 17 years later than those in Australia - but it is still a date worth remembering and celebrating.

This year, it is also worth remembering that the global struggle for universal suffrage irrespective of gender is not yet complete. Fortunately, according to Wikipedia's women's suffrage page, the list of countries which do not allow full universal suffrage is short. Quite apart from monarchies like Brunei and the UAE where no-one is allowed to vote, women are now only expressly denied the vote in Saudi Arabia. In Lebanon, they are subject to an education test while men are not, while in Bhutan, democracy means "one vote per household", which is almost always cast by a man. For these inequalities to persist into the twenty-first century is appalling, and the sooner they are eliminated, the better.

NZ companies don't want to talk about climate change

Climate change poses risks for business. Quite apart from the risks of the direct effects of climate change - sea-level rise, extreme weather events, changes in rainfall for climate dependent industries - there are also the financial risks of having to deal with it. Some companies may find themselves unprofitable if forced to pay the full cost of their climate-damaging activities. Others may face competitive risks from consumers abandoning polluting products in favour of cleaner technology. And there are reputational risks - the danger of being labelled a climate polluter in a market which is sensitive to environmental issues.

All of these risks ultimately affect profitability - and so for the past four years, a group of major institutional investors has been asking major companies about the risks they face and what they are doing about them. Not because they're necessarily concerned about the environment (though they might be) - but because they want to know whether they are making good investments, or whether the companies they are investing in will suddenly turn into lemons if forced to pay the full cost of their activities. This is the Carbon Disclosure Project.

This year's CDP is the biggest ever, with institutional investors managing US$31.5 trillion (around 30% of the world's total) asking more than 2,000 companies worldwide what they're doing to manage the risks of climate change. And for the first time, New Zealand companies were included in the survey. Unfortunately, they didn't want to talk about it. Of the thirty-three New Zealand companies surveyed, only six responded, and only one - Fletcher Building, which owns major emitter Pacific Steel - agreed to allow its response to be made public. The rest either did not respond, or explicitly refused to participate. This compares very unfavourably with the FT500 response rate of 72% and the FTSE350 response rate of 83%, and the natural conclusion will be that New Zealand companies are not considering these issues and have their heads firmly stuck in the sand. Unfortunately for them, the issue is not going to go away; quite apart from the fact that climate change will happen whether they plan for it or not, these major institutional investors are going to keep asking their questions until they get some answers. And they may draw unfavourable conclusions from non-compliance...

The real risk of terrorism

How dangerous is Al Qaeda really? President Bush would clearly like Americans to spend the rest of their lives quivering in fear, afraid to go to the letterbox (or, more importantly, the ballot box) lest a crazed terrorist leap out and slaughter them by setting his beard on fire. But as irritating people keep pointing out, the terrorist emperor has no clothes - there have been no foreign terrorist attacks on US soil since 9/11, almost certainly because there aren't any terrorists there to conduct them. And yet, Americans are still afraid...

In an effort to educate people about the real risk of terrorism, Wired has produced a handy, colour-coded risk chart showing the number of people killed by various activities over the past eleven years. Terrorism ranks in the lowest category. According to Wired, "your appendix is more likely to kill you than al-Qaida is". In fact, Americans face a greater danger of being shot by their own police than they do from Al Qaeda. Maybe Bush should be carpet-bombing the LAPD...

Good news for supermarket workers

25 days ago, Progressive Enterprises locked out its distribution workers in an effort to force them to surrender their right to collective bargaining and their demand for a national collective agreement. The lock-out is a calculated attempt to starve the workers into submission; however, it seems to be failing. The public have rallied round to support the workers, while the shelves at Progressive's supermarkets are getting progressively emptier.

According to the Sunday Star-Times, the NDU has now raised over $200,000 in donations from the public and other unions. More importantly, it is now getting workers to pledge ongoing support for the duration of the dispute. At one Auckland workplace, 1500 workers have pledged to donate an hour's wages every week for the duration - around $30,000 a week. If they can repeat that in other workplaces, then I don't think there'll be any chance of the lock-out succeeding; the only people Progressive will be starving will be themselves.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Dirty dairying: "spring cleaning"

Fonterra is trumpetting the fact that its staff will be participating in Clean Up Week, and helping to clean up our roadsides, parks and beaches. Meanwhile, their Longburn factory has been granted resource consent to dump up to 8,500 cubic metres a day of effluent into the Manawatu River. So much for "keeping New Zealand beautiful"...

Lying to win in Hungary

Six months ago, the Hungarian Socialist Party gained a narrow victory in that country's Parliamentary elections. Now Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany has announced in caucus that his party lied to win by painting a completely false picture of the success of their policies, and that "tough reforms" are now needed.

There are obvious echoes of Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson here, though they at least had the cover of not being in government before they "discovered" that radical "reform" was required. But unlike New Zealand in the 80's and early 90's, Hungary has a (roughly) proportional representation system and a coalition government. It will be interesting to see what the Hungarian Socialists' coalition partner makes of this sudden bout of honesty and proposed change of direction, and whether coalition politics really is a check on outright dishonest politicians who lie to gain election...

The Brethren smear in Sweden as well

First New Zealand, now Sweden? A reader has alerted me to a rather interesting twist in the Swedish election: A British group of Exclusive Brethren (known as "Plymouth Brethren" over there) have spent millions of crowns on a series of anonymous advertisments in support of the centre-right Alliance for Sweden:

The Brethren have paid for ads in some of Sweden's biggest newspapers, they have done direct marketing in mailboxes in many parts of Sweden, they have been leafleting and put flyers on cars in many places. Among other things, the flyers say that thousands of Swedes die every year due to mistreatments in hospitals.

Aftonbladet have tracked the company that the Brethren money is channelled through - Nordas LTD - to the backstreets of Knowlsley Industrial Park in Liverpool. One of the founders, Maxwell Kevin Haughton, have been tracked down by Aftonbladet but he refuses to answer to why a British company spends millions on a Swedish election.

Or why they're going to such extreme lengths to hide their involvement...

The Aftonbladet story is here. It's in Swedish, but I'm trying to get a translation. In the meantime, InterTran does a very bad online Swedish-English translation.

Swedish blogger Hell-man has pictures of some of the flyers here and here. They don't seem to follow the pattern seen in New Zealand and Tasmania.

That's at least five elections the Brethren have involved themselves in, each time using smear tactics combined with fronts and false names to hide their involvement. Is anyone seeing a pattern here...?

Correction: Edited to make it clear that the Brethren in question were UK-based. At least our ones could argue that as new Zealand citizens, they had a stake in the outcome - but in Sweden, we have effectively a foreign religious group trying to buy an election in another country. Many countries have laws against that sort of thing, though I'm not sure whether Sweden is one of them.

The (not very) right wins in Sweden

The centre-right Alliance for Sweden (a coalition of 4 smaller parties with an agreed platform) has secured a narrow election victory in Sweden. Some on the right are trumpeting this as a victory for radical right wing policies, and foreseeing the end of the Swedish social model which for so long has offered a better alternative than neo-liberalism, but that's not the case. In Sweden, the political centre is even further left than ours, and so Sweden's centre-right have campaigned not on dismantling Sweden's generous welfare state, but on running it better. In his victory speech, Moderate Party leader and Prime Minister-elect Fredrik Reinfeldt said

We ran in the election as the New Moderates, we have won the election as the New Moderates and we will also together with our Alliance friends govern Sweden as the New Moderates.

He may be trying to do a Bush, and throw a veil of "compassionate conservatism" over more right-wing policies, but with three other parties in his coalition, and a public which is firmly committed to a strong welfare state, he may not have much choice.

The Pirate Party (Arrr!) didn't make the 4% threshold, but might have made enough for ballot support next time. It seems that intellectual property just isn't a big enough issue in Sweden to build a party on...

Very dirty pool II

And just when you thought it couldn't get lower, you see this in the Dominion-Post:

There have been rumours about the Brethren, which campaigned to unseat Labour, hiring a private detective to follow Mr Davis.

Members of the church have denied doing so.

So, a deliberate campaign by the religious right to target people's families so as to push their proxies into office. Labour thinks National is behind it, or at least colluding in it, and this seems to have caused Trevor Mallard's creepy behaviour in the House a couple of weeks ago (on the basis that National had already gone nuclear, so it was time to retaliate). National naturally denies any role, and DPF says

I have also heard that the Brethren have been involved in spreading the rumours. if correct they should be condemned for this and quite frankly told to piss off. Some-one needs to tell the Brethren the best contribution they could make to politics is to stay away from it.

I'd suggest it should be the National Party that does so. They're the intended beneficiaries, and its their leg Wishart and the Brethren are so urgently rubbing against. If they don't want to be tarred by the association, then maybe they should make it publicly clear that there will never be any.

Bush to move on climate change?

The Independent reports that George Bush, the world's number one climate-change denier, is preparing a u-turn on climate change and is planning to push for domestic emissions reductions. I'll believe it when I see it, but here's hoping. If this is true, it will be a potent sign of just how far political opinion has shifted in the US - and that not even the vast amounts of money the oil and coal industries are throwing at their denial campaign can fool everyone forever. But I guess Hurricane Katrina was a pretty big wakeup call, that not even Americans could miss...

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Day for Darfur

One year ago today, the governments of the world through the United Nations pledged [PDF] to

take collective action... [if] national authorities are manifestly failing to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

Since that pledge was made, more than 100,000 people have been killed by the Sudanese government's campaign of genocide in Darfur. The total death-toll of the three-year war has been estimated at up to 400,000. In addition, two million people have been displaced, and 3.5 million are dependent on humanitarian aid and face starvation if it is disrupted.

Hence the Global Day for Darfur: an attempt by the citizens of the world to demand their governments live up to their pledge and protect the citizens of Darfur from their own government which is trying to murder them.

The practicalities of the situation are daunting; military intervention probably cannot be logistically supported without the cooperation of the Sudanese government. And so the goals of the Day for Darfur are limited. We want to see the international community

  • Strengthen the understaffed and overwhelmed African Union peacekeeping force now. We must offer extra help to the African peacekeepers already on the ground.
  • Transition peacekeeping responsibilities to a stronger UN force as soon as possible. The UN must deploy peacekeepers with a strong mandate to protect civilians.
  • Increase aid levels and ensure access for aid delivery. Shortfalls in aid continue to mean that people are at risk of starvation. Humanitarian organizations must have unfettered access to all who need help.
  • Implement the Darfur Peace Agreement. For the violence to end, all parties to the agreement, in particular the Sudanese Government, must live up to their responsibilities.

This doesn't sound like much, but it will help, and be a remarkable improvement on what is going on at the moment.

Events and demonstrations are taking place all over the world on this, from Addis Ababa to Ulaanbaatar. Unfortunately, there aren't any in New Zealand, so I've added my name to the Day Against Darfur's petition (at the bottom of any of the pages linked above). And I'd encourage everyone who wants to see an end to genocide to do the same.

Very dirty pool

Last night, I was hugged by a member of the same sex. According to Ian Wishart, this apparently means that I am gay.

I'm not sure what's scarier - the fact that there are bigoted panty-sniffing dinosaurs like Wishart still around, or that in its zeal to overturn the results of the last election, the New Zealand right has decided to go after not the Prime Minister, but her politically uninvolved husband. This is very dirty pool indeed, and it makes you wonder what they're going to try next - targeting people's children?

As I've said in the case of Don Brash, I am fundamentally uninterested in politicians' private lives. I do not care who they screw, or how, or how many at once. I am even less interested in the activities of their partners or other family members. They are in no way part of public life, and their privacy deserves to be respected.

Even the Mafia have an understanding barring going after people's families, on the basis that it would make life completely unbearable otherwise. The same should apply in politics. Being part of a politician's family should not mark you out for public victimisation, and those that think otherwise are the lowest type of bottom-feeding scum.

New Fisk

The American Military's Cult of Cruelty

Saturday, September 16, 2006


President Bush insists he needs a new law denying basic rights to terrorism suspects and granting American torturers a "get out of jail free" card because the Geneva Conventions are "vague". Really? Let's take a look at the section in question, Common Article 3. This is common to all the Conventions, and the core of it states:

1. Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of the armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all cases be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, color, religion or faith, sex, birth of wealth, or any other similar criteria.

(Emphasis added)

I think that's fairly clear: people taking no part in combat - which means those rotting in places like Guantanamo Bay or in the US's secret gulags - must be treated humanely. The only possible point of "vagueness" is what constitutes humane treatment - but given that the Bush administration has repeatedly promised humane treatment despite its assertions that its prisoners are not covered by Geneva, you'd think they have some idea. But just as a baseline, you can be sure that it rules out starving, baking or freezing people.

To this end the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:

(a) violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;

Again, there's absolutely no vagueness here: you are not allowed to torture people, or subject them to "cruel treatment". So, no waterboading or strapado, beatings and ERFings...

(b) taking of hostages;

No holding people's kids and threatening them either...

(c) outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment;

No stripping people, forcing them to wear women's underwear, or sticking them on a leash and forcing them to do dog tricks...

(d) the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgement pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.

No kangaroo courts...

2. The wounded and sick shall be collected and cared for.

And no denying medical care (in particular, painkillers) in an effort to get them to talk.

There is no "vagueness" here. To the contrary, it is perfectly clear: the way the US has been treating prisoners is contrary to its international obligations under the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture, and to its domestic obligations under US law. And those who have set this policy or ordered or participated in this treatment should be held to account.