Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Soothing the conscience

Greenpeace's "No War" blog has a nifty form to help you send a letter to the UN security council expressing support for inspections and opposition to military action. I don't think it'll make a damn bit of difference, but it might make you feel better.

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

I guess it depends on your meaning of "can't"...

You're not a Real Blogger unless you talk about Sullivan, Krugman, InstaPundit and Hitchens, so I suppose I better start. While reading the interview with Christopher Hitchens in this week's Listener, a peculiar comment caught my attention. To provide some context, he was reacting to the news that the Iraqi opposition wanted to implement Sharia law in a post-Saddam Iraq. His initial reaction was "it'll never work". His explanation?

It's been proved that you can't do Sharia law because the propositions that it's based on are flat-out not true, among them that there is a God who intervenes in our lives.

Unfortunately, if you look at countries where they have implemented Sharia, like Iran and (parts of) Nigeria (or indeed, the whole Islamic world during the middle ages), they seem to have had no problem arresting people, trying them, and then hacking their limbs off or stoning them to death. This is because people can hold (and act on) false beliefs as well as true ones.

Of course, he could have been equivocating over the meaning of "can't", and really been saying "you shouldn't do Sharia law because...", and I'd agree with him. But that's not an argument that it will fail, and I don't think that it's going to stop people who believe otherwise from trying.

Kurds in their way...

Now that war in Iraq seems to be all but inevitable the big questions now are, "how will the war pan out?" and "what happens once the war is over?"

In answer to the first question, I find myself hoping that the American bravado will be reflected on the battlefield, because at least if they do get into Baghdad in a week or so it will hugely reduce the number Iraqi casualties. Imagine the carnage that will occur if the greatest war machine the world has ever known has to carry out a sustained assault with all the weaponry it can bring to bear. I hope the Iraqis won't fight to the death but who knows what's going to happen...this time they will be defending their homeland against a foreign invader...this means more than Kuwait did.

Once Saddam's regime is toppled there is a lot more to consider than just who gets the oil (although this is an important consideration). The Americans have released their blueprint for a Post -Saddam Iraq...and it has not gone down well with the exiled opposition groups(see Iraqi opposition slams plan for military governor, Our hopes betrayed and US falls out with Iraqi opposition ).

The Americans would argue that they spent millions of dollars in the nineties supporting these groups and they were totally unable to get their shit together - the two Kurdish groups , although they have since kissed and made up, actually ended up fighting each other and they now each control large but seperate enclaves in Northern Iraq. No one really knows how much support these groups have since many of them have lived in exile for the last 30 years. The best bet for the Americans is actually to work with the remnants of Saddams regime. Whatever the Americans decide to do one would hope that they would have learnt from their experience in Afghanistan (which is a shambles) and Kosovo.

Anyway, the Americans have decided that they will have an initial period of military rule followed by the appointment of a prominant American as a civilian administrator...much of the existing beaurocracy will be retained although it will be purged of those deemed to be to close to Saddam. At the moment a Sunni elite rules over a Shi'ite majority and it looks like the Americans will preserve much for democracy.

It is a pragmatic decision on the part of the Americans...even if they wanted to install a democratic government, there is no way that America's allies in the region want that meme getting out of the bag...after all the Arab street might be reminded of the repressive and non democratic circumstances they are living in. The big problem is what happens in Northern Iraq? The Turks don't want the Kurds to get any notion of Statehood (see Analysis: Turkish threat to Iraq democracy, Kurds brace for Turks ) as this idea could spread to the Kurdish minority in Turkey whose rebellion the Turks have just finished suppressing. Turkey is now preparing to deploy its army in Northern Iraq both to prevent the flow of arms and refugees north and to destroy the incipent Kurdish state that has grown there under the safety of the no fly zone.The Kurds in Iraq are angry and afraid and who can blame them? They've been shafted for years by Saddam and they are about to get shafted by their would be liberators.


The Merkins have finally put their draft resolution before the security council, and it is basically a license to bomb. Meanwhile, the French, Germans and Russians have countered with a memorandum calling for further inspections.

Currently its looking like the Americans can't win the nine positive votes they need for Security Council approval, but this could change. They are apparantly pulling out all the stops and threatening smaller members of the council with a cessation of US aid. If they strongarm enough countries into backing them, the UN effectively becomes a joke. And if they don't, then they will almost certainly act unilaterally, for much the same effect. It's a lose-lose proposition for the UN either way, but at least one way they get to keep their soul.

Kiwis get D- for Saving, Media gets A+ for laziness

According to this story on Stuff, which was also broadcast on one or other of the TV news shows tonight, we're not saving enough for retirement. Two comments on this:

Firstly, the story is sourced from a survey done by Sovereign, an insurance and investment company which sells, among other things, retirement schemes. So what we have here is a company scolding consumers for not being interested in its product. I don't know about you, but I'm wondering why the hell this is regarded as news rather than advertising, and whether we'll soon be seeing stories like

"Kiwis get D- for Coke-buying - according to the owner of a local supermarket, New Zealanders aren't buying enough Coca-Cola..."

Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? But this is what happens when lazy journalists reproduce corporate press releases verbatim rather than doing their job.

Secondly, on the subject of saving for retirement: Yes, we all know its important, and yes, we all know that we can't rely on the government. Yet despite this, there's a relatively low uptake even amongst the better-off demographic that Sovereign polled. I suspect this is because even those who are comfortable (I wouldn't call a household income of NZ$50,000 pa "rich", though its certainly better than many make) can't really afford to stash money away at the rates investment advisors reccommend, while simultaneously pursuing all those other components of Kiwi life (children, mortgage) and paying for all those expenses which the government has decided to drop in our laps over the past 20 years (health care, children's education). And at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale, saving for the future simply isn't an option when you're struggling to get by today. What this means is that government is going to continue to have a role, whether it likes it or not, unless it wants to deal with the bad PR of the elderly spending their twilight years in poverty and destitution.

And as for those of us who are still relatively young, I guess its going to be "pay off your student loan, or save for your retirement - pick one". Sorry, Sovereign, but a government decision 11 years ago has shitcanned your prime customer demographic for the next twenty years...

I thought I'd post something a bit lighter today...
Bush Gives You The Finger / Millions worldwide rally against Dubya's oily little war -- not that he gives a damn
Terry Jones: Powell speaks with forked tongue - Language, not truth, has been the first casualty of the West's war against terrorism
Terry Jones: I'm losing patience with my neighbours, Mr Bush
Observations from a reluctant warrior(thanks John).

Monday, February 24, 2003

Powell seeks Chinese support (on North Korea):

Speaking in Tokyo after talks with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, Mr Powell said the UN Security Council, together with North and South Korea, Japan, the European Union and Australia should all be involved in talks to resolve the problem.

Hint to Merkins: International diplomacy is a game of quid pro quo. You can't expect people to share your concerns and support you on issues you care about unless you share their concerns and support them on other things. If you blunder around like an enraged rhinoceros, breaking treaties, pissing on world public opinion and acting unilaterally whenever you feel like it, you may find that you have to act unilaterally when you don't feel like it too, because you won't have any friends anymore.

Just a thought.

Sunday, February 23, 2003

Interestingly, newsgroup criticism of Tamihere's plan focuses on the prospect of Maori case managers "putting their fingers in the till". nz.politics really is a sewer, and I'm beginning to remember why I stopped reading it a while ago...

"Privatisation" or punishment?

I've just been reading about John Tamihere's call for privatising welfare at the Knowledge Wave conference.

His chief suggestion is that "all state benefits for each household should be paid through non-government case managers", who would pay essential bills like rent and power, buy basic food items, and send anything left over to the beneficiaries bank account to be used for discretionary spending.

"Welfare as presently practised in this country literally kills us with kindness," he said.

"It hands out enough to get you through until your next handout. There are no mutual responsibilities. Recipients are denied a sense of worth and equality."

I can think of no better way of denying people a sense of worth and equality than having some bureaucrat buy their food for them on the basis that they can't be trusted to buy it themselves. While this will certainly stop beneficiaries from "frittering away their money on lotto and cigarettes", it will also allow free reign for the case-managers prejudices on every purchasing decision. Do they really need chocolate biscuits when they could have BasicsTM gingernuts - or no biscuits at all? What about double-ply toilet paper vs single-ply? Is shampoo - or female sanitary products - really an essential item, or is it a "luxury" that they "really can't afford"? And why should they be living in that clean house in a reasonable suburb when there's a rat-infested fleapit well away from public transport available for twenty bucks a week less?

Giving case-managers that sort of power over people is a recipe for dehumanisation, arrogance, and bigotry. As if WINZ wasn't bad enough already.

Still, he's got it half right: part of the problem is that welfare "hands out enough to get you through until your next handout" - and only enough to get you through until your next handout, with no safety margin for emergencies or even replacements. The problem beneficiaries face is not poor money management skills (there's nothing like being actually poor to teach you the value of good budgeting), but enormous barriers to getting out of the trap. Finding a job - printing CVs, postage, interview clothes, child care, transport - costs money, which WINZ doesn't provide; actually getting one is a tremendous risk, since you face another stand-down period if it falls through. And in today's insecure labour market, dominated increasingly by casual contracts with 24-hour notice provisions, these risks are simply too great.

Tamihere is right, in that our welfare system needs reform, but it certainly doesn't need the "reform" he's suggesting. We don't need more authoritarianism from bureaucrats - we need more flexibility to cope with part-time and casual work, easier access to "special needs" grants, and a complete turnaround in the attitudes of case-managers (if you've ever dealt with WINZ you'll know what I mean). Tamihere's plan is simply punishing beneficiaries, not helping them.

As for the "privatisation" aspect, I'll let the idea of replacing an intrusive government bureaucracy with an even more intrusive non-government bureaucracy with a requirement to make a profit speak for itself.

Saturday, February 22, 2003

I went to an anti-war protest today.

Initially I wasn't sure whether I wanted to go - after all, the government is basically doing what I want, so there didn't seem like much point. But I had other reasons for going into town, so I went along. It was billed as an "afternoon for peace" - a few speeches (by local MP Steve Maharey, Metiria Turei from the Greens, a Palestinian or Iraqi woman, and someone from a local peace organisation whose name I didn't catch), some music (technically good, but a bit too "hippy" for my tastes :), and a lot of sitting in the sun with friends. It wasn't very large - only about a hundred people - but OTOH this is Palmerston North after all.

Did it change anything? I doubt it - George W. Bush certainly doesn't care what people think - but maybe it'll encourage our government to stick to its line of backing the UN rather than the hegemon.

CBIP: Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich.

Thursday, February 20, 2003

So much for free speech. A peace group has accused one of America's largest media companies of censorship for its refusal to run a national billboard campaign with the slogan: INSPECTIONS WORK. WAR WON'T. (Story is here). I guess peace is bad for business.

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

I forgot to sleep, then I went to work...I worked...mid afternoon the cocktail of V, red bull, coffee and sugar that I was using to stay awake failed me and I started to make stupid mistakes...I spent a lot of time staring at my computer screen waiting for my brain to catch up...curiously I feel better at 11 pm than I did at 2. I've just mindlessly consumed an entire tub of frozen yoghurt (strawberry)...the world seems like a much better place after frozen I'm going to go to sleep and let all that yumminess migrate to my adepose tissues...when I wake up tomorrow I'll look like a sumo wrestler...if this happens, I hope I look like Toki, he has wicked sideburns.

I meant to pay attention to the rest of the world today but I didn't. Something really spectacular could have happened but I am completely oblivious. Two things that did catch my eye...A former US ambassador to NZ, Carol Mosely Braun - is running for President, and in case you hadn't noticed the world sucks at the moment and Robert Fisk has written some more stuff about it.
Robert Fisk: A million march in London but, faced with disaster, the Arabs are like mice

I must sleep so that I can be a good little drone tomorrow.

New Zealand backs peace: From the government's statement on Iraq to the UN General Assembly:

The New Zealand Government recognises that the Security Council must be able to authorise force as a last resort to uphold its resolution. It does not however believe that such a decision would be justified at this time. The inspectors’ reports strongly imply that their work is useful in pursuing the UN’s objectives as laid out in a series of resolutions. As long as that is so, they should continue.
I think this is pretty much in line with what most New Zealanders think - the inspections are working, and until Saddam starts being seriously uncoperative (rather than simply refusing Dubya's demands for blowjobs), we have no reason to go to war. Unfortunately, I expect the Americans see things differently, and will probably add our name to the list of countries they're punishing for daring to disagree with them.

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

France set to block second UN resolution on Saddam - all I can say is "Go France!". Meanwhile, Jack Straw's response of "we don't need one anyway" is digging a deeper hole for his PM... Blair really is gambling everything on this, isn't he?

Monday, February 17, 2003

750 Women Go Nude in Protest- This is what the world needs ....a protest that will really show bush...

For all that is going wrong with the world at the moment, you have to say that it is a good time to be namby, pamby pinko, liberal...there hasn't been this much to bitch about since the Vietnam war...and then you suddenly remember that the US is run by a bunch of scarey nutters and that this has consequences for everyone. On another note, I'm trying to decide weather America's allies form an "Axis of Poodle" or an "Axis of Arrogance." Today's Hard News has a good series of links about exactly why they are scarey has stuff about Bush Jnr and Snr, the religious right in America and the insidious encroachment of their values in the everyday affairs of Government. One of America's founding principles is the seperation of church and state, but you wouldn't necessarily pick it these days though.

Britan hasn't quite reached the scarey stage yet and in fact it looks (well if you get all of your daily news from The Independent it does anyway) like Blair is in real trouble. His party is in revolt against any plans to join the war on Iraq and the opposition has the jitters as well (see Tories' support for action is waning). There are a lot of interesting theories about what could happen, after all the war is just as unpopular in the UK as it is in France and Germany...the only difference is that the British government has chosen not to take the will of its people into account...which is always dangerous in a democracy. Its entirely possible that this could cost Blair his government or if it doesn't, his support base is going to be radically looks like this is not withouth historical precedent (See - Alan Watkins: Mr Blair may end up as a PM without a party.)

There is new Fisk today so I thought I'd link too it. The second article is one that was deleted due to the fact that it was basically bagging the Israeli Astronaut who died in the Columbia a piece of exquisite timing this article came out the day before Columbia ceased to be...and fortunately most places displayed enough good taste to make the article disappear shortly thereafter...but not the New Zealand Herald.
Robert Fisk: A nation divided, with no bridges left to build
Robert Fisk: Don't forget the third clock still ticking away.
One thing in the news did make me happy today though. Forget the yachting, that's for sissies (although apparently 1.4 million sissies, including myself, tuned in to watch us lose) ...Is there anything better than beating the South Africans at Cricket? By 9 wickets? When they have the home advantage? When we've never beaten them in South Africa before? When it looked like we were going to get thrashed?
They may not make it through to the next round as we have played all the good sides, and they still have to play Sri Lanka...who are kicking ass. Life is good sometimes...bring on Bangladesh and Canada!

Sunday, February 16, 2003

Welcome to No Right Turn. This is basically a collection of my favourite opinion pieces and articles from the net, neatly packaged so that I can share them with other people who think on the same wavelength as I do...I'm not sure how much of my own opinion and commentary will make it in all depends how pissed off I'm feeling :-)

So firstly here is one of my favourite columnists - Russell Brown's Hard News, which I have been reading forever. Wednesday's installment was particularly good and featured Russell Brown on full attack. Personally, I preferred the old format where we got a weekly installment of Hard News every Friday on Scoop, but I can hardly criticise him for wanting a blog now can I :-) Russell Brown is also involved with the Mediawatch programme on Pointy Head Radio which is quite good and they have a website so you don't have to suffer the shame of admitting to having listened to National Radio.

I'm also a huge fan of Robert Fisk, who is the Middle East correspondent for The Independent in the UK. Over the last few years through all the troubles in the Middle East and Afghanistan he has shown an uncanny ability to slice through the lies and propaganda to reveal how the world really works and to portray events (such as 9/11) in their proper context. Here is a list of some of his recent articles.

Robert Fisk: The case against war: A conflict driven by the self-interest of America.
Robert Fisk: You wanted to believe him �Ebut it was like something out of Beckett.
Robert Fisk: Don't mention the war in Afghanistan.
Robert Fisk: The wartime deceptions: Saddam is Hitler and it's not about oil
Robert Fisk: The coffee table war.
Robert Fisk: Focus: Part one The human cost - 'Does Tony have any idea what the flies are like that feed off the dead?'
Robert Fisk: The Media Column: War journalists should not be cosying up to the military
Robert Fisk: This looming war isn't about chemical warheads or human rights: it's about oil
Robert Fisk: New crisis, old lessons
Robert Fisk: The double standards, dubious morality and duplicity of this fight against terror.

There is a complete archive of his past articles here. Its well worth a read.

Keeping with the international theme, reading the news these days is getting pretty depressing but It is heartening to see that not all of America's politicians have gone completely stir crazy - just most of them. Senator Robert Byrd made a speech to the Senate on Wednesday and managed to show a level of moral courage that otherwise seems to be severely lacking in Washington. Its good to see some dissent coming out of America but I suspect that it will be futile. Bush will have his war, thousands of Iraqi's...mostly civilians (and in fact mostly children) will die, and so will the international agreements and alliances (NATO, the UN) that have kept the world relatively safe for the last 50 years or so...but hey, at least we'll all have enough oil to take our SUVs to the supermarket.

It is also good to see people world wide taking to the streets in large numbers to protest against the upcoming war..however this didn' t make me feel any better about sleeping in yesterday and missing the protest in Christchurch...oh well, I'm sure it won't be the last. Perhaps if I had read this article - Why We Should March Tomorrow by John Pilger - I would have been propelled out of bed and onto the streets, alas I only saw it after the event.

Anyway in case after reading all this you are thoroughly depressed about the state of the world and the stupidity/ callousness of the American Government you can at least take heart in the fact that some enterprising soul has found a way to turn vegetables into musical instruments. Bye for now.