Saturday, January 31, 2004



Not-so-new Fisk

How the 19 billion 'dirty dinars' were quickly cleaned up

Sue the bastards

The police are grossly abusing their authority by continuing to keep registers of prostitutes, despite the fact that prostitution has been legalised. This is harassment, pure and simple. Now that prostitution is legal, they have no more reason to keep lists of prostitutes than of dairy owners. Unfortunately, it seems that some in the police just don't understand that, or are unwilling to accept that the law has changed. They need to be forcibly reminded that in this country it is Parliament that makes the laws, not the police.

Thursday, January 29, 2004



Kay on WMDs

David Kay has gone from saying "I don't think they existed" to "they went to Syria" to "Saddam's scientists lied to him" to "The CIA got it wrong". Interestingly, he denies that the CIA was subject to government pressure to tailor intelligence to suit the White House's needs - which is frankly laughable. But it's the Official Republican Talking Point (because blame cannot rest with the President), so NZPundit is doing his best to spin it that way.

Lobbying

NZPundit thinks that my call to keep a closer eye on our politicians is all about class warfare. Well, no - it's about transparency and open government, and making it more difficult for our elected representatives to be captured by special interests post facto. While all parties have their preferred constituencies - "Labour works for the unions", "ACT is a pawn of big business" etc - I think that we would all benefit by knowing exactly how much sway these interests have, how much access they get, and who is whispering in our politician's ears.

Naturally, this goes for "unions, single-issue NGOs, Maori groups and law firms run by well-connected former Prime Ministers", as well as for businessmen, right-wing think-tanks, and consultancies run by well-connected former finance ministers.

Forcing our MPs to declare any gifts or hospitality received is no different from forcing them to declare political donations, or their financial interests. If there's a potential conflict of interest or improper influence, the public has a right to know.

As for the full-on American solution of registering lobbyists, I'd consider it, but I'm not sure that we need to go that far quite yet... especially when there are perfectly reasonable intermediate steps we can take first.

Moved

I'm still recovering from my move. My computer room just feels wrong, my books are still scattered in too many boxes, and I haven't yet caught up fully on the news. So here's some quickies:

Wednesday, January 28, 2004



The world according to John Ashcroft

For people who don't understand US Attorney-General John Ashcroft's denunciation of Saddam Hussein for using "evil chemistry" and "evil biology", I've prepared the following helpful table:

GoodEvil
ChemistryNicotine, ethanolTHC, Sarin
BiologyPlagues of locusts, Fusarium oxysporumBotulinin, ricin, natural selection
PhysicsNuclear weapons (American)Nuclear weapons (UnAmerican)
Mathematics33.1415927...
GeologyFloodsPlate tectonics

Monday, January 26, 2004



Malach has moved

His Scoll of Emptiness is now here.

New Fisk

Revealed: The women who suffered Saddam's tyranny

Down and safe

Opportunity made it.

Moving

Not the blog, just the blogger. I will probably be offline for much of monday as I desperately stuff everything into boxes, and for at least some of tuesday (depending on whether anything distracts me from setting up the computer at the other end). Normal bloggage will resume by wednesday, assuming there is anything interesting to talk about...

Sunday, January 25, 2004



Shouldn't they be declaring this?

Winston has revealed that he was frequently shouted to dinner by fishing companies while sitting on a select committee overseeing the industry. He casts it as "being briefed" on the industry, but the proper term we're looking for is "lobbying".

I know that US federal politicians have to declare every free meal and gift they get (well, anything over the value of about US$5). Isn't it about time we made our politicians do the same? If we believe in open government, and in not letting the wealthy leverage their economic power into political power, we need to keep a far closer eye on our politicians.

"I don't think they existed"

David Kay, the head of the US attempt to find WMDs in Iraq, has resigned, and said that there were no Iraqi WMDs. No large-scale production in the 90's, no remaining stockpiles, no meaningful nuclear program, no serious R&D into biological or chemical weapons, zip, nada, zilch, nothing.

Or, in clear, plain English: it was all based on a lie. Ten thousand dead Iraqi civilians, an unknown number of dead conscripts, a country in ruins with no power, water, or security - and all on the basis of what is charitably described as a collective delusion, and more accurately as a planned campaign of deceit on the part of the Bush administration and Blair government.

And the fuckers have the gall to just keep on lying. Now they're claiming that Iraq’s WMDs may have gone to Syria. How can they have, when they never existed in the first place?

Bush needs to be de-elected, ASAP. Semen stains on a blue dress? That's nothing compared to lying your country into a war and killing ten thousand innocent civilians (not to mention five hundred US soldiers) in the process. If this isn't a "high crime and misdemeanor" - or a "war of aggression" as defined in the Nuremberg precedents - then what the hell is?

Horrifying

Thought that child labour was something that happened in other countries, or in the dark past of the Industrial Revolution, and certainly not in New Zealand? Think again. Caritas Aotearoa surveyed nearly 5000 schoolchildren, aged 10 - 17. 40% of them worked, and 45% of the workers were paid less than the minimum youth rate for 16 and 17 year olds (depending on the age distribution of respondents, this could actually be quite a good statistic, meaning that the minimum youth rate is being extended to under-16s). Children as young as 12 pumped gas (illegal for under-15s), children as young as 13 served alcohol (illegal for under-18s), and one 15 year old worked full-time in manufacturing for $2 an hour, in addition to trying to go to school. Some worked in unsafe environments, operated heavy machinery, or were beaten at work.

Most of this work is unproblematic - teenagers taking an after-school job in a supermarket, corner dairy, or working in a family business. But its clear that something needs to be done about the more egregious cases. There's nothing wrong with an after-school job, but it shouldn't interfere with education, expose children to danger, or be grossly exploitative. Introducing a minimum age of employment, limiting the hours that may be worked by children, and extending the youth rate down to that minimum age would all help to curb abuses and discourage those who seek to exploit children for financial gain.

Hopefully the government will be sorting this out if they adopt the ILO Minimum Age Convention.

Saturday, January 24, 2004



Americans aren't the only ones with a stake in their election

Gwynne Dyer points out that Al-Qaeda has one too, and that they will do whatever it takes to ensure Bush is re-elected:

Terrorists generally rant about their goals but stay silent about their strategies, so now we have to do a little work for ourselves. If the real goal is still revolutions that bring Islamist radicals to power, then how does attacking the West help? Well, the U.S. in particular may be goaded into retaliating by bombing or even invading various Muslim countries -- and in doing so, may drive enough aggrieved Muslims into the arms of the Islamist radicals that their long-stalled revolutions against local regimes finally get off the ground.

Most analysts outside the United States long ago concluded that that was the principal motive for the 9-11 attack. They would add that by giving the Bush administration a reason to attack Afghanistan, and at least a flimsy pretext for invading Iraq, al-Qaida's attacks have paid off handsomely. U.S. troops are now the unwelcome military rulers of more than 50 million Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq, and people there and elsewhere are turning to the Islamist radicals as the only force in the Muslim world that is willing and able to defy American power.

It is astonishing how little this is understood in the United States. I know of no American analyst who has even made the obvious point that al-Qaida wants Bush to win next November's presidential election and continue his interventionist policies in the Middle East for another four years, and will act to save Bush from defeat if necessary.

It probably would not do so unless Bush's number were slipping badly, for any terrorist attack on U.S. soil carries the risk of stimulating resentment against the current administration for failing to prevent it.

Certainly another attack on the scale of 9-11 would risk producing that result, even if al-Qaida had the resources for it. But a simple truck bomb in some U.S. city center a few months before the election, killing just a couple of dozen Americans, could drive voters back into Bush's arms and turn a tight election around. Al-Qaida is clever enough for that.

I really hope she's wrong. OTOH, a competant US President - one who understands that the war on terror is not about force, but ideas - would be a disaster for Al Qaeda, and they might be willing to do something to prevent it.

More on prison labour

The Department of Corrections has responded to the questions on prisoner's employment rights posed in my previous post with a few answers and a PDF outlining their general policy. This bit sums up their position quite nicely:

The provision of employment for inmates by the Department does not constitute a formal employment relationship. Rather the employment is part of skill acquisition and should be regarded as a training initiative. Inmates do not have, therefore, the same access as free workers to wages, rights and other remedies. They do have protections under Corrections legislation and regulations. Inmates are not employees of the Department and are not, therefore, subject to the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992. However, the Department will observe the provisions of the Act for all inmate employment activities...

(My emphesis; no link, because its not on the web, however there's a FAQ on inmate employment here)

This isn't so bad when prisoners are working on community schemes, or even on "internal self-sufficiency" activities such as cooking and cleaning; it's easy to see these tasks as training and a way of giving prisoners something meaningful to do (both of which are laudable goals). The problem comes when they are working in a commercial enterprise which competes with the private sector (which Corrections claims to try not to do, but clearly does), or (worse) are rented out to private enterprise as part of a cooperative venture (something Corrections wants to do a lot more of). In both cases they not only displace ordinary workers, but also exert downward pressure on pay and conditions. And then there's that troubling aspect of slavery again - the workforce is literally captive, paid less than $1 an hour, and while they are technically volunteers, only a Libertarian would regard the choice as being free. If a private employer did this, they would be prosecuted for running a sweatshop, if not for kidnapping and slavery. Is it really any better if the government is doing it?

Friday, January 23, 2004



Trial by media

TVNZ flubbed it last night, and ended up looking like a bunch of muppets. But rather than back down, they've decided to wage a full-on trial by media instead. Winston certainly came out looking worse after tonight, but I still don't think there's anything there more than it looking bad. But politically, that's probably enough to have him hauled before the privileges committee, so that his numerous enemies can savour the feeling of being on the other end of a corruption allegation for a change.

Dismissed

Police have dismissed their charge against Bruce Hubbard because they weren't able to make their case. He will be applying for costs, and I hope he wins them. This case has been a farce from start to finish. It was clearly politicly motivated, pushed by a US embassy which equated criticism (or maybe just bad spelling) with threats. The police's response should have been to tell them that this is a democracy, where citizens enjoy free speech (maybe the US has heard of that?), and that New Zealanders have a right to express their views, no matter how much it annoys the US. Instead they bowed to pressure, charged Hubbard, and wasted time and money trying to prosecute him. This at a time when they are so underresourced that they can't investigate burglaries properly.

It would be nice to know how much this farce has cost the New Zealand taxpayer, and how many actual crimes could have been investigated with the money.

Spirit is down, but Opportunity arrives Sunday (NZ time).

Slaughtered

MediaCow has gone to the great slaughterhouse in the sky. Which is a shame, because I'm sure they would have had an interesting slant on the Peters-free dinner scandal...

Canada takes pointers from Mugabe

Looks like the Canadian government isn't too hapy with the flack they've copped over Maher Arar (the guy who was deported by the US to Syria to be tortured - allegedly on information provided by the RCMP) - they've raided the home of a journalist who has criticised the government's role in the affair.

The "war on terror" is deeply corrosive of human rights and democratic values. Now we have Canada acting like Robert Mugabe...

Thursday, January 22, 2004



Prison labour in New Zealand

I'm appalled to see that the American disease of selling prison labour is alive and well in New Zealand.

The Corrections Department claims that they "operate under the same commercial disciplines as private sector organisations and our prices are market-based", but this dodges the real question, which is "How much do they pay their workforce"?

According to the people I spoke to at the Department of Corrections, the answer is "up to $25 a week" - substantially below the minimum wage, let alone market rates. Participation is voluntary, but as refusal is bound to affect parole and whether a prisoner is regarded as "cooperative", there's a great deal of implicit coercion involved. I am still waiting for answers from Corrections on

  • Whether prisoners are paid a nominally higher rate, from which deductions are made for accomodation and security costs (which, given the coercion involved, is running a Company Store; the thought of charging prisoners for their imprisonment is also fairly horrible).
  • Whether prisoners have any sort of employment contract when working in an inmate employment scheme.
  • Whether prisoners engaged in work enjoy the full protection of New Zealand's labour laws - public holidays, safety standards, the right to collectively bargain for higher wages and, if necessary, strike. (I don't for an instant expect that they do, but it's an interesting question nonetheless).

I'm also waiting for responses from the Department of Labour on some of the above issues as well. It's not clear whether Corrections is breaching New Zealand labour laws, or whether what they are doing is perfectly legal (they may have an exemption) - but it is clear that it is wrong.

What we have here is the government using its coercive power over prisoners for commercial advantage. Market-weenies should be concerned because they are competing with private companies, while stacking the deck in their favour by ignoring regulations that affect everybody else. But I am more concerned with the human rights aspects. There's a word for people who are kept behind bars and work all day for the benefit of others - they're called "slaves". What's the difference between this and government-run slavery? It's awfully difficult to see...

Tilting the scales

The government is planning to prevent inefficient and expensive hung juries by doing away with the requirement for unanimous verdits, and allowing juries to reach a verdict by 11-1 vote.

This represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of a jury. Juries are not supposed to be efficent; the process is inherantly about reflection and doubt. This takes time and costs money, and sometimes results in deadlock, because in many cases it is possible for reasonable people to reach different conclusions (in mathspeak, the problem is sometimes underdetermined). Labelling dissenting jurors "rogue" and ignoring their input means that you prevent stroppy or unreasonable jurors from derailing the process, but you also prevent reasonable jurors from expressing doubts about the majority's view (the "Twelve Angry Men" scenario). The result will be more innocent people in jail, something I am unwilling to accept.

Goff's comment that "unanimity, in my view, is too high a threshold" makes it clear that this is really about making it easier for the crown to secure a conviction. And that is something we should all be deeply suspicious of.

Oh, where to begin

I skimmed Dubya's State of the Union speech, and it's just one long paean to war, fear, tax-cuts and bigotry. Not much on Saddam's WMD (America fought a war; shouldn't its president explain why?), but calls to renew the PATRIOT Act (it expires this year - good riddance to totalitarian rubbish), make the tax cuts permanent (yeah, rob from the poor to give to the rich!), and "defend the sanctity of marriage" (deny gays the same rights enjoyed by hetrosexual couples). I'm so glad I live in a sane country rather than the United States.

There's a great Tui moment in there as well:

The American economy is growing stronger. The tax relief you passed is working.

Which is why there are no new jobs, and more Americans living in poverty. Again, I'm so glad I live in a sane country (or at least one which is not run by a clique waging class warfare on the poor) rather than the United States.

But the best bit - the part that makes your eyes bug out with its Orwellian reversal of the truth - is this:

We also hear doubts that democracy is a realistic goal for the greater Middle East, where freedom is rare. Yet it is mistaken, and condescending, to assume that whole cultures and great religions are incompatible with liberty and self-government. I believe that God has planted in every heart the desire to live in freedom. And even when that desire is crushed by tyranny for decades, it will rise again

Yes, it's mistaken and condescending - so why the hell is the US trying to deny Iraqis the right to elect their own government? Doesn't this make them the very tyranny that Bush is talking about?

Wednesday, January 21, 2004



Russian army rescues kegs of beer

I guess armies are useful for something after all.

Why the Americans don't want Iraqi democracy

Everyone thinks its because the first acts of any democraticly elected Iraqi government will be to tell the US Army to fuck off, demand their oil back, repudiate Saddam's debt, and void all of those gouging contracts with Haliburton and Bechtel. But I think this might have something to do with it as well:

If Iraqis ever see Saddam Hussein on trial, they want his former American allies shackled beside him.

"Saddam should not be the only one who is put on trial. The Americans backed him when he was killing Iraqis so they should be prosecuted," said Ali Mahdi, a builder.

"If the Americans escape justice they will face God's justice. They must be stoned in hell."

Ouch. I guess Rummy won't be paying another visit to Baghdad any time soon...

Tuesday, January 20, 2004



The Independent has a lovely collection of statistics showing the true State of the Union.

Defending American values

A group of US military lawyers have filed a brief in the Supreme Court's review of whether the Guantanamo detainees can access the US court system, equating the US administration's position with that of King George III:

The colonists who wrote our Declaration of Independence penned, among their charges against King George, that "[h]e has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power"; "depriv[ed] us, in many Cases, of the benefits of trial by jury"; "made Judges dependent on his Will alone"; and "transport[ed] us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended Offences."

Those charges describe the United States' legal position in this case.

It's good to see them standing up for America's founding values when the President and administration won't. They're doing their job extraordinarily well - but I wonder whether they'll get to keep it?

The fuss about cloning

NZPundit doesn't get the fuss about cloning. It's simple: some people have some very strange ideas about personhood and personal identity. Such as the person in the comments who asks whether killing a clone (who, no matter what their origin, is a human being) would be murder or a property crime.

These people need to be beaten about the head with the fact that genetic identity is not personal identity. Twins prove that. They may be uncannily similar in some respects, but they are distinct persons, and universally recognised as such. The best metaphor for a clone is that of the "differently aged twin".

This doesn't mean that we should leap into cloning. As another of NZPundit's commenters pointed out, there are significant technical difficulties at the moment. Tests on animals have a high failure rate, and a tendency to produce sickly and malformed clones. Until these bugs are ironed out (and I have no doubt that they will be), it's simply too risky to clone humans. But the only moral conclusion we can draw from this is that we shouldn't be cloning humans yet.

(I'd reccommend reading Nick Agar's Perfect Copy for a quick introduction to the cloning debate. My thoughts on it are here)

New Kiwi blog

My Right - being the thoughts of an "ordinary NZ'er, with a job, a flat, a student loan and more often than not, an opinion."

(But wouldn't "Mon Droit" have been a more stylish nom de guerre?)

We have RSS

Here.

I don't know if it works, or whether it is in an appropriate RSS version, but it was free, and didn't require me to do any work other than find my accursed BlogStreet password. So, syndicate away!

Sending Blair to The Hague

An international group of legal experts will make a formal complaint to the ICC in The Hague, accusing Tony Blair of being responsible for war crimes in Iraq. There's not much detail in the story, but I assume it's the same experts I talked about here. Rather than using the obvious, open-and-shut case against Blair for waging a war of aggression (which is unlikely to be considered by the ICC as it is still waiting for its signatories to provide an adequete definition of the crime), they will be focusing on specific violations of the Geneva conventions and international human rights treaties, leading to excessive numbers of avoidable civilian deaths.

Interestingly, the ICC has "contacted the panel in advance to ask for a copy of their report", which is perhaps a sign that they will consider the complaint rather than dismissing it outright.

Monday, January 19, 2004



Sock Thief has responded to my suggestion that the tide may be turning wrt Australia's refugee policy and suggested that it may not be turning in the way I think.

For those on Nauru and for children currently detained out in the desert, this move would represent a huge improvement in their circumstances... there are currently 284 detainees on Nauru including 93 children some of whom have been detained there (the conditions they face there are pretty well known) for more than two years without any prospect of release or judicial review. There are a similar number of children detained in camps within mainland Australia. This part of Labour's announcement by itself represents a shift back towards being a civilised country.

The main problem for the Australians is that the refugees are clogging up their court system with 80% of their high court cases being ones relating to refugees. True, Labour has not indicated whether they plan to resource the courts more appropriately or whether they plan to limit the ability of refugees to make appeals, but given the pressure coming from within the Labour party for an even more liberal (and I don't mean in the John Howard sense of the word) approach I can't see them getting away with limiting access to justice... we'll just have to wait and see if my excitement has been premature.

Ombudsman to look at treatment of Zaoui

Only those aspects handled by Corrections, Customs and Immigration - the Police and SIS are apparently outside the Ombudsman's jurisdiction - but it's a start. I expect the investigation will focus on why Zaoui was held in solitary confinement for so long, instead of being in a minimum-security prison or free on bail. But the real progress in his case is going to come because of the recent High Court rulings, particularly the ruling that the Inspector-General must consider Zaoui's human rights in his assessment. With Zaoui facing execution if he is deported to Algeria (or to any country where he is likely to be passed into Algerian hands), that shifts the odds heavily in his favour.

Sunday, January 18, 2004



Tide Turning?

Australia’s last federal election was a nasty affair where John Howard grubbed votes by telling porkies about refugees throwing their babies into the sea and the two main political parties competed to see who could be nastier to refugees. In a welcome return to sanity, new Labor Party leader Mark Latham has signalled a change of direction.

Whilst Labor is still keen on mandatory detention for adult prisoners it has obviously recognised the fact that Australia’s refugee policy is damaging the country’s image overseas (making them look like a bunch of fuckwits basically) and has promised a number of changes that should result in fewer people going on hunger strikes or sewing their lips together.

Labor is keen to process refugees quickly promising that 90% of them will be possessed within 90 days. The sinister sounding “Pacific Solution” where refugees were sent to Nauru for processing (where coincidently not allowing them access to the Australian legal system) is also being abandoned. Latham indicated that it was “a very, very expensive commitment” and that it was “hard to see what benefits are coming out of it.” They’ve also promised to end private sector management of detention centres.

Most importantly they are planning on stopping the barbaric practice of imprisoning child refugees. "In a civilised society, we shouldn't have children growing up behind barbed wire," remarked Latham.

This is great…now all they have to do is win the election.

Thursday, January 15, 2004



Busy, busy, busy

Blogging will be light over the next few days, while I attend New Zealand's largest roleplaying convention.

Betraying Iraq

From Village Voice:

George Bush is selling out Iraq. Gone are his hard-liners' dreams of setting up a peaceful, prosperous, and democratic republic, a light unto the Middle Eastern nations. The decision makers in the administration now realize these goals are unreachable. So they've set a new goal: to end the occupation by July 1, whether that occupation has accomplished anything valuable and lasting or not. Just declare victory and go home.

I didn't like the war, and I don't like the occupation. At the same time, I think that America now has some obligation to the country it "liberated". For them to just barge in, smash the place up, and leave it even worse off than when they found it is a gross betrayal of the Iraqi people. But I guess they don't vote Republican...

"His Eye is upon us..."

I've always thought Palmerston North was a hole, but I didn't know it was an outpost of Mordor...

Wednesday, January 14, 2004



Why we shouldn't chemically castrate sex offenders

NZPols objects to my post on Phil Goff's interest in castrating sex-offenders, on the familiar Consequentialist basis of "if it works, why not do it?"

The answer, of course, is that it would be a gross violation of the subject's human rights. NZPols doesn't think that this matters, but as a liberal, I do. Axiomatic differences in ethical theories, I guess. Anyway, for people wondering why I'm objecting so violently to this, here's a quick outline:

Human rights (and, to a lesser extent, preference-based consequentialisms) are ultimately based on the idea that individual autonomy - "the capacity to be one's own person, to live one's life according to reasons and motives that are taken as one's own and not the product of manipulative or distorting external forces" - is valuable. In order to protect this autonomy, we enforce a wide sphere around the individual where the State is forbidden to interfere. Prohibitions on government interference in people's choices of religion or relationships, for example, exist because these things are vitally important to people's life-plans and their sense of self.

Before people get the wrong impression, I am not arguing that the autonomous choices of paedophiles to rape children must to be respected; Mill's principle that interference is justified in order to punish or prevent harm to others deals with that quite handily. What I am arguing however is that the respect for autonomy on which a liberal society is based necessarily entails that those punishments or preventative measures should interfere as little as practicable with a criminal's autonomy. So, we can imprison criminals, and offer them non-coecive rehabilitation, but we cannot (for example) forcibly brainwash them into being obedient, law-abiding citizens (even though the results would probably be better for everyone if we did).

Needless to say, forcible medical treatment - whether surgical or chemical - is about as invasive of individual autonomy as you can get. Forcible treatment to modify people's desires is even worse. I can think of no better example of treating people like animals - or, in Kant-speak, as means rather than ends - than that.

(Why the concern with the rights of sex offenders? Because human rights are by their nature universal, and in order to claim them for myself, I have to also defend them even for the worst among us. How is my stance on this different from my mocking Libertarians for their "blind worship of private property rights"? Because property is a tool, not a core human right...)

Tuesday, January 13, 2004



Dunne on loans

There's been a lot of angst over the last few days about doctors fleeing New Zealand for higher wages in Australia. National blames the "socialist Labour Government" (which is about the limit of their imagination), the government says it's not a problem (despite the fact that fewer doctors graduate than leave each year), but Peter Dunne lays most of the blame at the feet of the student loan scheme - and goes further in saying that the wider problem of student debt needs to be addressed:

"This country cannot continue to sit on its hands and watch the debt burden on our young people grow billion by billion," Mr Dunne said.

"As it does so, it crushes dreams and aspirations, from home-buying to when they can afford to start to raise the families that New Zealand needs for its future."

This is normally the sort of stuff you expect from NZUSA, not from a former Rogernome like Dunne. But in this he seems to be acting as the weathervane of Middle New Zealand, who seem to finally have woken up to the consequences of their intergenerational selfishness. And he's very big on the idea of New Zealand being a "property-owning democracy" - an idea which is deeply threatened by the long-term indebtedness engendered by the loan scheme.

As for his solutions, one is good, and one could be bad. If tertiary fees are sticking around, then parental savings schemes are necessary; government promotion (and contribution) is a way of getting them started, and of easing the burden in future. It does nothing however for the present generation of students, who will be faced with the prospect of having to save for their children's education while struggling to pay off their own. Employment bonding is more dubious, and needs to be handled very carefully indeed. Formal travel restrictions will undermine that other great kiwi tradition - the OE - and smacks of hamstringing the local blacksmith. Formal bonding to a specific employer or field of employment runs the risk of contributing to the problem, by using a captive pool of workers to keep salaries artificially low. And if done as part of the loan contract itself, rather than as a parallel voluntary incentive scheme, it runs dangerously close to debt slavery.

Still, it is good to see Dunne recognising the problem. Now, if only the government would too...

Tony Blair, yesterday...

"Saddam Hussein's regime is despicable, he is developing weapons of mass destruction, and we cannot leave him doing so unchecked." - April 10th, 2002.

"(Saddam's) weapons of mass destruction programme is active, detailed and growing. The policy of containment is not working. The weapons of mass destruction programme is not shut down. It is up and running....

Saddam... has existing and active military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons, which could be activated within 45 minutes" - September 24th, 2002.

"The biological agents we believe Iraq can produce include anthrax, botulinum, toxin, aflatoxin and ricin. All eventually result in excruciatingly painful death." - February 25th, 2003.

"We are asked now seriously to accept that in the last few years-contrary to all history, contrary to all intelligence-Saddam decided unilaterally to destroy those weapons. I say that such a claim is palpably absurd." - March 18th, 2003.

"I have no doubt that they [the Iraq Survey Group] will find the clearest possible evidence of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction." - June 4th, 2003.

"I have absolutely no doubt at all that we will find evidence of weapons of mass destruction programmes." - July 8th, 2003.

"The Iraq Survey Group has already found massive evidence of a huge system of clandestine laboratories, workings by scientists, plans to develop long range ballistic missiles." - December 16th, 2003.

...and today:

Asked on BBC's Breakfast With Frost whether he thought they would be discovered, Mr Blair replied: "I do not know is the answer." The Prime Minister said that on the issue of WMD: "You can't be definitive at the moment about what has happened."

(Quotes courtesy of the BBC and Guardian).

Monday, January 12, 2004



My uncertainty grows

Every time I look at the foreshore and seabed issue, I become more and more uncertain about whether the government is doing the right thing. In my last post - made when the government released the details of its policy just before christmas - I was generally happy, but also a little bit concerned:

the court decision which sparked all this talked about the improbability of actually gaining [freehold] title, but the possibility was there, and now its not. If there is an iwi or hapu out there with a strong case for actual title, then they've been robbed.

At the time, that seemed like a big "if", and one easily dealt with by the government's offer of financial compensation. But now we find out that its not such a big if after all - and in fact that Maori could have won title over 10% of New Zealand's coastline:

Mr Tamihere's claims are based on Land Information New Zealand surveys which reveal Maori communally own just over 10 per cent of the land on New Zealand's 19,883km coastline.

Mr Tamihere said it was the first time concrete information had been collated quantifying Maori ownership of land beside the foreshore with no Queen's Chain in between.

It showed 1996km of Maori freehold land which had always been in tribal hands, giving those owners an "extraordinarily strong" foreshore and seabed case.

"If you were sizing the relevance of the Maori claim, from a Government perspective, we now know absolutely without doubt ... that no less than this would have got, more than likely, a freehold title.

"The burden of proof ... is minimal by dint of the fact that they have continued to hold their land and practise their customs on the shoreline."

This changes matters considerably. We're not just talking about a few kilometers here and there; we're talking about fully 10% of the coastline. I'd disagree with Tamihere; this is huge. It's certainly going to cost a lot of money if the government is even half-serious about its offer of compensation.

And on the other hand, doing the right thing is sometimes expensive. And what else can we do? Despite the baying of the rednecks, we cannot just legislate crown ownership; that would be tantamount to tearing up the Treaty, and destroying the very foundations on which this country is built. If we want the beaches to be in the public domain, we are going to have to pay for them, either by compensation or quid pro quo.

What are they all complaining about?

From the way the BRT and their ideological allies talk, you'd think that this country was one where taxes were cripplingly high, private property was not respected, and industries were frequently expropriated and nationalised. But no - in fact, New Zealand has been ranked third in the world on the (notoriously right wing) Heritage Foundation's "Index of Economic Freedom", just below Hong Kong and Singapore. By way of comparison, the USA ranked 10th, and Australia 11th (though there doesn't seem to be very much in it).

So, what the hell are the BRT, ACT etc complaining about?

(Of course, I'm not sure that ranking high on an index where you lose points for having biosecurity and product safety standards, antimonopoly regulation and a minimum wage is a good thing, but the Right seem obsessed by our relative rankings in various lists, and should certainly be pleased with this one...)

Sunday, January 11, 2004



Civil rights pushback

The civil rights pushback continues. The US Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case of Yaser Hamdi, a US citizen held without charge as an "enemy combatant". Hamdi's case is identical to that of John Walker Lindh - he is a US citizen arrested in Afghanistan after fighting for the Taleban. Where Lindh was given a proper trial, Hamdi has been imprisoned in a military brig, denied access to lawyers, and the Bush administration denies the jurisdiction of US courts. He has yet to be charged with any crime.

Hamdi's case, like that of Jose Padilla, is important because fundamental issues of freedom are at stake. If the US government can arbitrarily designate a citizen an "enemy combatant", indefinately detain them, or subject them to a military tribunal, then no American is safe. We can only hope that their Supreme Court will uphold the values of their Constitution and Bill of Rights, rather than writing future administrations a license for tyranny.

The supreme international crime

Propaganda News Network takes issue with the latest Pilger, particularly with this bit:

[Blair's] latest tomfoolery about the "discovery" of "a huge system of clandestine weapons laboratories", which even the American viceroy in Baghdad mocked, would be astonishing, were it not merely another of his vapid attempts to justify his crime against humanity. (His crime, and George Bush's, is clearly defined as "supreme" in the Nuremberg judgment.)

PNN says "The Nuremberg trials finished in 1949. It would have been difficult for them to make a judgement against Tony Blair, considering he was only born 4 years later in 1953", but this is willfully missing the point (he's not called Propaganda News Network for nothing, it seems). Pilger is clearly referring to the Nuremberg ruling that initiating a war of aggression "is the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole."

The "Coalition of the Willing"'s war on Iraq was just such a war, carried out in violation of the UN charter (which prohibits war except in immediate self-defence). If we regard the Nuremberg proceedings as anything more than victor's justice, then the conclusion is clear: Bush, Blair, and their accomplices in the executives of the United States and United Kingdom should stand trial.

Civilised countries do not treat people like animals

During his tenure as Justice Minister, Phil Goff has done his utmost to pander to the "hang 'em high" brigade, and competed with National and ACT to be ever more vindictive, merciless, and "tougher" towards criminals.

Now he's thinking of castrating sex offenders.

This is simply needless barbarity. We have perfectly adequate mental health regulations which provide for the treatment and, if necessary, incarceration of individuals who are a danger to the community. But who cares about that - or about human rights, or medical ethics - when you can grub votes?

Next week: Goff considers introducing amputation for convicted burglars.

Saturday, January 10, 2004



I'll believe it when I see it

Bush wants to go back to the Moon.

Unfortunately, this is explicitly being done as a re-election gimmock, in an effort to prove that there's more to Bush than war, environmental destruction and economic mismanagement. It's unlikely he'll be willing to spend the political capital required to make it happen, but I guess we can all hope to be pleasantly surprised.

And on the other hand, isn't it nice that space is now popular enough to be used in this way?

Silent Running makes the papers

His little spat with Air Emirates was in the Dominion-Post this morning, and also made Ha'aretz.

When in doubt, cry "strawman"

RBC cries "strawman" over my needling him on the sanctity of contract:

Not sure if this is "building a strawman" or "grasping at straws." Either way, it's straw-related. I can’t find where I actually said government contracts were "unacceptable."

RBC should really pay more attention to what he writes, then. In response to the claim that Air Emirates was contractually bound to provide specialist meals, he said:

That’s fine if the owner of the airways and landing rights was a private entity.

Implying that it wasn't fine if it was the government. But I'm glad to see that this is not what he intended to say, and that he thinks contracts to (for example) obey NZ anti-discrimination law are binding.

Friday, January 09, 2004



Tony Blair's chief scientist has said that US climate policy is a bigger threat to the world than terrorism.

Via Malach: a new site called Newsnation. The aim is to aggregate NZ news and allow users to comment on it.

Award Season

Nominations for the 2004 bloggie awards closes monday, and it includes a "Best Australian and New Zealand blog" section. So, get nominating! There's plenty of NZ blogs out there to choose from.

(I've thrown in votes for many of my favourite sites; Public Address for the obvious category; Daily Kos, CalPundit and Atrios for best American; Crooked Timber for best group and best new; and The Agonist and KickAAS for best topical blog).

Thursday, January 08, 2004



Fingerprints

And from the "one rule for you, another for me" department, the US is now objecting to Brazil's photographing and fingerprinting of all visitors from the US. At the same time, they are refusing to exempt Brazil from similar checks performed on Brazilians visiting the US.

Neocons, Wittgenstein and Essentialism

KiwiPundit challenges anyone to:

come up with a definition of the term that includes those people commonly referred to as neo-cons, excludes others, and makes no reference to race or religion.

Maybe he should come up with an adequate definition of "game" first...

For people who lack a passing familiarity with the philosophy of language, the short version is that essentialist definitions of the sort demanded by KiwiPundit don't work for any but the simplest concepts. Anything more complicated than a colour, shape or number seems to be rather fuzzy, and is defined by family resemblance and a rough collection of properties, not all of which are shared by any instantiation. Billmon's discussions (linked to earlier) are sensitive to this, pointing out that you can make generalisations about the NeoCons both as people and as an ideological package, but that the generalisations don't necessarily hold. For example

It's easy enough to point to some common themes that are generally identified with the neocons: contempt for international organizations and the concept of multilateralism; impatience with traditional balance-of-power diplomacy; a cultish devotion to the use of military power; an outspoken belief in the superiority of Western culture and political institutions; a messianic vision of America's mission to "civilize" the world, which at times (Max Boot) makes them sound like caricatures of old-fashioned European imperialists. And of course: an intense identification with the state of Israel, and a willingness, even eagerness, to use American power to protect and further Israeli security interests.

But there are nuances on all these points. Some neocons support the maximum Likud position -- one state (Jewish) between the Jordan and the sea. Some don't. Some are more willing to use multilateral institutions to pursue American interests. Some aren't. Some are more cynical about the "spreading democracy" meme than others.

But maybe this is all too complex for poor little KiwiPundit.

As for Brooks, further reading has simply confirmed my opinion that he's a hack trying to prevent any discussion of the NeoCons by insinuating that anyone who talks about them is a tinfoil-hat wearing anti-semite.

Latest outrage from Iraq

People detained by the US in their infamous home raids are turning up in hospitals having being bludgeoned, beaten and electrocuted into a coma.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss...

New Fisk

Shot for a Mercedes and left to die: the highway 'Ali Babas' claim another victim

ACT has balls

They're demanding a public apology from Steve Maharey for "reverse-racism" (in other words, he criticised them for Maori-bashing).

Dammit, I want a letter like this.

Bush does a Good Thing

He's trying to extend legal status to millions of illegal immigrants. It's only temporary, granting a three-year work permit if they already have a job, but will mean that illegals will be covered by the minimum wage and workplace safety laws; they'll only be as exploited as the average American worker, rather than being in a special class all of their own.

Unfortunately, I expect that he'll have a difficult time gettting this through Congress. The US is addicted to cheap illegal labour, and some industries (such as strawberry picking) may collapse if forced to comply with even the lax working standards set in the US. And of course, noone wants to pay their maid more...

Them

There's this journalist, see? He goes around interviewing loonies of various denominations (such as Omar Bakhri Mohammed and Randy Weaver), and he finds out that the Bilderberg Group plays a central role in their conspiracy theories and worldview. Some think the Bilderbergers are a cabal of evil Jews, akin to the mythical "Elders of Zion" from the fraudulent Protocols; some think that they're shadowy businessmen in league with Satan; some think they're Catholics working for the Pope (who is, of course, the antichrist); and some even claim they are giant shapeshifting lizards. But all share a belief that the Bilderbergers are the Secret Masters, secretly ruling the world from a little room somewhere (usually in a five-star hotel, with a golf-course).

So, the journalist decides to look into this. On the way he talks to some very wierd and scary people. He's trailed by men in dark glasses, hugged by creepy millionaires with a fetish for Nicolae Ceausecu's shoes, outed as a Jew at a Jihad training camp, and observes America's political and financial elite behaving like drunken frat-boys at a re-enactment of a pagan ceremony involving a giant stone owl. But he also pieces together a picture of the Bilderberg group:

the group was created in 1954 by a band of influential post-war internationalists who believed that global capitalism would be the best way to thwart future Hitlers... The central tenet was, presuably, that international businessmen were not affiliated with crazy ideological belief systems. They were not ideologues. In fact the comforting thing about them was that they cared about nothing at all except for profits.

(Yes, that is irony there...)

They network. They have an outreach scheme, bringing together young politicians with financiers and industrialists, who offer them "wise words". As for the secrecy, they claim not to be secret, only private. "Nobody is going to speak freely if they're going to be quoted by ambitious and prurient journalists".

Why am I writing about this? Firstly, because it's a very interesting, funny, and scary book. Secondly, because some of the people mentioned in it are in the news this week (the Rev. Ian Paisley, for example). But mostly, because Crooked Timber has an excellent post about the paucity of the English language in describing groups such as the Bilderbergers:

the English language is amply stocked with words to describe paranoia and irrational fear, but doesn’t have one single concise term to describe a rational fear of political persecution. Similarly, the journalistic lexicon is well stocked with phrases like "conspiracy theorist", "moonbat" "tinfoil hat brigade" and so on, but if we were to want to turn our conversation toward discussion of the facts that people have political views, that people with similar political views tend to flock together, that groups of people with political views tend to want to influence the direction of policy, and that the process of influencing policy is usually most efficient if carried out in an organised manner ... well then we would already find it powerfully difficult to describe our discussion to a third party without using terms which implied by their ordinary usage that we were in some way weird. If we then took the further step of noting that often people have political views which are unpopular enough with the general public that it is prudent for them not to publicly express those views, then we are certainly in the realm of consipracy theory.

All of which is applicable to the Bilderbergers (who I suspect legitimately fear what everyone else might think of the world's richest and most powerful people clubbing together in such a fashion). And it's certainly applicable to discussion of the NeoCons (the actual topic of CT's post).

As for the loonies in Them, they go well beyond a shortage of adequate vocabulary...

Wednesday, January 07, 2004



New Fisk

In the Marshes, Iraqis Still Find Dead Soldiers From Old Wars
A Birdsong That Proves Water Is Bringing Marsh Arabs' World Back To Life

Lest it seem like I'm ungrateful...

Thanks to ACT for linking to me in their list of holiday reading. I got a real kick out of ACT people turning up only to see me slagging them off...

Era of distortion indeed

Those taken in by David Brooks' denial that NeoCons exist and smearing of anyone who disagrees as an anti-semite (quoted approvingly by KiwiPundit here) may want to read this little piece from CalPundit. Or these two from Whiskey Bar.

Update: Or this from Phil Carter.

ACT, redistribution, and racism

As mentioned below, the central plank of ACT's latest attack on Maori is that "tax paid should ideally equal the benefit received". Redistribution is not allowed. But there's some inconsistency there: ACT is quite happy for the government to provide police, prisons and defence, so it's clear that they accept some level of redistribution and cross-subsidies. How much, and for what? They talk about "core government services", but this is just code for "what the wealthy (who can afford private healthcare and schools, and don't need to worry about how they'll live when they can no longer work) need from government"; what anybody else might need or want from government is obviously unworthy of consideration.

But looking at their actual policies, they're not commited to that premise in anything more than a rhetorical sense (that "ideally" leaves a lot of wiggle room, I guess). In fact, I'm sure that ACT agrees with much of the redistributive spending on Maori (they certainly make a lot of noise about education; heaven forbid the thought that this was just a way of slagging off the current system so as to introduce vouchers and get the government to subsidise the rich sending their kids to private schools). But if we take out the stuff they do agree with - all that money for health and education - then what we're left with is the core claim that we spend too much money supporting Maori on welfare...

And this isn't about race-baiting, you say?

Playing the "Maori card", part II

After a pre-christmas spat, ACT has finally made up its mind about spin strategy, and released its findings on the value of services Maori receive from the government. It's exactly what was expected - an attempt to stir up racial disharmony so as to harness it towards ACT's anti-government, anti-poor, anti-everyone-but-the-rich agenda.

The central plank in the argument is the claim that "tax paid should ideally equal the benefit received". This of course denies that one of the chief purposes of government is the provision of services for all, which necessarily involves redistribution and some taxpayers subsidizing others. Furthermore, it also denies one of the chief tenents of this country: that such services should include decent healthcare and education. But in the ACT worldview, schools for the poor are just another form of welfare; it's not as if you need to be able to read or count to flip burgers at McDonald's anyway.

(My previous post which points out that Maori are underfunded on a per-capita basis can be found here).

Tuesday, January 06, 2004



Let's you and him fight!

RBC also attacks Silent Running's contract argument, saying

Maybe Silent Running isn’t for free markets and private property. With conservatives, it’s sometimes hard to tell.

Yeah, let's you and him fight. Though I'm somewhat curious - usually, Libertarians will defend unto death the sanctity of contracts. No matter how one-sided, onerous, or silly, if you signed it, you have to fulfil it (I should add that normally this position is taken in discussions of employment law, and how much better off low-wage workers would be if they could freely contract for their services rather than be oppressed by all that cruel government regulation on minimum wages and safety and such). Is RBC abandoning this? Is he for example suggesting that contractual clauses can be ignored if they are (in his opinion) "silly"? Or is he just denying the government the right to contract that he would grant to every other person or corporation, solely on the grounds that they're the government?

(I know that RBC thinks that government shouldn't be in the business of assigning landing rights (or anything else, for that matter), but the fact is that they are in the business. The question is why he thinks that a contract can be "fine if the owner of the airways and landing rights was a private entity", but unacceptable if said owner is the government. Does he have any answer other than the usual frothing at the mouth and raving about how Government is EVIL? I think not.)

Wet busticket

The US Army handed out honourable discharges for abusing POWs? Talk about a wet busticket...

Discrimination, part II

Running Blog Capitalist has the answer to Silent Running's problem with Air Emirates: Just discriminate back! This probably works fine if you're rich and powerful, but what if you're not?

More importantly, what if there are no alternative, non-discriminating providers? What happens if no-one is willing to sell you food, rent you a house, employ you, or even transport you to a less discriminatory regime? The Libertarian answer to this situation is simply "fuck off and starve". People with any sort of conscience will find that answer unacceptable.

(But then, this is Libertarianism in a nutshell, isn't it? "Inalienable" rights which are in practice worthless, because they are interpreted only in a negative sense. Even the right that seems most dear to them - the right to freely participate in the marketplace, to sink or swim according to your own merits - is poisoned by this. Such "rights" are as meaningless as those guaranteed in the old Soviet constitution; they're nothing but a cruel joke)

The reason we have a Human Rights Act and other anti-discrimination legislation is to realise those rights and allow everyone to participate fully in society. We cannot live together in a society where the weak can be victimised at will by those posessing market power, and we cannot under any circumstances allow a situation where an individual or a group is so discriminated against that they cannot participate fully in society (both morally and practically; it's a recipe for open warfare). This is why we insist that services be provided in a non-discriminatory fashion, that people not be victimised for their beliefs, sexuality, or the colour of their skin.

(Meanwhile, I leave it to the readers to savour the irony of a Righty defending anti-semitism, instead of using it to smear anyone who criticises Israel...)

Monday, January 05, 2004



New Fisk

British soldiers 'kicked Iraqi prisoner to death'

Manufactured politics

As if manufactured music wasn't bad enough, British TV producers are reportedly planning a political version of Pop Idol, designed to give us manufactured politicians. They even have the gall to try and sell it as direct democracy:

Government by focus group is something we all disdain as short-sighted and superficial - but what if the focus group were millions of people, actively deliberating together as we exercise our power?

I think that really depends on how superficially the program frames the issues. And given that this is RealityTV - a format notorious for concentrating on pointless arguments, tits and arse, and evicting anyone ugly or "boring" - I expect they'll be going for the most superficial, sensational treatment they possibly can. Anything to get those ratings up.

Sorry, but I think this is a bad idea. If you're trying to restore people's faith in politics, then making things even more superficial and manufactured is not the way to go about it. Though I suppose it might lead to prettier, better dressed MPs.

Sunday, January 04, 2004



They made it!

NASA's Spirit rover has landed on Mars. Guess they stuck to metric the whole way through this time.

Still no sign of Beagle 2.

Bringing freedom to Iraq

Having censored the press, rehired Saddam's old secret police, and banned labour unions, the occupation authority has now banned all public demonstrations. Unless they're pro-American, of course - then they can get a permit.

This new American version of "freedom" is looking more and more like life under Saddam with every passing day. What next? "Elections" with only CPA-approved candidates?

New Fisk

Far From Baghdad, Soldiers And Pilgrims Shake Hands

Why the Dutch are better occupiers than the Americans

Because they at least bother to arrest people who shoot civillians. Unlike the Americans, who seem to be able to gun down entire carloads without penalty.

Discrimination

Via Darkness, Silent Running tells a story of blatant discrimination by Air Emirates.

It's a shame that Circling Apollo has quit; otherwise we could all look forward to a post about they have the right to discriminate against anyone they want to, and that the "Human Wrongs Commissariat" has no right to interfere...

Saturday, January 03, 2004



Pacific Guantanamo

The Dominion-Post is doing its job, devoting the front three pages this morning to giving the Australians a damn good squicking over their concentration camp on Nauru. Conditions in the camp - little food or water, inadequate medical care - are so hopeless that they make Guantanamo look good; no wonder people are sewing their lips together and starving themselves to death.

While the government does not want to be used as a dumping ground for Australia's problems, we cannot condone this. We should take these people and offer them asylum - not from Afghanistan, but from the Australians. While Howard and his chums are shameless (they must be, to have established something this obscene), I still have some hope that the Australian people are not.

I'm also concerned about the steps the Australian government has taken to keep their Pacific Guantanamo out of the public eye. They control all access to the island (all visitors must be vetted by Australia), and the local government seems to be little more than a puppet. As a result, they've been able to make sure that this has stayed out of the public consciousness, by denying access to refugee advocates, media, politicians - in short, anyone who cares. Australia is supposed to be a democracy, but they're using the tactics of totalitarians to prevent public oversight of their decisions. Perhaps Howard has a sense of shame after all... or maybe just a sense of fear at what the Australian public will think if they were confronted with what is being done in their name.

New Fisk

A Cruel Sense of Humor is All That is Left for Iraqis to Cling to After a Suicide Bombing
Mr Bush has one priority for 2004: Get America out of Iraq. Fast
Web lets Palestinian children find world beyond refugee camp

American airline craziness

The Americans seem to be in hyper-paranoid holiday mode, cancelling flights all over the place, sometimes even in mid-air, following them with fighters, or interrogating everyone at the other end only to find that their "suspected terrorists" are children and welsh insurance salesmen rather than democrats and greens (better update that watch list, guys). At the same time, they have differential security treatment for first-class passengers at their airports, because rich people shouldn't be held up by all this security kerfuffle, and everyone knows that terrorists are all poor arabs (and democrats and greens) anyway...

[Taps side of head] These RomansAmericans are crazy....

Why environmental regulation is necessary

One of the favourite memes of free-marketeers is that government regulation on pollution and the environment is unnecessary, as companies can and will voluntarily curb their emissions. Bush has bought into this hook, line, and sinker, and promoted a voluntary scheme to reduce carbon emissions. So, in the free market paradise that is America, you'd expect it to be a stunning succes, right? Wrong!

Only a tiny fraction of the thousands of U.S. companies with pollution problems -- 50 in all -- have joined Climate Leaders, and of the companies that have signed up, only 14 have set goals. Many of the companies that are volunteering say they did so either because reducing emissions makes good economic sense or because they were being nudged by state and federal regulators.

Industry groups, meanwhile, have crafted their own programs under a Bush administration initiative called "Climate VISION," but none of the programs requires individual companies to either enlist in the program or set goals for emission reductions.

Many of the companies with the worst pollution records have shunned the voluntary programs because even a voluntary commitment would necessitate costly cleanups or possibly could set the stage for future government regulation, according to industry insiders.

[...]

"Some just see it as a slippery slope," said a lobbyist for several major utilities.

Meanwhile, an administration official has the gall to claim "[Companies] are stepping up to the plate in a way they never have -- never did in the 1990s". Yeah, right. Most of the participants "are perennial 'good citizens' who were participating in 'green' programs years before Bush called for volunteers." Everyone else just goes on spewing their crap into the environment like they always did.

The reason voluntary schemes don't work of course is because polluters are not forced to pay the full cost of their activities. Rather than shell out for cleanup, health costs and mitigation of effects, they are able to externalise and dump these costs on other people (meaning, ultimately, us poor dumb schmucks at the bottom). This requires government regulation, either to impose those costs, or to threaten punishment unless polluters clean up their act.

Thoughts on Jennifer Government

If a rather nasty satire about the dreams of Libertarians, Randroids, and marketing-proles is the sort of thing that appeals to you, you'll probably enjoy it. If OTOH you take any of the above seriously, then you probably won't. Personally, I found it extremely funny. There was one bit, however, that really buried the needle on the ironometer: a rant about how without government interference, companies will be able to pay people to tattoo corporate logos on their foreheads, make computers that need repairs after three months, reward consumers who complain about their competitors in the media, pay children to recruit their siblings to their brand of cigarettes, and hire the NRA to eliminate the competition. Apart form the NRA thing, isn't all of that already happening?

Friday, January 02, 2004



Defence spending

ACT is whining about our low level of defence spending again, saying that we should "concentrate first on addressing future threats to our security".

What future threats are those? Australia? Nauru? Penguins from Antarctica? No-one is threatening us, and given our location at the arse-end of the world, no-one is ever likely to (or rather, no-one that we can defend ourselves against; anyone who can threaten us can also walk all over us). The only reason we even have an army is so we can give the loonies who like to play with guns something to do that doesn't endanger the rest of us.

I'm happy to spend "only" 0.9% of GDP on defence; hell, I'd be happy to spend less. But I certainly wouldn't be happy spending more. The government has far more important things to spend our money on - like health, education, welfare, or basic policing.

One rule for you, another for me

Having previously imposed lengthy bans on countries with BSE problems, the US is now demanding that similar restrictions on US beef be lifted. Because, like, it's American, and how dare those foreigners question the safety of Patriotic American Beef!

No doubt they'll be taking it to the WTO next, calling the restrictions a "barrier to free trade".

New Fisk

War Takes An Inhuman Twist With Cats, Dogs and Donkeys Turned Into Bombs.

Thursday, January 01, 2004



Good news from Israel

An Israeli soldier has been arrested for shooting an unarmed British peace activist.

Now, if only they'd start arresting soldiers who shoot unarmed Palestinians as well. Shooting civillians is not war; it is not "self-defence"; it is murder. Israel claims to be a democracy and a civilised country; it is long past time they started acting like it.

New Fisk

The Occupiers, As Ever, Are Damned Either Way - Especially When The Innocent Die
UK Charity Seeks Compensation Over "Lost" Cancer Drugs For Iraqi Children
Clerics plead with guerrillas to think of civilians as US counter-attacks take toll