Saturday, February 28, 2004

Gay marriage spreads... New York. Congratulations to the newlyweds.

A question

If you die while watching the crucifixion scene in The Passion, do you go to heaven?

That's a relief

Oxblog's tally of US senators shows that the Hate Amendment is dead on arrival...

It's nice to see the Democrats showing some spine for once - and to see that not all Republicans are Bible-thumping Dominionist Theocrats...

More on Gun

Why did the British government drop charges against Katharine Gun? Because she was going to turn the tables on them, put the entire war on trial, and expose the depth of uncertainty about not just the legality, but also the neccessity, of the war among top civil servants.

Crooked Timber has an interesting alternative take...

The UN bugging scandal: we're a part of it

There's mention in this story that Hans Blix was bugged, and that

each time he entered Iraq, his phone was targeted and recorded and the transcripts were then made available to the United States, Australia, Canada, the UK and also New Zealand

For people who don't understand why we're on that list, it's because we are involved in a little thing called ECHELON, where we help the US, UK and Australia listen in on international phone calls (and possibly domestic traffic, helping the spies get around government limits on domestic espionage) in a network of mutual back-scratching. And now it's led us to spy on our friends.

Why are we doing this again? Why are we helping the unilateralists undermine the multilateral institutions we depend on? How exactly is this in our interests? Are our secret services even working for us, or are they taking their orders from London and Washington?

I'm expecting fireworks in the House next week as Keith Locke tries to get to the bottom of this, and it looks as if the opening salvo has already been fired...

Friday, February 27, 2004


Don Brash has joined the stream of eminent politicians with blogs.

A cartoon is worth a thousand words

(Stolen from Daily Kos)

School silliness

NZPundit asks if Don Brash is due an apology after raising the silliness of Marlborough Girls College in banning some necklaces but not others? Certainly not. Like most of Brash's examples, this is nothing to do with the government. The policy is set by the local board of trustees, who seem to be following the trend of school boards in being rather silly over uniform issues. The Human Rights Commission often investigates these issues, but has consistently found a wide authority on behalf of schools to decide on dress and uniform; generally if parents can forbid it, then so can a school. I'd like them to find differently in this case, because the policy is discriminatory and because I think such policies are a crock of shit, but I don't hold much hope.

Meanwhile, if you want to do something about it, you can always email them to express your disapproval.

Reminders of Fast-Food Nation

Cleaner dies after accident at freezing works.

It seems that New Zealand freezing works, like American ones, don't shut their machinery down when the cleaners are going through. As a result, they're just accidents waiting to happen.

A victory, of sorts

British home secretary David Blunkett is dropping his plans to lower the standard of proof in terrorism cases, claiming he was "bulldozed" by human rights groups. However, he's still trying to force through secret trials and government vetting of lawyers. Obviously he wasn't bulldozed enough...

Thursday, February 26, 2004


The Ombudsman's report into the "lie in unision" scandal is out, and it's not good. The decision to withhold information was "contrary to law", and those responsible "failed... to display the professionalism and diligence required of public servants". But the Ombudsman was unable to find sufficient reliable evidence to express an opinion on whether there was a conspiracy to deceive him.

I guess a few people at the Immigration Service wil be following their former Minister into the cold...

More on courts and public opinion

Look, I know that there is only so far a court or government can go in swimming against the tide of public opinion, but assuming from the outset that it cannot be done means that it will not be done. Unfortunately, in the case of human and civil rights, promises of jam tomorrow are simply not good enough.

A retraction, and more criticism

NZPols is right - I misrepresented her yesterday by attributing to her views that belonged to the author of the article she was talking about, and I apologise. That said, now that she's actively defending them, I can slag her off anyway, and I stand by my criticisms. The key problem with the argument that

courts pushing these issues before society is ready will result in a majority backlash which will hurt minorities even more

is that is never time for change. There is always a backlash when people stand up and demand their rights. That doesn't mean we should deny their claims because "it's not time yet" or "the majority will never go along with it". Doing that simply legitimises and perpetuates continuing oppression. Worse, it undermines the ability of the courts to act as a neutral arbiter, and thereby encourages defection from the social game.

Sometimes the state has to force people to respect the rights of others. It's that simple. If the state cannot or will not do that, there's no point in having one, and we might as well all get guns and start killing one another.

(As for why this is about utilitarianism, just look at the language - NZPols is explicitly counting hedons, comparing current and pessimistic future states, with the result that the "best" mechanism to ensure that minorities are not oppressed is, apparantly, to continue oppressing them. I say "pessimistic" because other possible future states are discounted - in particular, future states where the government acts to enforce a court-ordered end to oppression (as happened notably with Brown vs Board of Education - President Eisenhower sent in federal troops to ensure the court order was respected). And of course, it takes no account of what people actually want - I think that the scenes in San Francisco show that plenty of people prefer uncertain freedom with the possibility of a future backlash to continuing oppression any day of the week. It may not be best for them in the end, but that choice is ultimately theirs to make - a principle that utilitarianism simply gives no recognition to).

The right complains when people accuse them of racism...

...but think its perfectly acceptable to call Maori "cheeky darkies".

Quod erat demonstrandum.

Report: Slavery alive and well in Florida

This is not a uniquely American phenomenon - there's a growing problem worldwide of "human trafficking", exploiting (often illegal) immigrants into debt slavery, or simply forcing them to work at gunpoint for little pay (which is then extracted through a company store - one of the documented cases from Florida). Most of it occurs in eastern europe and south-east asia, though there's also a worrying trend in Israel. It is interesting to note, however, that out of all western nations, it is the US which seems to have the biggest problem (though whether this is due to the relentless drive for profit in hypercapitalist US society, or simply that slavers in Britain, France etc are better hidden is unclear).

People wanting more info on human trafficking, both in the US and worldwide, should hit a library and check out National Geographic's September 2003 article on "modern slavery". There's an online teaser here, but its incomplete.

Antipodean Journal has a good post about what the government should have done over the foreshore and seabed.

I'm beginning to agree with him - certainly the court case was blown out of all proportion and caused a great deal of panic. Parts of our beaches are already in private hands, and nobody cared about it. Again, I have to question what the actual problem is - whether it is one of scale - too much beach becoming private - or one of who the owners would be (and specifically, that they would be brown, rather than rich and white).

In any case, now that the government (and political parties of all stripes) have promised action, it's probably too late to just back away and leave it all up to the courts. The thing is that the government's proposal of recognising specific cutomary usage rights is probably the best way of reconciling Maori common law property rights with the rights of existing property owners and the customary right of all New Zealanders to go to the beach. Certainly it's better than the outright expropriation proposed by National, which will simply create a problem for future generations. Unfortunately, they've completely failed to sell it - National can still stir racial disharmony by saying that the government is giving the beaches away to Maori, when they're doing nothing of the sort.

Foreshore and seabed: who's keeping who off the beach?

A Nelson man is suing a local yacht club for breaking the terms of its lease with the government and preventing public access to the foreshore...

I await with bated breath the screams of anguish from right-wing politicians about this threat to the New Zealand way of life.

Katharine Gun walks free!

For people who didn't know, she's the GCHQ translator who blew the whistle on British spying at the UN in the lead-up to the war (information has since come to light about how this was used to scupper a last-minute peace deal). She was being charged under the Official Secrets Act. Interestingly, rather than simply drop the charges, the prosecution entered no evidence, so she got an official verdict of "not guilty".

Why did the British government back away from prosecution? No-one is certain, but the most likely explanation is that they didn't like what would come out at trial - specifically, legal advice to the government from their Attorney General on the legality of the war. Alternatively, the government thought that a jury would never convict. Either way, it's a stunning victory, and it also shows that the British government has one hell of a guilty conscience in this area.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004


In response to my comment that an amendment to ban gay marriage would be the first time the US constitution has been amended to limit, rather than expand, human rights, KiwiPundit says:

The constitution has been amended to limit rights before: the eleventh amendment (limitation on lawsuits against states), the sixteenth amendment (income tax enablement), the eighteenth amendment (prohibition) and the twenty-second amendment (cannot elect the same president more than twice), all limit rights of citizens in various ways.

Piffle. Most of that is minor constitutional deck-chair rearranging, and none of it is about human rights. The closest is Prohibition, but it's nowhere near as fundamental or significant as what is being proposed. And the fact remains that an amendment to prevent gay marriage flies in the face of the great progressive trend in the US constitution, from the original Bill of Rights (which was a landmark for the world to follow), through the thirteenth (abolition of slavery), fourteenth (equal protection), fifteenth (no denying the vote on the basis of race), and nineteenth (women's suffrage) amendments.

But, if people want to be anal-retentive, please consider my original post amended to "specificly limit, rather than expand...".

(And sadly, I'm nowhere near as sanguine as KiwiPundit about the likelihood of this amendment failing. Pre-Bush, I would have agreed with him, but with the way the whole tone of America has changed during his presidency, I can no longer be so sure)

Why does it matter what we call it?

Much is being made of Trevor Mallard's to-ing and fro-ing over whether the foreshore will be public domain or in crown ownership. I don't think it matters. The core of the "public domain" concept is open access for all, and a restriction on the government's ability to sell (whether outright prevention or simply requiring an Act of Parliament and the public scrutiny it would involve). But as we can see from the Foreshore And Seabed Endowment Revesting Act 1991, this is already the case for all foreshore actually in crown ownership. In other words, the argument here is not about substance, but about what to call it. "Crown ownership" is highly symbolic, both to some Maori, and to the "one nation" traditionalists in National; "public domain" gets points for making it clear that the foreshore is set aside for public enjoyment. But really, what does it matter what we call it, provided we can all go to the beach?

KiwiPundit has come around on Ahmed Zaoui. But will he be gettting a t-shirt?

I think the Zaoui case is a potent reminder of the perils of secret evidence. As long as the SIS could hide behind secrecy, people gave them the benefit of the doubt. Now that they have been forced to publicise their "evidence", people can see that it does not stack up, and would not provide a basis for a conviction in a court of law. This is why we must resist secret evidence - because it's a licence for injustice.

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness - except for them

Bush has come out in support of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. If passed, it would be the first time the US constitution has been amended to limit, rather than expand, human rights. It's a potent symbol of America's decline, and a turning point on the road from shining beacon of freedom to oppressive theocracy. What happened to the nation which once proclaimed "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" for all?

Meanwhile, NZPols is suggesting that the courts should be driven by public opinion, rather than the law, in making their decisions. On utilitarian grounds, of course. One wonders where this would have left the cause of (for example) Civil Rights in America... would they still have segregated schools because the public "just wasn't ready for it"?

In New Zealand, of course, we don't have US-style judicial review of laws. But NZPols points out that judges following public opinion would probably have ruled differently on the foreshore and seabed issue - which would have been a Good Thing because it would have avoided a divisive debate. Which I think perfectly illustrates my problem with the idea - that it makes people's access to due process and equal protection under the law subject to the whims of the majority. What is being suggested here is a return to the bad old days of partial justice, where minorities or socially powerless groups were unable to enforce their legal rights - not because they didn't have access to the courts, but because the facts of the case were less relevant than the relative status of plantiff and defendant.

(It is also a perfect example of one of the knockdown arguments against utilitarianism: that it legitimises the systematic oppression of unpopular minorities if everyone is "better off" (under whichever criteria you use) that way. Whether the oppressed are "better off", or why they should suffer for the benefit of others is somehow considered to be beside the point.)

Interpreting the law is a slippery business, but I'd far prefer that judges kept public opinion out of it, thankyouverymuch.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004


Today I was listening to Don Brash being interviewed on BfM, and when asked to give an example of a Maori "special privilege", he trotted out Ngai Tahu scholarships. For those unfamiliar with his talking points, he used the same story in the Herald the other day, so I'll quote it from there:

I got a very good email yesterday, for example, from a guy who is a student at Otago University flatting with four other friends.

He said: "I have predominantly European ancestry but some Ngai Tahu ancestry. One of the other four people in the flat also has some Maori ancestry". He said: "By chance the two of us come from the wealthiest families in the flat. The other three are pure European". But, he said, "We both have special scholarships to assist Maori". He said: "My European flatmates are angry and resent that fact that they are scrimping and are having difficulty getting by whereas we from quite affluent families get these scholarships".

What's wrong with this story? Simply the fact that these scholarships have nothing to do with the government. They are funded entirely out of Ngai Tahu's own pocket. But why should Don Brash let that get in the way of stirring up racial disharmony?

Schools backdown

So Trevor Mallard has backed away from his policy of school consolidations, and announced that there will be no more school reviews for five years. Piffle. While there's a lot to be said for preparing for the upcoming demographic downturn, and for spending money on teachers rather than buildings, the fact is that it pisses people off and uses up political capital. And at the moment, there are far better battles to fight.

Monday, February 23, 2004

Delivering real progress

Obviously I'm pissed off with the government over a lot of things at the moment: Ahmed Zaoui, tightening of immigration rules (and forcibly deporting people in need), the "jobs jolt" and its return to mean-spirited beneficiary bashing of the 90's, various bits of legislation that erode civil liberties, and having a bar of the police's demand to be allowed to kill people in secret. But one thing I can't fault them on is their record on social issues. We now have legal recognition of de-facto relationships and of gay parents, a families commission with a more inclusive definiton of "family" than "mom, dad, and 2.5 kids", and a civil unions bill on the way. But more importantly, they're raising the minimum wage again. This is the fourth time Labour has done this, and in the process they've increased the wages of bottom income earners by almost 30%, from $7/hr in 2000 to $9/hr soon. Labour has at least delivered real progess in that area.

And the best bit? Every time the right has warned of armageddon if they're forced to pay people a little bit more, and every time it has completely failed to eventuate. Suck on that, BRT!

Forcing people to acknowledge the rights of others

Propaganda News Network characterises gay marriages in San Francisco as:

homosexual Californians forcing everyone in that state, whether they like it or not, to legally recognize their relationship

Yes, that's exactly what it is - exactly the same, in fact, as Afro-Americans forcing everyone in the US, whether they liked it or not, to legally recognize them as full and equal citizens; or as women forcing everyone in the US, whether they liked it or not, to legally recognize their right to vote. This is a straight-out civil rights issue, and there are often people who reject all progress on these fronts because they feel threatened by others posessing the same rights they have. It's sad to see that PNN is one of them - but somehow not entirely unexpected.

Not a "poor person's bank"

Jim Anderton's famous "people's bank", set up to provide wider access to banking services for people on lower incomes, is denying home loans to low-earners - who are then being welcomed at mainstream banks.

The problem it seems is that they are not counting benefits as income for the purposes of working out how much you can borrow. But every other bank is perfectly happy to. As a result, the very people they were established to serve are being forced to look elsewhere.

Now, there are other banking services besides loans. Being able to just get an account that doesn't rape you for fees is important. But being able to get a mortgage, own your own home, and build your own equity is vastly more important to the dreams of most New Zealanders. That KiwiBank is failing to help in this area when its competitors are is a basic failure in its mission.

For once, Rodney Hide is right - the whole rationale of the bank is in tatters. It was set up to help the poor; it's not doing it properly. Time to put a bit of stick about?

Sunday, February 22, 2004

The dam bursts

Last week the mayor of San Francisco (in what was either a principled stance or a cyncial grab for votes, depending on your political POV) directed his county clerks to start issuing marriage licenses to gays. Since then, people have been flocking to California and queuing around the block to get one. Over three thousand licenses have been issued so far, spawning court cases in California and elsewhere as newlyweds sue to have their marriages recognised (and fundamentalists sue to try and stuff the genie back into the bottle). And now they're issuing licenses in New Mexico, and probably soon in Chicago as well.

It's like watching a dam burst in slow motion. Freedom is breaking out all over the place, and it's beautiful.

"Technical reasons"

Following the UN's lead, US Viceroy Jerry Bremer has declared that there will be no elections in Iraq before 2005 for "technical reasons". Among the "technical reasons" cited were:

[Iraq] has no law governing political parties, it has no voters' list, it has not had a credible reliable census in almost 20 years, there are no constituent boundaries to decide where elections would take place

Why doesn't Iraq have those things? Because the US occupation government has assigned them a low priority and consistently dragged its feet. They've had plenty of time to do a census and compile an electoral roll, for example - but they've decided not to. Work on electoral boundries and the exact structure of any future Iraqi government has taken a back seat to working out how to loot Iraq's assets and sell them to foreign multinationals. The chief "technical reason" is that the US doesn't want an elected Iraqi government, because it will make decisions they don't like.

That the UN is going along with this charade is shameful. Iraq deserves a government run by and for Iraqis, not a bunch of foreign appointees. The UN should be putting its experience of nation-building at their service, so that they can organise a constitution and elections, rather than providing cover for the American failure in this area. Why the urgency? Because this is their one chance to get it right. Iraqis will not wait until 2005 for the Americans to give them their freedom; if they can't get it by the ballot box, they will take it by the gun.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

And another thing...

All along the government and the SIS have stuck by their grossly flawed process and refused to allow any independent review (such as by a sitting Judge or court in camera). After today's events, are we seriously supposed to believe that a government Minister can be trusted with classified and confidential information, while a High Court Judge cannot?

Ahmed Zaoui update: is that it?

Ahmed Zaoui's lawyers have released the SIS's summary of allegations against him - and it confirms all my fears and suspicions about the SIS. The core of it relies on the same old allegations that were comprehensively debunked in the RSAA decision. The only new material is a shockingly bad home video showing (Shock! Horror!) a tall building (the implication should be obvious) - but are we really supposed to deport a man back to torture and death because he'd never have made the cut to be a cameraman on LOTR?

And the key accusation? Zaoui will do the things he's done before - advocate peacefully for a return to democracy in Algeria - to the detriment of New Zealand's "international well-being". Which boils down to "other people might not like it if we let him stay". Fuck that. Peaceful advocacy is not a crime, and it certainly is not terrorism - at least, not in this country. The fact that it is considered as such in Algeria - and seemingly in France, Belgium, and Switzerland as well - is precisely the reason why we should be granting Zaoui sanctuary.

(Zaoui's lawyer's detailed response to the allegations and call for the withdrawl of the Security Risk Certificate is here)

Friday, February 20, 2004

Ever wondered what gays really want?

Attack of the Gay Agenda!

(Link whored from KiwiPundit)

Glad to see the back of her

So much for Lianne Dalziel. But what cased the Prime Minister's sudden change of heart? The cynical view is that she focus-grouped it, and found that the public wanted a scalp. But a little deduction suggests another reason: that there was in fact hard evidence that Dalziel's story about how she had acquired the leaked documents was false (and that evidence could not be kept secret). In other words, a Guinea pig has bought down a Minister. Go Guinea pigs!


I've talked about legislation, I've talked about property rights, but its clear that the most important factor in the whole foreshore and seabed debate is fear - in particular, fear that people won't be able to go to the beach. National have done their best to feed this fear, and engaged in what can only be described as a divisive campaign of scaremongering designed to win them votes. But having taken the time to actually look at the government's proposals, I don't actually see anything there for pakeha to be afraid of.

Why not? Because nothing like an ordinary everyday title, of the sort you might have over a house and with the right to exclude others, is being talked about here. Instead, its all about "customary title" and "customary rights". What do those terms mean? Well, here's what I could cull from the last few days Parliamentary questions:

Customary title is simply a recognition of an ancestral connection; "this tribe used to live around here". It grants no management rights. It cannot be sold. The only significant effect is to recognise the relationship - local authorities have been required to consult Maori ever since National passed the RMA; now they'll know which ones to consult with (at least when it comes to the foreshore).

From the Pakeha point of view, this affects nothing. It does not privilege the opinions of Maori in any way, and it does not stop you from going to the beach. So what is there to be afraid of?

Customary rights are usage rights, granting the right to do a specific thing in a specific place. Yes, they grant "real power" - specifically a power to veto competing uses which interfere with the right; that veto will not be universal, and there will be no power over activities which do not interfere with the usage the right protects. They can not be sold. And from the sound of it, they will not be widespread (the government seems to be following the Court of Appeal in suggesting that the barriers to proving a customary right are quite high).

Exactly what this means depends very much on what usages are recognised - but so far the talk is of things like launching waka and gathering hangi stones. I don't see how either of these examples is going to impact the average recreational user. So what is there to be afraid of?

(For people who don't understand the veto power, I think the best example is of a shared driveway. All users have a right of access up it. No user can build a wall across it and forbid access to the others; if they want to, you get to say "no".)

So, nothing is going to stop us from going to the beach. So why all the fear?

Thursday, February 19, 2004

New Fisk

Beirut has moved on but the scars of war remain

Naked grab for power

The Iraqi Governing Council has effectively abandoned American plans to select a new government by caucuses. But what's their alternative? Why, making them the government, of course.

You really have to admire their naked grab for power, don't you?

Dalziel says she'll resign

If it is proven that immigration staff stole the letter she leaked.

I for one hope they manage to prove it.

The Hansard (Parliamentary record) is now on the web.

Caught red-handed

So Lianne Dalziel has been caught red-handed waging an underhanded spin campaign against a helpless refugee. Having first lied about it, she has now admitted in Parliament that she had her press secretary leak documents to TV3 in an effort to portray Takshila's lawyer as a cynical manipulator of public opinion. Apparantly only politicians are allowed to do that.

It will be interesting to see where this goes from here. Dalziel claims to have obtained the document from the PM's electorate office; Takshila's lawyer says it was never sent there and that it must have been looted from her client's posessions after she was deported. Which is fairly dodgy. Either way, it's an embarassment to the government.

I'd like to see Dalziel forced to resign over this. She has been the most mean-spirited Immigration Minister I can remember, and scandals such as the "lie in unison" memo (and the subsequent attempts to stymie an investigation by the Ombudsman) seem to be a reflection of her attitude that immigrants and refugees are the enemy and anything is justified to keep them out. This latest scandal is not an aberration, but part of a continuing trend. Hopefully it will be the straw which finally breaks the camel's back.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

The New Zealand political spectrum

DeepRed has compiled political compass scores for NZ's political leaders:

This was done before the Orewa Rotary Club speech.

I would have picked Jim Anderton as Righter than that, and Don Brash as a bit more Libertarian (though his social views get a lot less exposure than his economic ones). Helen's progressive social agenda obviously influences her Libertarian score; it would be interesting to compare her with someone like (say) Phil Goff, who is seemingly less progressive.

Trouble for Dalziel?

National MP Judith Collins is trying to get her done for contempt of court for sharing (or at least commenting on) legally privileged information. It seems that the papers she was relying on as a basis for her character assassination of Takshila's lawyer on monday were lawyer-client communications. Not being a lawyer, I'm not sure how sacred they are or how much trouble Dalziel could be in. I'd certainly like to see her sweat, though.

Interestingly, TV3 claims the papers were deposited in an unmarked envelope on a journalist's desk. One wonders who would benefit by publicising them in this manner. The Immigration Minister, perhaps?

New kiwi blog, offering the opinions of "a highly opinionated die hard libertarian technology weenie".

More legislation

ACT and National also make a lot of noise about the Territorial Sea, Contiguous Zone, and Exclusive Economic Zone Act 1977 as part of their argument that the Crown owns the foreshore and seabed. Unfortunately it seems to be as much of a loser as their other central plank.

The relevant part is section 7, which asserts retrospective ownership of the seabed between the low-water mark and the edge of the EEZ. Unfortunately, it too includes one of those annoying "subject to the grant of any estate or interest therein" clauses - which means that if it was already owned by someone else, or a customary right was exercised, then the Crown may not in fact own it.

(Which is why the Court of Appeal was able to find that there was no barrier in law to the Marlborough tribes owning the foreshore and seabed under dispute. The question is one of fact - did they in fact own it in 1840; have they exercised customary rights on it since then - but that is something for the courts to inquire into).

Compare this with the Crown Minerals Act 1991, which universally expropriated all petroleum, gold, silver and uranium still in the ground to the Crown. Its on much firmer legal grounding because it did this "notwithstanding anything to the contrary in any Act or in any Crown grant, certificate of title, lease, or other instrument of title". It could still give rise to a Treaty claim (and I believe that some Taranaki tribes are mounting a claim for oil and gas), but not an ordinary court case.

So, why didn't our politicians use that strong "nothwithstanding" language in legislation dealing with the foreshore and seabed? Because they wanted to respect existing title. People already owned small bits of it here and there - farmers who had their title granted in the 1850's; people whose land had eroded - and the government did not want to expropriate their land. But respecting existing title also necessarily respected common law property rights as well.

More importantly, we as a society have been happy enough for people to own foreshore and seabed for our entire history. Yet now that Maori are pursuing claims through the courts, we're not. Why? What has changed? Is this about the potential scale of privatisation - or about the new potential owners?

If the problem is one of scale - that too much of the beach will be privately owned, and that this will interfere with our customary recreational usage - then any solution should treat all owners equally. If OTOH it is about who the owners are, then its nothing more than racism.

Restaurant Review: Roma (Palmerston North)

Judging by the service, its part of the "slow food" movement - but if you wait around long enough to get the dessert platter, its worth it. The only drawbacks are that a) you have to share it; and b) having sampled the desserts, you'll be faced with serious indecision if you ever go there again.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Ignorance and prejudice

Well, certainly ignorance, if the stats from David Slack's Treaty quiz are anything to go by.

I wonder which questions were the most correctly answered? My gut instinct would be the ones about who has the final say and Habeas Corpus - but it would be interesting to see.

And while we're on the subject

Galesburg has a good post on the deportation of Takshila and what it says about the "humanitarian discretion" of the Minister.

(It's annoying that there doesn't seem to be any permanent way of linking to Galesburg; the URL changes every week. Something the Listener should fix?)

Double standards from the Immigration Minister

Earlier in the week, the Immigration Minister (or rather, her deputy) refused to exercise her "humanitarian discretion" on behalf of a Sri Lankan girl, and had her forcibly sedated and deported back to her abusers.

Today, she has exercised that discretion to extend the work permits of two and a half thousand Zimbabweans.

That's some difference, neh?

I am not for a moment suggesting that she should be telling the Zimbabweans "outski" on the next plane - they are refugees, and deserve our help; of course we should be letting them stay. But I think that the two decisions reveal an enormous double standard, where the Minister bends over backwards to help refugees who are predominantly white, while mounting vicious attacks on those who are brown (and on anyone who dares represent them too effectively).

Perhaps the Minister should be explaining her reasons for the difference in treatment?


ACT is polling its members and asking whether it should merge with National. Certainly one can ask what the point of ACT is, when all their worst (or best, depending on your point of view) policies have been adopted by National...

Raising the level of the debate

"Warmongering flag-waving God-fearing conservative" Propaganda News Network has responded to David Slack's educational quiz with one more to his own liking... this being PNN, it is of course a thoughtful and informative depiction of the facts behind the Treaty debate, rather than a showcase for the prejudices of our local right-wingers. Really.

Did you know?

That we have a Foreshore And Seabed Endowment Revesting Act 1991?

The Act was passed by the then-National government in 1991, for the purpose of revesting in the Crown foreshore which was previously owned by harbour boards (there's a matching Dry Land Act which I haven't read). Interestingly, it includes a Treaty clause. However, it is the 1994 amendment which is of real interest - this set aside all Crown-owned foreshore and seabed and prevented the government from selling it except by specific Act of Parliament. (This is the status quo we all thought we had - a country where no-one could own the beaches, and where the government couldn't hock them off without anyone noticing)

But before anyone gets the wrong idea, there are two sticking points. First, as mentioned above, the Act applied only to foreshore and seabed already owned by the Crown; this was assumed to be everything that wasn't explicitly owned by anyone else, but the Maori Land Court may find otherwise in specific cases. Secondly, and more importanly, the amending Act specifically says it does not limit or affect "any interest in that land held by any person other than the Crown". National and ACT seem quite keen on ignoring this bit, but what it means is that if there was a Maori customary right over a patch of foreshore - or any other common law interest (such as a lease?) - it would not be extinguished.

DOC has a short bit on the Act and foreshore management here.

Update: Thanks to David Ritchie for taking the time to dig the URL out of As he says, "way to go with the accessibility issue there, guys".

Monday, February 16, 2004

This ought to stir some shit

Archbishop Desmond Tutu is going to call for Bush and Blair to apologise for waging an immoral war when he gives the annual Longford Lecture tomorrow. It will be interesting to see how Blair responds to criticism from someone with the moral and human rights credibility of Tutu.

It's his job

NZPols thinks that race relations commissioner Joris de Bres should not have "waded in". I disagree. He would have been remiss in his duty had he not decided to get involved.

The comments themselves were fairly mild. Pointing out that some statements were misleading and warning politicians to avoid using "broad slogans that did not reflect facts" to incite racial disharmony is accurate, reasonable, and well within his job description. The fact that National was singled out is more a reflection of the quality of their statements rather than an indication of bias.

The current debate is at its core about issues of privilege and equality between races, and may have far-reaching consequences for race-relations in this country. It's the commissioner's job to comment and act as a moderator on those sorts of issues, and he can't very well stop doing it simply because a political party has decided to stir things up in the pursuit of votes. The issue is simply too important for that.

I'm always glad I don't live in Feilding, but today I'm particularly glad.

(Though maybe I shouldn't be so glad yet - shows the water level still rising in the upper Manawatu gorge, and people have just been told to go home from Massey because they're going to close the bridge. Fortunately I think I'm in one of the higher parts of PN...)


One year. 994 posts. Over 120,000 words of bloggage, 108,860 of them mine. A short novel's worth, or an over-long PhD thesis. Which kindof tells me what I could do, if only I could find the focus and an interesting topic. But then, I knew that already.

We've had 13,610 visitors, and are currently averaging 90 a day. It doesn't sound like much, but it's more people than I ever thought would be interested in my opinions, and a far cry from the beginning, when I knew every reader personally (and recognised their IP addresses).

Mike's email inviting me to join this blog was a simple "what do you reckon?" Well, I reckon that it's been a worthwhile experience, and that his nefarious plot to get me blogging has succeeded beyond his worst nightmares. What do the rest of you think?

Oh, and if you're interested, Mike's first ever post on No Right Turn is here.

Nate Cull has a beautiful post about Science Fiction and the Age of Rockets.


That's the only way to describe it. I'm disappointed that Don Brash can gain so much by playing the race card and pandering to ignorance and prejudice. I thought we were a better country than that.

I've been waiting around to see the promised additional questions from the poll, and I think the money stat is this one: 57% of respondents thought that Maori were "getting too much" from the government. This is a view that National and especially ACT have worked very hard at promoting - using dodgy statistics or simply making shit up if necessary - but a look at the facts shows that it's simply not the case. Treaty settlements - righting the wrongs of the past - have accounted for about 0.1% of total government spending in the past five years. And in health and education, Maori receive funding which is within one or two percentage points of their proportion of the population. Given the appalling statistics on Maori health, literacy, employment and life-expectency, I fail to see how that is "too much".

The comparisons to Pauline Hanson are entirely appropriate. Like Hanson, Brash has singled out a grossly disadvantaged group, accused them of privilege, and profited by it. Unlike Hanson, Brash is well educated, and ought to know better. That makes it all the more despicable.

While I don't for a minute believe that any of this will lead to "fighting in the streets" (we're definately not that sort of country, and Clayton Cosgrove should be ashamed of himself for that piece of hyperbole), it does stand a good chance of undermining the remarkable progress we've made on race-relations over my lifetime. We've gone from being a country which actively denied the past and relegated Maori to performing quaint little dances for visiting dignitaries to one which acknowledges and attempts to remedy its past mistakes, and where Maori are beginning to partake of the partnership that was promised to them. Understandably, some people (let's call them "our parents") find this threatening - but it is the only way forward. Denying the past will simply result in things festering and being endlessly relitigated. Only by resolving past grievances and ensuring that Maori - like other New Zealanders - partake fully in our society can we move forward.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Why don't people warn me about these things?

I was wondering why the traffic had spiked today, and it seems that (along with Russell and NZPundit) I got my URL in the Sunday Star-Times.

If I'd known, I might have actually written something, rather than slacking all weekend.

New Fisk

British soldiers face new charges of Iraq brutality
Did British soldiers lose all control and decency at the notorious Camp Bucca?
America sets its sights on a new Public Enemy No 1

Saturday, February 14, 2004

New Fisk

The fantasy of democracy in an Arab state
Lebanon swaps its war dead for 'Mossad man'

Friday, February 13, 2004

Public Address's David Slack has prepared a short quiz to illuminate the foreshore / treaty debate.

Stupid bastard

John Campbell obviously feels strongly about his "Corngate" interview, but trying to monster a judge? That's not just stupid, it's possibly criminal!

Hutton on the death of Thomas a Becket

From the Guardian's Huttonise history competition:

"I find the allegation by the Broadsheet of the Borough of Canterbury and its reporter, Andrew of Gillingham, that four knights acting on the orders of King Henry murdered Archbishop Thomas Becket to be totally without foundation and tantamount to libel.

"Archbishop Becket was a well known eccentric and I totally accept the evidence of the respected knights that he repeatedly ran at, and impaled himself upon, their swords when they entered the cathedral to make confession.

"The suggestion that the knights had previously had any communication with King Henry is a gross calumny on the part of the BBC.

"While the allegation that there had existed some dispute between the archbishop and the king is regarded by some as important, it is outside the remit of my inquiry and has no bearing on my investigation."

There's some other good ones there as well.

I just had to quote this

Via Crooked Timber: A response (prompted by Naomi Wolf) to gender imbalances in housework:

My first thoughts were to advise all my single friends to stay away from careerist husbands. Girls, go for the slackers. They might not make senior partner, but they’ll make your dinner and play with the kids. You might not be able to afford a house in a town with a good school district, but so what. He’s made lasagna for dinner.

Chocolate cake, anyone?

A black day for New Zealand

The immigration department has deported that 16-year-old Sri Lankan girl back home to be raped and abused by her family.

We should all be ashamed of this. If the concept of granting sanctuary to refugees and those in need means anything, it means protecting them from that.

But no doubt someone will step up and say that if we'd let her stay, girls would have been getting themselves raped in order to "jump the queue".

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Best of both worlds, part II

MyRight completely misses my point. Tariana Turia was not talking about rights - she was talking about cultures. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting the best of both worlds where culture is concerned.

As for moving forward, arguably we already have the framework he wants; the sticking point is that we're still in the process of giving past events and wrongs due consideration. And it doesn't help that there are people on both sides who want to reject the past and pretend that it never happened, or who feel threatened by the whole process. Fortunately, most of them are old and will die soon, which will make things a hell of a lot easier.

If this is failure, what does success look like?

With the economy continuing to be better than its been for quite some time, the Business Round Table is of course demanding that the government acknowledge that its economic policies are a failure.

But if this is failure, what does "success" look like?

And if that "success" can only be had by a return to the policies of the 90's - policies which have been repeatedly and overwhelmingly rejected by the New Zealand population - then why would we want it? What we have now is good enough - and certainly better for the middle class and the poor than the BRT's alternative.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Best of both worlds

MyRight seems to think that there is some problem with Maori wanting the best of both worlds. Why? All Tariana Turia is saying is that the choice between Maori and European cultures and ways of doing things is not necessarily a binary one, that there are options other than rejecting all that is European and (destructive) assimilation.

Thinking this is revealing or "an inadvertent frank admission" says more about MyRights attitudes than it does about Maori ones.

Well, this is a change

DOC is releasing rats onto offshore islands. It's to find out how they disperse when they first enter an ecosystem. The amusing bit is that they will be using islands which already have rats, to avoid affecting wildlife - so they'll be carefully de-ratting them first to ensure they get good data.

NZPols has a good post on the slipperiness of equality as a concept. I'll admit to sloppiness, and it should be clear from my post that I'm after a more substantive equality than the narrow, formal sense being propagated by Brash and his ilk. This involves both equality of life-chances (a minimisation of the effects of life's various lotteries, at least on the losers) mixed with big, fat globs of well-being and (self-regarding) preference-satisfaction.

The Amartya Sen article, "Equality of what?", can be found online here.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Equality as a front for expropriating the foreshore

What really gets my goat about Don Brash is that all his talk of "one law for all" and eliminating Maori "special privileges" is ultimately targetted squarely at the foreshore. Maori gaining customary title over the foreshore is denounced by Brash as "separatism", and the rights they would gain under such title as a "special privilege". They're not. As NZPols has pointed out, the foreshore is not about "special rights" for Maori - it's about "the same damn property rights that everyone else gets". And National's "solution" - legislating to claim ownership of all foreshore and seabed that is not currently owned by private landholders - is about as unequal and racially-based a policy as you can get.

The foreshore and seabed issue is all about property rights - and if there's one thing that the Treaty is absolutely clear on, it is guaranteeing that the crown would uphold the property rights of Maori. ACT makes a lot of noise about the crown having supposedly formally declared ownership over the foreshore and seabed in the middle of last century; the court apparently disagrees. But more importantly, it's not relevant. What matters is not who owns the foreshore now, but who owned it in 1840. If Maori were exercising property rights over the foreshore in 1840, then the crown had an obligation to respect those rights, and they can be passed on to the heirs and assignees of those iwi and hapu, just as you or I can inherit our grandparent's house, car or cat.

There's a substantive issue of fact over whether Maori did in fact own the foreshore in 1840, but that's why people are going to court: to see whether they did or not. National's "solution" is thus both a denial of due process and a racially-based expropriation. Calling this "equality under the law" is simply obscene.

What's worse is that legislating simply won't work. Any real solution to this dilemma has to be acceptable to the vast majority of New Zealanders, including the vast majority of Maori - otherwise it will simply go to the Waitangi Tribunal, fester, and be relitigated whenever there is a change of government. No matter what you think of the government's plans, at least they are trying to find an acceptable compromise rather than pretend that the Treaty never happened.


On the face of it, Don Brash's call for "equal rights for all" is uncontentious. Egalitarianism is one of the principles of our nation, and it's a good principle to aspire to.

But by ignoring the very real inequalities in health, education, and living standards that exist between Maori and Pakeha today, he turns it into nothing more than a sick joke.

Maori are grossly over-represented at the negative end of almost every statistic. Unemployment. Illiteracy. Life-expectancy. And as the Sunday Star-Times pointed out, it's not just about poverty - in many cases there seems to be a substantial difference between Maori and Pakeha of equivalent income. Race often serves as a proxy for need.

Fixing this requires targetted spending in the core areas of health and education. And we need to fix it, both on general welfarist grounds, and because the spirit of partnership underlying the Treaty demands it. Both reasons demand that Maori enjoy substantially the same life-chances as everyone else - Maori did not sign up to be an underclass, and we are not a society that wants one.

Such spending is of course unequal. So is a progressive tax system and targetting welfare benefits to the poor. We accept such inequalities on the basis that they primarily advantage the least-well-off in our society. So why the hue and cry over funding for disadvantaged Maori?

Brash is just the latest in a long tradition of beneficiaries of unequal status quos using egalitarian arguments to defend their advantages. But the sort of formal, legal equality that they espouse is about as useful as the formal, legal guarantees of human rights in the old Soviet constitution. There's an old line about the law, in its majestic equality, forbidding both rich and poor to sleep under bridges. That's exactly the sort of equality Brash wants to give us - the sort which allows both Pakeha and Maori to be poorer and die younger if they are brown.

Monday, February 09, 2004

NZPols has a trio of good, thoughtful posts on Brash, race-relations and equality.

The terrible human cost of Bush and Blair's military adventure: 10,000 civilian deaths

Just in case you haven't been paying attention to the body-counter on the left of the page...

Down the garden path

Following Bush's lead, Blair is adopting a "blame the spooks" strategy, claiming that he was led down the garden path by intelligence reports that incorrectly said that Saddam had WMDs and was an imminent threat to his neighbours or the world. The problem? The intelligence agencies said no such thing:

Tony Blair was sent three intelligence reports in the six months during the run up to the Iraq war, including one that warned him that information on whether Saddam Hussein still held any chemical or biological weapons was "inconsistent" and "sparse".


...the intelligence services had already reported, before the war began, that Iraq's ballistic missiles had probably been dismantled, and that the presence of UN weapons inspectors in Iraq was making it difficult for Iraq to threaten anyone with weapons of mass destruction.

In other words, the spies were properly cautious about the information they had, and were providing what is in hindsight a relatively accurate picture of events in Iraq. The British government ignored that picture, preferring to believe worst-case scenarios and lurid fantasies of vast stockpiles deployable "within 45 minutes". The only person who led Tony Blair down the garden path was Tony Blair himself.

Friday, February 06, 2004

Starving them to death

Israel's treatment of the Palestinians - it's "closures", curfews, confiscation and destruction of farmland and interdiction of towns and cities - has led to levels of malnutrition as bad as anything in sub-Saharan Africa.

It's one thing to find and punish terrorists, but slowly starving an entire population to death is simply monstrous.

Police HQ orders staff to close ranks on past culture in the force

Looks like we have our very own "blue wall of silence"...

I know no-zink!

Blair is adopting the Sergeant Schultz defence, and claiming that he did not know that the 45-minute claim referred only to battlefield weapons.

And if you believe that, I have some money in the bank in Nigeria I'd like to split with you...

Thursday, February 05, 2004

No surprise there

Turns out that Don Brash's story last night about research funding being denied because "there were no benefits for Maori" is a crock of shit.

Update: And so are his claims about special holidays for Maori in employment legislation. So he lies, and encourages employers to racially discriminate on the basis of that lie. That's fairly disgusting, no matter what side of the political aisle you're on.

Here's mud in your eye

I think its fair to say that, contrary to his assertions, Don Brash's policy speech has generated a fair amount of hostility among Maori...

New Fisk

Saudis blame God's will as 300 pilgrims crushed to death at Haj

Fishy business

One News is following up on the "dinnergate" scandal, tonight alleging that former MP Ross Meurant was working as a lobbyist for Simunovich Fisheries while also working as a policy advisor for NZFirst. But while it's very interesting, I don't see how this sticks to Winston - it's Meurant's conflict of interest (and possibly Simunivich's corruption), not his.


David Farrar on the Police gang-rape inquiry:

there will be no winners - only varying degrees of losers.

I wonder if he says this about every rape investigation?

I would have thought that there would be one clear winner from a thorough, independent investigation, regardless of its outcome: justice.

Just in time for the inquiry

Tony Blair is probably kicking himself for letting Bush force his hand and announcing an inquiry into pre-war intelligence - because the spies are refusing to play scapegoat. Dr Brian Jones, former expert on WMD in the Ministry of Defence's Defence Intelligence Staff, has claimed that intelligence analysts were overruled by their superiors, "resulting in a presentation that was misleading about Iraq's capabilities."

Intelligence chief's bombshell: 'We were overruled on dossier'
Brian Jones: 'There was a lack of substantive evidence... We were told there was intelligence we could not see'

Unfortunately, the Guardian's description of the head of the inquiry as a "safe pair of hands" who is "unlikely to rock the boat" doesn't exactly give much reason for confidence.

(The Guardian also has more on Lord Butler's history and past positions here. Let's make that "no" reason for confidence... the problem with these supposedly "independent" inquiries is that the very people whose decisions are being inquired into get to choose their own judge and decide what can and cannot be investigated. And they wonder why the public has no confidence in the final result...)

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

China Shop vents her spleen about Don Brash.


Another agreement with NZPundit - this time on the fact that Police Association president Greg O'Connor has a twisted sense of priorities:

it worries me that the head of the Police union appears to think public scrutiny and accountability is a 'distraction' rather than an essential tool for maintaining the rule of law.

I'm worried too. It is essential that we be able to have public confidence in the police. These allegations of a cover-up and police officers protecting their mates grossly undermine that confidence. While they're damaging, turning a blind eye is even more so - and that's not even considering the obvious justice aspects.

Something seriously wrong at the Immigration Service

I'm glad to see that Immigration has temporarily backed down from their plan to deport a 16-year-old girl back to Sri Lanka to be raped or murdered by her relatives. But I'm still troubled by the fact that they could even consider doing something so monstrous. Do you have to have your conscience surgically removed in order to work there or something?

Not so funny when you think about it

Somebody stop me from laughing. Gerry "the bruiser" Brownlee as National's new Maori Affairs spokesperson? Could they have selected anyone worse?

And he's now partly responsible for treaty negotiations as well. What will he do? Throw iwi representatives down the stairs?

Except that it's not funny. The transformation of National from a party dedicated to finally resolving New Zealand's historic injustices into a party dedicated to perpetuating and adding to them is more than a little scary. The sooner the urban liberal faction seizes control of National back from the rednecks and ideological propertarians, the better.


I see the annual Waitangi Day angst is starting early this year.

Every year we hear the same chorus: "Waitangi Day is about guilt. We should replace it with a day that we can stand up and be proud of". The problem is of course that national pride of the sort being called for is a deeply un-Kiwi thing. To generalise, the average kiwi does not orgasm at the sight of the flag, has no particular desire to hang it in their front yard or salute it, and can barely remember the words to the national anthem. And IMHO that is a good thing. The last thing we want is a pathalogical flag-cult of the sort they have in the US.

Given who we are, our national day should be laid-back, low-key, and - yes - ambivalent about our progress. A day for relaxing, going to the beach, having a BBQ and enjoying the sun - not for whipping yourself into a patriotic fervor. And if we reflect on the state of our nation, we should remember the bad as well as the good. While we have things to be proud of (women's suffrage; the welfare state; our commitment to human rights; the fact that we didn't commit genocide on our indigenous people) we also have things to be ashamed of (our failure to live up to those ideals; the fact that while we didn't commit genocide, we dispossessed and subjugated and commited grave injustices). And that is as it should be. Nations are not gods - they are not infalliable. They have flaws, and make mistakes. Only by acknowledging this can we hope to do better. And unlike Don Brash and all his self-satisfied pakeha friends who have theirs and don't care too much about how they ultimately got it, I want to do better.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

The chilling effect of Hutton

The BBC tried to pull the first episode of Stephen Fry's radio satire "Absolute Power" for fear that it "would upset No 10".

If this is how far they'll now bend over for a comedy, you really have to wonder what effect Hutton is having on the news...

Update 04/02/04: They didn't can it, but they did sanitise it. We can't have radio comedies being disrespectful of the PM, can we?

Our own governments are doing Al-Qaeda's dirty work

Secret trials. Judges and lawyers vetted by the intelligence services to ensure they reach the right conclusions. No juries. Lower standards of proof required for a conviction. A description of the Military Tribunals planned for the Guantanamo detainees and condemned by the British government? No - that same British government's own plans for terrorism trials, which it hopes to enact before the next election.

Al-Qaeda is winning. They haven't mounted a major attack in months, but they're still winning. They don't need to lift a finger to destroy western democracy - because our own governments are doing it for them.

The poor don't need lawyers anyway...

The British government is planning to end legal aid for first-offenders and petty-criminals. First time burglars, petty thieves and drink-drivers will no longer have lawyers provided for them, unless they are facing prison. Instead, they will be advised how to plead by the Magistrate or Clerk of the Court (!) So much for impartiality...

It's all about saving money, of course - but at the cost of justice and social equality. In particular, it raises the spectre of a return to a class-based justice system. Adequete representation is a significant factor in convictions; people with lawyers are far less likely to be found guilty than those without. British conservatives will no doubt claim that the wealthy simply don't commit petty crimes (of course not - they never drive drunk, their kids are never stupid teenagers, and they never stole a policeman's helmet in the wild days of their youth); and besides, they're not facing prison, only a fine, so it's not like it really does any harm, does it?

Obviously they've never been accused of something they didn't do. Neither have I, but unlike conservatives, I don't assume that everyone accused of a crime is automaticly guilty.

This is a significant erosion of the rights of the accused, and likely to lead to more miscarriages of justice, but it gets worse. The British government doesn't only want to stop the poor and vulnerable from consulting lawyers - they want to stop everyone:

Ministers also want to end the automatic right to legal advice after a defendant has been charged and before his or her appearance in court. Another proposal will limit the provision of legal advice in the police station to telephone advice in certain cases where a solicitor cannot "advance" the client's case by attending the police station.

In other words, it's all about upping the conviction rate by exploiting people's ignorance of the law to get them to confess or plead guilty. And this from a supposedly Labour government.

Once more, I'm glad to live in a sane country, where we understand that justice costs money, and that the poor as well as the rich need lawyers...

New Fisk

Why Israel will do business in the hostage bazaar

Monday, February 02, 2004


The Bush administration is to announce an independent inquiry into the intelligence used to justify the war in Iraq. The purpose of course is to pin the blame squarely on the CIA rather than the President and his cabal of NeoCon advisors. "War? We didn't want to go to war, but the CIA presented such damning evidence that we felt that we had to. But remember, the threat was not 'imminent', nosiree".

This flies in the face of the facts. The NeoCons spent the last two years slagging off the CIA for being too cautious in their assessments of Saddam's WMD capability and his links to al-Qaeda. They created a parallel intelligence apparatus dedicated exclusively to telling them what they wanted to hear. And now that things have gone sour, they expect the CIA to carry the can?

It will be interesting to see whether Bush's "independent" inquiry will investigate these matters, or whether it will be another Hutton-style whitewash. My money is on the latter.

(And in other news, the White House is continuing to stonewall an independent inquiry into the September 11th attacks...)

Sunday, February 01, 2004

And you thought he was just a singer

Thom Yorke: This theatre of the absurd

Moral Obligations

Sock Thief says:

it is hard not to accept that the international community has a moral obligation to intervene in circumstances of oppression

Sure. But such interventions should be embarked on cautiously, in full awareness of the mess it will involve and the fact that doing it wrong can make things much, much worse. I think the word I'm really looking for here is "humility"... we will fuck up, so we have to be damn sure its worth it. And we have to be damn sure that we're not being taken for a ride by someone using humanitarianism as cover for aggression... otherwise, we end up giving "humanitarian intervention" such a bad reputation that we can't do it when its really necessary.

It doesn't have to be perfect, but we can (and should) do a damn sight better than Bush's gung-ho cowboy act.

The vanishing case for Iraq

As the months have gone by and Saddam's WMDs have failed to be uncovered, supporters of the war have increasingly fallen back on humanitarianism as a justification for the Iraq war. "Saddam was a tyrant who oppressed his people", the usual refrain goes, "he had to be overthrown to save Iraqis".

So what do the real humanitarians think of this? Human Rights Watch - an organisation which was chronicling Saddam's crimes when Bush I was ordering his troops to stand by and let the Shi'ites be massacred - doesn't buy it. It's director, Ken Roth, examines the conditions under which humanitarian military interventions are justifiable, and concludes that the war in Iraq was not justifiable on humanitarian grounds.

The analysis parallels traditional analyses of when it is permissible for an individual to use force in defence of themselves or others. However, because war is such a messy and uncertain business, with far greater potential for death, destruction, and disorder, HRW sets the bar far higher. Without the consent of the local government, humanitarian intervention

...can be justified only in the face of ongoing or imminent genocide, or comparable mass slaughter or loss of life

While Saddam had certainly met this threshold in the past (notably during his 1988 campaign against the Kurds, and in suppressing the uprisings against his regime following his defeat in Kuwait in 1991), there was nothing on this scale going on in early 2003, and no obvious preparations for such. HRW concludes that

Brutal as Saddam Hussein’s reign had been, the scope of the Iraqi government’s killing in March 2003 was not of the exceptional and dire magnitude that would justify humanitarian intervention

But what if it had been? HRW lays out five subsidiary conditions which must also be met. Military action for humanitarian motives must:

  • be a last resort;
  • be "guided primarily by a humanitarian purpose" (this does not preclude other motives, but they must be subsidiary);
  • comply with international human rights standards (the means must be concordant with the ends);
  • be reasonably likely to actually make things better; and
  • ideally should be endorsed by the UN or other appropriate multilateral institutions, except in extremis.

HRW concludes that even if the brutality of Saddam's regime had justified intervention, it did not meet these conditions. The war was not a last resort (quite the contrary - Bush has been looking for an excuse to attack Saddam since taking office); at the time it was sold as being all about WMDs, terrorism and preventing an "imminent threat" to the United States; it was conducted with significant disregard for civilian lives; post-war planning was inadequate to non-existent, virtually guaranteeing the total collapse of security and living standards we have seen, and inviting a civil war when the US departs; and there was no UN or multilateral support - the international consensus was firmly against the war.

That's a fairly thorough trashing of the "humanitarian justification". I wonder what ad-hoc excuse Bush's supporters will trot out next?

(As for Juan Cole's disagreement, the case of the Marsh Arabs is fairly well covered by those five criteria; the war that was planned and the war we got simply did not meet those conditions. Justifying the war as punishment for Saddam's past crimes is more interesting... self-defence theory rules out using force after the fact if there is no threat; if you see a murderer eating lunch in McDonald's, you can't just shoot him. However, if the US had pursued the course of action suggested - approaching the UN demanding action under the Convention on Genocide, and effectively deposed (in the medieval sense) Saddam for his crimes - then their actions would have been entirely justifiable...)