Wednesday, March 31, 2004


The High Court has found that SIS Inspector-General Laurie Greig displayed apparent bias in the Ahmed Zaoui case and that he should stand aside:

In our judgment the Inspector-General’s interview statements about refugees and his subsequent dealings with the Director and members of the media raise, when considered together, the real possibility of apparent bias against Mr Zaoui when undertaking his review of the Director’s decision: in the first instance of undue disfavour or partiality against Mr Zaoui, and in the second of undue favour or partiality towards the Director.


We agree with Mr Harrison that this process requires adherence to the highest standards of impartiality, given Mr Zaoui’s complete reliance on the Inspector-General’s performance of his functions and the consequences for him of an adverse decision. It is also imperative that a process of this importance, both to Mr Zaoui and to our wider security interests, is not tainted by tenable, ongoing questions about the Inspector-General’s independence. These factors lead us to conclude that the Inspector-General should stand aside from the review process

(The full decision is here)

Greig has responded by submitting his resignation to the Governor-General.

While this will undoubtably delay proceedings even further while a replacement I-G is appointed, it's still a major victory for Zaoui. All along he's been fighting for a fair process; this decision makes that more likely. In the process he has also defended the right of all new Zealanders to fair, open and impartial justice, and that is something we should all be celebrating.

Update: Meanwhile, ACT is saying that the Zaoui case should never have been allowed to get in front of a court, and Winston Peters that it is "scandalous" that Zaoui has "successfully challenged the top security official in New Zealand at the taxpayers’ expense". Justice, it seems, is something only deserved by rich, white people - not by refugees.

Meanwhile, United Future's prime concern seems to be the cost to the taxpayer of keeping Zaoui in prison. To the extent that this encourages swift justice, it is good - at the same time, there's some obviously misplaced priorities there. And if the government is that concerned about the cost, they can always do what they should have done all along, and release Zaoui on bail pending the outcome of the review of his Security Risk Certificate.

Scoop has a long and interesting article about the SIS and Laurie Greig. Go read it.

Healing the past

The New Plymouth District Council last night voted to start the process of returning land confiscated at the beginning of the New Zealand Wars to local Iwi.

The land will be passed to the crown to be included as part of a final settlement. Assuming, that is, that the council can fight off the leasholders, who seem to be intent on restarting the wars all over again...

New Fisk

Bremer closes hardline newspaper and Iraqis ask: Is this democracy US-style?

Pamplona has the running of the bulls, Te Kuiti has the running of the sheep...

Palestine update

The underfunded UN Relief and Works Agency is being forced to cut off food aid to Gaza because of Israeli security restrictions.

At the same time, Ariel Sharon's Likud party is planning to poll its members on whether to pull out from Gaza. Shouldn't they be polling the Palestinians?

Some thoughts on energy policy

Here's a few semi-coherent thoughts sparked by Aqua's demise:

Firstly, contrary to the hysteria from the business community, we are not facing any sort of electricity shortage in the near-term. According to these figures from the Minister of Energy, there is 685 MW of new generating capacity planned for the next three years (I'm deliberately excluding reserve generation from this figure). This compares well with our projected demand growth of 150 MW a year.

Secondly, in response to the comment from Comalco that it seems that "no-one is responsible" for electricity planning: this is what happens in a market. The business community wanted markets for everything, and (thanks to Max Bradford), they got one for electricity. It seems a little rich for them to compain about it now.

(IMHO electricity generation is an area which would benefit from centralised planning. The invisible hand seems to spend too much time scratching its head over uncertainties in other markets (see below), or rubbing its invisible partner with glee at the thought of windfall profits from shortages, rather than providing an efficient network with sufficient slack to deal with dry years and maintenance downtime. But a market is what we have, and I don't think we can get rid of it, so we'll just have to try and make the best of it).

Thirdly, while we don't seem to have a short-term problem with generating capacity, we do have a signficant medium-term problem: Maui. 21% of our electricity is generated by burning natural gas, the bulk of it from this field. It will run out in the next few years, leaving us with a significant shortfall. While there are other fields, they are much smaller, and will only extend things for a few extra years (and at a much higher price). And because Maui gas was rediculously cheap, it discouraged exploration for twenty years, meaning that there are no major fields in reserve. While there's some promising steps being taken to resolve this problem (by the market, even), it's still an enormous source of uncertainty. Unless there's a major find in the next two years, we will need to switch our gas-fired stations over to coal.

(Interestingly, Project Aqua was having the same effect as Maui, even before it was built. It could produce electricity cheaper than any alternative (mainly because there's no rental on water), and this discouraged other companies' plans for new generation.)

Burning coal for power is like rolling in your own excrement. It's dirty, causes acid rain, and is not particularly energy efficient. On the carbon front, it generates about three times as much CO2 per MegaJoule as gas, so in order to meet our Kyoto obligations we will need to plant a lot more trees. Unfortunately, we have shitloads of it, so it's the natural fuel of last resort (I'm with Mike in regarding the prospect of using nuclear power in New Zealand as laughable).

Can we avoid having to return to a nineteenth century fuel? Probably not, at least in the short term. But we can go a long way towards reducing its necessity. According to the Ministry of Economic Development's report on Power Generation Options for New Zealand, there is significant untapped geothermal capacity (a few hundred MW worth). There is also "at least 1000MW - and possibly 2000MW" of additional hydro capacity with "limited environmental impact" (though MED reccommends a serious study of resources in this area, since the last studies were done back in the 80's). And finally, there's wind, which seems to be the obvious choice. Wind turbines are cheaper than hydro, cost-competitive with coal, can be installed quickly, and have few environmental issues. They are also modular, allowing them to easily cope with growth in demand. The total available resource is estimated at 8000 GWh/yr, about twice the total currently generated by natural gas, so there's plenty of room for growth.

So in the long-term, we can achieve a green mix of hydo and wind supplying baseload, with peak "firming" and dry-year generation supplied by geothermal and coal (or gas). But in the short-term, we will probably have to burn some coal. We can reduce this amount by encouraging wind now, and to some extent the government is already doing this. We can also to some extent rely on the incentive structure set by the RMA. The cost of gaining resource consents for a coal-fired plant in both time and money are likely to be significant; the costs for a windfarm are much less (Meridian's Te Apiti site took a mere four days to gain its consent; I expect a coal-fired plant to be bogged down for years). This alone should encourage our electricity generators to do the right thing.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Fabricating a threat

Remember those mobile nuclear and bioweapons labs that the Americans were so obsessed with? The ones that Powell talked about in front of the UN? The ones that weapons inspectors have found no trace of? Unfortunately, there's been some disturbing revelations about the Americans' primary source on these phantom trailers: he made it all up, and was simply telling them what they wanted to hear. In exchange for a large amount of cash, of course.

Powell's "eyewitness" was actually the brother of one of Ahmed Chalabi's top aides. He lied about his academic credentials, and "omitted to tell his interlocutors he had been fired as a chemical engineer for the Iraqi army and jailed for embezzlement before fleeing Iraq in the late 1990s". He is now regarded by his handlers as an "out-and-out fabricator".

But I guess when you want to fabricate a threat, an out-and-out fabricator is who you turn to...

New Fisk

Black flags and veils as religion returns to campuses of Iraq

Monday, March 29, 2004

Political violence

From Orcinus: A livejournal user posted a photoshop of Dubya as a Klan Grand Dragon (sadly no longer viewable). This so offended some Republican fucktards in Kansas (where evolution didn't happen TM) that they stalked him over the net, then stole a van, drove all the way to Atlanta (where the guy lived), grabbed him outside a restaurant, beat him, cut him up, raped him with a sawn-off broomstick, and left him to die in an alleyway.

After reading this, I'm not sure about America being a pre-fascist state anymore.

Project Aqua is dead

This is probably the best decision, since it was a fairly dumb idea to begin with. Hydro is something you use for storage, not for flow-through generation. At the same time, it does still leave is with the problem of having to meet increased demand for electricity.

Guess Meridian will just have to start building windfarms...

Update: I see that the great RMA whinge has started already. And United Future's Gordon Copeland seems to think that Aqua included plans for a time-tunneling power cable which would bring us electricity from the future - that's the only way I can explain his comment that the project's demise creates the risk of "an electricity supply-and-demand gap in just three years".

Contrary to Copeland's hysteria (and that displayed on One News tonight), Aqua's cancellation does not mean the end of the New Zealand economy as we know it. We will simply build something else. The insane cheapness of Aqua - 4.5 c/kWh, rather than the 6 c/kWh or more of other proposals - caused its competitors to shelve their plans for new generating capacity. Now that Aqua is down the gurgler, they'll be dusting off those plans, rechecking the numbers, and starting the ball rolling again. Expect to see announcements in about six months.


Sock Thief is signing out...

Party of bigotry

United Future has announced their intention to try and scupper the Civil Unions Bill. But rather than pulling the traditional "homosexuality is evil" line, they've decided to present it as a case of misplaced priorities, asking:

"Why are we putting gay marriages before making sure that there are enough police on our streets, before ensuring that the sick get quick and effective treatment at our hospitals, before unclogging our roads and before giving our kids the education they need to survive in an increasingly complex world?"

Of course, that's a false dichotomy - the government is (theoretically) working on all of those issues to. But I'd also say that all those issues pale in significance compared to ensuring the fundamental equality of all New Zealanders. And that's what this is about - fundamental equality. Those who oppose civil unions or outright marriage are saying that gays - because of who and how they fuck - do not deserve to be treated the same as other New Zealanders, and that their sexuality marks them as less than full citizens. This is bigotry, and no more defensible than old-fashioned sexism and racism. If people don't like having that pointed out, then perhaps they shouldn't be bigots.

Suspicion is not enough

NZPols takes issue with my objecting to proposed SIS powers. Unfortunately she seems to have missed all that stuff at the bottom about "reasonable limits that can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society", preferring instead to allege an absolute position and focus on my distrust of the SIS. So I guess I'll just have to expand my point a little...

Of course we can restrict the movement of people who are in jail (or those who are awaiting trial and may be a flight risk, or those who are insane enough to be a danger to themselves or others) - those are certainly reasonable limits in a free and democratic society. Could national security concievably provide a reason for restricting travel? Of course it could. The problem though is that these proposals put power in the hands of a body which has been shown to be incompetent, and has some fairly strange ideas about what "national security" means (it's all about spying on unions and burgling the homes of political activists, judging by their past behaviour). And this points to another key problem: that there is no independent oversight, no uninvolved pair of eyes looking at the question.

To go back to the example of jail, we do not let the government imprison people without trial. Such power is simply too open to abuse (and the abuses too terrible) for them to be trusted with it. Instead, we demand that they present their case before a judge, and prove it beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury.

(Unlike NZPols, I have no faith in the leader of the opposition as a sufficient safeguard. A party which denounces critics of increased SIS powers as "cringing, screaming lefties" has as much as indicated that it does not care about the human rights of the very people it would have to protect).

Unfortunately, lack of independent oversight isn't the only problem here. The chief one is that restricting travel is punishment before the crime. We don't allow the police to lock people up because they "might" commit a crime - you have to do something first. We allow conspiracy charges where there is strong evidence of active plotting, but the police don't even get to take it to court if all they have is vague suspicion or a belief that someone is a "bad person". Why not? Because it would be fundamentally unjust. The bar to allow such an injustice must be very high indeed, and where there is danger of abuse we are better (and in fact have repeatedly chosen) not to take the risk.

Intelligence by its nature deals in uncertainties and probabilities. But if vague fears and paranoia aren't enough to restrict people's freedom after the fact, then there is no way they can justify such restrictions before a crime has even been committed. Suspicion simply is not enough. If the SIS has real evidence that a New Zealander is going to travel overseas for some nefarious purpose, then they can fucking well lay charges (for conspiracy, or fundraising, or membership in a terrorist organisation); if they don't have evidence, or their "evidence" is of the quality so-far demonstrated, then they'll just have to do their job and gather more.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

New Fisk

Sunni and Shia share grief at doctor's murder

More worries for Bush

The Polish PM is quitting. While it may not lead to an election, a change of PM or government could lead to a Polish withdrawl from Iraq.

When did we bcome a tyranny?

The government is planning draconian changes to our citizenship and passport laws, including:

  • Removing the automatic right of citizenship from babies born in New Zealand to foreign parents.
  • Giving the SIS the power to deny or revoke the passports of New Zealand citizens for reasons of "national security".

The first proposal strikes at the heart of what this country is all about. New Zealand has traditionally been a generous, open and welcoming country. Our openness to immigration, tolerance of dual citizenship, and welcoming of refugees and those in need reflect this - as does the general outward-looking viewpoint created by our diaspora. Our position has always been that if you are born here, you're part of the family, no matter who your parents are or where they came from. I don't think this is something we should be changing.

The second is simply horrific - our freedom to travel will depend on the whim of a faceless, unaccountable security agency. The Zaoui case has already exposed the shoddy quality of the "evidence" the SIS uses to justify their decisions, as well as cast significant doubts on the independence and methods of their Inspector-General. Add to that their credulous and subserviant attitude to foreign intelligence agencies and their general lack of democratic oversight, and there is a grave danger of these powers being used against people whose only "crimes" are political, rather than against people who are actively dangerous.

Quite apart from concerns about the competence and motives of the SIS, there is also the fact that this is one of those things that no government can be trusted with. Like imprisonment without trial, restricting movement or stopping people from leaving the country is one of the classic hallmarks of tyranny. The New Zealand government recognised this by including in the Bill of Rights Act 1990 a clause protecting freedom of movement, the right of every New Zealand citizen to enter New Zealand, and the right of everyone to leave. This can be restricted only by such reasonable limits that can be "demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society." An SIS veto on our freedom of travel is neither reasonable, free, nor democratic. It should be opposed by anyone who cares at all about human rights.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

New Fisk

Slaughter of Iraqi ’collaborators’ undermines US sovereignty hopes
Welcome to Gaddafi's mad, mad world

Friday, March 26, 2004

Go Matt!

Following the effective demise of the Alliance, Matt McCarten went back to organising unions. Through Unite, he's been trying to organise people at the very bottom of the job market - people who are minimum-wage and casualised, like hotel cleaners. Now he's setting his sights on the biggie: fast food.

It will be an interesting shitfight, to say the least. In the US, the fast-food chains are ferociously anti-union; they depend on paying people minimum wage for their profitability. Usually when faced with a unionisation campaign, they just fire anyone who seems sympathetic and threaten to close up shop (and start up again on the opposite side of the street). Because we have actual employment laws in this country, they won't be able to do that. But I expect they'll still fight tooth and nail to resist any attempt to gain a collective agreement.

Anyway, good on Matt for trying, and here's hoping he succeeds.

How do you lose an ICBM?

Ukraine has apparantly lost several hundred ICBMs. They decommisioned them during the 90's after independence, but have no record of them actually being destroyed. Poor record-keeping is the most likely explanation, but you still have to worry. For some reason I'm thinking of the Second-Amendment fundamentalist in Iain Banks' The Business who thought that his "right to bear arms" extended to a couple of Scuds concealed in grain silos..

New Kiwi Blog

Big News. Note that he's moved since I first posted this.

Knee-jerk responses

As a response to the Madrid bombings, the EU is holding an emergency counter-terrorism summit to agree on new security measures. Unfortunately, only about half the plans on the table have anything to do with actually fighting terrorism, the rest being a grab-bag of everyone's pet projects to strengthen police powers at the expense of liberty.

So for example we have the British proposal of maintaining "communications traffic data", which means databasing everyone's cellphone records and email routing information, as well as location-tracking data, to allow future data-mining to find terrorists (and god knows what else). Or requiring biometric identification in passports (which means universal fingerprinting). Or requiring airlines and other transport operators to share passenger information without any judicial oversight. Or the creation of a terrorist blacklist allowing funds to be frozen and travel restricted, with no requirement for a preliminary investigation and no judicial review to correct mistakes (the US already has such a list; the primary targets seem to be Greens, democrats, and other critics of the Bush administration; just imagine how Berlusconi will use one). The overall trend is one of increased surveillance and heightened police powers, a giant fishing expedition which will reduce people's privacy and civil liberties while doing SFA to actually fight terrorism.

How can this happen? Crooked Timber's Maria Farrell has a few choice words on the subject:

The JHA Council of Ministers is the ultimate in echo chambers; a place where unpopular justice ministers can gather with their brethern to agree on often draconian measures that are then presented to national parliaments as a fait accompli. Unless, of course, some party pooper uses their veto. [These] issues cut to the heart of state sovereignty because they are at the hard edge of differences about the role of citizens and the state. And these are the very issues that state representatives decide in secret, horse-trading with their European counterparts and flogging our liberties to the lowest bidder.

It's a perfect example of the need for greater democratic oversight in the EU. These decisions are simply too important to be made by authoritarians in secret.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Via Crooked Timber: Noam Chomsky has started a blog. Except he's not writing it directly - some poor minion is extracting it from forum posts and emails and sticking it all in one place.

I'm sure Sock Thief will love it.

No marriage for gays = no marriage for anyone

An Oregon county is now refusing to marry anyone because they don't want to treat people unequally. I'd like to think that putting hetrosexuals in the same position as gays will cause them to rethink their position, but they can simply drive over the county line and get married. Gays can't.

OTOH, it may force the Oregon state legislature to clarify the law, and provide opportunity for a challenge under the state or federal constitutions.


In her comments on Treaty clauses, NZPols presented an interesting counterfactual situation: Assume that we've misinterpreted the Treaty, and that we then discovered we were wrong and that

the only viable interpretation of the Treaty was that Maori had not ceded sovereignty to the Crown in 1840, and therefore still had sovereignty over New Zealand. Assume that there is only one person of Maori ancestry left in New Zealand. Would you be willing to honour the Treaty and bow to him as King?

No. Off with their head, and long live the republic.

This neatly illustrates the fact that, to the extent that they impact on constitutional provisions, debates around the Treaty are not just a matter of the interpretation of the text, but also of the consent of the governed. If a reinterpretation of the Treaty requiring significant constitutional change is not widely shared, or requires people to submit to non-representative government or even just a change in the name of our titular, meaningless figurehead, it will not be accepted, regardless of the legalities.

This is one of the reasons I'm uneasy about the entire Treaty having legal force - because all of the parts which talk about "sovereignty" are effectively dead letters. Article One was meaningful in 1840, both as a mark of consent and formal cession, and to signify to other colonial powers that this patch was taken, but it's difficult to see its relevance now in anything but a historical sense. Our government isn't sovereign because its the successor of Governor Hobson; its sovereign because we overhelmingly believe it to be so.

(Since Article Two doesn't touch on sovereignty (except in the minds of the tino rangatiratanga people), it's far easier to see it as a straight out contractual agreement).

New Fisk

The day the 1st Armoured Division, with guns at the ready, came to check on our man in Baghdad
Finnish civilians join list of fatalities as 14 British soldiers hurt in Basra

Read the first one - the US Army searched his hotel room at gunpoint. Someone in the CPA obviously doesn't like the criticism levelled at the occupation, and has decided to dish out a little military harassment.


The article of the day seems to be George Monbiot's "A charter to intervene" from the Guardian. In it he argues in favour of the UN as the ultimate arbiter of when a supposed "humanitarian intervention" is justified, and for reforming the UN charter to allow it to licence such wars. I agree. There's a problem, and sometimes military force might be a solution; while one nation or a coalition of nations may seek to use humanitarianism to mask other objectives (as the Italians did in Abyssinia and the US did in Iraq), requiring them to run it past others and gain the approval of uninterested parties makes this much more difficult.

Yes, I know I'm agreeing with Sock Thief here, but it's actually not that surprising. We're both liberal internationalists; we just have different opinions of George Bush and Robert Fisk.

What may surrise Sock Thief is that many of the anti-war movement would also agree with Monbiot. The UN is seen as a source of international legitimacy by non-Americans; an explicit Security Council motion permiting action against Iraq would have removed many people's objections (at least to the extent that it was believed to be free of threats and bribery from the US).

What scuppers it of course is that any serious UN reform has to include reforming the Security Council by removing the veto and the idea of "permanent" members. And the vetoholders will never allow that to happen. As a result, the UN's legitimacy will continue to suffer.

(Monbiot's article has also spurred Morgue to say some interesting things).

New Fisk

The man who knew too much

Wednesday, March 24, 2004


Nick Smith has been convicted of contempt of court for publicly commenting on a case before the Family Court. He'll probably just get fined, but the charge has no maximum sentence, so he will be forced to resign from Parliament. This will require a byelection in Nelson, which Smith will almost certainly win if he stands.

Guess he should've used Parliamentary privilege after all.

Anyway, the positive side for Smith is that by becoming a martyr for his cause, he's almost certain to get the reforms he wanted. If he's serious about them, then a fine and byelection are a small price to pay.


Sock Thief is trying to tar critics of Israel's policy of assassination as anti-semites...

Former Human Rights Commissioner Chris Lawrence has an excellent article in the Herald about the conflicts between the government's proposed foreshore and seabed policy and our international human rights commitments...

I'd add that it's far more of a problem for National's policy of race-based expropriation, or, as they put it, "legislating crown ownership". At least the government is trying to find an actual solution, rather than exacerbating the problem.

Groping towards a solution

According to Stuff, the government is set to ditch the "customary title" concept. I guess they just decided it was too confusing. And it's a shame in some ways, because recognising ancestral connections literally costs pakeha nothing, but may have helped build acceptance among Maori for the government's policies.

OTOH, they seem to be sticking firm on the core concept of protected customary rights, though still tinkering as to who will be handing them out. And they seem to be moving in the right direction regarding access to the courts and due process.

WMD discovery

Phosgene and perfluoroisobutylene, cannisters of the stuff, leaking in a shed. But not in Iraq - in the US.

The US, it seems, doesn't keep track of its chemical weapons very well. Poor record-keeping means that they don't know what's where, and their habit of outsourcing manufacture and research to private contractors means that there are stocks outside of military control. "Safety and security at private chemical facilities are the responsibility of that company", according to the US Army; the companies unfortunately regard security as an expense to be dispensed with. As a result, stocks of chemicals that are restricted or banned under the Chemical Weapons Convention are lying around unguarded, literally waiting for terrorists to take them.

But instead of worrying about their own backyard, they insist that any WMDs falling into terrorist hands would come from Iraq. Is that stupidity or what?

New Fisk

The chilling implications of this state killing

Tuesday, March 23, 2004


The Cairns Group has agreed to work with the G20. This is what we should have been doing all along.

If none of the above made any sense: the Cairns Group is "our" trade club. It consists of major agricultural exporters (like Australia, Canada, and Brazil - but not the US) who favour trade liberalisation in agriculture. The G20 is the group of poorer countries who revolted at last year's WTO talks in Cancun and demanded that the wealthy nations finally honour their promises on - you guessed it - trade liberalisation in agriculture. As you can see, there's some obvious common ground there, and commentators at the time were surprised that the Cairns Group hadn't immediately backed the G20 - especially since there's so much overlap between the groups. Now it seems that the Cairn's Group's poorer members have finally managed to drag the wealthier ones around to supporting them.

If free trade is to have any real meaning and effectiveness, it must be conducted on fair terms. The current system - where the first world forces the third to open their markets, but refuses to reciprocate - makes a mockery of the term. It's unjust, and one of the chief impediments to poor countries doing anything to better their prospects. So it's a Good Thing that we are finally backing the poor and helping to change this.

Unfortunately, judging by what happened last time, making real progress may be difficult.

More on Treaty clauses

Both KiwPundit and NZPols have responded to my post on Treaty clauses. They're worth reading in full. Meanwhile, here's some comments:

KiwiPundit says

I absolutely believe that the Treaty should be enforced by statue, or even better by a binding constitutional document, and that parliament should enact whatever is necessary to make this happen.

At the same time, he thinks Treaty clauses are really only relevant insofar as crown property is subject to a Treaty claim. I disagree - the clauses tend to apply to powers exercised under an Act, not just to property. To take the example of the Crown Minerals Act 1991, the Treaty clause would apply to attempts to grant exploration or extraction rights to minerals (crown property, unless its pounamu) under land of special significance to Maori - such as burial sites, archeological sites, or sites of spiritual significance. The standard language doesn't rule out granting such permits, but it probably imposes a duty to consult. I think it would, however, rule out something like extracting a hypothetical gold deposit within Mt Taranaki by mountaintop removal.

Because his view is centered around property, KiwiPundit thinks the clauses are overused. I'm not so sure, but think we should be cautious all the same. We should use Treaty clauses where we think they are necessary, but we probably shouldn't write them into every piece of legislation.

NZPols asks whether I'd support adding a clause against expropriation without compensation to our Bill of Rights? While I don't think property is absolute in any sense of the word, I'm generally in favour of the government compensating people if they forcibly acquire it, so I don't think its a bad idea (obviously, it would have to be made clear for the benefit of the wingnuts that it doesn't apply to taxes, having to fill out PAYE forms, or any of the other stuff they denounce as "slavery").

The reason for the focus on Treaty clauses as a preventative measure in my post was because it's the area where lack of enforceability has so obviously led to gross injustices in the past.

The questions about other possible treaties are interesting. Certainly an arrangement whereby British settlers were allowed to live here under Maori sovereignty as full citizens would have been acceptable. An arrangement whereby Maori sold themselves into slavery would not be. The difference between the former and latter (and latter and actual) case is that one treaty would have been morally repugnant on its face, and therefore not binding. I don't think the actual Treaty was morally repugnant - but the way in which we violated its letter and spirit was.

Her interpretation of the Treaty as a straight-out contract is I think how many people think of it, at least as regards property rights - which is why its so shocking when you read for the first time that early judges thought it wasn't binding. There's one early judgement in the Native (now Maori) Land Court which takes a similar approach: the Kauwaeranga judgement, in 1870 (sorry, no URL). Unfortunately, it was a novel interpretation, and our judges seem to have preferred using the established international law jurisprudence instead.

Monday, March 22, 2004


Today Israel murdered a blind quadraplegic in a wheelchair with three air-to-ground missiles. As a show of strength. In the process, they killed seven other people, and wounded countless others.

And next week, when some Palestinian teenager blows himself up on a crowded bus, they'll wonder why...

The importance of "Treaty clauses"

Disclaimer: I am neither a lawyer nor a specialist in New Zealand history. Other people, such as KiwiPundit or NZPols are almost certainly better qualified to speak on this subject than I am. But they're not talking about it, so I might as well.

Don Brash has talked about removing "Treaty clauses" from legislation, condemning them as both vague and an example of "Maori privilege". What are they and why are they necessary?

Firstly an example: Section 4 of the Crown Minerals Act 1991:

All persons exercising functions and powers under this Act shall have regard to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi (Te Tiriti o Waitangi).

That's a fairly standard case; the RMA, Local Government Act 2002, even the Foreshore and Seabed Endowment Revesting Act 1991 all contain similar language. Some laws use stronger language, such as "nothing in this Act shall permit the Crown to act in a manner that is inconsistent with", or even "this Act shall give effect to" Treaty principles, but most recent legislation uses some variation on the standard "have regard to" boilerplate.

What do these clauses do? To put it bluntly, they are literally what gives the Treaty of Waitangi legal force.

This immediately raises the question of whether we want the Treaty to have legal force. Yes and no. It's our founding document, but not a formal constitution - it doesn't contain enough specifics to fill that role. There is tension between the articles - the clashes between sovereignty vs. property rights and property rights vs. equal citizenship are occupying the popular consciousness at the moment. At the same time, looking at history, there are parts of it (primarily relating to Article Two) which we very definitely want to be legally enforceable, because it's a hell of a lot better than the alternative.

That alternative - the Treaty being unenforceable in the courts - held sway for most of the 164 years since it was signed, and it allowed Maori to be legally robbed. The Treaty was viewed primarily through the framework of international law, and jurisprudence and precedent in that area was geared toward the interests of established European nation-states and colonial powers. Only states with a defined territory and a government "to which the population renders habitual obedience" were legal persons capable of making enforceable contracts in international law. So when the inevitable teething problems occurred and Maori went to court seeking to enforce their bargain, those same courts turned around and said

"You can't possibly imagine that this is binding, can you? You're just savages!"

(There's an Eddie Izard routine in that, I think)

This view of the Treaty as "a simple nullity" (in the words of one judge) allowed Maori to be systematically dispossessed. Not being states, the chiefs could not enforce the Treaty as a contract under international law - and because no serious effort was made to recognise it in legislation, it had no power in domestic law either. As a result, Maori were robbed of their lands, estates, forests and fisheries, and relegated to the margins of New Zealand society.

Treaty clauses in legislation change that. By recognising the Treaty, or at least its principles, they allow it to be enforced through the courts. Government action which is grossly inconsistent with those principles can be restrained by injunction, allowing time for a political solution to be worked out. They're an effective curb on government behaviour, a reminder that Maori are equal participants in this nation (something past governments have been keen to forget), and a way of discouraging and preventing future Treaty breaches.

(It's important to note that Treaty clauses are not a general provision; they're written into a small number of laws relating primarily to land and fisheries and how they are managed. And these are precisely the bits where enforcement is most needed...)

The effects of repealing these clauses ought to be obvious: kill the clauses, and you kill the Treaty. It returns to being an unenforceable nullity, with justice dependent on "the conscience of the Crown" - an approach which has been manifestly inadequate in the past.

A culture of abuse and impunity

The Police-rape inquiry seems to have spurred a general airing of dirty laundry within the police. Now four former officers have come forward claiming that there was a culture of violence and brutality within the police during the 90's. Officers would use unnecessary violence, "set dogs on surrendering prisoners, falsify evidence and lie in court". Furthermore,

the officers said when they tried to speak out they were alienated and that officers who did not share the same attitudes and culture as the rest of the force were unlikely to be promoted.

Taking things to the Police Complaints Authority was "a waste of breath", as it simply whitewashed everything.

It is clear that we are not doing an adequate job of watching our watchers. In order for the police to enjoy public confidence, we have to know that they are serious about investigating (and if necessary, prosecuting) their own misdeeds. The only way to ensure this is with a fully independent complaints authority, with its own investigators. Trusting the police to watch themselves or to do the legwork in investigating their fellow officers is simply an invitation for a culture of abuse and impunity.

Just in case you haven't seen it

You've probably all seen this already, but just in case you haven't: a long-serving top-level US national security professional has come forward claiming that the White House wanted to attack Iraq immediately after 9/11. According to former national Security Council official Richard Clarke, who has served seven US presidents over the past 30 years, this is how the conversation went once Bush had returned to the White House:

"Rumsfeld was saying that we needed to bomb Iraq [...] And we all said ... no, no. Al-Qaeda is in Afghanistan. We need to bomb Afghanistan. And Rumsfeld said there aren't any good targets in Afghanistan. And there are lots of good targets in Iraq. I said, 'Well, there are lots of good targets in lots of places, but Iraq had nothing to do with it.'

Later, having been told by Bush to "find whether Iraq did this", Clarke submitted a report backed by the FBI and CIA's experts saying that there was no connection. It was sent back by Condoleezza Rice's office, with the comment

"Wrong answer. ... Do it again."

It's the faith-based presidency in a nutshell. "We already know the facts, and we don't need any 'experts' to tell us any different".

Sunday, March 21, 2004

New Fisk

New Iraq? Hooded Protest And Masked Statistics

Saturday, March 20, 2004

Yeah, right

Former Immigration Minister Lianne Dalziel thinks she can one day return to Cabinet.

Yeah, right.

While Ruth Dyson managed to do it, there's a big difference - Dyson's crime wasn't that serious in the great scheme of things, and wasn't related to her job. Dalziel, OTOH, abused the power of her office. She released confidential information on someone dealing with her Ministry, then tried to lie her way out of it. Thinking that she can do that and then come back displays a Christine Rankin-like state of denial.

Friday, March 19, 2004

Replies to replies to replies

In response to Sock Thief's latest offering:

  1. I think it is important to note that what Pinker is criticising isn't liberalism - and he doesn't call it that. Sock Thief calls it that. Pinker talks about relativism, social constructivism, science studies, cultural studies, critical theory, postmodernism, and deconstructionism. While these strands of thought are common on the left, particularly in academia, they're not liberalism, and they are not any strand of liberal thought. Unfortunately, due to his conflation of the liberal, authoritarian, and postmodern tendencies on the left, Sock Thief talks as if they are.
  2. "Liberals are undemocratic because, rather than respecting other people's views, they see them as dupes suffering from 'false consciousness' or a similar ailment" is not a direct quote from anyone; it's an attempt to elucidate the underlying meaning behind Sock Thief's claims that "liberals believe that anyone with a different opinion is stupid" and that this is illiberal. If this is not what he means - if for example, he does not think that liberals see people as dupes, or as suffering from "false consciousness", or that either undermines democracy in liberal eyes, he is more than welcome to say so.
  3. The thrust of my piece is to show that "false consciousness" and deception are not problems for liberals. It is directed at people, like Sock Thief, who think that they are or might be. It is not a theory on how people are influenced (though I think that they can be, and in some cases, are), but a theory on whether such influence matters. And the answer, for liberals, is that it doesn't.

Finally, just to put the issue of "respecting other's views" to rest, I'll clarify something I was aiming at last night:

Liberalism does not mean withholding criticism, judgement, or moral opprobrium. All it means is withholding restraint.

Liberals can think that other people's interests are selfish, that the moral axioms they use to reach their conclusions are reprehensible, and that the facts they use in the process or seek to persuade others with are false, because none of this implies that the decision may be usurped. Autonomy is sacrosanct (subject to Mill's Law), even for stupid, selfish wankers.

Justice prevails - for the moment

British home secretary David Blunkett has lost his appeal aimed at keeping a security detainee in prison. The Special immigration Appeals Committee ordered the man's release after finding that the evidence on which he was held had been exaggerated and was "wholly unreliable"; the government had challenged the ruling. Today, the lord chief justice made the (apparantly obvious) ruling that if a detention is unlawful, then the detainee must be released, and (more importantly), denied the government further appeal.

All things going well, the man will be released later tonight. However, it's not all plain sailing - the government might simply "re-certificate" him, sending him straight back to jail on the same shoddy "evidence". For them even to be considering this shows how far Britian has fallen, and low little they care about justice and human rights these days.

New Fisk

'If I am told to go, I will go.' Spanish soldiers prepare to return to home front

The blue wall of silence

The Police-rape allegations matter because of what they reveal about police culture at the time: an in-group / out-group mentality, a willingness to club together, even lie, to protect members of the group, and active persecution of those who investigate their fellows. Americans call this "the blue wall of silence".

Police spokespeople have stressed that that culture no longer exists in the police, and that "things have changed". Yes, and no. What has changed is the willingness of the police heirarchy to tolerate it; unfortunately some police officers don't seem to be getting the message.

Coalition of the less-willing every day

Spain's rejection of the war in Iraq in favour of actually fighting terrorism seems to be having an effect on the "coalition of the willing". Spain is planning to withdraw its troops, Honduras won't replace theirs, and now even "New Europe" is looking decidedly iffy:

[Polish] President Aleksander Kwasniewski, a key Washington ally, said Thursday he may withdraw troops early from Iraq and that Poland was "misled" about the threat of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

Quick! Polish appeasement!

Update: South Korea isn't willing to die for Halliburton either. Like us, they want to build schools, not keep people under the thumb, so they don't want to go anywhere dangerous.

Crooked Timber has an interesting game on Rawls's Second Principle.


Ian Smith, the Immigration Service official responsible for the "lie in unison" memo has been sacked.

Conflating Marx and Mill

Liberals don't have a problem with "false consciousness", and they don't have a problem with denying human nature, so why does Sock Thief think that they do?

The answer is in his constant use of the term "Left/Liberal"; he conflates the two as if they were interchangable, then tars both with the beliefs of the Marxists and postmodernist subsects. But it's not liberals who believe that "false consciousness" undermines democracy, or that the people must be led because they are too stupid to make their own decisions - it is Marxists and authoritarians. Likewise, it is not Mill and Berlin that lead to the gulags and killing fields, but Marx and Rousseau.

Liberalism and fallibility

Sock Thief has replied to my piece on Liberalism, "false consciousness" and deception, but unfortunately has missed the point. It is not Pinker who is the target of my post, but Sock Thief himself - and in particular, his claims linking liberals with the sort of thinking Pinker criticises.

In my post, I took those claims at face value, and (I think) showed that they are not a problem for liberals. Unfortunately, Sock Thief seems to have focused on some superficialities rather than the substance. Just to make this clear, I am not committed to the view that we are all credulous morons or subject to constant mind control. I do however think that we can be fooled, and that sometimes we can be convinced to change our minds, reprioritise our goals, or pursue a course of action that we would otherwise abhor by lying, deceit, or manipulation. This is not because we are stupid; it is because we are fallible. Recognising this fact isn't illiberal - but denying it is irrational, and somewhat curious for someone who talks so much about taking account of our nature.

Not that any of that actually matters - because unwrapped from all its packaging, the key point is this:

Even if people do suffer from "false consciousness" or are subject to propaganda, deceit and manipulation, the fundamental tenent of liberalism - that people are the best judges of their own desires and interests - rules out second-guessing them.

Note the "even if". It's not a problem for liberalism if propaganda works - and it's even less of one if we accept Sock Thief's belief that it doesn't.

Sock Thief also seems to think I need to explain how people arrive at particular political opinions. I don't think so. Liberalism doesn't need a "thick" theory of human psychology and nature; all it needs is the belief that adults have interests, desires and goals and are capable of deciding between them1 - which is supported by Pinker. How we make decisions is pretty much irrelevant. You can decide which political party to support by prolonged rational deliberation, you can ask the first person you bump into on the street, you can flip a coin for all liberals care - what's important is that it is your decision. Others may think that it's weird, ill-informed, selfish, or grossly mistaken - even that the axioms it is based on are morally reprehensible - but (subject to Mill's Law, of course) they cannot interfere. "Respecting someone's decisions" means noninterference, not approval, and carries no burden of politeness.

This also explains how I can reconcile believing that politics is something that people can reasonably disagree over with calling people wankers: people can reasonably disagree because politics is about what we want and they have different interests and goals - but that doesn't mean I have to approve of those interests or goals.

1 coupled with a moral argument leading to the conclusion that people are the best judges of their own interests. This could be Naturalistic, grounded for example in the fact that people tend to get upset when second-guessed, it could be Kantian, grounded in the Categorical Imperitive, or it could rely on some other moral scheme.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

New Fisk

Iraq: a year of war
Al-Qa'ida Attacks Intensify, But Iraqi Police Say: "Let Them Come"

Interesting questions

Are we being inundated by a tidal wave of terrorists seeking to use New Zealand as a "safe haven"? How could we tell? One way is to ask the following questions:

  1. How many applications for residency were denied in the last year on the grounds of sections 7 (1) (e) - 7 (1) (h) of the Immigration Act 1987 (the clauses saying that we can keep people out because we think they're terrorists or merely dangerous)?
  2. How many residency permits were revoked in the last year on those grounds (or, in other words, how many people have we kicked out because we think they are terrorists or merely dangerous)?

Curious, I phoned the Minister's office. According to the person I spoke to there, the answers are "none" and "none". Some tidal wave.

CalPundit has moved, becoming a Political Animal...

I'm a little more dubious about the below than Mike is. Because of what has been exposed in the Zaoui case, I am deeply suspicious of the SIS's competence and motives. More importantly, it is abhorrent that any government agency can arbitrarily block someone from citizenship without independent oversight. Shouldn't there be a court involved in the process somewhere?

As for danger, the SIS has said that it is not concerned about domestic terrorism in these cases. If they were, they would already have informed the Minister of their concerns under sections 7 (1) (f) - 7 (1) (h) of the Immigration Act 1987, and requested that he revoke residency on the grounds of "administrative error" (which includes being covered by section 7, and hence not being eligible in the first place). The fact that they haven't done that - prefering instead to blame the Immigration Service - suggests that they don't think there is a danger (or alternatively, don't think their evidence would withstand scrutiny by the courts).

Reading between the lines, I think the worry is more about the damage that could be done to New Zealand's international reputation (and the access of New Zealand citizens to other countries) if people-that-other-people-think-are-terrorists are seen to be travelling on a New Zealand passport. Note that the people don't actually have to be terrorists for such damage to occur; Ahmed Zaoui would almost certainly fall into the same category.

I am however intrigued that the SIS - an organisation which normally refuses to say anything, even to a court - has raised this. You'd almost get the suspicion that they're trying to play politics...

Update: I should also add that it seems unfair to attack the Immigration Service over this; they can hardly be blamed for refusing entry on the grounds that people were dangerous when they (and the SIS) didn't know or think that at the time.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Something just doesn't add up

SIS spy chief Richard Wood has revealed that three people were denied citizenship and passports last year because of security concerns but are still living here as NZ residents! What the fuck?

The reaction of the main parties has been predictable. On the left, Green MP Keith Locke has stated bluntly that "the SIS can't be trusted to get it right." This is certainly believable judging by their handling of Ahmed Zaoui, however he goes on to suggest that

"Presumably the three people referred to by the SIS Director yesterday as a 'security risk' are well-settled and law-abiding residents, otherwise their permits would have been revoked,"

I think this is probably crediting the immigration department with a bit too much competence.

Progressive spokesman, Matt Robson has suggested that the SIS relies on hearsay evidence, denies people natural justice and consider themselves above the law. There is certainly a faint whiff of Zaoui about this but I think its a bit soon to be accusing them of that (maybe that will come later). I'm not sure that anyone actually cares what Matt Robson thinks (which is a shame) because his party's support is currently smaller than a freedom air fare. I suppose its important to issue press releases to remind everyone that his party still exists.

Meanwhile, on the right, Winston Peters took the opportunity to take a swipe at immigration generally, more constructively, National and ACT have assumed the SIS is correct and pointed out the obvious inconsistency... if the three are too dangerous to have citizenship then surely they're too dangerous to have residency?... wouldn't you think?

Apparently not... according to the Government, Immigration Minister Paul Swain

"the SIS had not asked for their permanent residency to be revoked, the SIS was approached when they first applied for permanent residency and did not object. However, it became aware later of security concerns which is when it recommended they be declined for citizenship and consequently for New Zealand passports."

This is all fine and dandy but it doesn't answer National and ACT's valid concerns. If these people are a threat then they should be out of here on the next plane...(and checked thoroughly for box cutters before boarding) and if Swain isn't making this up, what the hell were the SIS thinking?

I'm not sure who or what to believe here. I've toyed with the idea that the pressure to do this could have come from Australia or elsewhere. Conspiracies aside, it doesn't look means that one of either immigration or the SIS have yet again been exposed as a bunch of complete fuck ups.

Liberalism, "false consciousness" and deception

As people who pay attention to the sidebar will notice, I've been slowly working my way through Stephen Pinker's The Blank Slate. "Slowly", because I keep getting distracted (current distraction: Constitutional and Administrative Law in New Zealand, by Philip A. Joseph). Yesterday, I got up to a part which I thought was worthy of comment.

As part of his preamble to discussing cognition and perception, Pinker slags off relativists (a catch-all term covering "proponents of social constructivism, science studies, cultural studies, critical theory, postmodernism, and deconstructionism") as having

a penny-pinching theory of psychology in which the mind has no mechanisms designed to grasp reality; all it can do is passively download words, images, and stereotypes from the surrounding culture

He then continues:

Skepticism about the soundness of people's mental faculties also determines whether one should respect ordinary people's tastes and opinions (even those we don't much like) or treat people as dupes of an insidious commercial culture. According to relativist doctrines like "false consciousness," "inauthentic preferences," and "interiorized authority," people may be mistaken about their own desires. If so, it would undermine the assumptions behind democracy, which gives ultimate authority to the preferences of the majority of a population, and the assumptions behind market economies, which treat people as the best judges of how they should allocate their own resources. Perhaps not coincidentally, it elevates the scholars and artists who analyze the use of language and images in society, because only they can unmask the ways in which such media mislead and corrupt.

Why is this worthy of comment? Because its used by bloggers - in particular by our own local "[critic] of Left/Liberal thought from a Darwinian perspective" - to underpin statements such as "liberals believe that anyone with a different opinion is stupid". Or, to put it another way, "liberals are undemocratic because, rather than respecting other people's views, they see them as dupes suffering from 'false consciousness' or a similar ailment"1.

The obvious counter is to point out that political issues are - almost by definition - issues that people can reasonably disagree over. People have different interests, and politics is what we use to reconcile them (or not, as the case may be). So ACT aren't stupid, they're just wankers, with extremely egocentric interests.

However, this still leaves us with a problem, in that there are cases where people clearly are stupid or dupes. Propaganda works. Advertising works. People buy things because they see them on TV, and believe things if they hear them often enough. This sometimes causes them to act contrary to their own expressed desires. One example of this is the support of Americans for policies that favour the rich (on the grounds that some 40% of them believe they are in the top 5% of income earners, and a far greater percentage believe they will be rich one day - a belief which is unsupported by any analysis of US social mobility). A second is the 70% of Americans who believed that Saddam Hussein was personally involved with the events of September 11th, and the 44% who believed that most of the hijackers were Iraqi2 (in fact he had nothing to do with it, and none of the hijackers were Iraqi; most came from Saudi Arabia - a US ally).

So how can we reconcile these awkward facts with a liberal respect for autonomy? I think that rather than focusing on "false consciousness" (people not knowing their own desires or interests), the answer has to focus on deceit and manipulation. The problem is not that we are not the best judges of their own interests - the problem is that politicians and advertisers lie to us. They lie to convince us that a particular course of action serves our interests when really it does not ("invading iraq will make us safer from terrorism"; "tax cuts for the rich will benefit you"), and they lie to convince us to adjust the priorities of our competing interests ("we must sacrifice freedom for security", "you need a new holiday"). And of course they exploit authority to lend their lies more weight ("the president said it, so it must be true").

To the extent that the media/cultural studies crowd that Pinker criticises and Sock Thief rails against expose these lies, they are doing us all a service.

But hasn't this simply recast the problem of "false consciousness" as one of stupidity? I don't think so. Plenty of otherwise smart people get fooled too. It's a matter of the sophistication of manipulation techniques and the flaws in our nature they exploit, not of individual stupidity (though that may help). You don't have to be stupid to be fooled - just human3.

What does all of this mean for liberals? I don't see any conflict between accepting our nature and respecting autonomy. Serious liberals respect the right of people to make stupid decisions, and a stupid decision based on someone else's lie is no different from one based on endogenous delusion. Hell, we respect the decisions of people who believe in god, and that's no different from people who believe Bush.

As for lies undermining democracy, the liberal solution is clear: make it more difficult for the liars. Universal public education focused on building better bullshit detectors, combined with a strong, independent and free press4 are two ways of doing this. And I think they're solutions that most of those who denouce liberals would agree with.

1 I'll leave aside the obvious equivocation of liberals with the particular clade of the left infected by Rousseau.

2 The different numbers are because the polls were taken at different times.

3 You can deny this, of course - but that either ignores the facts or gets you dangerously close to a Libertarian theory of Free Will, in which agency is absolutely unconstrained by past choice or environmental factors (or even by who you are and what you want). Readers of Pinker won't want to do either.

4 Or maybe simply suspicious. I think that there's an interesting link to be made between the relative support for the war in the US and UK with their respective levels of press credulity and submission...

Foreshore and seabed: the way forward

Roger Kerr, on the BfM wire, suggests that the government should let the cases progress through the courts, then forcibly acquire (and compensate) from anyone who wins.

At the moment, I'm inclining towards that sort of position, but I'd modify it in 3 ways:

  • Give the Maori land Court options. At the moment, all they can hand out is fee simple title. Legislating to recognise usage rights and allowing the court to determine their scope and extent will allow a more precise recognition of customary rights and reduce the likelihood of land ending up in fee simple.
  • Modify the RMA to extend the powers of the government and local authorities to create esplanade reserves. Currently, they can forcibly acquire a reserve strip from land adjacent to the foreshore or a river whenever a large parcel of land is subdivided. This needs to be extended to enable acquisition of foreshore, and to allow acquisition when land is sold. They would still have to pay for it, but it would allow us to bring privately owned foreshore (including that held by Auckland millionaires) back into public ownership.
  • Negotiate in good faith first, and look at quid pro quos (such as aquaculture licenses), rather than using the hammer of forcible acquistion. The immediate focus should on gaining a right of recreational access; outright ownership is not necessarily required for this.

Of course, this means the whole thing will be tied up in the courts, and that projects on disputed foreshore may be delayed by injunction until the cases are settled, but that is the price of justice.

(Lest anyone misunderstand: I think the government's proposal is fine if it can gain the acceptance of Maori - it's their rights which are primarily affected. But if the government can't get consent for its scheme, then they should leave it to the courts. And there's no reason why the two systems can't stand side by side, with the courts as the ultimate fallback for iwi who think the government will not recognise their rights).

Brash says no tax cuts for the rich

But he's still promising to cut corporate taxes, which amounts to the same thing - and as companies pay most of the tax, will result in cuts to public services.

The rest of the proposal simply mirrors Labour's policy of reducing taxes on those at the bottom of the heap - making the tax system more progressive, in other words. And to the extent that this marks a move towards the center and away from National's previous far-right policies, it is a good thing - a National party emasculated by the requirement to appeal to the majority (rather than simply pandering to the rich) will do far less damage to the country than one which tries to restart the Rogernomics revolution.

Update: Predictably, ACT isn't too happy with this departure from Rogernomic purity.

Update 2: United Future meanwhile is calling it a "tax policy U-turn, and is suspicious of whether they would stick with it if in government. I think that's an issue which has to be considered: can National - a party which has historicly existed to serve the interests of the rich - be trusted not to say one thing then do the opposite if elected? If Bill English was still in charge, possibly - he was a centrist and had expressed doubts about the dogma over tax cuts for the wealthy. But with an ideological fanatic like Brash in charge? I don't think so.


Remember Telecom's "convoy" ads - the ones with an annoying country-western hit from the 70's, offering 25% off to people who "join the convoy back to Telecom"? Well, they messed up, and the promotion is available to existing telecom customers. Which means we can all call them and get 25% off, as well as some measure of revenge against them for being gouging monopolist bastards.

Call 1-2-3, to get your revenge on Telecom!

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Grow the fuck up the both of you

Having started flinging muck about, Don Brash is now annoyed that he's getting some back, and wants the media to stay out of his private life. Perhaps he should have thought of that before trying to make an issue out of other people's?

Unfortunately, Brash's comments were not a one-off - they're part of a wider campaign by the right to personalise things and politicise religious belief. The first is merely childish (on about the same level as kids calling each other "poo-face"), the second a calculated attempt to undermine tolerance and set New Zealanders against one another. Which is, of course, exactly what Brash has tried to do on race.

New Zealand has a long-standing tradition of ignoring politician's private lives because it's a) irrelevant and b) debases politics and distracts politicians from doing their jobs (Exhibit A: Monica Lewinsky). Brash should be ashamed of himself for violating this, and Helen should be ashamed of herself for responding. Both of them should grow the fuck up and get on with their job, rather than wasting time slagging each other off in this fashion.

Hit of the day

Which whiskey does dalziel drink?

(Though I suspect they're asking about a TV character, rather than our former Minister of Immigration)

New Fisk

The West was warned. Now it is paying the price of the 'war on terror'

Monday, March 15, 2004

Helpful link

Whoever it was who was looking for the Waitangi Tribunal's report on the government's foreshore & seabed proposals: the short version can be found here.

Iraq: was it worth it?

It's been a year since the US invaded Iraq. In that year, the official justification for the war has changed almost daily, from WMD to "overthrowing a tyrant" to "building a democracy" to "fighting terrorism". None of those reasons has been convincing. Enthusiastic supporters of the US position have also sought to justify the war on utilitarian grounds, claiming that anything is better than Saddam or that Iraqis are better off without him. My answer has always been to ask "yeah, but is it five thousand dead civilians better?" After a year, and seeing that five grow to a ten, I think it's time to ask the question again. Can the advocates of the occupation seriously claim that the progress that has been made since the war justifies the human cost? I don't think so.

Sure, Saddam is gone, but the occupation has simply taken his place, moving into his palaces and his prisons. Iraqis can now run their own newspapers (and there has been an enormous explosion of them) - but are still forbidden to criticise the government. Those who disobey are no longer fed into plastic shredders - but are still taken in the middle of the night at gunpoint, beaten and tortured, or simply murdered by private death-squads. Organised state oppression has been replaced by occupier or private oppression. The new boss is looking much like the old boss.

Iraq now has an interim constitution, but the chances of its promises of freedom and human rights actually being implemented are looking remote. Neither the IGC or the CPA actually want elections - too much danger of the people making the "wrong" decision - and so they have colluded to prevent them. So when "sovereignty" (of the sort where the occupier still calls all the shots) is transferred on June 30th, it will be to an unelected council, rather than to a democratically elected body. Is this really what people meant when they said that we would bring democracy to Iraq?

Iraqis' standard of living has plummeted since the war. Little has been done to restore basic services such as electricity and water. Lawlessness is rampant. 70% of the population are still unemployed, and the dismantling of the distribution system established under the oil-for-food program threatens them with starvation. Women's rights - which were guaranteed by the secular former regime - are being undermined by the IGC, and in any case legal rights mean nothing when you cannot leave the house without an armed escort.

Looking back, the Iraq war has not lived up to any of its promises. It has not removed tyranny, only replaced it with a new face. It has failed to bring democracy or a better life to Iraqis. All it has done is replace one despotic tyrannical regime with another that is mildly better in some ways, and much worse in others. Overall, I do think Iraqis are better off, in that now they have a chance to build something better - but it's hardly an inspiring achievement or enormous qualitative change. If we buy into the utilitarian thinking (and I don't), then I don't see anything here to get excited about. It wasn't worth it. The answer to the question "is this ten thousand dead civilians better" has to be a resounding "no".

The voters have spoken: it was Al-Qaeda.

New Fisk

One year on - war without end

Moral black hole watch

The revelations from the Britons freed from Guantanamo are just getting more disturbing. We are now hearing that - contrary to the Blair government's public condemnation of the camp - British officials from the Foreign Office and MI5 were involved in Guantanamo from the beginning. Worse, they may have been complicit in torture, both at Guantanamo and at the US detention facility in Khandahar. The moral black hole seems to have swallowed the British security services as well.

The full interview is here.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

New Fisk

Iraqi civilians targeted for 'collaborating' with the US

Saturday, March 13, 2004

I thought we had a long-standing constitutional convention against the government openly criticising the judiciary?

If Helen Clark has a problem with this decision, then she should direct the appropriate ministry to appeal. She should not be undermining judicial independence by slagging off the judge.

Community education: it's the market, stupid

Polytechs are running bullshit courses to get community education funding. Why am I not surprised?

Yes, a crackdown is needed (though ideally not one that undermines the sterling work institutions are doing with community computer education). At the same time, the government needs to address the underlying problems of systematic underfunding and the free market model of tertiary education. Successive governments have underfunded tertiary education for years. At the same time, they've encouraged providers to compete against one another for students and funding. This system incentivises exactly the sort of behaviour people are complaining about - and those who play along by creating myriad new qualifications so they have something to sell to everyone clean up over those who do not.

As a result, we have certificates in call-center operations and courses where stupid young girls pay three grand (and the institution collects far more in EFTS funding) to play at being a model. This is not stuff that deserves state funding. Neither do singing along with the radio and "twilight golf" - though at least these are far cheaper for the end-user.

Friday, March 12, 2004

New Fisk

Iraqi recruits put in the firing line while Americans retreat to safety of barracks

Not just a legal black hole

One the the five Britons freed from Guantanamo reports that he was beaten in US custody. It seems Guantanamo isn't just a legal black hole, but also a moral one.


That's the only way to describe the Greens' proposals on an inquiry into the Treaty.

Rather than a top-down investigation, they are proposing a grassroots discussion, with interested parties gathering together to debate, argue, and hopefully reach some agreement on what they want. The government would assist by providing facilitators (if necessary) and background information on our history and current constitutional workings. The findings of each group would be compiled into an overall "Report to the Nation" on what we actually think.

It's participatory democracy in its best sense, a giant national conversation on how we want to run our country. It also focuses on the key problem, as pointed out by Michael King when he suggested a Royal Commission (and echoed by Chris Trotter in the Dominion-Post this morning, in pointing out the flaws in such a process) - a widespread feeling among pakeha of not being consulted. Regional "study circles" (as they're called in Sweden) would allow everyone (well, eveyrone who cared enough to participate) to truly "have their say".

Can it work? Well, it seems to in Sweden. Will the government do it? That, I think is the tricky bit. Like a referendum, this is something beyond the government's control - in fact, it's even worse from their point of view because of the open-ended nature of the inquiry. People left to make up their own minds might not reach the desired conclusions - and in fact, may go wandering off on a complete tangent. But that's democracy for you, and if we take seriously its premise the people know what's best for them (and even if they don't, are entitled to make the mistake), then this is the sort of process we need to follow.

Of course, if the Greens want to be truly mischevious, they could do it anyway regardless of what the government decides. Even if the government settles on a traditional Royal Commision structure, they could promote "study circles" with the aim of encouraging wider public participation and as many submissions as possible - which would be a worthwhile goal in itself.

"Worst case scenarios"

National is saying that the government's attempt to find an amicable and final solution to the foreshore and seabed issue has allowed a "worst-case scenario" to come to pass, with the Maori Land Court allowing a large foreshore case to proceed.

I think it's a telling sign of National's commitment to "equality" and "one law for all" that they regard Maori exercising their due-process rights - rights which are absolutely fundamental to any conception of justice - as a "worst case scenario".

They're also trying to play this up as a sign of imminent Maori ownership of the foreshore, with the implication that the government must act now in order to stop it. This is simply not the case. The court has decided to allow preliminary hearings; the actual case is quite some time away, and appeals will no doubt drag things out for a couple of years. There is no rush, and we still have plenty of time to work out a solution. National is simply trying to drum up hysteria and panic by misleading the public - which is what they've been doing all along.

Playing with money

Much wailing and gnashing of teeth on the right about the Reserve Bank's request for the power to intervene in the currency market. The standard dogma seems to be "it's against mainstream economic thinking" (which is why so many other countries - including our major trading partners Australia and Japan - do it), and "it won't work". Actually, I'm quite partial to the second argument - we are a small economic player, and just don't have the money to play this sort of game. On the other hand, by simply saying that we might, we've achieved what we wanted anyway. It makes for an excellent bluffing strategy, and our hysterical business press only enhances its efficacy.

Antipodean Journal also has an interesting analysis of this as a fundamental move away from the autism of Rogernomics...

Gay marriage hits the courts

The California Supreme Court has told San Francisco to stop marrying gays, while it makes its mind up about legality. This is, of course, exactly what the mayor of San Francisco wanted. By blatantly ignoring the law, he has forced a review of its constitutionality - which he hopes will come out against discrimination.

New Fisk

The life and unexplained death of a Palestinian militant

NZPols launches a stinging attack on Don Brash, calling his attitude to a royal commission arrogant, simpleminded and disgraceful...

Discouraging the unemployed

The GSV Anticipation of a New Lover's Arrival (yes, he is Cultured) talks about his experiences with WINZ - specificly, being sent on a pointless course which will verifiably impede, rather than improve, his chances of getting a job:

This seems to be a reasonable thing to do to the young and the stupid who are still languishing on the benefit after three months - they probably need the help. But straight away? Can the transitionally unemployed be given the benefit of the doubt for four to six weeks? Isn't it a bit of a waste of time to send people who are between seasonal work and looking for the full time thing back to redo their CV yet again?

It is - but the purpose isn't to help people get a job, it's to discourage people from exercising their entitlements. Seen in this light, it all makes perfect sense.

Unfortunately, this attitude from WINZ interferes seriously with delivering assistance to people in need. By way of example, someone I know helped out in Red Cross Manawatu's warehouse, unpacking donations for people who had lost everything in the recent floods. Unfortunately, it's not moving very fast, because in order to get anything you have to talk to WINZ, and people would rather eat their own entrails (without Watties tomato sauce!) before doing that.

I missed it

Spam turned ten last week, and I missed it. Has it really been that long?

I remember reading Canter & Siegel's Green Card message back in the dim, dark ages, when I was studying physics. At the time, I read news with tin, downloaded files using Gopher, and experimented with getting around the department's limits on web-usage using the browser built into EMACS. God, how things have changed.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Nearly 6000 children waiting for social workers

I can't decide if this is a bad thing because these kids are at risk and nothing is being done...or if its good because CYFS are such a bunch of fuck ups that they're are better off without them.

Thoughts on history

The latest edition of Upton-on-line compares the teaching of history in France and New Zealand - and the result is unfavourable. French schoolchildren receive a solid grounding in their (idealised, sanitised, propagandised) national story; in New Zealand, it is left almost entirely to chance. To take a personal example, I managed to exit high school knowing almost nothing about New Zealand history. Sure, there'd been museum visits in primary school to look at the waka (and Canterbury museum's famous blue whale skeleton), dribs and drabs here and there on various patches, but no consistent program and certainly no focus - and so very little of it stuck (the exception being the part of the fifth-form curriculum dealing with "New Zealand's Search for Security 1945 - 1985"). Part of the problem was of course that my high school generally decided to skip New Zealand history in favour of European (e.g. "Tudor and Stuart England", complete with Blackadder videos).

One of the reasons for this is probably because New Zealand history is a) short, and b) fairly boring. Maori settlement, five hundred years of low-tech existence, Captain Cook, European settlement and the Treaty, then (once Maori had conveniently disappeared from the narrative, exiled to the back blocks after their land had been seized) the smooth progression of a socially innovative liberal democracy. No serious local wars (though Maori I think would beg to differ), no bloody revolutions (the closest we get is the Springbok Tour), and no crazed absolutists making their dog an MP and having everyone's heads cut off (Muldoon didn't even come close). Compare this to Romans, Egyptians, the French Revolution and the American Civil War, and its no wonder people ignore it.

(Of course, that's also the wonder of New Zealand: boring history is safe history. "Interesting times" may make for a cracking good story and some funny anecdotes in retrospect, but they're kindof tough on the people involved at the time).

Unfortunately, this ignorance costs us. We're seeing part of that cost at the moment, in our current attitudes to the Treaty: because there's no general awareness among pakeha of what went on in the past, there's no sense of the reality of Maori grievances, and a perception of Treaty claims as being about "handouts for Maori" rather than righting past wrongs. Better teaching of New Zealand history will help to change this.

But as Upton points out, it's not just about colonial history. In order to properly understand where our country has come from, we need to understand both major strands - Maori and European. This means serious time devoted to the culture we imported from Europe (and specifically Britain) - he has a good list of the essentials in his article (interestingly, great chunks of this were covered in my high school, so I guess it wasn't all bad).

People should know their own history, and its practically criminal that its been so neglected in our schools. Understanding the past is vital to understanding the present - and to working out what we want to become in the future.

Free at last

The four Britons freed from Guantanamo, then arrested on their arrival in the UK, have been released. They are unlikely to face charges in the UK, as any evidence collected by the Americans is inadmissable.

Good news for them, at least - but we mustn't forget that the US continues to hold another 595-odd prisoners without charge or trial. Some may very well be terrorists - but they have also included taxi drivers, langauge students, and people who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Without any legal process to distinguish them, a gross injustice is being perpetuated.

Facts wih that

KiwiPundit thinks I've missed some important facts from my post about Republican intimidation of the media. I think he's missed an even more important one - namely that the organisations in questions ("527 organisations", such as are subject to different rules from political parties. They are allowed to accept large donations, and spend them on ads, provided they don't explicitly collude with any candidate. According to advice from the FEC, what they are doing is entirely legal.

More importantly, even if the FEC changes its mind, the law only binds the 527 organisations, not TV stations. The RNC targetting media outlets is simply an exercise in intimidation.