Saturday, March 31, 2007

Fresh Python

Terry Jones: Call that humiliation?

Friday, March 30, 2007

New Fisk

Shakespeare and war

NRT in the NBR

My piece last week on the peristant, long-term overestimation of forest sinks has made it into the today's National Business Review. Offline, unfortunately, but here's the intro:

The recent stoush over who owns forest sink carbon credits might never have become so entrenched if forestry calculations, as with the rest of New Zealand¹s Kyoto number crunching, hadn¹t missed their targets. Over-optimistic projections of how many sink credits would be available contributed to the mistaken idea that New Zealand would be a Kyoto seller not a buyer.

According to research by local blogger No Right Turn new plantings, which peaked in the early 1990s before dropping rapidly, kept coming in below forecasts.

Chief executive of the NZ Forest Owners' Association David Rhodes said the Association had advised officials throughout the 1990s that relying on high levels of plantings would be a "risky strategy."

The question is whether the government has learned from its mistake and will be more careful about its projections. Currently they're estimating 5000 hectares a year, which when we had net deforestation last year seems bad. OTOH, they have had concrete indications that it is likely to bounce back a little. so they might not be too far off, at least for the rest of CP1.

Still holding firm

Parliament ground through another clause of Sue Bradford's Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Bill - only two more to go. Meanwhile, the protests and threats against an MP's children from the child-beaters seem to have had some effect - three National MPs who were planning to back the bill at its third reading have withdrawn their support. The bill will still pass quite comfortably, 65 - 56, but it's a shame that so few National MPs are willing to take a stand against family violence and the religious right. Did someone remind them who was paying the bills or something?

Meanwhile, John Key's reaction to the threats issued against one of his MP's children is disappointing. His condemnation was less than fulsome, and he immediately undermined it by effectively making excuses for the thugs, saying that

"the position won't necessarily go away...New Zealanders feel absolutely offended that (prime minister) Helen Clark's government has decided they know better how to raise their children than they do."

So much for the firm principle that violence and intimidation ahve no place in democratic politics.

Sedition in Dunedin

Earlier in the year, the owner of Dunedin's Bowling Green tavern launched an orientation week promotion in which he offered students the chance to win a petrol-soaked couch, and swap petrol for beer. The local community was outraged, the fire service appalled. The police promised to prosecute - but as "playing silly buggers" isn't actually an offence in law, and their proposal of "threatening to incite arson" would have been laughed out of court, they were hard pressed to find a suitable charge. However, now it seems they have found something they can make stick: sedition. The bar owner has been charged with publishing a seditious document, and will accept diversion.

Selwyn's prosecution was threatening, but this is just ridiculous. From being a dead law lying forgotten on the statute book, we are now seeing sedition revived apparently as a catchall offence for when the police can't think of anything real to charge people with (see also the recent case of Christopher Russell, charged with sedition in a fairly ordinary "threatening to kill" case).

This law simply has to go.

A day without a computer

Twelve hours of futzing about with CHKDSK and backups, and it looks like I have basic blogging functionality restored. Some files have been lost, but (probably) nothing irreplacable. I may still have to do a clean reinstall sometime in the near future, but I'm up for surfing and reading mail at least.

Meanwhile, this unpleasant experience has driven home just how dependent I am on my computer. In addition to its ordinary computing, data storage, and surfing functions, its also my TV, radio, media archive, recipe book, and memory. Without it, I'm either forced to rely on a laptop (mostly functional, but it just feels wrong), or resort to archaic methods of entertainment involving sequential access of hardcopy read-only storage media. On the plus side, this does mean that I've chewed through most of The Atrocity Archives...

So, back in business tomorrow, possibly with some extracts from my quickie submission on the government's Sustainable Land Management and Climate Change discussion document. But now, I have news to catch up on...

Thursday, March 29, 2007


No bloggage today - a serious crash last night has spammed my main machine, and it looks like I'll be spending much of the day trying to fix it. Hopefully I'll have a tolerable operating environment resurrected by tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Carnival of the Liberals

The 35th Carnival of the Liberals is now up at Framed.

The price of the war on terror

What is the price of the "war on terror"? The answer is human rights - but I've never seen a case which makes this devil's bargain as clear as the one below.

In August 2006, Rashid Rauf was arrested in Pakistan on suspicion of terrorism. Rauf is also wanted in the UK in connection with last year's supposed plot to blow up airliners with liquid explosives, and for the last six months the UK has been trying to extradite him so that he can stand trial. However, the Pakistani won't give him up for free, and want something in exchange: they want the UK to turn over up to eight people they accuse of terrorism. Except they're not terrorists - they're dissidents and human rights activists. Of those named, one is a leading figure in the Baluchistan nationalist movement, while another, Mehran Baluch, is a human rights activist who speaks regularly at international conferences about Pakistani abuses (including torture and disappearance) in the region.

This is what the "war on terror" has reduced us to: contemplating cooperating with a dictatorship to hand over its critics so they can be disappeared, tortured, and executed. If that is the price of prosecuting terrorists, then it is simply too high.

Voting to end the war II

Last week the Democrat-controlled House voted to set a deadline for US troops to withdraw from Iraq. Now the Senate has followed suit. President Bush is threatening to veto, but the deadline is in the very bill funding the war, so if he does, the troops won't get paid.

Basically, this is a game of chicken to see who will blink first - the President or Congress. I expect the political atmosphere in Washington to get very heated over the next couple of weeks as a result.

Back for another round

Today is a Member's Day, and Sue Bradford's Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Bill is back for another round. There's Question Time, a general debate, and a local bill to get through first, so the committee stage probably won't kick off until 17:15 or so. When it does, you can listen to it online here.

Meanwhile having failed to gather the numbers for urgency (which was completely unjustifiable anyway IMHO), the government is now reportedly thinking about adopting the bill as a government bill. This is allowed under Standing Orders with the consent of the MP (and I can't see Sue Bradford disagreeing), and would allow the bill to be passed before the Easter recess without the outrage of urgency. It would disrupt the government's legislative programme somewhat, but it's not as if they had one anyway, so it's probably worth doing.

Good luck to everyone going on the counterprotest today (which kicks off in half an hour); I'll link to the pictures as soon as Scoop has some.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

More members days?

Today at the begining of Question Time, National's Gerry Brownlee proposed a novel solution to the government's rapidly thinning Order Paper: more member's time. Rather than considering government business next week, he suggested that the House pass by those bills (most of which cannot be progressed anyway), and instead devote the week to Member's Bills. Conveniently, the first item of business on the new agenda would be Sue Bradford's Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Bill - allowing it to be dealt with quickly while relieving any need for urgency.

It's an excellent idea, but according to Michael Cullen, not possible under Standing Orders. However, anything is possible with leave, and it would be a trivial matter for an MP next week to ask for leave of the House to treat the day as a Member's Day. I doubt it would succeed, but it is worth the effort.

In the long term, if the government isn't going to advance a legislative agenda, the Members should be free to. And the way to do it is by making every Wednesday a Members Day, at least until the government gets its act together and comes up with something it wants to do.

Shifting the blame

The ongoing project to shift blame for the US's failure in Iraq onto Iraqis continues. Having invaded their country, destroyed their government and civil society, and started an ongoing civil war, the US is now telling its client government that "our patience, or the patience of the American people, is running out" - it apprently being the responsibility of Iraqis to deliver the stability the US promised.

Does this mean they'll go home soon?

Kowtowing to China

How far is the government willing to go in order to gain a free trade deal with China? All the way, apparently. Last night a New Zealand journalist was evicted from a Beehive signing ceremony involving Chinese Deputy Premier Zeng Peiyan because the Chinese delegation objected to his presence. His "crime"? He published stories about the 15th anniversary of the Tiannamen Square Massacre. His past refusal to follow the party line of a human rights-abusing dictatorship was enough for the Chinese delagation to demand his removal. And predictably, the government and New Zealand police complied. They did not say "sorry, but this is a democracy", they did not say "we have free speech and a free press here" - instead they willingly suppressed the New Zealand media so that things would go "smoothly". And this remember from a government whose leader raised hell over National's treatment of protestors during Jiang Zemin's visit in 1999.

This is absolutely disgraceful, and if it is the price of a free trade agreement or even better diplomatic relations with China, that price is simply too high.

Lobbying on Section 59

Sue Bradford's Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Bill goes back before the House tomorrow. Meanwhile, if you'd like to take the opportunity to engage in some last minute lobbying, a coalition of children's groups (including Barados, Plunket, and Save the Children, as well as Unicef and the Women's Refuge) have established a website from which you can email MPs and encourage them to support the bill:

If you have an opinion on the bill, I suggest you use it.

(Hat tip: just about everybody)

No urgency

It looks like the government has backed off from its plan to push for urgency in hearing the remaining stages of Sue Bradford's Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Bill. Good. While I want to see the bill passed, there's no compelling need for urgency, and no justification for interfering in the normal democratic process.

Meanwhile, in its quest to pad out an increasingly thin Order Paper, the government has been reduced to fillibustering itself. Last Thursday they took repeated speaking calls on the Criminal Procedure Bill simply to drag it out, while today the chief item of government business is a motion that the House

endorses the Family Support Tax Credit increase of $10.00 per week per child that comes into force on 1 April 2007.

With 10 minute speeches, and a subject ripe for attacking the Opposition, it ought to waste an hour or so.

They've also found another way of padding out the government Order Paper: plundering the Member's bills. Lynne Pillay's Human Rights (Women in Armed Forces) Amendment Bill is now a government bill in the name of Lianne Dalziel. Arguably it should have been a government bill all along, and I guess they don't have the excuse of being "too busy" any longer...


Last year, a study in the Lancet suggested that the death toll of the Iraq war was a staggering 655,000 - around 2.5% of Iraq's population. The reaction from the British and US governments was immediate: both Bush and Blair flatly denied the estimate, while a parade of officials and spinners cast doubt on its methodology, accusing it of being biased and inaccurate. Meanwhile, while they were doing this, the Ministry of Defence's chief scientific advisor was telling them that the study was robust, while Foreign Office officials were telling their department that the survey methodology "cannot be rubbished" and was "a tried and tested way of measuring mortality in conflict zones". Naturally, they were ignored. The political requirement to downplay the disastrous effects of Bush and Blair's war rode roughshod over any commitment to truth.

There's two lessons in here. The first is that governments lie. The second is how valuable freedom of information legislation is in uncovering those lies. The views of those officials were only revealed thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request lodged by the BBC. No wonder Blair wants to get rid of it...

Climate change: hope is not a policy

Today the Greens released a new framework policy for climate change entitled Kicking the Carbon Habit. Over on Frogblog, Green co-leader Russel Norman is praising it as "an elegant solution". I agree that parts of it are very elegant indeed, but elegance isn't enough. A climate change policy fundamentally has to work, and I'm not sure that this one will.

To understand the Greens' policy, we first need to talk a little about emissions trading systems. At their most basic, every emissions trading system works in the following way: the government allocates or sells a set number of permits to emit, and requires emitters to surrender them (the so-called "point of obligation"). The market handles the rest, creating a marginal price for emissions, and therefore a direct financial incentive for reductions.

The elegance in the Greens' policy is that it skips the first stage. The government would not issue permits; rather it would merely create a point of obligation. In the energy sector, that point of obligation would be where fossil fuels enter the economy - where coal is mined, oil imported, or natural gas flows out of the ground - except (in an inexplicably ugly kludge) in the case of fuel used for electricity generation, where it will lie with generators. For the agricultural sector, it will lie with large processing companies like Fonterra. Firms at the point of obligation (such as Solid Energy, Shell, and Contact Energy) will be required to surrender Kyoto-compliant credits to cover the carbon-equivalent emissions of their fossil-fuels, or (in the case of agriculture) their increased emissions since 1990. As the government will not be issuing permits, they will be required to buy these credits on the international market.

The problem with the Greens' policy is that they skip the first stage. Emitters will be completely dependent on the international market to meet their obligations - but that international market doesn't really exist yet. Oh, there's some trade in Kyoto credit thanks to the European carbon market - but not a lot, and certainly not enough to underpin the sort of trading system envisioned here. It's one of the reasons why the government has been wary of implementing a domestic emissions trading regime - linkages with international markets are considered essential to help set the price, but those markets are not yet functioning.

There are other problems. As mentioned above, the shift in the point of obligation for the electricity sector is an inexplicably ugly kludge, which seems to have the effect of sticking the electricity sector for carbon prices twice over (in that the fossil fuels they buy will already have the carbon price built in, and then they must provide permits as well). The beef and sheep industries will be exempted because their emissions have dropped since 1990 - which will create an incentive for farmers to switch back to those industries. The use of a 1990 baseline for the agricultural sector still amounts to a massive subsidy to farmers - all of which will flow into the pockets of the dairy industry. And the forestry scheme - theoretically sharing out the money from the sale of credits among the whole industry, in practice giving it to operators of ordinary plantation forests for conducting business as usual, while imposing a limited deforestation liability - will make no-one happy while not providing sufficient incentives for the key goal of stopping people from cutting down trees.

So what are the good points? Primarily, coverage - it covers more than 90% of emissions, and excludes only industrial process emissions (which are small - 5.6% of the total) and the waste sector (in which a regulatory solution is already proving effective). It also won't cost the government a cent; they get to keep all their Kyoto Assigned Amount, and in addition are handed credits equal to around 75% of it by the energy and agricultural sectors. Even assuming they give away or sell all forestry credit to fund incentive schemes, they still end up ahead by at least 50% on 1990 - and with a significant surplus over projected gross emissions. But IMHO the dependence on a non-existent international carbon market kills it. One may emerge, or it may not, but it is not a chance we can afford to take - hope is not a policy.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Asset forfeiture: contentious

Last week I received a package of cabinet papers and policy advice relating to the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Bill. Most of it is unsurprising, the usual nitty-gritty of agreeing the final shape of the bill and bringing it before the House. However one part of a Cabinet Legislation Committee paper ("Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Bill: Approval for Introduction" (LEG (06) 126)) caught my attention, because it really does my work for me:

Aspects of the bill likely to be contentious
  1. The Bill will be contentious on the same grounds as were canvassed before the introduction of the Criminal Proceeds and Instruments Bill. A civil forfeiture regime is vulnerable to criticism on civil liberties/fundamental rights grounds. This criticism is answered by the checks and balances in the regime. These include the fact that the courts must find a proven connection between criminal activity and criminal proceeds before forfeiture takes place, and that undue hardship may be taken into account when a court considers forfeiture.
  2. The conviction based regime allows forfeiture of an offender's property to be taken into account in the overall sentence imposed, which may lead to allegations that wealthy offenders can buy themselves lighter penalties. However, confiscating a person's lawfully gained property is a sanction. The confiscation is similar in effect to a fine or an order to pay reparation, both of which are also taken into account when considering the totality of a sentence.
  3. The Bill will apply retrospectively, which may attract criticism on civilliberties/fundamental rights grounds. The Bill allows for the confiscation of assets and profits acquired during the seven years prior to the restraining or forfeiture order being made. This period will initially include the seven years prior to the Act coming into force. The retrospective application is necessary to allow the civil forfeiture regime to operate from the date of enactment

At least they recognise that there is a problem. As to their justifications, the "proven connection" required for forfeiture is on a reduced standard of proof - "the balance of probabilities" rather than "beyond a reasonable doubt". This is insufficient for what is effectively a criminal sanction. And there's no question it is a criminal sanction - the government admits as such in its discussion of sentencing. The government is trying to do an end run around fundamental rights by attempting to impose criminal penalties through civillaw.

One issue they do not address is double jeopardy. As the civil forfeiture regime is intended to operate completely seperately from the criminal process, there is a real possibility that people will be effectively punished twice for the same offence - once by jail time, and once by a forfeiture of their assets. This is fundamentally unjust, and an explicit violation of the BORA and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This problem is not shared by a single, conviction-based process. Of course, such a process would require that the police actually do their job, and collect evidence against criminals to allow their prosecution. But obviously, that's just too much to expect.

Holding firm

Sue Bradford's Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Bill is back before the House on Wednesday - though the debate is likely to be delayed by the introduction of a local bill. Meanwhile, the pressure is really going on the bill's supporters to change their votes. Child-beaters are organising marches around the country, and there will be a march on Parliament on Wednesday for a Destiny-style display of hate. And NZ First President Dail Jones has threatened the two NZ First MPs who support the bill with demotion down the party list.

Fortunately, it looks like the numbers are holding firm. It may take some time, but this bill has a majority and it is going to pass. The child-beaters had better start getting used to the fact.

Meanwhile, if anybody knows of a counter-protest in Wellington on Wednesday, please post the info in the comments.

Meanwhile, it seems that there will be a counter-protest in support of the bill. Noon, Civic Square, Wednesday. They want a "creative, peaceful and slightly whimsical event... to provide a highly visible presence for those who support the amendment of Section 59". Balloons are recommended.

Something to go to in Wellington

The CTU is holding a public forum on election funding reform tomorrow, featuring Nicky Hager, political scientist Therese Arseneau, and lawyer Andrew Geddis.

When: Tuesday, 27 March, 19:00 - 21:00
Where: Lecture theatre 1, Rutherford House, cnr Bunny St and Lambton Quay (right by the train station).
How much: Free!

If you're interested in the topic, I also recommend Geddis' paper, Rethinking the Funding of New Zealand's Election Campaigns [PDF], inthe latest PQ. Geddis suggests a combination of public funding, lowering the declaration threshold, imposing a $20,000 cap on individual donations, and transferring responsibility for investigation and prosecution from the police to the Electoral Commission to ensure that the law is upheld. I'd prefer a far lower declaration threshold (parts of the US require every donation above pocket change to be declared, making it very difficult for people to evade declaration by splitting donations), but its a good start.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

How do you say "happy birthday" in 23 languages?

Today, March 25th, is the 50th birthday of the European Union. Fifty years ago today, the representatives of six nations - Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands - signed the Treaty of Rome, creating the European Economic Community. It was a small start, but fifty years later, the seed sown by that community has grown into an economic and political union stretching from the Atlantic coast to the Baltic states, from the icy forests of Finland to the Greek islands, encompassing 27 countries and 23 official languages. It has brought freedom of travel and trade, it has brought democracy and human rights, but most of all it has brought peace. By binding France and Germany together in a common project, it has effectively ended war in Europe. And that is something well worth celebrating.

The dangers of GE

I've tended to avoid the GM debate here because ultimately I'm not that concerned about the technology. I'm concerned about its uses (which seem to be primarily about supporting - indeed, forcing - the use of stupid and unsustainable farming practice in the name of higher corporate profits), I'm concerned about consumer rights and product labelling, and I'm concerned about government secrecy and corporate lies. I am not concerned about "spiritual pollution", "playing god", or "interfering in the natural order".

I am however concerned about this: a study suggesting the use of GE crops (and particularly Bt corn) is a possible cause of a massive decline in bee numbers in North America. We depend on bees - they pollinate plants, and by doing so support a third of our food chain. If this decline continues, then we could see crop failures and significant hardship as a result. If our current GE plants are causing it, then it would seem to be a strong argument for ditching them and using much better testing in future.

(Hat tip: Qarl)

Saturday, March 24, 2007

More sedition in Tonga

Last month, the Tongan government raided the offices of the pro-democracy newspaper Kele'a in retaliation for its persistent criticism of the government. Now they've upped the ante, and charged its editor with sedition over comments made about the royal family - presumably under the "exciting disaffection" clause. And this isn't the only attack on the media - Sangster Saulala, the owner of Tonga's only private TV station and of the Tonga Star, was charged with sedition last month.

This shows the danger of sedition laws. The Tongan government is clearly attempting to silence those calling for democratic reform - and sedition is the perfect weapon for doing so.

New Fisk

The crushing fear that stalks America

Voting to end the war

Last year, public dissatisfaction over the ongoing slaughter in Iraq saw the Democrats sweep to power in the US House of Representatives in one of the biggest landslides in US political history. Now, they're doing what they were elected to do, by setting a deadline for withdrawal from Iraq. The President is blustering and threatening a veto, but the deadline is in the very bill funding the war - meaning that if it is vetoed, the troops don't get paid. So instead he'll have to twist arms in the Senate, and then expend precious political capital (a declining resource in a lame duck administration) trying to kill the clause in conference committee. And even then, the Dems can stall, and drag out the clock unless they get their way.

We may be about to see some very high-stakes political chicken in Washington. The question is whether the Democrats have the spine for it, or whether they will betray the voters who elected them last November.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Climate change: miscalculations

The Sustainability Council's Simon Terry has a piece in the Listener this week on the failure of New Zealand climate change policy [PDF]. While the thrust of the article is a call for our major polluters - farmers - to pay the full cost of their emissions rather than dumping it on the taxpayer, a significant portion of it explores the history of the 2005 Kyoto shock, when we discovered that we would miss our Kyoto target by 36.2 megatonnes of CO2-equivalent. After exploring government cabinet papers, Terry blames two things for this. The first was an over-estimate of our baseline, which saw our Kyoto assigned amount shrink by 15% in 2001. The second was government policy failure:

the government programmes supposed to reduce total emissions by 10% turned out on closer examination to be worth 0%... the inconvenient truth was that all the announced steps the Environment Ministry had for the past three years sworn were going to make a meaningful difference to New Zealand's emissions were assessed to have no measurable effect.

The programmes in question were those of EECA and the National Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy, which were expected to save 21 MTCO2-e over the first Commitment Period. And the reason for this total failure seems to have been systematic underfunding by the government. A 2002 cabinet paper [PDF] noted that in order to deliver the projected reductions from energy efficiency,

EECA estimates additional funding increasing from $4.6 m per annum to $25.7m in 2006/07 will be required. $4.6m is being sought in the 2002-3 budget to commence funding of this work." (p. 11).

Actual funding lagged well behind this. According to the 2002 estimate of appropriation for Vote: Energy Efficiency and Conservation [PDF], EECA's budget increased by just over $1 million between 2002 and 2003 - a quarter of what was needed. In 2003 [PDF] it was raised to $13 million, and in 2006 [PDF] it was at $21.1 million, just over half of what was believed to be necessary. In short, the government banked on emissions reductions - but then did nothing to bring them about.

But that's not the whole story. There's a second major failure Terry doesn't notice: bad data on forest plantings leading to a false sense of security about our net position. All through the 90's, and right up until 2005 policy was founded on the belief that there would be more than enough trees to counter any rise in emissions, and that therefore there was no hurry to impose real policies to reduce emissions. This belief was founded on projections of high forest planting rates extending well into the future. And those projections were systematically wrong.

The table below compiles data from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry's 2005 National Exotic Forest Description [PDF], and the Ministry for the Environment's 1994 [PDF], 1997 [PDF] and 2001 [PDF] national communications under the UNFCCC. All figures are in hectares.

1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004
Actual plantings 73,900 83,600 63,700 51,200 40,000 33,600 30,100 22,100 19,900 10,600
1994 estimate 100,000 100,000 100,000 100,000 100,000 100,000 100,000 100,000 100,000 100,000
1997 estimate 70,000 70,000 70,000 55,000 55,000 55,000 55,000
2001 estimate 40,000 40,000 40,000

It should be clear from the above that the New Zealand government has been basing its climate change policy on bad data from the beginning. This has, to use Terry's words, undermined minister's ability to make appropriate policy and blown away much of the lead time we had to make changes. Instead, we spent a decade sitting on our thumbs, secure in the belief that the problem was already solved (while of course taking no steps to ensure it would be).

Someone at MAF needs to be held accountable for this. Unfortunately, given the timespan involved, the people responsible have almost certainly left to become consultants.

Tasering for convenience

One of the major concerns about the introduction of tasers has been the fear that they will lower the barrier for the police use of force from defending against violent offenders to "inducing compliance" to police commands. And now it seems to be happening; this morning's Herald has a story about a youth who was tasered by police after intervening in a fight. Their reason?

Senior Sergeant Garth Stockley, asked earlier by the Herald, said no officer had been assaulted.

He said the 17-year-old was Tasered because police couldn't bring him under control after the arrest.

"We were in the middle of the road and it was only a matter of time before somebody was going to get run over."

But looking at a cellphone video of the incident on the Three News site shows no traffic and no risk of anyone being run over. Instead, they seem to have done it simply for convenience - they wanted to shut up the person they were arresting, and get the job over and done with. And that is not simply a good enough reason for the police to use force.

Another step forward for equality

Last night the Disabled Persons Employment Promotion (Repeal and Related Matters) Bill passed its third reading. The Bill repealed the old Disabled Persons Employment Promotion Act 1960, which exempted sheltered workshops from employment law, with the result that these workplaces will be fully covered by ordinary employment law (including OSH standards, holidays, and employee bargaining rights) from 30 November. They will also be subject to the minimum wage, though individual workers (rather than their employers) will still be able to be issued with an exemption depending on the extent of their disability. The law is a significant step forward for equality, and it has been hailed as such by the IHC, CCS, and Disabled Persons Assembly.

Naturally, the National Party opposed it. I guess "one law for all" doesn't apply to the disabled either.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

DPF on asset forfeiture

Over on Kiwiblog, DPF responds to a piece by Jordan Carter on asset forfeiture, and voices his opposition to the government's Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Bill:

I largely agree with [Jordan Carter]. I empathise with the desire to stop gangs living off the proceeds of illegal activity, but having the state able to confiscate assets not on the basis of convictions beyond a reasonable doubt, but suspicion of wrong doing by people not charged or even found not guilty is wrong.

Yes under this law one can be found not guilty of (for example) selling drugs yet the Government could take your house away all the same if it can make a case on balance of probabilities that you funded it from selling such drugs. And they could even take the house away before they even try you on the criminal issue.

DPF's opposition is commendable, but he leaves out one very significant fact: that the National Party supported the bill at its first reading. Jordan criticised his party where criticism was due; it would be nice if DPF showed enough intellectual integrity to do the same.


Earlier in the month I commented on the thinness of the government's legislative agenda. While the government seemingly had a pile of business on the Order Paper, it was only actually interested in half of it, the other bills being parked while it sorts out the numbers, or effectively dead.

Now the situation is even worse. At the end of today, there were 11 government bills on the Order Paper (including the Terrorism Suppression Amendment Bill, which is "below the line" and can't receive its first reading until next Thursday). Of these, the government is only interested in advancing three or four of them. Things have got so bad that today the government was reduced to talking out the committee stage of the Criminal Procedure Bill to ensure that it has enough business for next week. And with nothing due back from committee until April 5th, unless they have a pile of bills to introduce next week, they run a very real risk of running out of real business, and having to progress some of those "parked" bills.

Meanwhile, there was a suggestion by National today that the government would seek urgency for the anti-smacking bill on Wednesday. I have no idea whether there's any truth to it, or whether the opposition is simply making things up to smear the government, but it would an unusual move to say the least - not to mention completely unjustified. Urgency requires a reason, and the usual ones are either that the law must be passed as quickly as possible, or that there is a lot of pressing business to get through (usually so the MP's can then go on holiday). Neither applies in this case, and I see no reason to interfere in the normal process.

A good OIA experience

As people will have noticed, I make heavy use of the OIA (for a blogger), and blog frequently about the results as well as the process. Most of the latter are complaints - delays, unlawful extensions, and even a complaint to the Ombudsman. However its not all like that. Last week I sent off a request to the Minister of Justice for cabinet papers relating to the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Bill. They processed it yesterday, and immediately realised that I'd filed a similar request in October last year, and that they'd sent the response to the wrong address (so that's what happened to it). They called me immediately to apologise and explain, and today a couriered copy of the original response arrived in my mailbox; meanwhile they're looking for any new documents as requested.

This is one of the major changes the OIA has led to: a culture of openness in the public service. There are still some holdouts - Defence, Corrections and the Police all seem to share a belief that they are not accountable to the public, and that we have no right to inquire into their activities - but most government departments now fully accept that the public has a right to demand answers from them, and are quite willing to help us exercise it.

Paying homage

Helen Clark has been in Washington for the last few days, meeting President Bush and various other US officials. So far the trip has had its expected outcome: none. So why did she bother going?

It's a question worth asking, because the brutal fact is that we have very little to talk about with the US. We are not interested in talking about the things they want to talk about (Iraq and Iran), and they are not interested in the things we want to talk about (human rights free trade). And there's little point in "building relationships" with a lame duck administration which has only 670 days left in office. The sorts of things we both want to talk about can easily be handled by officials - so why a high profile (for us) Prime Ministerial visit?

The answer is that we are paying homage to the hegemon. Just as the feudal nobility would travel to court to kneel on bended knee, we are making a public display of friendship and loyalty. But with the US further from our shared values than it has ever been, I don't think that is something we should be doing.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Delayed again

Looking at the list of bills before select committee, I see that Gordon Copeland's New Zealand Bill of Rights (Private Property Rights) Amendment Bill (currently before the Justice and Electoral Committee) has been delayed again, this time until June 15th. As someone who went to the effort of submitting on the bill and is curious about the outcome, this is just a little annoying; it's the third time the bill has been delayed, and it means it will have been before the committee for almost two years when it finally emerges.

Because they're all terrorists

British schools will be allowed to ban Muslim veils for "security reasons".

If the British government is trying to tell its Muslim citizens that it thinks they are all terrorists, then I couldn't think of a better way of doing it. Way to win the war of ideas, guys.

Asset forfeiture: eroding the foundations

The government's press release on the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Bill clearly demonstrates what's at stake:

Under the new legislation organised criminal gangs, particularly those involved in large-scale drug dealing, will not need to be caught for every crime that they commit.

Instead, the government will be able to punish them by seizing their assets without the need for evidence, even if they are acquitted by a court. This attacks the very foundations of our justice system: the presumption of innocence, the bar on double jeopardy, the idea that in order to be punished, you actually have to be proved to have done something specific - and be proved to have done it beyond a reasonable doubt. While irritating to the police and advocates of "law and order", these foundations exist for very good reasons: to protect the innocent and prevent abuses of power. By eroding those standards, it will allow those injustices and abuses to reoccur.

The police and advocates of "law and order" might not care if people are once again banged up for being one of the "usual suspects", and punished on the basis of vague allegations of criminality rather than specific offending - but the rest of us should. Such behaviour is fundamentally unjust, the sort of thing you'd expect in the 70's world of Life on Mars - not in a modern state which supposedly respects human rights.

ACT not voting again

The Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Bill passed its first reading today, 109 - 10. The parties voting against were the Greens and the Maori Party.

Meanwhile, some of you may be wondering why only 119 votes were cast when we have 121 MPs. The answer is that ACT isn't turning up to vote again. Looking back through Hansard for the last month, it seems that while Rodney Hide have been turning up for Question Time and Member's Days, when it comes to the actual business of Parliament - debating and voting on legislation - they've been rather slack. Of the eight formal votes on readings of government legislation since the beginning of the Parliamentary year, they've missed four of them - including the Injury Prevention, Rehabilitation, and Compensation Amendment Bill (something you'd expect them to be interested in, as it affects the ACC premiums paid by the self-employed), and the Appropriation (2005/06 Financial Review) Bill - a confidence vote. Though to be fair, they did show up to vote on the Budget Policy Statement 2007 and to protect the "right" of spammers to fill your mailbox with junk. They've also shown a distinct lack of interest in committee stages, having spoken in only one of seven so far this year (and that being the anti-smacking bill; they've remained absolutely silent on government legislation)

By any measure, this is a party which is failing in its most basic duty: representing the interests of its constituents in Parliament. And yet they continue to collect their full salaries. If a public servant was failing to do their job in so obvious and egregious a fashion, Rodney would be all over them - but I guess the rules are rather different when you are an MP.

I should also note that ACT no longer has any excuse. Standing Orders 144 (4) and 156 (3) allow small parties like ACT to vote by proxy provided one of their members is within the Parliamentary precinct. Given that MPs are generally supposed to be within the precinct when the House is sitting (and that being elsewhere on official Parliamentary business e.g. attending a select committee meeting in another city counts as being within the precinct), then the only reason for failing to vote is being too slack to arrange a proxy.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Four bloody years

Four years ago today, the US invaded Iraq. Since then, 3,218 coalition troops and an estimated 655,000 Iraqis have been killed, while an estimated 3.9 million Iraqis have been forced to flee from their homes. A low-level civil war is raging, whole neighbourhoods are being ethnicly clensed, torture is rife, death squads kill with impunity, and even the man who toppled Saddam's statue thinks things were better under Saddam - and he was sent to Abu Ghraib by Uday Hussein.

The war has in short been a disaster - and that's without even looking at the lies the Bush and Blair administrations told to get their countries into it. And after four years of this, Bush is still pleading that "victory" will take "months, not days or weeks". After four years of "just a few more months", its getting pretty stale. At this stage, it is clear to everyone but George Bush that the war is lost, and the best thing the US can do is admit it and go home.


Last November, Sean Bell was gunned down by the NYPD on his stag night after a traffic incident involving one of their vehicles. Today, three of the officers involved in his killing were charged - two with manslaughter and one with assault. Trials for police killings tend to go badly in the US, but its at least a start. Meanwhile, New Yorkers ought to be asking their politicians why this sort of thing is allowed to keep happening - and why a domestic law enforcement agency with the duty of protecting people is displaying the same trigger-happy behaviour as US forces in Iraq, and using massive lethal force at the slightest suggestion of a threat.

New Fisk

US power games in the Middle East

Monday, March 19, 2007

Databases and electioneering

Saturday's Dominion Post reported that the National Party had spent $90,000 of its Parliamentary budget on a database system allowing them to track voters. The National Party is defending the spending on the basis that the database allows them to

do electoral surveys, get mail, do mail-outs, all those kind of things ... basically it's a database that enables them to communicate with their constituents.

and that this sort of communication is a core part of an MP's job. I agree entirely. Keeping track of constituent's concerns is something MPs ought to be encouraged to do, and this sort of database seems like just the tool they should be funding out of Parliamentary expenditure to do it. However, the Auditor-General may not agree.

As people may remember, last year in a review of Parliamentary Services advertising expenditure, the Auditor-General controversially ruled that if Parliamentary spending had any "electioneering" purpose whatsoever - if it was used to persuade a voter to vote in a particular way - then it was unlawful. Note that that's not "entirely", or even "substantially" - the ruling was that

any significant reference to electioneering is likely to "taint" the remainder of a publication or other communication (i.e. infect it with an electioneering purpose).

The Auditor-General only looked at advertising - but the same principle surely applies to other Parliamentary expenditure. The key question for the database then is whether it was used at election time. If it was, then the spending is clearly unlawful, and by its own standards, the National Party is morally obliged to pay the money back.

What this goes to show of course is just how mistaken the Auditor-General's ruling was. Explicit electioneering is one thing, but if MPs can't do core Parliamentary business such as running newsletters, holding public meetings, or communicating with their constituents for fear that someone somewhere might be persuaded to vote for them, then they pretty much can't do anything.

Doing something about the super fund

Last month we learned that the New Zealand Superannuation Fund was investing our money in nuclear weapons, cluster bombs, and genocide. Now the Greens have started a petition to end this practice, and oblige the fund to invest in a socially and environmentally responsible manner. You can download a copy here [PDF]. While Parliament has a poor record on petitions (something I may be posting about in the near future), there is a bill in the ballot to require this, and this petition would be a strong show of support for it to be adopted as formal government policy.

Misplaced priorities

This graph is taken from the Ministry of Research, Science and technology's Energy Research Roadmap [PDF], and summarises government funding for various types of energy research in 2004/05. It's quite depressing in the priorities it displays - a government which at the time was wanting to cut greenhouse gas emissions and relying heavily on energy efficiency and renewable generation to do so was ignoring those areas and instead focusing its research efforts on oil and gas exploration. And we wonder why EECA consistently failed to meet its targets...

Fortunately, these priorities will be changing. According to the roadmap, hydrogen and CCS are now low priorities, while wind and wave energy are going to be a lot more important. But as with most of climate change policy, this is something we should have done years ago.

Sedition: the cost of prosecution

How much did it cost to prosecute Tim Selwyn for sedition? I tried to find out last year, but received only glib bullshit in reply. Now, finally, a followup request has revealed an answer: $4566:

I can advise that approximately 60 hours were spent by Police on depositions and hearings in the district court at a cost of $76.10 per hour. This cost per hour for Police time takes into account costs incurred in investigating and prosecuting any person.

Whether this figure includes the true costs of the investigation - the hours of police time spent following up leads, the time of the prosecutors preparing the case, the cost of forensic examination of the leaflets and Selwyn's computer - is an open question. But its at least a start, and more informative than the police's initial response.

As for why this took so long, it seems the police dispatched the answer in late August last year, but it mysteriously never arrived; they were able to dig it up when I sent in a new request last month.

Asset forfeiture: back from the dead

In 2005, the government introduced its Criminal Proceeds and Instruments Bill, a draconian piece of legislation allowing the seizure of property from suspected criminals without any need for a conviction. The bill was withdrawn before ever receiving a first reading, but now its back, as the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Bill.

The core of the bill is unchanged. The aim is still to impose punishment without effective legal safeguards by allowing the government to seize

property that has been acquired as a result of unlawful activity, even though it may not be possible to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the owner has committed a specific criminal offence.

The bill still imposes Ahmed Zaoui standards of evidence, in which mere suspicion is taken as sufficient to impose significant penalties, and it still allows the wealthy to buy their way out of jail. It still requires those targeted to essentially prove themselves innocent of any criminal wrongdoing, and allows the government to use an absurdly low standard of proof - "reasonable cause to believe" to open the door to wide-ranging fishing expeditions in which the defendant is compelled to answer their questions. The only difference is that the new version also contains significant amendments to the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act 1992 in order to allow New Zealand police to assist and cooperate with the asset seizures from foreign jurisdictions (which, given the corruption and injustice evident in the US system, is something I'm not sure we should be doing).

This bill represents a significant erosion of civil liberties which will almost certainly see the innocent punished. It violates fundamental norms of justice, such as the presumption of innocence and the prohibition on double jeopardy. Unfortunately, given the way parties in this country beat the law and order drum and pander to the "hang 'em high" brigade, we're likely to see more voices demanding that it be made even more draconian than raised in support of justice.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Making the world a safer place

The US invasion of Iraq is full of horrific ironies. A "war on terror" has encouraged terorism. A war to bring human rights has instead brought torture and death squads and abuses assessed by Iraqis themselves as "worse than under Saddam". And now a war ostensibly fought to prevent terrorists from gaining access to weapons of mass destruction has seen the Iraqi resistance using chemical weapons.

The Iraqi gas bombs are as crude as you can get - a cylinder of chlorine with a bomb attached - but they are effective enough. The raw material is widely available - chlorine can be found whereever there are water treatment facilities - and the idea seems to be getting around fast. There were three gas attacks last week alone, and US forces have found a bomb factory where the bombs were being made. Once perfected, the technique will no doubt spread to other conflicts - just as the use of roadside bombs and suicide bombers has.

So much for the idea that the fighting terrorism in Iraq would make the world a safer place...

New Fisk

The truth should be proclaimed loudly

Saturday, March 17, 2007

A criminal act

A British coronoer has found that the killing of Lance Corporal Matty Hull by "friendly fire" from US aircraft was a criminal act

Mr Walker said the act was a "criminal one, since the pilots broke with the combat rules of engagement in failing to properly identify the vehicles and seek clearance before opening fire".

He said it would have been easy for the pilot who shot at the convoy to take steps to confirm the identity of the vehicles. In failing to do so he acted "outside the protection of the law of armed conflict".

"I find there was no lawful authority to fire on the convoy. The attack on the convoy therefore amounted to an assault. It was unlawful because there was no lawful reason for it and in that respect it was criminal."

So, will they be seeking the extradition of Hull's killers so they can be prosecuted for manslaughter? And if not, why not?

Fiji: coming to a head

After four months, things may be coming to a head in Fiji.

One of the military regime's first moves on seizing office (other than beating and intimidating its critics into silence) was to try and balance the budget. The preferred method for this was by radically dropping the retirement age, reneging on an agreed cost of living adjustment, and slashing public sector pay and conditions. Naturally, the public service wasn't happy with that, and today 92% of the Fiji Public Servants Association voted to go on strike. The other public sector unions are expected to follow suit over the next two weeks - meaning 20,000 public servants will walk off the job, effectively paralysing the government.

The military (whose wages were not cut) is unlikely to tolerate this. They have claimed that the state of emergency (which they coincidentally extended last week) bars strikes, and claim to have "plans to counter any strike action". Given their past action, this will likely involve detaining and beating strike leaders, or prosecuting them for violating emergency regulations (not that anyone has been prosecuted yet - they've simply been illegally detained and assaulted). But its difficult to see how this will improve the situation - and it could lead to the first real protests against the regime.

I guess we'll just have to wait and see how things turn out...

Carnival of the Liberals

The 34th Carnival of the Liberals is now up at Brainshrub.

Friday, March 16, 2007

I aten't dead

Just in Wellington for the day. While there, I was able to squeeze in a visit to the new Borders and acquire a copy of Charles Stross' The Atrocity Archive, which I have been seeking for some time.

Normal bloggage will resume when I've had a chance to find out what's been going on in the world.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Climate change: putting coal out of business

Genesis Energy is worried that paying the full environmental cost of generating electricity in their dirty, inefficient coal-fired power station at Huntly could drive them out of the market. Good. That is, after all, the point. Making generators pay for their emissions is explicitly intended to push the market towards cleaner and more sustainable forms of generation, and away from dinosaur plants like Huntly - and if Genesis want to stay in business, they'd be wise to start broadening their generation portfolio.

Unfortunately, Genesis seems committed to thermal generation - 75% of their capacity is thermal (50% coal), and their new investments are focused on large scale gas generation rather than wind. So rather than dragging themselves into the 21st century, they've decided to follow the traditional path of New Zealand business, and whine to the government for special treatment. And in typical fashion, they are doing this by complaining that others might be receiving special treatment:

[Malcolm Alexander, general manager of corporate affairs] does not want to see any sweetheart deals that will allow companies to reap profits at the expense of others.

But what is being proposed is not any sort of "sweetheart deal". All generators will face the cost of carbon, and all will have to pay for their emissions. And this is being done precisely to stop companies reaping profits at the expense of others - namely, ordinary taxpayers, who currently effectively subsidise electricity emissions to the tune of $114 million a year.

If Genesis really opposed "sweetheart deals", they'd support emissions trading, and further oppose the grandparenting of emissions permits. Because I can't think of a bigger "sweetheart deal" than that.

Something to go to in Auckland

Next Tuesday is the fourth anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq, and so this Saturday people around the world will be protesting against the continuing occupation and against a US attack on Iran. Global Peace and Justice Auckland is contributing to this effort, and have organised a demonstration for New Zealanders who oppose the war.

When: Saturday, 17 March, 12:00 noon
Where: Aotea Square

If you know of other events around the country, please post them in the comments.

Highlighting the hypocrisy

While torture and human rights abuses aren't on Helen Clark's agenda when she goes to Washington, they are very much on Winston Peters' agenda in the case of Zimbabwe. Peters has strongly criticised the Mugabe regime's violent crackdown on protestors, and is promising that New Zealand 'will do what it can' to push for change in Zimbabwe. The double standard couldn't be any clearer: we will criticise our enemies, but not our friends.

Not only is this hypocritical, it also undermines our stance. Regimes with poor human rights records can point to our silence on US abuses and use it to undermine our criticism. Mugabe will allege that he is being singled out because he is poor and black, while the US is white, rich and powerful - and he'd be at least partly right. If we want to be taken seriously, we must be impartial, and reject torture and human rights abuses, no matter who they are committed by, and regardless of whether we hope to gain a free trade agreement from them. Otherwise we're not supporting universal human rights, but instead using them as a selective weapon.

Not on her agenda

For the past five years, the United States has been engaged in serious human rights abuses. It has detained hundreds of people without trial in its Caribbean gulag at Guantanamo Bay, it has introduced the practice of extraordinary rendition, kidnapping suspected terrorists and flying them to third world countries so they may be tortured, they have admitted torture in the form of "enhanced interrogation techniques" completely recognisable to the Spanish Inquisition and Gestapo.

Where you stand on this is, as Keith Locke has said,

an acid test of whether you really stand for justice and human dignity.

So where does the Prime Minister stand on it? In Question Time yesterday she was asked, and her answer speaks for itself:

Keith Locke: What will she say to George Bush about the United States’ barbaric treatment of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, and the American Government’s practice of rendering prisoners to torture in third countries?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: It is not on my agenda to raise issues of that kind with the President.

That's right: torture just isn't on her agenda. The policy of shameful, sycophantic silence, continues...

A predictable contempt for democracy

Last week in a landmark vote, the British House of Commons voted overwhelmingly for an end to Prime Ministerial patronage by replacing the Lords with a fully elected upper house. Today, the Lords had their say, and predictably they voted against democracy, rejecting every option other than full appointment.

The votes are indicative, rather than being on a piece of legislation, but they make the government's path clear: it must use the Parliament Act to bring democracy to the Lords. Allowing power to be wielded on the basis on hereditary privilege and patronage is unacceptable in this day and age, and the sooner it is erased, the better.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The section 59 debate

Parliament has just started the committee stage of Sue Bradford's Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Bill. The bill is being debated clause-by-clause under SO 298 (3), which means speeches are supposed to be relevant to the clause being considered. Currently, they're debating the title clause - and the debate is drifting already. There will be an interesting debate on clause 2, over Judy Turner's attempt to require a supermajority or a referendum for the bill to pass, but the real fight will be over clauses 3 (the purpose) and 4 (which replaces s59 of the Crimes Act). Chester Borrows' SOP amends both of these clauses, and we will get the first indication of the numbers on clause 3.

Taito Phillip Field seems to be taking a big role, and is trying to present it as a diversity issue - smacking being a cultural practice which should be protected. I wonder if he'd say the same about female circumcision?

Clause 1: The usual political posturing and game-playing. Maurice Williamson admits beating his kids (wanker). Gordon Copeland tries to scare everyone with the Crimes Act. Phil Heatley talks about prostitution and drugs and accuses Parliament of undermining his family. Heather Roy claims the public have no idea what the bill is about, and that people will pay no attention to it (ignoring the fact that if they don't, the police will now be able to pay attention to them). Nick Smith froths at the mouth and calls the bill "social engineering". Passed 62-58. The House rose and will resume at 19:30.

Clause 2: Judy Turner argued for her amendment requiring either a referendum or a supermajority for the bill to pass. Given the referendum also requires a supermajority, this is simply a transparent attempt to stack the deck and lock in the status quo. Sue Bradford argued that MPs have a duty to represent and show leadership, rather than dodge the issue; she also argued that a referendum would ignore the interests of children (interesting; do the Greens support lowering the voting age?). Nicky Wagner thinks the public isn't ready for the bill, and therefore argued for indefinite postponement of the bill coming into law. Chester Borrows and Steve Chadwick opposed a referendum. Taito Phillip Field called Bradford "misguided", and that the commencement date was "far too soon", hence his attempts to delay it. He accused the state of interfering with the "god-given" right of parents to raise their children and teach them discipline. Rodney Hide also admitted beating his kids - and was proud of it (another wanker). Maurice Williamson made an ironic point about Labour's use of the whip for a bill opposing smacking (and of course National's whipping its members to support Chester Borrows' amendments is completely different). He also denied the right of people without children to legislate for parents (somehow I don't think he'd appeal to the same principle over gays, though). Peter Brown supported a referenda in principle, but opposed United Future's attempts to stack the deck. Colin King advocated a delay to allow for an education program. John Carter blamed Helen Clark. John Hayes blustered about the decline of "discipline" (by which he really meant deference) under Labour. Jill Pettis forcefully asserted the right of people to have a view about domestic violence and smacking, and pointed out that this bill is essentially about equality under the law. Gerry Brownlee continued National's theme for the day, and complained about Graham Burton. Judith Collins said "I smack my child, and I'm damn proud of it" (I wonder how her children feel about that pride?). Lynne Pillay decided that if she used the word "commencement" loudly and often enough, people wouldn't notice that she wasn't talking about it at all.

After 23 speakers, some of whom actually addressed the point, debate was finally closed. Judy Turner's SOP failed 115 - 6. The first of Taito Phillip Field's 50 amendments, which delayed the commencement of the bill by a month, was agreed to, and the rest (as well as various silly amendments by national MPs) were subsequently ruled out of order. The clause passed 63 - 58, with the support of 2 NZ First MPs and Peter Dunne. Following this, Maurice Williamson tried to argue that his amendments were in order by appealing to the monarchical fiction that the Royal Assent might be refused.

Clause 2A: By this stage the pretence that MPs were even debating the clauses had broken down completely. Instead they were standing up and flinging shit at each other across the chamber about the bill in general. About four people were able to speak before the session ended. It looks as if the committee stage is going to take at least another member's day, and maybe overflow into a second.

Climate change: binding domestic targets in the UK

Over in the UK, the Labour and Conservative parties are fighting tooth and nail for the green vote. The Conservatives have proposed a range of green taxes, including a tax on air travel; Labour has responded with a bill which would set legally binding domestic emissions reduction targets, with the aim of reducing emissions by 26% from 1990 levels by 2020, and 60% from 1990 levels by 2050.

The bill would follow the system of the Kyoto Protocol, with caps set on total emissions over five year periods to reduce the impact of climatic and economic variability. While the UK Greens and Lib Dems favour annual targets, given the impact of the weather on electricity usage and hence on emissions, some averaging seems justified. As for the targets themselves, they seem a little lax. The 2020 target is below the EU's offer of a 30% overall cut, and in the context of EU projections showing that the UK will have reduced its net emissions by 23.7% from 1990 levels by 2010 (and current data showing it has already reduced them by 14.8%), seems to be a target of "business as usual" and aimed more at putting a stake in the ground about future EU burden-sharing targets than at serious emissions reduction. As for the long-term, scientists are now talking of a 60 - 80 percent reduction being necessary; the choice of a target at the lower end of this range seems to be an undercommitment.

The bill [PDF] would also establish a committee on climate change to provide advice on policies and targets, and create regulatory powers to enable the government to introduce domestic emissions trading schemes. While I agree with the policy aims, this smacks of the usual New Labour attempt to avoid Parliamentary scrutiny. While at times slow, the Parliamentary process ensures that policy is at least legitimate - something which can not be said for policies implemented unilaterally by ministerial fiat.

Overall though, the British government is at least making a clear commitment to act, even if they are arguably setting their targets too low. And if Helen Clark is serious about going carbon-neutral in the long-term, a local version of this bill might not be a bad start.

New kiwi blog

Object Dart - Che Tibby tries to keep his mind off politics.

Fiji: what emergency?

Since the December 5 coup, Fiji has been under a state of emergency, and basic human rights, including the freedoms of speech, assembly, and association, and freedom from servitude and forced labour, have been suspended. Yesterday, the military's puppet president extended the state of emergency for another month, though its difficult to see why. The idea of a "state of emergency" implies that there is in fact some sort of emergency going on. But what's the "emergency" in Fiji? There is no rioting in the streets, there has been no breakdown of law and order, there is no civil war and no-one has invaded or seems remotely likely to. Instead, the emergency is a legal fiction, invented solely for the purposes of allowing the military to suspend human rights and so crush all dissent.

Military "values"

General Peter Pace, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, thinks homosexuality is immoral and therefore gays shouldn't be allowed to serve "openly". Killing people, OTOH, is just fine and dandy. Just another example of military "values" in action...

(Hat tip: Liberal Catnip)

The state does belong there

One of the key arguments used by opponents of Sue Bradford's Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Bill is that smacking is not the business of the state. It's an argument seen clearly in Gordon Copeland's speech on the bill's second reading, where he said

The bill as it stands, in my view, is gravely flawed. I say that because of my deep conviction that the right and the responsibility to train and discipline children belongs to parents. The role of the State should be limited to ensuring, for the common good, the safety of New Zealand children. But subject to that overriding criterion, the choice of which particular means parents use to discipline their children belongs to them, and to them alone.

He goes on to say that the bill intrudes into the home, and that "the State does not belong there". Which is exactly what people said in the past against progressive attempts to criminalise domestic violence, child abuse, and spousal rape. They all happen in the home, but the state very definitely does belong there. And the reason is precisely that duty to ensure people's safety Copeland speaks of - a duty which encompasses all New Zealanders, regardless of age. The core duty of the state is to protect people from violence - and "violence" includes smacking. We would not tolerate bullies giving people a "loving smack" on the street to "discipline" them; we do not tolerate people smacking their partners, even when it causes no more than "transitory and trifling" harm. We should not tolerate people smacking their children either. While parents have a right to raise their children how they wish, they have no right to use violence against them.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Highly dubious

Palmerston North is in the throes of another wind-farm battle, this time over Allco's proposed Motorimu wind farm near Linton. The proposal would see 127 turbines stretching from Linton to Tokomaru, and the locals are going feral about the usual issues of noise and visual impact. Unusually, though, they have the support of the council, which has demanded the removal of 45 turbines on the basis of their "cumulative visual impact". The interesting part is that they have included in their assessment of that impact their own windfarm in the Turitea reserve - a windfarm which not yet been consented, let alone built, and which is currently tied up in a legal battle to determine whether they can rezone a reserve in this way.

This is highly dubious, on a number of levels. The inclusion of the Turitea proposal in the assessment is contrary to usual practice under the RMA, which rightly ignores unconsented possible future activities. And of course there's the obvious point that if Motorimu goes ahead as planned, Turitea could end up failing due to its cumulative visual impact. In other words, the council is protecting its business interests, and those of its partner Mighty River Power, by trying to reserve visual space for its project before it has even applied for resource consent.

You don't have to hate the RMA or windfarms to see that this stinks. Mighty River has bought my local government, and it has now trying to corrupt the resource consent process against its competitors. The sooner the councillors responsible are held democratically accountable for this, the better.

Borrows' amendments will fail

The media last night and this morning has been dominated by worries about Sue Bradford's Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Bill, and whether it would pass unamended or whether Chester Borrows' amendments (which are a modern-day version of the old rule that you could beat your wife provided you used a rod no thicker than your thumb) would pass. The Maori Party has been a key player in this, with last minute wavering by co-leader Tariana Turia giving Borrows' camp some hope. But the Maori party has no clarified its position, and made it crystal clear that they will be backing the bill in its unamended form. With their four votes on board, the passage of the bill is virtually guaranteed (Brian Donnelly and possibly one other NZ First MP is expected to oppose the amendments, while they will be joined by at least two National MPs for the third reading). So, while there will no doubt be some heated exchanges in the debating chamber tomorrow, it looks to be in the bag.

Demand action on climate change!

This week, the environment ministers of the G8+5 (the G8 plus India, China, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa) are meeting in Potsdam to work on an environmental agenda for the G8 summit later in the year. Climate change will be a key issue at the summit, and the NGO Avaaz ("voice") is gathering signatures in an online petition to be presented to its chair. The petition demands thatthe G8+5 start working towards a new global agreement on climate change with binding emissions reduction argets to succeed Kyoto. They're aiming for 100,000 signatures; so far they have 67,702. You can sign it here.

Lese majeste in Thailand

Lese majeste is the ancient offence of injuring the dignity of the sovereign. In western democracies, it has rightly been relegated to the dustbin of history (though it still survives in New Zealand as contempt of Parliament). Unfortunately, other countries have not. There's a case going on in Thailand at the moment which demonstrates the absurdity of such laws.

Oliver Jufer is a Swiss man living in Thailand. Last December while drunk he defaced several paintings of the Thai king with black paint. He was arrested and charged, and has now pled guilty. The minimum possible sentence he can receive for the offence is seven and a half years in jail. For defacing a painting. IMHO that's a far greater threat to the "dignity" of the sovereign than the paint ever was.

To his credit, the Thai king thinks the law is absurd and should be repealed. But in a country where the monarchy can not be publicly debated, and where advocating repeal would itself be seen as lese majeste, that seems impossible. And an absurd law with draconian penalties persists, all to protect the fiction of monarchical "dignity".

Monday, March 12, 2007

Something to worry about

New Zealand is extending its military commitment to Afghanistan for another year. I'm not so worried about this, as the core of that commitment - the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Bamiyan Province - are building roads rather than shooting at people (though I am deeply uneasy about supporting a government which gives its members an amnesty for past war crimes - shouldn't we be making out support contingent upon respect for human rights, rather than laughing at them?). I am however very worried about this bit:

In addition to these commitments, New Zealand will also again deploy a frigate to join the Maritime Interdiction Operation (MIO) in the Arabian Gulf. The frigate will join the MIO for just over a month in mid 2008 as an extension of a planned deployment to the South/South East Asia region.

To point out the obvious, the US is planning to bomb Iran sometime in the next year. What are we going to do if he decides to do it while we are supporting him? What are we going to do if he does it before we get there? Either way, our support would be seen as an endorsement of unilateral military action, when we should be condemning it. Because of this, we should not be participating in America's maritime interdiction programme until bombing Iran is off the table and Bush is safely out of office.

Making sure he stays dead

Defeated despots tend to get short shrift from the people they previously lorded it over. Mussolini and his wife mistress were shot out of hand by partisans then hung upside down on meat hooks so people could spit on the corpses, Ceausescu was murdered by the Romanian military, while Saddam Hussein was judicially lynched. Those who die peacefully in their sleep don't get it much better - Franco's tomb was bombed in 1999, while Pinochet was buried in secret to prevent people from desecrating his remains. Serbia's former dictator, Slobodan Milosevic, is probably wishing he had done the latter; last week one of his enemies went to his grave and drove a three foot stake through his heart - just to make sure he stays dead. Since he hasn't risen from the grave to lead his undead legions, I think we can say that the staking was successful.

(Hat tip: Larvatus Prodeo)

Mauritania votes

Mauritania went to the polls yesterday in what are being billed as the first real elections since independence in 1960. There probably won't be any results until tomorrow, and it is likely that no candidate will win an outright majority, meaning that there will be a runoff election later in the month, but merely holding free and fair elections in a country where previously they have been utter shams is a victory for democracy. But while its a victory, its not the whole war; democracy isn't just about electing governments, but also holding them accountable at the polls; the real challenge will come in five years time, when the next elections are scheduled to be held, to see whether Mauritanians can keep their democracy, or whether their leaders will turn it into a sham again.

Climate change: a stake in the ground

Over the weekend, the European Union decisively took the lead in the climate change debate by committing to a unilateral 20% cut in emissions by 2020. But this isn't just a matter of domestic policy and the EU being green - this is about putting a stake in the ground for negotiations on the international climate change regime that will follow Kyoto.

Those negotiations will likely begin in Bali later on this year, and will be driven by the IPCC's warning that deep cuts are needed if dangerous levels of climate change are to be avoided. The most contentious issue will be the sharing of the burden between the developed world, who are historically responsible for creating the problem through the overconsumption of fossil fuels, and the developing world, whose need for energy to drive development could undermine all the progress made so far if that energy is supplied by dirty technologies. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which provides the bedrock of any deal, recognises this tension through its principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities" and its demand that developed countries take the lead and share technology with developing nations. However, even developing countries now acknowledge they will have to accept emissions targets. Against this backdrop, the second part of the EU's announcement [PDF] - that it will cut emissions by 30%

provided that other developed countries commit themselves to comparable emission reductions and economically more advanced developing countries to contributing adequately according to their responsibilities and respective capabilities

is a good sign. By signalling they will accept a strong target from the outset, while echoing the language of the UNFCCC on common but differentiated responsibilities, the EU has laid the groundwork for a gradual expansion of the international climate change regime. The sticking point in this is of course the US - but the tide of public and policymaker opinion seems to have turned there, and their current denialist position is likely to evaporate the moment Bush leaves office (if not before).

As for New Zealand, this signals that the post-Kyoto negotiations are going to be challenging. Our long-term failure to implement policy has left us in a very bad position, and squandered the political capital we used to gain a low target for Kyoto. We will not be able to get such a good deal again, and so we are going to have a lot of catching up to do.

Fiji: silencing the blogs

Last week the Fijian military went hunting for the authors of the blog Intelligentsiya, accusing them of accusing them of "portraying a negative image of the Interim Government". They haven't caught them yet, but their hunt has had other results: Fijian blogger Ms Vakaivosavosa, who had previously been a strong critic of the coup and interim regime, has decided to call it a day rather than risk being dragged in for supporting "incitement".

So, in the space of just four months, Fiji has gone from a (albeit flawed) democracy to a place where people are afraid to criticise the government for fear of being dragged from their beds in the middle of the night. And some people still consider Commodore Bainimarama to be a "progressive" dictator...?

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Unjust and unfair

This morning's Herald reports that Sharon Shipton, wife of convicted rapist Brad Shipton, may lose her job because of her support for her husband. This is unjust and unfair, and a violation of one of the most basic principles of justice: that it is the person responsible, rather than their family, friends, or neighbours, who should be punished.

Mrs Shipton's testimony during her husband's trial seems to have been false, but she has not been charged with perjury, let alone convicted. Unlike her husband's "good friend" Clint Rickards, she does not hold a position of public trust, and while her dishonesty is morally reprehensible, but does not fundamentally undermine her ability to do her job. Taking action against her is therefore completely unjustified, an exercise in extra-legal revenge. And that is not something anyone should support.

New Fisk

Torture in Lebanon via a Toronto stage

Saturday, March 10, 2007

A predictable abuse of power

The FBI has been rapped over the knuckles by the US Justice Department for misusing anti-terrorism powers to obtain records illegally. The abuses relate to the use of "National Security Letters", which allow the FBI to demand phone, business, ISP and even library records in secret and without judicial oversight. These administrative subpoenas are supposed to be used only in an emergency, but instead they have been used regularly and widely and simply for fishing expeditions, without adequate reporting, and in cases which do not meet even the lax standards required for their use. Which is exactly what you'd expect when there is no independent oversight. When organisations are trusted to watch themselves, power is inevitably abused - which is precisely why we require those organisations with power to enter our lives and invade our privacy to meet basic standards and make at least a tissue of a case to a judge. This was pointed out to Congress when they chose to expand the use of NSL's though the USA PATRIOT Act, but in the post-9/11 air of panic, they chose not to listen. Today's revelations are an entirely predictable consequence of that decision, and the lawmakers who ignored basic safeguards and allowed it to happen should be held accountable for it.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Blatantly illegal

Auckland's Burning highlights the case of a group of Auckland hotel workers fired because there were members of a union. In case anyone wasn't aware, this is blatantly illegal conduct. Section 104 of the Employment Relations Act prohibits discrimination in the workplace both on the grounds specified in the Human Rights Act or on the basis of "involvement in the activities of a union". This explicitly includes cases where an employer

dismisses that employee or subjects that employee to any detriment, in circumstances in which other employees employed by that employer on work of that description are not or would not be dismissed or subjected to such detriment.

The union has commenced legal action to protect its members, and hopefully their former employer will be taken to the cleaners over this.

(Hat tip: Span)