Saturday, September 29, 2007

New Fisk

Dinner in Beirut, and a lesson in courage

Digitally stalking DPF

Via The Standard, it seems that DPF now has his own digital stalkers, in the form of Kiwiblogblog, a blog devoted to discussing his postings. Like its source material, much of it is pretty dull, but it does raise a good question in one of its early posts, How long will Kiwiblog survive a Nat Govt?

Opposition is the bread and butter of political blogging - firstly, because it provides a strong motivation to actually post, and secondly because it is very easy to do a post in the style of "X said Y, and it's a dumb idea because..." But what does an Opposition blogger do when their preferred party becomes the government, and their preferred policies are being implemented? What do they have left to disagree with?

Actually, given the way any government works, quite a lot. But if the content of your blog is entirely encapsulated by the phrase "bloody government", your party getting elected rather robs you of material.

So, a change of government (whenever it happens) is likely to see a shakeup in the blogosphere. One welcome change is likely to be the disappearance of many of the sewer trolls, whose visceral hatred has been stoked to fever-pitch by eight years of left-wing government. But we'll also no doubt see casualties among the more respectable blogs as well, as people find they lack the daily motivation to post. I don't think DPF will be one of them, however; as the unofficial mouthpiece of National on the Net, he'll be kept busy promulgating an endless succession of press releases and spin, much as he does now.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Sticking up for dictatorship

With Burma coming under intense international criticism for its heavy-handed treatment of demonstrators, it's nice to know they have friends in the Australian government...

A partial victory on organ donation

The Health Committee has reported back [PDF] on Dr Jackie Blue's Human Tissue (Organ Donation) Amendment Bill, and recommended that it not be passed. The bill would have established a register of organ donors, allowing them to state their legally binding wish to donate or not donate. Unfortunately, the committee didn't think such a register was necessary at this time; however they have included clauses in the government's Human Tissue Bill, also reported back [PDF] today, which would allow the establishment of such a register "should it prove desirable". So while Dr Blue almost certainly will not see her bill passed, she has gained at least a partial victory.

(The Human Tissue Bill BTW significantly tidies up the rules around informed consent, making it clear that people can object, and setting up a clear succession of who may be asked to consent if their wishes were unclear. This is a significant improvement on the current situation, which allows a doctor to ask any relative).

Paint it black

Prime Minister Helen Clark has been trying to sidestep the debate over republicanism sparked by the 100th anniversary of New Zealand becoming a dominion, declaring airily that there's "no mood" even for a discussion. Instead, she's suggesting changing the flag by rubbing out the Union Jack. The resulting flag of red stars on a blue background looks kindof silly, but there's an obvious change we could make: paint it black, kindof like this:

Much prettier, isn't it?

(I have the graphical skills of a blind five-year old, so please excuse the appalling editing).

"The time has come to get rid of him. That's the way it is"

Spanish newspaper El Pais has published a remarkable transcript [Spanish] of a pre-war conversation between US President George Bush and then-Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, in which Bush makes it clear that his diplomatic efforts to get a UN resolution authorising the use of force in Iraq were a sham, and that he had already made his mind up to invade. The money quotes: "The time has come to get rid of him. That's the way it is... There are two weeks left. In two weeks we will be ready militarily. We will be in Baghdad at the end of March".

European Tribune has a backtranslation from the Spanish here, while Booman also has a translation of the accompanying article.

A closer look: National on health

On Wednesday, the National Party released the first glimpse of its health policy, a discussion paper [PDF] promising "Better, Sooner, More Convenient" health care. Much of the media coverage has focused on their duplicitous decision (not mentioned anywhere in the discussion paper) to remove the cap on doctor's co-payments and leave it all to the market - a decision which would have disastrous consequences and which they are now backtracking on. But what about the rest of the policy? Is there anything actually in there?

Not really, no. While there's a lot of noise about the size of waiting lists and what a mess the health system is at the moment, National isn't actually promising much in the way of changes - they explicitly disavow reform of the DHB system, for example, and promise to retain Labour's re-universalisation of primary health care (but see above). So overall, their key policy seems to be "we'll manage it better" (with tax cuts!). Whether this is believable given their previous mismanagement (or the deceit exposed by their policy announcement) remains to be seen.

That said, they do make a few suggestions. Unfortunately, they're not exactly encouraging. On waiting lists for elective (non-urgent) surgery, they talk up a storm about how waiting lists are too long and this is unacceptable. But their "solution" - paying surgical teams a bonus for every operation completed - fundamentally misses the point. Elective surgery waiting lists are not caused by lazy surgeons or inefficient DHBs in need of "incentives" - they are caused by central government not funding enough operations to meet the demand. But National explicitly disavows any solution involving more money, saying that this would simply lead to "cost inflation" and that any gains would only be temporary. The real reason, of course, is that it is money that could be spent on tax cuts.

It's a similar situation with A&E waiting times. Again, lots of noise, but at the end of it all their key "solution" is better management. Colour me underwhelmed. What's worse is that in this case they diagnose the problems - A&E wards clog up because there are no beds in ordinary wards to discharge patients to, and because of staff shortages. These are clear capacity constraints, and the obvious answer is to increase capacity to meet them. But that's anathema to cost-shy National, who instead prefer to think they can gain efficiencies by screwing overworked medical staff even harder - just as they did in the 90's.

Much is made of greater use of the private sector, through contracting out and public-private partnerships. But overseas this policy has been a disaster, with hospitals forced to cut back on services in order to meet profit targets. The financiers get rich, but the people stay sick. But then, that's the point - as with their privatisation kick, this policy is about looting the state and funnelling public money into the private pockets of their donors and cronies, not about actually solving problems in the health sector.

Finally, there's the suggestion of offloading more work onto GPs in order to free up capacity in tertiary care. This is what PHOs are supposed to be about, and its good if those GPs have the funds and powers to provide the necessary care to their patients. But I'm somewhat warier of their suggestion for performing surgery and such in "Family Health Centres"; while seemingly about merely co-locating GPs and specialists to make access easier, the capital investment required means that these new facilities are more likely to be built, owned and operated by large medical companies. In other words, what National is talking about is devolving an increasing portion of our health services to privately-owned and profit-making mini-hospitals - privatisation by stealth.

So overall, not a particularly impressive policy, and actively bad in many of the solutions it suggests. And it raises the same question as their aged-care policy at the beginning of the month: does National have a policy which isn't about looting the state to repay its donors? Or has our main opposition party devolved completely into kleptocracy?

Guest Column: Election Funding: What's National up to?

By Nicky Hager

The great weakness of much journalism is a process-worker approach to assembling quotation-based stories. It often feels as if the journalist just holds a tape recorder up to the politician or other 'newsmaker' and says, "please give me your two sentences of spin on X subject now". The sentences are then inserted virtually unchanged into formulaic news stories or news bulletins, giving the status of news to what is really more in the nature of a press release. News would mean asking real questions, such as "what about such and such?", "when exactly did it happen?" and "what's your basis for saying that?" National's campaign against the Electoral Finance Bill has been aided greatly by this style of journalism.

For instance, John Key told the National Press Club that the bill is "a dangerous bill. It is dangerous for all of us as individuals, it is dangerous for our democracy, and it is dangerous for New Zealand." It is "an assault on what it means to be a New Zealander" and "an abuse of the trust we have in the government to protect the institutions that make us proud to call this country home." Good strong quotable quotes. There have been many more like them.

But does he really think this? Isn't that the first, crucial question to ask? Key and Bill English look more pleased with themselves than scared for the country when they talk about the Electoral Finance Bill. What's going on?

As has been well discussed by No Right Turn and others, the Electoral Finance Bill has some poorly drafted sections. In its effort to be broad in its definition of election advertising – so as not to leave loopholes for unregulated election spending – it became too broad. The wording of the sections covering election activities by 'third parties' (Exclusive Brethren-type campaigns) can, at a stretch, be seen as limiting legitimate political activity in an election year.

But I think that no reasonable person can believe that the Labour Government was actually trying to close down democratic debate in New Zealand under the cover of an electoral finance bill. This was not the first move before the Army moved in to close down television stations and newspapers. It was a simply a drafting error and was inevitably going to be fixed once the officials and politicians realised they had got it wrong.

From a publicity-hungry opposition party point of view, there was a small and totally legitimate point to be scored. This was clumsy drafting. Didn't the politicians read and understand those parts of the bill before introducing it to Parliament? Who was sleeping at the wheel that day?

That is, it deserved some “do-your-job-properly” criticism from the opposition parties. It warranted some news stories on clumsy drafting, how the Government had got it wrong and hopefully some comment on how best to fix the bill.

Instead we have got the current prolonged and strident campaign from the National Party. But I don't think for a second they really believe that democracy is in peril from this bill. It is laughable to argue that it is "an assault on what it means to be a New Zealander". They have spotted real faults in the wording of the bill that other people pointed out as well. But beyond that the campaign is insincere game playing.

What is going on? First and obviously, National has found an issue with which to batter the Government. This is about politics, not policy. By hyping the issue week after week, by making a mountain out of a molehill and dancing triumphantly on top of it, they look strong and the government looks weak.

Secondly, there is the benefit for National of having an issue to agitate about that has nothing to do with tricky things like health, education and privatisation – issues that might raise questions National prefers to play down. Thirdly, and most satisfyingly for National, it allows them to be taking the moral high ground in an area where they should be chastened and apologetic.

Here we come to the point. By focussing attention on the deficiencies of the bill's third-party wording, National has deflected attention away from the reasons why this bill was needed and promoted in the first place. This includes National's secret collaboration with the Exclusive Brethren, who pumped nearly $1,500,000 into advertising to try to get National elected, and National's subsequent untruthful denials over this collaboration. This is what the bill's third-party rules are about: stopping wealthy interests getting too much influence in a supposedly one-person one-vote election.

The bill's opponents don't acknowledge it (and some may not understand), but what's fundamentally at issue is the 'right' of very wealthy people and lobbies to use their financial power to gain disproportionate influence. The bill is designed to control only those who have many tens of thousands of dollars to spend promoting their preferred party or candidates. This is fundamentally different to freedom of speech. It is more like the freedom to speak louder than or even drown out ordinary people. Once the drafting errors affecting ordinary political activity are corrected, the remaining objections are not about human rights or democracy. To the contrary, they are about the opposite: about preserving the power of the very wealthy to gain an undue and undemocratic influence over the political process.

By stridently fighting drafting errors that are going to be fixed anyway, National has been able to look principled when actually it is acting out of self interest. Lost in the commotion is the fact that they are fighting worthwhile parts of the bill that are designed to reduce big money in elections, money that is most likely to be supporting National. Please notice what is going on. They are deliberately blurring their opposition to the drafting errors together with opposition to the good and important parts of the bill. Far from admitting past dishonesty and helping to stop this stuff in future, they are using their defence-of-democracy campaign to try to stop important democratic measures in the bill – measures they claim to support at the same time as calling for the whole bill to be torn up.

National has got away with this cynical and highly successful campaign because of too much uncritical journalism. All that seems to matter is that they are 'newsmakers' providing juicy quotations. Never mind that it is artifice and cynicism. It works if enough of the media don't ask challenging questions and pass on each successive set of contrived quotations uncritically to the public. That National has got away with this campaign to date is evidence of where some of the genuine problems of our democracy lie.


Matthew Hooton: ‘You usually have to communicate through a cynical or even hostile press gallery [and] that demands constant strong messages to keep them busy’. The key is constant repetition of the main ideas. ‘The perception the [journalists] have of you will quickly be how the public also perceives you: the perception becomes the reality.’ (The Hollow Men, p.42)

Murray McCully: 'The big media coverage is always devoted to situations where there is a game on. Media invest most heavily in stories which will go somewhere, providing them with ongoing opportunity .... That means ensuring that we roll a story out over several days or weeks.... The media will provide good coverage when they are convinced that there will be follow-through from us (and therefore good stories and interesting column fodder for them). This process is important because the subliminal message is that we are earning our success, not having it gifted to us. It is in the nature of creating such a game that there must be debate and contest. In order to achieve the above, we need to be clear about the issues on which we wish to have those debates, and where we wish to avoid them. (The Hollow Men, p.129)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Election funding: not just about Parliament

The debate around election funding and transparency has focused on parliamentary elections. But Parliament isn't the only body we elect people to. At the moment, local body election campaigns are being waged around the country - and some are raising the same old issues of anonymous donations and transparency:

Significant donors to Bob Parker's mayoral campaign have given anonymously and will never be publicly revealed, his campaign manager says...

Mike Stockwell said "two or three" people had donated more than $1000 each. While he knows the identity of the donors, he keeps the information from Parker.

"I have to approach people in my fundraising activities and they say they would like to donate anonymously," Stockwell said. "They are not anonymous to me. They donate through a trust fund or a third-party agent. I do not know why people want to remain anonymous. They do not tell me," he said.

This is perfectly legal - the Local Electoral Act 2001 defines an anonymous donation as one where the identity of the donor is kept hidden from the candidate - but not exactly desirable. To point out the obvious, nothing in the present law prevents Parker from being told the identities of his "anonymous" donors after he has made his disclosure, and there is no requirement to file a correction if this occurs. And given the obvious scope for corruption in local body politics - the right roading or zoning decision or urban plan can massively boost someone's property portfolio (a feature which explains the high representation of developers on councils) - I think we have just as much reason to demand transparency as we do in Parliamentary elections.

Unfortunately, local bodies are left completely out of the present bill. Which sugests we also need a Local Electoral (Transparency) Amendment Bill to plug the gaps.

Suppressing our human rights

The Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee has reported back [PDF] on the Terrorism Suppression Amendment Bill. The bill strengthens existing anti-terrorism legislation, but significantly erodes human rights in the process, by repealing the "loophole" which allows people to collect funds "for the purpose of advocating democratic government or the protection of human rights", introducing a draconian system for the designation of terrorist entities which effectively removes any right of appeal, and allowing the use of secret evidence in terrorism trials without even the fig leaf of a "special advocate". While tweaks have been made in various areas - e.g. to ensure that new offences related to nuclear terrorism do not inadvertantly include those protesting against e.g. nuclear shipments through the Tasman Sea - those core features are essentially unchanged. The irony here is that there seems to be absolutely no need for such provisions, there having been no prosecutions under the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002 since it was passed.

We should not be passing this legislation. Unfortunately, it enjoys the support of both National and Labour, so it will be law by the end of the year.

Election funding: why we need transparency

The biggest flaw in the government's Electoral Finance Bill is its failure to control anonymous and laundered donations to political parties. While donations to third parties are subject to an extremely robust transparency regime, the law on donations to political parties is left unchanged - meaning they can receive hundreds of thousands of dollars "anonymously" or laundered through trusts which allow the party to know very well who the donor is while the public is kept in the dark. The reason we need such transparency is to prevent political corruption and the exercise of undue influence by the wealthy over policy, and to allow the public to hold politicians accountable for any sign of the above. All this sounds a little theoretical, but over on Frogblog, Green co-leader Russel Norman gives a concrete example of the need for transparency: because of National's privatisation plans:

So if National gets control of the treasury benches after the next election, and they move to flog off state assets to their mates for a song (like Labour and National did last time), how will we be able to scrutinise them to determine whether they are giving our public assets to their mates in who funded National’s election campaign? Or to those mates who funded a third party campaign in parallel with National’s campaign?
Anyone questioning whether those previous privatisations were corrupt should check out their history. Jane Kelsey's The New Zealand Experiment has the dismal details: public assets were sold at a fraction of their value - often as low as 25% - to the usual group of cronies, including Alan Gibbs, Ron Trotter, Michael Fay and David Richwhite (the latter pair often acting as consulants and picking up enormous fees when they weren't the buyers). One case even had an explicit quid pro quo: while in the process of buying New Zealand Steel at a bargain basement price, Equiticorp CEO Alan Hawkins gave Roger Douglas a donation for the Labour Party of $250,000 in "recognition of the good work he had done". It wasn't declared, there being no requirement in those days, and the only reason the public learned of it was because he gloated about it in his biography. And unless we bust the trusts and ban anonymous donations, we will have no way of knowing whether such corruption is happening again.

Privatisation is a hot-button example, but the same principle applies to the whole of government. The New Zealand government controls billions of dollars of spending a year. A change in policy can make or break a businesses' fortunes. I want that power to be exercised on behalf of the people of New Zealand, not of wealthy donors. And the best way to ensure that it is is to have transparency and public scrutiny. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, and any politician who is afraid of it does not deserve to be elected.

Support freedom and democracy in Burma!

There will be a rally in support of freedom and democracy in Burma in Auckland on Saturday:

When: Saturday, 29 September, 14:00
Where: Aotea Square, Auckland.

The main speaker will be Naing Ko Ko, a trade union and democracy activist who was jailed and tortured for six years by the military dictatorship.

I unsubscribe from human rights abuse in the "war on terror"

unsubscribe from human rights abuse in the war on terror

Our governments assume we support their actions in the "war on terror". They assume we support their assault on human rights and civil liberties, their use of secret detention, rendition and torture. This is a chance to tell them that we don't, and that we want no part in it.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


Burma is one of the world's shittier dictatorships. A totalitarian military regime, it practices censorship, surveillance, arbitrary detention, torture, and ethnic cleansing (using chemical weapons to boot). Public protests in support of democracy in 1988 were violently put down by the military, with over 3,000 people massacred, and the winner of the 1990 elections, Aung San Suu Kyi, has been under house arrest ever since. But today, Burma may be on the verge of a democratic revolution - or another massacre. Protests against increases in fuel prices five weeks ago have turned into a more general movement against the regime, and this has been backed in the past week by a growing number of Buddhist monks. The monks have tremendous moral authority in Burma, which has been boosted by a symbolic linkup with Aung San Suu Kyi, and this has pushed things to the stage where the regime has to make some sort of move, either towards compromise or a crackdown. unfortunately, it seems they've chosen the latter, declaring a curfew and surronding the monasteries with troops. As I write this, they're beating protestors for daring to speak up against the regime, and things could very well get worse.

If you'd like to show your support, then Avaaz, the global civic activism group, has an online petition calling for the UN security council (and in particular the Chinese government, who support the Burmese regime) to oppose a violent crackdown, which you can sign here. But other than that, there's little we can do. Burma has no embassy in New Zealand to protest outside, or even an honorary consul to write to (though they do have an ambassador in Australia, who can be emailed here), so all we can really do down here is raise our voices in support, cross our fingers, and hope for the best.


That is the only way to describe GayNZ's story on the homophobic comments made by Bill English's son. Yes, the comments are crass and bigoted. No, I don't think they're acceptable. But for Cthulhu's sake, he's fourteen. "Teenage boy is stupid, makes arse of himself" is not and never has been news. The fact that said boy is the son of a politician shouldn't change that. I've already said in the cases of Don Brash and David Benson-Pope that I'm simply not interested in the private lives of politicians. I am even less interested in the private lives of their family members. Using them as weapons in a crude effort to attack their public parents or partners is simply vile, and not something we should be tolerating in our political culture. That sort of sewage can stay in America, thanks.

GayNZ is right to point out that teenage homophobia and the resultant bullying is a real issue, and has real consequences (notably in the high suicide rate amongst GLBT teens). But it would be better if they focused on the actual issue, rather than trying to drag politicians' families into the firing line.

Local bodies: DHBs

In my post on local body elections, I mentioned that a lack of information on attitudes to contracting out meant that I wasn't sure who to vote for for the District Health Board. Fortunaely, the New Zealand Nurses Organisation has come to the rescue, with a candidate survey asking for candidates' views on staffing levels and safety, employment matters, contracting out, and governance. You can read the results, organised by DHB, here.

My DHB is MidCentral Health, and looking at the answers [PDF], it seems that the candidates most in line with my views are Lindsay Burnell, Graeme Campbell, Diane Anderson, Judy Blakey, Barbara Robson, Nicolas Steenhout, and maybe Pat Kelly (though he's also a city councillor, and I'm not sure I'd want someone wearing both hats). Now all I have to do is put them in order...

The Treaty stands

The Justice and Electoral Committee has reported back [PDF] on Doug Woolerton's Principles of the Treaty of Waitangi Deletion Bill, and recommended that it not proceed. Actually, that's putting it mildly - it found that the bill was inconsistent in its application, that it would make entire sections of law "a nonsense" and could even "make the [Waitangi] tribunal's jurisdiction itself nonsensical", that it undermined existing Treaty settlements and could lead to further claims, and that it

would send a message that the Crown was minimising recognition of the Treaty and the status of Maori, and would have a divisive effect by implying a lack of good faith on the part of the Crown
Which about sums up my objections in a nutshell. NZ First is of course livid, claiming that the overwhelming number of submitters who opposed the bill had deliberately misunderstood it and focused on the explanatory note rather than the bill itself. To the contrary, I think we understood it all too well: this bill was about erasing the Treaty and robbing it of legal force, while giving the finger to Maori. And I'm very glad that it has failed.

One other interesting point is that National's flip-flop on the principles of the Treaty is now complete. Having been enthusiastic advocates of excising the Treaty from legislation just a few years ago, they are now strongly defending it. So what's changed? Firstly, Don Brash has departed, and some sanity on racial and constitutional issues has been restored; and secondly, National has finally figured out that it is likely to need the support of the Maori Party if it is to have any hope of governing in future. OTOH, given John Key's infinite malleability on policy, I wouldn't want to bet against a return to their crude race-baiting tactics as the polls narrow...

The Dominion-Post on a republic

In its editorial today, the Dominion-Post celebrates the centenary of becoming a dominion by calling for a republic:

A century ago, when New Zealand was a young raw nation that built its wealth on its role as Britain's farm, when its foreign policy was centred on a British Empire where the sun never set, and when most of its non-Maori population were within a generation of emigrating from Britain, it made sense to share a monarch.

Now, it does not. New Zealanders no longer see themselves as living in a little bit of Britain that somehow got cast adrift in the South Pacific. The economic links between the two countries have weakened. So too have the personal links. The number of Pakeha who trace their New Zealand heritage back at least three, four, or five generations is growing. New Zealand is their turangawaewae. Britain has become a jumping off point for the great OE rather than the place earlier generations were fond of calling home, even if they had never lived there. For an increasing number of other New Zealanders, those whose origins lie in Asia, the notion of a head of state based in Europe makes even less sense.

An informal poll suggests about 40 per cent believe New Zealand should become a republic, though there are differences over timing. That it is not more is surprising in a nation that prides itself on its independence, on its democracy, and on its egalitarianism. The suspicion must be that the only reason that New Zealand keeps a monarch is a belief that it cannot do better. That is mistaken. There are issues to be worked through - how much power a president should have, how he or she should be chosen - but New Zealanders should have confidence in themselves to do that, and to have one of their own as head of state.

All I can say is "hear hear!"

We wish

Today is Dominion Day, and the one hundredth anniversary of New Zealand becoming formally independent in domestic affairs. In honour of the day, Dean Knight has posted the proclamation we'd like to see:

Unfortunately, we may well have to wait another ten years to see it. But it will come.

OTOH, while that's the way it is most likely to happen, wouldn't it be better if we declared a republic ourselves, and cut out the monarch entirely? They'd still issue it - they did for Ireland, after all, despite it refusing to accept English rule or its monarch - but the whole point of a republic is that legitimacy and authority derive from the people - not from some old biddy on the other side of the world.

(Flags, Emblems, and Names Protection Act 1981? If anyone can't tell that this is for the purposes of political agitation and parody, and not actually a pronouncement from the government, then they're probably a monarchist).

Little Rock

I usually have very little good to say about the US military, particularly when they're fighting an illegal and immoral war in Iraq. But 50 years ago, the US Army gave its most honourable service, when soldiers from the 101st Airbone Division escorted a group of nine teenagers to school:

The teenagers were African-American, and the school was Little Rock Central High School. They were legally enrolled, but initially could not attend due to the intervention of the Arkansas National Guard, the local police, and finally a screaming mob of racists. So the army was called in, and on 25 September, 1957, the Little Rock Nine finally made it to school, escorted by soldiers with fixed bayonets. However, it wasn't the end of the battle - the students faced significant harassment around school, and the next year the Little Rock School Board shut down all its high schools rather than accept desegregation. It wasn't until September 1959 that they were fully integrated.

But while we should celebrate this victory over racism, we should also recognise that it is under threat. 50 years after Little Rock, America's schools are resegregating, and the old evil of "seperate but [un]equal" is re-emerging. Little Rock Central High itself is described in a recent article as "really two different schools, separate and unequal, under one roof", in which "[t]he blacks go to different classes, sit on separate sides of the cafeteria, have different, and far lower, levels of performance and expectations". While the Reuters report blames this on changing demographics, that's difficult to believe when white families bus their kids for miles to avoid sending them to their neighbourhood school. As for what this means for the educational prospects of black students, abandoned and ghettoised, I recommend Jonathan Kozol's Still Separate, Still Unequal: America's Educational Apartheid. White flight and differential spending mean that where white children get to learn in clean classrooms with books, black children get to learn with the rats, in dirty, leaky, often unsafe buildings, in schools which lack toilets, let alone reading material. "Equality of opportunity?" Only if you're rich and white...

(Hat tip: Political Animal)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Excruiator

Michael Hanlon of the Daily Mail has finally figured out the obvious: the real use of the US's "non-lethal" "pain machine" is as a torture device. But it's OK, because

Raytheon's Mac Jeffery says it is being looked at only by the "North American military and its allies" and is not being sold to countries with questionable human rights records.
Which rather begs the question: how many of these devices has Dick Cheney ordered for Guantanamo?

Glove puppet

Well, it seems National has at least one supporter for their plan to sell SOEs to pay for tax-cuts: Gordon Copeland. The man really has turned into a complete glove puppet.

Meanwhile, I wonder if this means the Dunne faction of United Future has returned to sanity? They're certainly keeping very quiet on this...

Acting for sustainability

New Zealand's fisheries Quota Management System is considered to be a textbook example of the use of market mechanisms to promote sustainability. For those who don't know, it works like this: Ministry of Fisheries scientists analyse each species in each fishery in New Zealand waters to work out a sustainable "total allowable catch" (the number that can be caught without affecting the overall population or its long-term viability). An allowance is made for recreational and customary fishing, and the remainder is the "total allowable commercial catch" (TACC) for a particular species in a particular area. Fishing companies have quotas set against the TACC (known as "Individual Transferable Quotas"), which they can trade back and forth amongst themselves. If they exceed them, they face large fines or the confiscation of their vessels.

(If you're thinking that this looks a lot like something else I've been talking about recently, it's because it is. Which is one of the reasons New Zealand has historically been quite keen on emissions trading systems: because we've actually got quite a bit of experience with them...)

It ought to be obvious that the QMS is dependent on a proper assessment of the state of our fisheries in order to set the right TACC. Setting it too low isn't so much of a problem, since it means the population will grow and the sustainability of the fishery will be enhanced. But if it is set too high, we're playing the same game the QMS was supposed to avoid: mining our oceans until they are empty and all the fish extinct.

All of this is background to today's announcement from the Minister that total allowable catches are being slashed, in some cases by as much as 78%, and that "deemed values" for overcatch were being massively increased. Reading between the lines, it seems that MAF has been getting it wrong for some time, and that in some cases the fishing industry were simply overfishing and paying the low deemed values. The fishing industry is unlikely to be happy with this - as a rule they regard a fishery as "sustainable" until the last fish is gone, and their job as a race to get that fish - but if they want to have a future, this is something they are just going to have to accept. Otherwise, they may very well find themselves in the same situation as Europe's fishing industry: out of work having driven their livelihood to virtual extinction.

What's scary is that the new cuts may not go far enough to ensure the New Zealand fishing industry is sustainable. If that's the case, then Anderton may simply be sealing its slow death, rather than ensuring its long-term viability.

Against Dominion Day

Writing in the Dominion-Post, former National Party spindoctor Richard Long advocates replacing the "ever-divisive Waitangi Day" with Dominion Day. This isn't much of a surprise from one of the architects of the Orewa speech and national's racially divisive 2005 election campaign. But his arguments, however, are more about how bad Waitangi Day is, rather than any real advocacy for the merits of Dominion Day. And this isn't really surprising, because as Colin James points out, there's really nothing to celebrate there. The shift to a dominion was "an unremarkable marker en route from colony to legally independent state", which made no real difference to a country already practically autonomous in its day-to-day affairs. In its place, he suggests November 25th, the anniversary of the passage of the Statute of Westminster. But while that matters more from a legal point of view, it matters even less to ordinary people. Which leaves us with only one solution for a new national day: declare a republic, and celebrate its birth!

(Hat tip: Holden Republic)

Why the police can not be trusted with weapons

Because too many of them (and even one is too many) are violent thugs who want to use them.

The police are there to protect us, not advocate our murder; to enforce the law, not ignore Parliament's ban on the death penalty and impose a sentence of arbitrary execution. While it is a risky job, and force may sometimes need to be used, no-one should advocate its use, let alone be eager for it. Those are American attitudes, not kiwi ones. The sort of redneck thuggery and contempt for human life on display here has no place in our police force, and if our officers want to behave like that, I suggest they move to the US and join the LA or NYPDs. Their thuggish brutality would fit right in there.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Time for a kiwi republic

Wednesday is the centenary of New Zealand becoming a Dominion, and the Dominion-Post is asking whether it is time for us to cut the last colonial apron strings and declare a republic. I think the answer is a resounding "yes". Quite apart from monarchy being an absurd form of government - "as absurd as an hereditary mathematician" to quote that famous rabble-rouser Thomas Paine - it also denies the most basic axiom of democratic government: that political legitimacy and authority stem from the consent of the governed, as expressed in regular free and fair elections. The Queen was not elected; rather, she claims her position by right of birth, and ultimately, by appeal to "divine right". This, again, is simply absurd in a modern democracy. Our head of state should be elected, or appointed by those who are. Finally, of course, there's the fact that we are already a republic in the practical sense. We are thoroughly republican and egalitarian in attitude (as opposed to the monarchical Americans). Our Governor-General is already a de-facto head of state, rather than merely being their representative - and they take their orders from Wellington, not London. Recognising this would not only end the fiction; it would also allow us to tidy up our constitution, codify a number of conventions, and make it clear exactly what the powers that de-facto head of state possesses.

As for the form of a republic, the easiest method is simply to twink out the Queen, and rename the office of Governor-General as President. Whether they continue to be appointed by Parliament or are elected by popular vote doesn't matter to me so much (I generally favour election, and it works well in Ireland; OTOH election implies accountability, and the blunt fact is that the Governor-General's role is purely ceremonial and that there is nothing to hold them accountable for). What's important is getting rid of the monarchy and putting our head of state on a firm democratic foundation. Fortunately, there is a bill which will do that already in the ballot: Keith Locke's Head of State Referenda Bill. The sooner it is drawn and passed, the better.

Climate change: a legacy of failure

Also on Agenda yesterday morning, Bill English attempted to boost his party's climate change credentials by pointing out that National hadn't always been a party of climate change deniers, and had supported emissions trading last time it was in government:

Well with climate change National has quite a long history involved with this going right back to the early 90s when Simon Upton was part of negotiating Kyoto, there was a great deal of scepticism in National once Kyoto got up and running, once the government ratified it, but in the late 90s a National Cabinet actually made a choice between emissions trading and carbon tax and chose emissions trading, so that choice has now survived the scrutiny of the cabinets of two different governments so it wasn’t quite as big a leap as I think was portrayed for National to support.
This is true, but its not the full story. National initially supported very strong action on climate change, promising to reduce CO2 emissions by 20% by 2000 in November 1990, shortly after assuming office. However, they took no concrete action to achieve that goal, and dropped it in 1994. Around the same time, they proposed a voluntary aprroach to emissions reduction, challenging businesses to reduce emissions or face a carbon tax. But when the voluntary reductions predictably failed to materialise, they backed away from that too, and allowed emissions to continue to grow. Finally, after a few more years of doing nothing, they proposed an emissions trading regime in January 1999. This would have been an extremely robust regime, including all gases and all sources, kicking in from around 2005 - 2006 in order to allow it time to settle down before Kyoto's first commitment period began (it would likely have been preceeded by a carbon tax as an interim measure). But in the leadup to the 1999 election, the National Cabinet put it on hold indefinitely. But again, when push came to shove, they just weren't willing to act, and instead favoured the interests of polluters and emitters and the arguments of Deniers.

National's real legacy on climate change then is a legacy of failure. One consequence of this continued inaction was that New Zealand's net emissions rose by 14.66% by the time National left office (it would have been higher, if not for the recession their economic policies caused in 1998 - 99). Another is that emissions have continued to rise since then. Emissions reduction policies have long lag times, and early action curbs emissions growth by affecting long-term investment decisions. The failure to implement policy in the 90's is a significant factor in our continued emissions growth today.

Bill English was partly responsible for that failure, having been in Cabinet since 1996 and in a senior role since 1997, so I'm quite surprised he's willing to try and claim it now. But I suppose he's relying on short political memories and the media not asking him why if National were such strong advocates of action on climate change, there was none. The answer of course is that (with the honourable exceptions of Nick Smith and Simon Upton) they were not strong advocates. Instead, they were a party of climate change deniers - a position which Bill English supports to this day.

Local bodies

My local body voting papers arrived in the post on Saturday, so I have to start thinking about which way I want to vote. Fortunately, I live in Palmerston North, so I don't have to face the crawling horror of John Banks (the eyes! The mouths! The homophobia!) Instead, my local government is composed of the usual assortment of petty-minded small businessmen and property developers, each trying to use the city council to cut their rates while boosting the value of their property investments. So we have the council spending millions on a recreational lake next to the river, whose primary benefit seems to be massively boosting the property values of the developer who owns the land, as well as providing a nice view for the palazzos they're eventually planning to build there. And then there's the never ending saga of the cross on the local clocktower, the latest cycle of which has councillors complaining that the new "lantern cross" (a big lit glass box with a cross marked out on the panes, built to replace the original cross struck down by an act of god in a storm a few years ago) isn't big enough - which tells you pretty clearly what its all about. As a liberal, I find it offensive that the local council would spend money to push its councillors' private religious beliefs. Unfortunately, too many of the council see no problem with it whatsoever.

Wind farms and their continued spread across the Tararuas are also a big issue, particularly the council's corrupt deal with Mighty River Power to establish a windfarm in a local reserve. Unfortunately, the sorts of candidates who oppose this also tend to be ferals who oppose windfarms in general (because they're ugly / noisy / liquefy your innards with infrasound / make you go mad with "shadow flicker"), which is a bit of a dilemma. It would be nice to have something other than a binary choice here (for example, people who supported wind, just not if we have to bulldoze trees to build them).

Fortunately I have a simple choice for mayor. "Red Heather", the current incumbent, hasn't really screwed up for the last three years, is left-leaning, and supports council services. Oh, and she signed Amnesty International's lion petititon. Her main opponent, Jono Naylor, is a fundamentalist Christian businessman who gets kids from his church youth group to do his dirty work (I'd link, but Stuff doesn't keep local news for more than two days. If you have Newztext, go and look for "Church kids steal mayor's election signs" from September 20). He's also very clearly trying to buy his way to power with a massive advertising campaign, which IMHO is a good reason not to vote for him. Who wants a mayor who'll be significantly beholden to donors and forced to pay them back at the expense of the public?

I also have an easy choice in my local ward, in that the incumbents are all members of the "tight eight" which dominates the council and is responsible for the decisions I hate. So, I'll be voting to get rid of them, and replace them with some better representatives. Unfortunately, we still suffer under the bloc vote in Palmerston North, rather than having STV, and there seems to be a plurality which supports all three, so the odds are against it.

My real difficulty is going to be for the regional council. The current council has allowed the Manawatu River to turn into an open sewer, and notoriously granted Fonterra resource consent to dump 8,500 cubic metres of effuluent a day into the river - the equivalent of the sewage output of a town the size of Wanganui - because it was so polluted it "didn't matter". The decision was reversed after a challenge, and Horizons seems to have got the message and is beginning to crack down on water discharges, but I'd still like to punish those responsible. Unfortunately, I don't have their voting records, so I don't know who to kick out and who to keep (I'll have to look into this further). I do know who to elect, though: Jill White, a former PNCC mayor, who has recently completed a thesis on past flooding in Palmerston North. Lynne Pope and Richard Forgie also look like good options.

Finally, the DHB. My basic criteria here is whether the candidates supported Spotless or its workers during the recent lockout - but unfortunately the media aren't asking that question. So I'm left with the usual: vote for doctors and nurses, vote against businessmen or those who run private health providers. Judy Blakely looks like a good option, as does Ann Chapman; as for the rest, I'll need to do some further investigation. But there's one person I won't be voting for: Marilyn Craig. A couple of years ago she ran a sweatshop - sorry, "human resources management company" - which specialised in providing casual, outsourced labour to local call centres under grossly exploitative conditions. These are exactly the sorts of arrangements we need to stamp out in the health sector, and having someone who profits from them on the DHB is not the way to do it.

Something to go to in Auckland

The Republican Movement of Aotearoa New Zealand, the Monarchist League, and the Auckland University Debating Society will be holding a debate to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of New Zealand becoming a Dominion (which meant we gained practical independence within the British Empire, though the UK could still legislate for us). Naturally, the question suggests itself:

That on the centenary of New Zealand becoming a dominion, it is time for us to become a republic"
When: Wednesday, 26th September 2007, from 6pm
Where: Pioneer Women's Hall, Cnr High Street and Freyberg Place, Auckland
How much: Free!

So, turn up and show your support for us taking the next step, and finally becoming truly independent.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

National hasn't learned its lesson

The National Party still wants to sell us out. On Agenda this morning, National deputy leader Bill English was asked about his party's privatisation plans. His answer was illuminating. First, he said that National was planing to sell parts of our State-Owned Enterprises (though he would not commit to saying exactly what). And then there was this bit:

GUYON What about the electricity companies, they're big assets, and what about giving Kiwi mums and dads a shot at owning some shares in those?

BILL Well I mean I wouldn’t exclude any, clearly those kind of assets are very topical at the moment, some of them are running very well, they're making substantial profits for government which you know get spent on health and education, so if you sell down the government's not going to get those profits, but yeah we'd look at partial floats of those.

You get that? National wants to hock off our most profitable government-owned companies (which are profitable because they're an infrastructure monopoly, and therefore exactly the sort of thing we want to keep in public hands), even though those profits are used to fund education and health and lower taxes. And English even admits that this is not about whether the companies are well-run; as he says they are "running very well" and returning large profits to the public of New Zealand. Instead, it's about funnelling that monopoly revenue into the pockets of his rich mates and donors, pure and simple.

Clearly, National hasn't learned a thing from the 90's or their defeat in the last three elections (or the defeat of their policies in the three before that). And until they do, and publicly resile from their extremist NeoLiberalism, they should not be trusted with power ever again.

America and war

Over on Crooked Timber, John Quiggin shreds the standard US claim (currently being made by Presidential candidate Fred Thompson) that the US has “shed more blood for other people’s liberty than any other combination of nations in the history of the world”, pointing out that this is pretty much the opposite of the truth. The US has fought in remarkably few wars, and suffered remarkably little compared to other participants. Quite apart from the low number of military casualties, the country hasn't been invaded since 1812, its civillian population has never really suffered wartime rationing or shortages, and its population centres and factories have never been bombed into rubble. And this, according to Quiggin, is why the war party is so strong in the US:

The problem now is that most people in Europe and elsewhere have learned from experience that war is always bad, and usually worse than even bad alternatives, but many Americans have not. For the Republican core, war is a positive good, and victory the manifest destiny of the United States. The myth of American invincibility is modified only by the possibility of domestic treason, which accounts for the defeat in Vietnam and is already being used as a pre-emptive explanation for defeat in Iraq.

The Republican core can’t be ignored. They make up 30 per cent of the population, and count for even more with the opinion elite, and the Foreign Policy Community. Worse still, the rest of the Foreign Policy Community, and most of the opinion elite more generally, differ only in degree from this position. You can’t be taken seriously by the Foreign Policy Community unless you accept the premise that “America can invade and attack other countries when vital American interests are threatened”, and the practical implication that such threats are common enough to require regular resort to war.

Perhaps this will change when Bush is gone and the scale of the disaster in Iraq sinks in. It seems that the lessons of the futility of war can be learned only through repeated bloody catastrophe. The best that can be said is that, if the US can learn from Vietnam and Iraq the lessons that it took two world wars to teach Europe, perhaps some progress is being made.

Unfortunately, I don't think so. Weaning Europe off war required the repeated devastation of their cities and cultural centres and the loss of an appreciable fracation of their population, so that everywhere you looked you saw the consequences of such insanity: the ruin, the wreckage, the crippled and the bereaved. World War I killed 2% of the population of Europe, with another 2% wounded, and decimated an entire generation. World War II killed 3.6% of the population of the participants (which included most of the world), and essentially destroyed the industrial infrastructure of an entire continent. And Europeans are reminded of this every day, by the gaps in their architectural record, and by the bullet holes that can still be seen in the older buildings which survived. The Iraq war has inflicted worse devastation on the Iraqis, having killed an estimated million people (from a population estimated at 26 milion), but American has been completely untouched. 4,000 dead? Tens of thousands wounded? They'll be invisible, and with the Republicans already crying "treason", I doubt it'll do anything to cure America of its mindless jingosim.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Climate change: a picture is worth a thousand words


(Picture stolen from the Daily Telegraph. The top shows the extent of Arctic sea ice in September 2005, the bottom in September 2007)

In 2005, the arctic ice-cap shrank to its smallest extent in recorded history. This year, it's smashed that record, shrinking to a mere 4.13 million square kilometres, compared with the previous low of 5.32 million square kilometres. Previously, climate scientists had been estimating that if climate change continued the arctic would be ice-free around 2080. Now they're talking 2030. This isn't about our children anymore - it will happen in our lifetime.

Worse, the disappearance of the arctic ice-cap will have a significant positive feedback effect on climate change. Ice has a high albedo - it reflects incoming sunlight - so the icecap helps keep the planet cool. Water, OTOH, is darker, and absorbs sunlight. So the result will be more heat pumped into the system, and a dramatic quickening of the warming trend.

The need for swift action is now undeniable (though I'm sure the US-backed Denial industry will find some way to do so. The polar icecap is being stolen by Islamic terrorists?). Given the projected timescale, we are now almost certainly committed to seeing the Arctic melt, with a consequent flow-on effect for the rest of the global climate. But we can reduce the severity of that further impact through significant emissions cuts now. And its up to our governments to do so.

Sacking Rickards

After a public campaign demanding justice, the police have finally moved to sack acquitted rapist Clint Rickards, charging him with ten disiplinary offences under under police disciplinary provisions. And its about bloody time too. Rickards is a disgrace to the police force, whose continued presence undermines its credibility and reputation. The sooner we are rid of him, the better.

Unfortunately, it won't be easy. The police disciplinary procedure is more akin to a court-martial than an employment process, and so Rickards will enjoy a considerable advantage. OTOH, the case that his post-trial comments and defence of his convicted rapist mates Shipton and Schollum brought the police into disrepute and made it impossible for him to continue in a supervisory role should be open and shut. And on the third hand, this is the same police force that recently left a body to rot for two days right under their noses, so I'm sure they'll find some way of screwing it up.

If this fails, I'm perfectly happy to pay whatever it takes for Rickards to go away. But I'd rather he left the police in disgrace rather than with a golden handshake.

Friday, September 21, 2007

New Fisk

Bomb kills deputy and threatens to topple Lebanese government

Minimum remuneration bill back

The Transport and Industrial Relations committee has reported back [PDF] on Darien Fenton's Minimum Wage and Remuneration Amendment Bill, but failed to reach a conclusion. The bill would have created a minimum level of remuneration for contracts for services - meaning that companies wouldn't be able to circumvent the minimum wage by reclassifying their employees as "independent contractors" (something which is an increasing problem at the bottom end of the labour market, particularly with cleaners). However, the committee was divided on the need for the bill (National in particular supporting the exploitation of those at the bottom of the heap), and on whether the proposed regulatory structure was the best way of dealing with the problem. As a result, they were unable to reach agreement and the bill has been sent back to the House unamended.

The question now is whether Labour can assemble the votes in the House to pass it. Unfortunately, the critical vote seems to be that of Taito Phillip Field...

Climate change: Denialism still alive and well in National

Climate change denialism is alive and well in National. The day after the party endorsed the government's new emissions trading scheme, National MP Richard Worth has put out a press release complaining that we are being "drawn into the mire of the Kyoto Protocol" and spouting the usual Denialist claims - that "the world has not warmed since 1998" (wrong), that its all the fault of the sun and cosmic rays (wrong and wrong), and that everything's OK as the arctic had less ice in the 1930's and in the Medieval Warm Period (wrong). Unfortunately, these views are not uncommon in National's ranks - The Standard has a nice little series documenting the Denialist blurts of senior National MPs. And we're meant to believe that these people will continue to implement strong policy or move to bring agricultural emissions under control if elected?

Guest column: firing Clint Rickards - is it really that hard?

By Anita

The Police and the government are doing a pretty good job of obscuring the issues around Clint Rickards at the moment. They're talking about employment processes, privacy, natural justice and so on. Actually the case is a pretty simple one; he's on record with totally unacceptable behaviour, and employment processes can be resolved in a timely manner.

The real questions, and the ones I can't answer, are:

  1. why the Police are dragging the chain, and
  2. why the Minister isn't doing anything about it.

But first, back to the beginning

Should he really be fired? Are there really grounds for it?

Damned straight!

Let's recap for a moment:

Each of those individually is worth a dismissal in combination there's no question at all.

An interesting exercise is to work out what you'd have to do in your job to behave equally unacceptably (and equally publicly), and then decide whether you'd still have a job. So far every person I know who has worked that out is totally sure they'd be out of a job.

But don't they have to go through a process?

Damned straight! :)

But a good, robust, effective employment disciplinary process can (and should) be reasonably fast.

Rickards has been on suspension for three years and eight months (since the 2nd of February 2004). The last case against him completed seven months ago (on 1 March 2007). A competent, well run process should have resolved this months (if not years) ago. We're talking about totally unacceptable statements made on the public record from someone whose positions requires a high level of public confidence.

Again, ask yourself the question: if you behaved as unacceptably, how long would it take for you to be dismissed? How long could you possibly string it out for?

But he was found not guilty!

Yep. I'm not arguing that he should be fired for rape – there are a whole bunch of other things he should be fired for.

There's an interesting discussion to be had about the difference between proof-beyond-reasonable-doubt and balance-of-probabilities, and which should be used for employment cases. That is not, however, a discussion relevant to this case – the Police can get rid of him without going there.

So why are the Police taking so long?

I don't know, but I have some possible theories:

  1. Incompetence. Maybe they can't actually run an effective employment disciplinary process and Rickards' lawyers have them running round in circles.
  2. The old boys' club. Rickards is a senior police officer with senior mates: maybe they're trying to protect him and find a way out which saves some face for him.
  3. They just don't care. Maybe this isn't important to the Police hierarchy. It's clear that the sexual exploitation of young women wasn't important to them, maybe this doesn't rate either.
  4. Cowardice. Maybe they just don't have the guts. It's not easy to fire someone, definitely not if he's a mate, nor to admit to the world that they've been so wrong for so long.

My personal hunch is the first, they've designed an impossibly convoluted disciplinary process, and now we're wearing the consequences. Combine that with having to admit to having screwed that up as well... .

Why should the Minister get involved?

The Minister shouldn't get involved in the employment process., at least not directly. Ministers absolutely shouldn't be messing about with individual operational issues.

The Minister should, however, get involved in fixing the underlying process when an individual operational failing exposes a fundamental problem within the department – and this one does!

So what now?

Tell the Minister, tell the PM, tell your MP, tell the Police – tell them that this is their job, that it might be hard, it might be unpleasant, but this is their problem and the need to fix it now.

The Wellington Action Against Rape postcards are available from Indymedia if you want to print and mail them. We'll be out and about again in Wellington this weekend, so email me if you're keen to join in or extend the action beyond Wellington.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Where humanity is a crime

The customary law of the sea (since codified in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea) includes one of the most basic and oldest statements of humanitarian law. If someone is in trouble, people have a duty to "proceed with all possible speed" to assist them. And if their boat sinks, they must be rescued and put ashore in the nearest port. This is a basic moral duty, which has been enforced for hundreds of years. Those who carry it out, such as Captain Arne Rinnan of the MV Tampa, are deserving of moral praise.

Except, apparently, in Italy. There, a group of fishermen are being prosecuted for following international law and rescuing a group of drowning illegal immigrants and taking them to shore. Their crime? "Aiding illegal immigration".

The effect has been immediate. There have already been reports of fishermen leaving migrants to drown, even beating them away with sticks rather than rescue them. And that is exactly what the Italian government wants them to do. Anything, apparently, rather than accept their duty to process these people's claims for refugee status.

Simple humanity should not be a crime. And the government which makes it one deserves to be overthrown.

Climate change: the bad news

At the same time as they were announcing their emissions trading policy, the government also announced some bad news: according to the latest projected balance of units, our Kyoto liabilty has blown out to 45.5 MTCO2-e. And the chief culprit, responsible for the entire increase, is the dairy industry. So naturally, we're excluding agriculture from the emissions trading scheme until 2013...

The good news is that this deficit is expected to halve as a result of the emissions trading scheme. But that still represents a substantial liability, and one we could have avoided if the government had acted sooner.

Climate change: preliminary analysis

This morning the government announced the framework for its new emissions trading scheme. Previous policy documents had suggested a staged implementation, with the electricity sector being part of a transitional scheme during the Kyoto first commitment period (2008 - 2012), with a full scheme covering all gases and all sectors progressively introduced after that. But the policy has shifted; now the government is planning a much more aggressive implementation, and the first sector on board (from 1 January next year) will be forestry. The transport fuels sector will follow in 2009, the electricity/energy and industrial sectors from 2010, and agriculture, waste, and solvents in 2013. Agriculture and other threatened industries will be eligible for grandparenting of up to 90% of 2005 emissions, while there will be no grandparenting for the energy sector. As for the total cap, it's not clear, and the staged implementation makes it difficult to work out anyway. But there is a strong hint in the major design issues factsheet [PDF] (online soon, I hope) that it will be set at 1990 levels. In answering the question "how many emission units will be issued?", it states:

The emissions trading scheme will operate within the cap on emissions as established by the Kyoto Protocol during its first commitment period (2008 - 2012). There will be no cap on the emissions that occur within new Zealand. However, domestic emissions that exceed New Zealand's allocation under the Kyoto Protocol must be matched by emission units that have been purchased internationally from within the Kyoto cap on emissions.
A consequence of this will be that the government will have to hold a large number of credits back to cover the agricultural sector.

as for goals, there has been a shift away from high-level goals phrased in terms of New Zealand's net emissions in favour of smaller, sectoral goals. Some of these are highly specific, such as generating 90% of our electricity from renewable sources by 2025, halving our transport emissions by 2040, and increasing net forest area by 250,000 hectares by 2020. Others are quite vague, such as becoming "one of the first" countries to "widely deploy" electric vehicles, and being a "world leader" in agricultural greenhouse gas research and reductions. Carbon neutrality is a goal, but will be implemented progressively by sector - the electricity sector will be expected to be carbon neutral by 2025, the energy and industrial sectors by 2030, and transport by 2040. What this means in practice is reducing the caps for those sectors and requiring them to offset the remaining emissions. What's unclear is how this fits with the overall tradability of emissions within an emissions trading regime.

If the carbon neutrality targets are achieved, then by 2040 the only sector which is not carbon neutral will be agriculture. Their emissions will likely be held to around 2005 levels of around 37.5 MTCO2-e, or ~90% of net 1990 emissions. And this represents a definite upper limit on the sorts of long-term emissions reductions we can credibly commit to without either lowering the agriculture cap or continuing to massively subsidize farmers through the purchase of credits on the international market. In other words, a "carbon-neutral" NZ which excludes agriculture is actually substantially worse than National's proposed goal of 50% by 2050. Whether this is consistent with our attempts to brand ourselves as "clean and green", or credible when the international community is suggesting goals of 60%, 80%, or even 100% reductions in net emissions by 2050 is left as an exercise for the reader.

A few final thoughts:

  • The foresters will be very unhappy. Rather than the $1.25 billion giveaway they wanted, they will instead only be able to get credits generated after 1 January 2008, and only if they accept full liability when they cut the trees down. I guess they'll be running that $1.2 million campaign in an effort to buy themselves a government who will give them a handout, then. Which incidentally shows us why we need the Electoral Finance Bill.
  • The farmers won't be happy either. Grandparenting 90% of 2005 emissions is insanely generous, and significantly affects our future potential emissions reductions, but its not the free ride they are demanding. Expect them to drive another tractor up Parliament steps in defence of their "right" to profit by dumping their costs on the rest of us.
  • Forestry being first, with both credits and a deforestation allowance means the market will initially be all sellers and no buyers. This means the price of permits will initially be very low, creating international interest in the market. Farsighted forest owners will hold their credits in expectation of the price rise after 2009, but OTOH the NZ business community is known for its short-sightedness and refusal to invest. So, we may see significant sales of credits overseas, followed by whining that there aren't enough to go round.
  • The stay of execution for the electricity sector is a significant reversal of policy, presumably caused by the difficulty in distinguishing between electricity generators and industrial emitters (some plants are both e.g. Mighty River's Southdown co-gen plant). But given that the electricity sector is already making the required changes, it shouldn't matter too much. The strong expectation of future costs is already changing behaviour.
  • The shift to sectoral goals gives us some simple and inspiring targets which are easily understood. Most people have no idea what our emissions are, and whether a 10% reduction is good or bad. We do understand what "90% renewable energy' and "carbon neutral" mean. However, the sectoral goals need to be combined with an overall emissions goal as well, to guide government policy.
  • I'm left wondering what's happened to the nitrogen levy / nitrification inhibitor subsidy proposed in Sustainable Land Management and Climate Change. It was a fundamentally good idea, if only as an interim measure, but it seems to have dropped completely out of the picture.
  • All the real work on allocation, including the number of additional permits to be allocated as each sector is brought in, has been left up in the air. There will be further consultation, but I'd rather see it done in the open rather than having policy traded in the back room with financially interested stakeholders (who, as the KFA shows, may attempt to intervene in the electoral process or make significant political donations in an effort to buy themselves a free ride).
  • The government is well behind schedule. Last year, they expected to have legislation passed by now; instead, that's been pushed out till sometime next year.

I'll have more later. I still have a fat pile of documents to read (including the Framework for a New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme [PDF] discussion document), but hopefully that should satisfy people for now.


The civil union of Gordon Copeland and Destiny New Zealand is officially over. On Morning Report this morning, Gordon Copeland announced that he wanted nothing more to do with Brian Tamaki, Richard Lewis, or Destiny New Zealand, and while he was intending to co-lead a new pan-Christian party, the level of mistrust was too high and Destiny would not be involved. So, the party fell apart before it was even formed, a level of sectarianism worthy of Trotskyites.

Still, there is one positive note: no-one had to lose their head for this divorce.

FPP is dead; get over it

My post on the big picture has attracted some attention over at Kiwiblog. But among the trolls, FPP revanchists, and those darkly hinting at political violence if defeated again, there was also a curious comment: that I am failing to take into account

the convention that the major party with the most votes gets first dibs on power.
It's a common view on the political right (primarily I suspect because being ahead in the polls they think it advantages them) but the blunt fact is that there is no such convention. The conventions relating to government formation are laid out in the Cabinet Manual, and they are quite clear: the sole criteria is the ability of a government to command a majority in Parliament. For example, in appointing the Prime Minister, constitutional convention requires the Governor-General to:
act on the outcome of the electoral process and subsequent discussions between political parties to ascertain which party or group of parties has the confidence of the House of Representatives and therefore a mandate to govern the country
While in appointing a government,
the task of the Governor-General in the government formation process is to ascertain where the support of the House lies (or appears to lie), so that a government can be appointed or confirmed in office.
(Emphasis added in both cases).

So, it's not about size or plurality; the only thing that matters is the ability to get a majority. Under FPP, plurality and majority were synonymous (at least in the age of two-party politics), thanks to the distortions of the undemocratic election system. But under proportional representation, that's no longer the case, and parties must now negotiate for power. As a pre-negotiating position, several parties last election said that they would preferentially negotiate with the largest party. But that does not a constitutional convention make, particularly when the majority of parties refused to take such a position (instead indicating a preference for particular coalition arrangements or adopting a "wait and see" approach to see how strong a hand the voters dealt them). In fact, the idea that parties should preferentially negotiate with or obediently fall into line and support the largest party becomes absurd the moment you stop to think about it. Parties are elected to represent the interests of their voters. Why then should they automatically support the policies of another party whose goals may run counter to their own? Divine right of the plurality? I thought that sort of thinking died 14 years ago, with FPP.

We live in a proper democracy now, under MMP. No-one has "first dibs" on power. No-one has an automatic right to rule. Instead, the right to form a government is contingent on being able to command a majority in the House. And if the largest party can't do that, they don't get to be the government - it really is that simple.

Ding-dong, the paywall's dead

The New York Times has finally killed its paywall. So now you can read all the Krugman you want, for free. And as an extra bonus, he now has a blog too.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Suffrage Day

Today, September 19th, is Suffrage Day. On this day in 1893, women won the right to vote in New Zealand Parliamentary elections. It is thus a landmark day for equality, both in New Zealand and globally. But while its a day for celebration, as Lianne Dalziel reminds us, there is still a long way to go. As the graph below shows, women are paid less than men at every age group:

(Source: Table Builder: Earnings by ethnicity, sex and age groups of those in paid employment. A full spreadsheet of the data is here)

The traditional explanation for this is that women pursue different occupations from men (which are, coincidentally, lower paid), and that their wages are lowered by different work patterns such as working part-time and taking time off to have children. But when you look at young workers (who have typically not paid the "baby penalty") and hourly wage rates (to correct for part-time work), you are confronted with the stark fact that women are paid less then men in almost all occupations, and sometimes appreciably so:

Only in the trades are women paid as much as or more than men, presumably because the few who go into those professions are unwilling to take any shit.

It's all the more appalling because this is among young people, born since the feminist revolution and equality legislation of the 70's and 80's, where you'd expect gender differences to be lowest. But instead we see sectors where women clearly face systematic discrimination. And while the gap is small (less than 3%) for 80% of the young female workforce, you have to ask in this day and age why it exists at all.

Members Day

Today is a Members' Day, and it looks like Lynne Pillay's Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area Bill, which has been delayed for the last four months to allow Sue Bradford's anti-smacking and minimum wage bills to progress, will finally get a second reading. The bill has been requested by the Waitakere City Council, and would limit development within the Waitakere ranges in order to preserve their special character. Naturally, the National Party - who remember are trying to win the green vote - are opposing it.

Gordon Copeland has delayed the second reading of his New Zealand Bill of Rights (Private Property Rights) Amendment Bill in the hope of persuading National to change their minds and support it, so the other main item of business is the committee stage of Sue Kedgley's Employment Relations (Flexible Working Hours) Amendment Bill. A ballot is unlikely, and will only happen if the other piece of local legislation, the Auckland Regional Amenities Funding Bill, is debated very quickly or is sent straight to select committee by leave, allowing time to finally finish off Brian Donnelly's Education (Establishment of Universities of Technology) Amendment Bill and finally make a start on the Foreshore and Seabed Act (Repeal) Bill. But the House seems to have been trying to avoid that for some time, and I expect they'll succeed again.

Climate change: National's true colours

For the past two years, National's Nick Smith has been pushing the government hard on climate change, claiming that it has not done enough and trying to position National as a strong defender of the environment. National, according to Smith, would act where the government hasn't and implement strong policies to curb emissions. It's all a bit laughable coming from a party which until two years ago was firmly in the Denialist camp, and whose leader has declared climate change to be "a hoax", but Smith has tried gamely to overcome that handicap in an effort to win the green vote for his party (or at least enough of it to drive the Greens below the 5% threshold). But with real action about to be announced tomorrow, the mask has slipped, and National's true colours are shining through. National's agriculture spokesperson, David Carter, is demanding that any policy must safeguard agriculture and recognise its importance to the economy by exempting it. It's a position popular among farmers, but it spells death for any serious efforts to reduce our emissions. The agricultural sector, around 5% of our population, currently produces almost 50% of our emissions. Dairy emissions are growing at 1.3% a year, and if this is left unchecked, will more than triple by 2050, to 35.75 MTCO2-e - more than 80% of our 1990 total. Which will make it absolutely impossible for us to achieve National's goal of a 50% reduction by 2050, let alone carbon neutrality - and that's without considering the rest of the agricultural sector, who are just as big a polluter again.

The only way to prevent this massive rise is to fully internalise the cost of carbon, and make the farmers pay their way rather than dumping their costs on the rest of us. But that would cut into their profit margins (which as you may recall are quite generous at the moment), and when push comes to shove, National puts farmer's profits ahead of both fairness and the environment. That's their true position, and all the bluster from Smith is unable to hide it.

No freedom of speech in the USA

What happens if you ask an irritating question of a US political leader? You get arrested and tasered. That's what happened to University of Florida student Andrew Meyer today when he tried to ask former US presidential candidate John Kerry about his membership of the skull and bones. For his trouble he was grabbed by the police positioned behind the questioner's mike (now doesn't that send a message), dragged to the back of the room, and when he kept questioning his treatment, tasered - despite Kerry saying that he was happy to answer. The message couldn't be any clearer: don't ask questions, or the same will happen to you.

TalkLeft has video here.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Waste bill to be amended

The Greens and the government have reached an agreement to progress Nandor Tanczos' Waste Minimisation (Solids) Bill, which has been before the Local Government & Environment select committee for the past year. The deal will see the bill renamed, various redundant sections removed, and the proposed Waste Minimisation Authority replaced with an advisory board. However, the core provisions of extended producer responsibility (renamed "product stewardship") and a waste levy will be retained, though the latter is set at $10/ton rather than the proposed $25/ton. Overall then the bill will be weaker, but still an improvement on the current situation.

The next step is for the select committee to consider the proposed amendments, but with the Greens and Labour enjoying a majority, that is a formality. The bill will however need the support of NZ First or United Future in the House, and neither has been particularly supportive (though NZ First is likely to be mollified by the amendments, and United Future may adopt a different attitude now that Gordon Copeland has gone on crusade with Brian Tamaki). If it passes, it will become the fourth (or maybe fifth) Green member's bill to pass the House this term (Sue Bradford's already done two, and Sue Kedgley's Employment Relations (Flexible Working Hours) Amendment Bill looks like it will pass in the next month) - quite an achievement for a party which isn't part of the government, and one which highlights their skill at using MMP to push their policy agenda.

Something to go to in Wellington

To celebrate Suffrage Day tomoww, the YWCA, NZAAHD and Save the Children will be holding a public forum in Wellington on whether the voting age should be lowered. Speakers will include Children’s Commissioner Cindy Kiro, Dr Fiona Beals of VUW, Zack Dorner and Sonny Thomas.

When: Wednesday, 19 September
Where: Zeal, Garrett St, Wellington (head up Cuba and turn right at the TAB)

As a supporter of lowering the voting age, I encourage everyone to go along and join in.