Monday, June 30, 2003

Corporate Welfare for Hollywood

So, the government has announced a fat package of corporate welfare to attract Hollywood filmmakers to New Zealand. I can see why they're doing it - to try and establish us us a production centre in the global film industry - but my gut reaction is that it's a bad idea. Not because I'm any sort of market purist, but because I think corporate welfare is a mug's game, and because I hate the idea of giving money to wealthy foreigners. That's just not how government redistribution is supposed to work.

Hollywood is rich enough already, and it's not as if we need to offer them a break to get them to come here - The Last Samurai is proof enough of that. If we can compete in the global market for film production, then that's good - but let's not subsidise the entertainment megacorps simply so Helen can have more photo ops with Tom Cruise.

Who's looking for the WMD?

Via Daily Kos, Electrolite, and half the web by now: not only does Bush not know where the mythical Iraqi WMD are, he doesn't even know who's in charge of looking for them:

Meeting last month at a sweltering U.S. base outside Doha, Qatar, with his top Iraq commanders, President Bush skipped quickly past the niceties and went straight to his chief political obsession: Where are the weapons of mass destruction? Turning to his Baghdad proconsul, Paul Bremer, Bush asked, "Are you in charge of finding WMD?" Bremer said no, he was not. Bush then put the same question to his military commander, General Tommy Franks. But Franks said it wasn't his job either. A little exasperated, Bush asked, So who is in charge of finding WMD? After aides conferred for a moment, someone volunteered the name of Stephen Cambone, a little-known deputy to Donald Rumsfeld, back in Washington. Pause. "Who?" Bush asked.

Either this shows how much he really cares about those WMD, or it shows how much of a clueless stooge he is for people like Cheney and Rumsfeld. It'll be interesting to see how his defenders explain this one...

Sunday, June 29, 2003

BBC set to sue Minister over Iraq 'lies' claim

Gilligan, the defence correspondent for Radio 4's Today programme, said that he would take legal action against Phil Woolas, the Deputy Leader of the House, unless he received a full apology for allegations made against him.

Good to see the Beeb sticking to its guns and resisting government intimidation.

New Fisk

How British troops became a soft target

Bringing democracy to Iraq?

Remember all the bold prewar statements from the US about how they were going to bring democracy and freedom to Iraq? Well, it looks like they have strange ideas about what "democracy and freedom" actually means. A few weeks ago they announced they would be censoring the press, and now they've decided to dispense with elections as well:

U.S. military commanders have ordered a halt to local elections and self-rule in provincial cities and towns across Iraq, choosing instead to install their own handpicked mayors and administrators, many of whom are former Iraqi military leaders.

The reason of course is that if elections were allowed, "rejectionists" - people who want the US gone tomorrow - will win. The US can't allow that, as it would give a voice to that growing public sentiment - fuelled by incidents such as this and this - that the occupation has already gone on too long, and that it is time for the Iraqis to enjoy some of that freedom they were promised.

How does this gel with President Bush's prewar promises that

Any future the Iraqi people choose for themselves will be better than the nightmare world that Saddam Hussein has chosen for them


The United States has no intention of determining the precise form of Iraq's new government. That choice belongs to the Iraqi people

...? It doesn't, and the Iraqis know it. They're not stupid or illiterate; they have access to the global media and know that these promises were made. They know what they are missing out on. If the US doesn't deliver, then they'll do it themselves, with guns and bombs.

Satire or prophecy?

The Bush administration seems to be getting its foreign policy from The Onion these days, with Rumsfeld's suggestion to form a world peacekeeping force - under US (rather than UN) control.

The chief purpose of such a force would be to do the dirty job of occupying countries that the US has knocked over, like Iraq. In other words, getting foreigners to die in the place of US soldiers.

While I think there's a role for a dedicated international peacekeeping force, it should be under the control of the legitimate international authority (the UN) rather than the hegemon, and should be used for actual peacekeeping, rather than as a foreign occupation force for countries that don't want to be occupied. Timor, not Iraq or Palestine.

The rest of the world should tell Rumsfeld where to go, and make their contributions (if any) via the UN, rather than signing up to enforce a US global order.

Saturday, June 28, 2003

The party of hypocrisy, part 2

In an email, Gordon King of NZPundit thinks I'm being too hard on ACT:

I think Frank's was pretty clear why he voted against it. He was very concerned about the administration of the law not the principle of liberalisation.

Which is all very well and good (though a strange position for someone from what purports to be the "party of freedom"), but what about the rest of them? Prebble? Eckhoff? Newman? What's their excuse?

If so many ACT MPs think that freedom (or indeed, actual human welfare) should take a back seat to administrative purity, maybe they should be thinking of rebranding?

Friday, June 27, 2003

The predictable response

Circling Apollo has this to say about prostitution reform:

However, this bill is a double-edged sword. It gets rid of the hypocracy of state-licenced 'massage parlours' which everyone knows are knockshops, but it unleashes hoardes of IRD, DOL and OSH etc etc et al bureaucrats upon the prostitutes.

And that's so much worse than effectively being outside the law and fair game for anyone who wants to exploit or abuse you.

I just don't understand the thinking behind this. Employment rights and the ability to enforce safety standards against those who run unsafe workplaces are a Good Thing, not something to be feared. Unless you're running a massage parlour, I guess.

Making more conservatives scream: The US Supreme Court has overturned Texas' anti-sodomy law. Boy, can the American Right scream loudly...

Thursday, June 26, 2003

Grasping at straws

Sludge is grasping at straws by suggesting that Helen Clark may be guilty of contempt of Parliament if she lobbied MPs on a conscience vote. I think this is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what a "conscience vote" is all about.

A conscience vote is one where a party declines to enforce the whip, and leaves its MPs to make up their own minds rather than voting as a bloc. It doesn't have any formal constitutional standing AFAIK, and is simply a matter for the parties concerned. In the case of prostitution reform, some parties (Labour, National) treated it as a conscience vote while others (United Future, the Greens) didn't.

(Cynics might also add that a conscience vote is one on an issue that a party is too cowardly to take a stand on, and wants plausible deniability for regardless of the outcome. "Moral issues" are precisely this sort of hot potato...)

The important point is this: simply because the whip is not used does not mean that the dirty business of politics takes a holiday. It does not mean that everybody flips their ambition-switches to the "off" position. It does not mean that they ignore the views of the segments of the electorate they are trying to appeal to, and it does not mean they ignore the views of their fellow MPs. Most importantly, it does not mean they don't think of their future, and how they can get that higher list placing or cabinet spot by voting with the ruling clique. Anyone who thinks it does mean those things is a fool.

This is how the game is played. Laws, like sausages, are something you don't really want to see being made, no matter how much you like them.

The party of hypocrisy

I was taken aback by how many ACT MPs voted against prostitution reform last night. According to this morning's Dominion-Post, Donna Awatere Huata, Gerry Eckhoff, Stephen Franks, Muriel Newman and Richard Prebble all voted to criminalise a voluntary transaction between consenting adults. And they call themselves "liberals".

Rodney Hide may be the face of irritable bowel syndrome (thank Spindoctors for that immortal line), but at least he manages to do a passably good job of sticking to the principles he purports to support. Most of the rest of ACT represent the worst of both worlds: social conservatives in fiscal liberal's clothing, promoting freedom for the rich and slavery for the rest of us. Fuck that, with knobs on.

[Yes, I know the Libz beat me to it]

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Prostitution law reform passes

But of course, you already knew that.

I was expecting it to fail, but obviously I was wrong. And now we can relax in the warm glow of screaming moral conservatives...

Fat tax

The big news story of the night (other than prostitution reform, of course) is the government's proposed "fat tax". Unfortunately, the media seem to be ignoring the fact that the government isn't actually, well, proposing it.

The story seems to have come from an ACT press release, trumpeting the fact that in answer to a parliamentary question, the Health Minister had confirmed that

the Public Health Directorate is currently working on an internal paper on differential food taxation and food advertising, to reduce obesity in New Zealand. This paper is to be completed by September 30

What everyone seems to be ignoring is that an internal paper is a long way from a government proposal. Government departments do these sorts of studies all the time as part of the policy review process (both to consider alternatives, and to be prepared in case a minister has crazy ideas), without it ever being anything more than an academic exercise. As a case in point, you can bet your bottom dollar that Treasury has people thinking about what would happen if we substantially lowered or even eliminated income taxes, without there being any suggestion that the current government has any plans to do so (or even that Treasury will formally reccommend such a policy).

But I guess this is what happens when everyone is waiting for the big story, and you've got a few minutes or column-inches to fill. Take a press release, report it uncritically, and don't stop to think about what you're actually reporting on...

Interesting stuff from Hard news on the late debate surrounding prostitution reform. meanwhile I'll be flicking back and forth between Buffy and TV1 to see how the vote went. At this stage it looks like it will go badly, but we can always hope.

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Atomic Secrets? Pah!

Those who lie awake at night terrified at the thought of nuclear terrorism will be comforted by the Guardian's story on how two students built an A-bomb. Yes, the US army has done some research on the matter (the "Nth country" project), and while its non-trivial, it's not exactly hard either - any well-resourced physics PhD can do it, given the right materials. I'm just waiting for Bush to declare physics students a precuser to WMDs, and start killing them all off...

On a lighter note, geeks will be pleased to see that the scientists chose to build a plutonium implosion device (rather than a simple gun) because it was a more challenging problem...

Monday, June 23, 2003

Troops to the Solomons?

Cabinet is apparantly considering sending troops to the Solomon Islands to help the government there restore order and end ethnic unrest. Is this a good thing? Well, it seems like a worthy cause, and we would certainly be able to make a greater difference than our token contributions to Iraq or Afghanistan. The government's conditions for sending troops - a formal invitation by the Solomons government; a mandate from the South Pacific Forum - are reasonable enough, and we're not going to be supporting a corrupt dictatorship as we were in Vietnam. So yes, we should help out. It's not as if the Americans are going to...

ACT spreading hate

OK, so my lampooning of Stephen Franks as a black-helicopter seeing conspiracy theorist is probably a prime example of a member of the "latte set" poking fun at a "rural oaf" - except he's from Auckland, and I prefer a flat white. But seriously, I found his press release troublesome, not least because it's pushing two obvious lies about gun ownership in New Zealand:

  • It's about town vs country: Franks posits a divide between rural gun-owners and urban gun-grabbers (the "latte set"). But how many urbanites own guns? A lot more than you'd think.
  • It's about class or wealth: In Britian, the anti-hunting movement really is about class antagonism - specifically antagonism towards a wealthy rural aristocracy, who haven't had the sense to die out yet. We don't have one of those in New Zealand, and our farmers don't seem to be markedly different in wealth from the rest of us. In fact, gun ownership or enjoyment of sport shooting doesn't seem to be tied to wealth or social class at all. For every Range-Rover driving duck shooter, there's a guy in a beaten-up old Toyota going pig hunting. And (as mentioned above), they don't just live in the country. So what's specific about gun-owners, other than the fact they own guns? Nothing.

Franks is pushing these lies in a deliberate attempt to frighten gun-owners, and to create the very "class-antagonism" he accuses others of harbouring. He wants to create paranoia and hostility towards the government, because that is ACT's chief platform. In the process he's creating hostility towards gun-owner's fellow citizens as well, but what the fuck does he care, provided he gets re-elected?

It's fairly disgusting politics on every level, but exactly the sort of thing I've come to expect from the "party of principle".

Franks seeing black helicopters

Is it something about gun ownership that makes people froth at the mouth and posit bizarre conspiracy theories about how everybody wants to take their toys away, or is it just Stephen Franks? His latest press release is the sort of black-helicopters-UN-evil-gun-grabbing-government fnord that you'd expect from militia nutcases in America. In fact, all he needs is a reference to ZOG, and it would be indistinguishable.

But the best bit is this:

In New Zealand, there are votes to be won by making shooting sports people squeal for the delight of the latte set. This is primitive class antagonism.

Hmmmm - "Latte set". Now what was that about "class antagonism"?

Farmers bleating for a free ride

NZPols has a couple of excellent posts on the proposed livestock "fart tax". I really don't see what all the fuss is about. We tax cigarettes and petrol to offset the costs to society of their use; why should sheep and cows get a free ride?

The farmers in fact are getting off lightly. Farm animals contribute over 50% of our greenhouse emissions, but they're being slapped with a measley $0.09 a sheep. That's because the government doesn't want to discourage farming, but instead wants to pump some money into public good science to research whether those emissions can be decreased. And in the long-term, it's good for farmers, because those emissions are lost energy - any decrease in them means fatter sheep, and therefore more money.

But instead, the farmers would rather externalise their costs. Fuck that. I'm not going to be allowed to externalise the cost of my fossil-fuel usage for much longer, so why the fuck should farmers get to dump their emissions for free?

Saturday, June 21, 2003

Participate in the democratic process!

KiwiPundit has a post about the Prostitution Reform Bill, which includes email addresses for undecided MPs. Apparantly they're getting a blitzed by Christians urging them to vote against; how about letting them know what you think?

"Crusty bludgers"

NZPundit has noticed this story on Stuff, about the Elderly racking up student loans. Stuff is shocked, NZPundit thinks that "it would be pretty cool if crusty bludgers like this actually had to pay back his student loan like the rest of us." I think it's pretty cool that someone is still able to pursue education for its own sake, and I'd encourage everyone to consider doing a few extra degrees to fill out their golden years.

As for repayments, the rules of the scheme are absolutely clear: you only repay if you earn over the income threshhold (currently the minimum wage), and the loan is forgiven in the event of the borrower's death. Both of these rules are there for good reasons - to reflect the government's claim that education is a (mostly) private good (the flip side being that if you're not getting that good, you shouldn't be repaying), and to prevent the crippling intergenerational transmission of debt. Of course, if there are rules, they can be gamed - but if its OK for political parties to game the parliamentary services budget allocation rules, or large corporations to game the tax system to decrease their tax bill, then it's OK for people to game the student loans system. And if we don't think it's OK, then I'd suggest that student loans to pensioners are small fry, and we could really gain a lot more money (and punish the most egregious system-gamers) by going after those aforementioned corporations.

Friday, June 20, 2003

Note to those coming in from TechnoRati: Due to a crossed wire somewhere in Cosmos, posts made on the Rittenhouse Review are being reported as being made here. Hopefully they'll sort it out sometime.

Another Milestone

Today we cracked a thousand unique visitors. OK, so its not much, especially compared to Hard News' hundred K, but it's not bad for a couple of nobodies in four months. There's been a significant traffic boost in the last few weeks, as we've become more linked in to the NZ blogosphere, so credit to NZPundit, KiwiPundit, NZPols, and anyone else who's linked to us. And to the actual readers, of course - though sometimes I'm surprised that anyone bothers...

Thursday, June 19, 2003

It's unnatural!

Researchers in Japan have genetically modified coffee seedlings to produce up to 70 per cent less caffeine.

Maybe the Greens have a point about GE after all...

It's not unusual

NZPols thinks it's odd that ACT is calling for a crackdown on drugs while simultaneously claiming to be the party of freedom and liberty. I don't think it's odd at all. ACT has consistently shown that the only freedom it cares about is the freedom of the rich not to pay taxes.

That's one reason why I prefer the Libertarianz to Prebble's mob - at least they're consistent, and advocate for other freedoms too (though a cynic would say they simply replace ACT's monism about taxes with a dual interest in taxes and drugs :). No, this doesn't mean I agree with them about taxes; I simply appreciate their acting as "useful idiots" on my behalf occasionally.

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

"Justice", ACT-style

ACT thinks that John Burret should get more prison time for mounting a vigorous defence. We'll have to remember this next time one of their friends vigorously defends himself on charges of tax evasion...

Update: Having got the archives working again, I can point people at a previous post laying out why I think this is a bad idea.

Canada does the right thing

They're planning to recgonise gay marriage, as soon as they can get the bill written. I wonder how America will react? Badly, if their reaction to similar moves by US States is anything to go by...

Of course, this raises the question of why our government isn't doing the same thing. Isn't it time for a liberal, secular country like New Zealand to recognise that society has moved on from the dark ages? Either explicitly recognise same-sex partnerships (the quick fix), or rewrite all our laws relating to marriage to be completely gender-blind?

(I'd prefer the latter, both because it's cleaner, and because it's more likely to make Peter Dunne's head explode.)

Via CalPundit: Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver can now be ordered, and will be out September 23rd. But can we all wait that long...?


Predictable, United Future has decided to oppose the care of children bill. Their chief area of concern? That clause recognising social parenthood. The "family friendly" party is only friendly to families fitting their traditionalist views, it seems.

Fortunately, the Greens are willing to support it - which is making Peter Dunne spit tacks. Sorry guys, but the joy of having two minor parties in the middle is that neither of them can excessively exploit the balance of power.

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Slow Blog Days

Yes, I know, I've been slack and not posting - and at a time when I have readers too! Please hang around - while ATM I have too much work and a relative lack of things that are pissing me off, sooner or later something will get my goat, and I'll be foaming at the mouth again. In the meantime, I'm going to try and hassle Mike into talking about the latest IWC decision.

Newcomers and Natural Law

Via KiwiPundit, there's another NZ blog on the block: Running Blog Capitalist. And today, he's talking about Abortion (oh god), nodding approvingly at this reply to "natural law" arguments from SOLOHQ (whereever that is):

The real meaning of "natural law" is that entities act according to their nature. Man's nature is to change nature - and therefore to change the consequences of natural law. By building silos, man, according to the nature of his natural law, changes the natural law of crop failures and famines. By surgery and medication, man changes the natural law of pain and disease. And by abortion, man changes the "natural law" of unwanted or inconvenient pregnancy.

While this line of argument has some appeal (after all, what are we if not a species that alters its environment to conform to its needs), I think it's a mistake. As every undergraduate student of Philosophy knows, there's a far better counter to "Natural Law" arguments in ethics, namely Hume's is-ought distinction. This basically points out that you can't go from premises about the world ("is" statements) to conclusions about what we should or shouldn't do ("ought" statements) without some additional linking premise(s) introducing the moral content. If such a premise is not provided, the argument does not follow and can be dismissed. If it is provided, it can be attacked. And given the weakness of the typical linking premises (god, or "natural = good; unnatural = bad"), attacking them is pretty easy.

Sunday, June 15, 2003

America's imperial delusion

Historian Eric Hobsbawm (author of books on the "short twentieth" and "long nineteenth" centuries) has a few words to say on the subject in the Guardian. One of the comments that caught my eye was this:

Few things are more dangerous than empires pursuing their own interest in the belief that they are doing humanity a favour

Hobsbawm makes the obvious connections with post-revolutionary France and Communist Russia, both of which were driven by universalist principles to try and impose their ideologies on the rest of the world by force - for our own good, of course. Those who think that America is somehow different might want to check out 'We're Good People': A Play In One Act...

Saturday, June 14, 2003

New Fisk

Censorship Of The Press: A Familiar Story For Iraqis.

Freedom of the press, part IV

United Future has finally come to the party on the issue of freedom of the press in Tonga:

Democracy in Tonga must be on the South Pacific Forum agenda when it is held in Auckland in August, and New Zealand, Australia and the Commonwealth are duty-bound to speak out on the issue, United Future leader Peter Dunne said today.

"One of our closest neighbours is facing its most fundamental assault on human rights and free speech since its constitution came into being in 1885, and we cannot sit idly by as this happens.

"The legislation being proposed in Tonga is a travesty and a basic violation of the universal principles of human rights," he said

"This is in our backyard. It's one thing to fight tyranny in Iraq, but let's not let it get a foot hold here in the South Pacific."

While its good to see them condemning Tonga's plans, I'm not sure whether putting it on the SPF agenda is the right approach. Quite apart from the fact that that's not how the South Pacific Forum is supposed to work, given the degree to which our relations with the smaller countries are poisoned by suspicions of colonialism, that sort of formal criticism is likely to be counterproductive - and not just for our relationship with Tonga. Given the details of the Smythe report, it's clear that we need to do something, but I agree with Gordon McLauchlan that the government's softly softly approach is probably the right one.

Friday, June 13, 2003

More Fisk

AlterNet has an interview with the man himself.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Old Fisk

In Qatar, it's high-fives and handshakes for Bush with his troops. In Iraq, it's a different story: bloodshed, fear and a deadly ambush.

Retrospective punishment?

KiwiPundit has a good reply to those (like NZpols and (apparantly) Deborah Coddington) who think that retrospectively altering parole procedures for paedophiles isn't a violation of the Human Rights Act.

My opinion? I'm against retrospective law changes, especially of this sort. Our justice system is predicated on the idea that criminals serve their time, after which they've "paid their debt to society" and are released. Piling extra penalties on whenever someone unsavoury is about to be released from prison undermines this. It both breaches the prisoner's human rights (and contrary to ACT's opinion, they still have them), and it gives them no reason to reform. In other words, it's both immoral and stupid.

Under the current system, if we put someone in jail, they're going to be released sometime. Even paedophiles and murderers. While we can impose parole and post-release conditions, they also have to end sometime. Unfortunately, the "hang 'em high" brigade, with their obsession with revenge, are unwilling to accept this.

More from the dark ages

Bill English is objecting to the Care of Children Bill because it "creates female fathers". According to National's press release:

Section 17 (2) of the new legislation, which was introduced to Parliament last night, says "to avoid doubt a reference in this section (or elsewhere in this Act) to 'the father of a child' is a reference to the same sex defacto partner of the mother of the child."

"This section effectively declares that the legal definition of a father is to be changed to include women," says Mr English.


In case Mr English hadn't noticed, society has moved on from the days when men were men and the sheep were worried. Gay couples with children aren't exactly an unknown phenomenon, and therefore we need to update the law to suit, by recognising social as well as genetic parenthood. While we could rewrite every law touching on parenthood and guardianship to be gender neutral and refer to androgynous "parents", that's a massive task, and in the meantime it's simply quicker to alter the legal definition of "father" to suit. If this offends Bill English and his fellow neanderthals, then tough shit. They should try crawling into the twenty-first (or even the twentieth) century, rather than hanging around in the dark ages.

Freedom of the press, part III

Following last week's posts on freedom of the press, I contacted those NZ political parties which hadn't condemned Tonga's actions to seek their views. Today I got this response back from ACT:

Thank you for your recent email. ACT in no way condones the actions of the Tongan monarchy and nobles to gag the press.

ACT advocates individual freedoms in a democratic and tolerant society. I find the Tongan regime the antithesis of classical liberalism. Tonga seems to have captured the worst aspects of a European medieval monarchy and grafted that onto the worst aspects of Polynesian tribal society based on nepotism and chieftainship.

I despair for Tonga's future stability and know that inevitably New Zealand will, at some future date, become embroiled in the containment of conflict.

Yours sincerely

Ken Shirley
Foreign Affairs Spokesman
ACT New Zealand

It's good to see them sticking up for liberal principles, but at the same time I can't help but feel that they could've been quicker off the mark on this. Still, at least they've responded, which is more than can be said for National, NZ First, or United Future.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Why I hate NZ First

Because they keep churning out crap like this.

Regardless of whether Winston Peters is actually racist himself, his willingness to exploit the worst instincts of New Zealanders is simply appalling. Why does the ethnic mix of New Zealand in twenty years time matter? Scratch the surface, and the repugnant axioms of the racist are there for everyone to see. "They're different from us", "they speak funny", "we'll be overrun". Fear of the other and a desire that the rest of the world be exactly like them, all in one poisonous package.

This sort of shit belongs back in the dark ages. The sooner these toxic memes are eradicated, the better.

Old Fisk

In cliche land, the two sides are expected to get married before they fall in love

France evacuates Americans from Liberia. But I thought they were evil...?

Blog-rolled again!

This time by NZPundit - and the traffic is spiking already. Though we're not "New Zealand's newest blog"; we've just been unnoticed until quite recently.

As for our comments on nuclear power, I'm not sure what's "wrong-headed" about paying attention to the geology. Or indeed to the question of where to put the waste. These are serious questions, deserving serious answers, and so far local nuclear power advocates haven't touched upon them. In fact, given the sheer lack of thought on the issue displayed by people like Ken Shirley and Gareth Morgan, you'd almost think they were suggesting nuclear solely to make their political opponents squeal...

Monday, June 09, 2003

I haven't had a chance to see this yet, but those of you with Quicktime and broadband might want to check out Gollum's acceptance speech for his "Best Digital Performance' MTV award.


The scuffle over whether Tony Blair lied Britian into war is getting seriously dirty. In response to government claims that "rogue elements" within the intelligence services were trying to undermine the government (and fears that they'd end up carrying the can for the failure to find Iraqi WMDs), the spies are threatening to reveal a "smoking gun"... just not the one Blair wants them too:

Minuted details will show exactly what went on. Because of the frequency and, at times, unusual nature of the demands from Downing Street, people have made sure records were kept. There is a certain amount of self-preservation in this, of course.

Of course, now that there's the suggestion of incriminating tapes and documents, the press (and the public) are slathering at the thought. Hell, I want to know, just so I can see Tony Blair go down...

Engineers to Iraq

How do I feel about Helen Clark's decision to send NZDF personnel to Iraq? Well, on the one hand, I was against the war, and am strongly against any contribution towards the occupation. We should not be putting trrops on the ground there to help the US subjugate the Iraqi people, impose a puppet government, and steal their oil. And on the other hand, what are we sending? Engineers. People who build schools. Without guns, and reliant on the British for protection. We're contributing to reconstruction, not the occupation - I can stomach that.

(But wil the Iraqis recognise that fact? Only time will tell. But at least we're working with the British, who seem to be doing a far better job of dealing with the locals than the Americans have been).

As for Afghanistan, it looks like the "Provincial Reconstruction Teams" that we'll be contributing to are part military, part reconstruction, so it's not all bad. At least its not the SAS again, and the job they'll be doing - extending the influence of the provisional government outside Kabul - seems to both be in accordance with our principles and worth doing. I think that contributing to the International Security Assistance Force would be justifiable, so this probably is too.

And on the third hand, this smacks of sucking up to the US. Can't we at least have Helen verbally give them the finger again, so we don't have to feel so bad about doing something useful?

Justice for sale?

The stupidity of this judge's decision beggers belief. Someone drives their car at 110 kp/h in a 50 kp/h zone, smacks into a petrol station, kills a four year old girl and injures someone else inside the building. But hey that's okay because the driver's family can then just open their cheque book, donate $40,000 to the dead kid's kindergarten and get the sentance halved.

Its really nice that he choose to show his remorse in this way...doesn't bring her back though does it? If you're a poor person who commits the same crime and you can't afford to oil the scales of justice like this guy could, then the law will come down on you like a ton of bricks. Are we trying to create different standards of justice for rich and poor here? Should we be measuring the level of remorse in dollars? How much should remorse matter? Shouldn't the value of a human life be same regardless of weather the person who takes it is rich or poor? At the very least should this person be allowed the privilege of driving in NZ ever again?

I realise politicians can't interfere with the judiciary...what they can do is direct them and lay down laws and guidelines for judges so that this sort of thing doesn't happen in the future. This needs to happen because this sets a bad precedent.

Sunday, June 08, 2003

Disposing of the waste

The prospect of Ken Shirley putting his money where his mouth is and offering his backyard as a radioactive waste burial site is amusing, but I'm sure that he'd just whine about the Resource Management Act. Imagine, the thought that you might actually have to tell your neighbours before doing something that might affect them! It's practically communist!

Pokes at ACT's absolutist stance on (their) property rights aside, I'm actually in favour of nuclear power.... somewhere else. It's not renewable, but under the present circumstances it is IMHO marginally the lesser of two evils when compared to coal. Radioactive waste? That's what places like the Australian outback and Nevada are for, and provided you don't do something stupid like sticking your waste dump over an aquifer or on a dormant volcano, it's reasonably safe. Safety? The French example shows that it can be done right; the important thing is not to let your power plant be run by a (US) corporation intent on maximising profits by minismising (safety) costs - or a bunch of slackards who ignore repeated problems.

That said, Mike's arguments still hold water. New Zealand is far too tectonically active for us to take the risk. Importing fuel and exporting waste is madness. We're far better off with a mix of wind and hydro, with thermal generation for peak loads. If the Americans want to burn Uranium instead of coal and gas, I'm all for it, but it's something we should never consider here.

Nuclear Power?

This winter’s power crisis brought on a kind of mid winter silly season amongst the country’s politicians. ACT energy spokesman Ken Shirley has already advocated a rethink on our current ban on nuclear energy as a solution to future energy shortages.

Agriculture Minister Jim Sutton, while quick to point out that this is not Labour policy, has also suggested that New Zealand’s nuclear policy might change in the fullness of time. He went on to qualify this by saying that “there needs to be some demonstrable progress in the disposal of spent nuclear fuel.” That is all well and good but I can’t help thinking that this is an argument we shouldn’t be having.

Back in 1978, at the height of “Think Big” the Royal Commission on Nuclear Power Generation published their report. While they believed that a nuclear programme was economically feasible there were two important points that required further consideration. a) Finding a safe site in a country as tectonically active as New Zealand to build a nuclear plant, and b) finding somewhere to dispose of the resulting highly radioactive nuclear waste. As far as I know nothing has changed on this front in the 25 years since this report was released, and until we can find the solution to these problems there is no way we can consider nuclear power. I am reasonably certain that Ken Shirley has not thought this through.

The report suggested that we would need at least one site in the North Island and one site in the South Island. But where would we put them? Its not uncommon for reactors to be situated close to urban areas but ideally the reactors would be in a fairly sparsely populated area for safety reasons. Another consideration is that they would have to be situated away from agricultural land to avoid it becoming contaminated in the event of accidental release of radioactive material (our hard earned markets overseas would not be that keen on getting a dose of caesium with their milk and butter).

If you want to avoid big ugly cooling towers then the nuclear plant needs a large water source. We can’t use any of our rivers without harming the river ecosystem through thermal pollution which means that the plants would have to either be coastal, or situated on a natural or man made lake.

The biggest consideration of course is the fact that there really isn’t anywhere in NZ that is safe from earthquakes so this really narrows down the number of suitable sites. Otago, Southland and Areas from the Waikato north probably have the lowest earthquake risk.

Because we, rather fortuitously, haven’t had a large damaging earthquake in recent times, people tend to hugely underestimate the risk. Its worth considering this excerpt from the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences website.

The Alpine Fault, which runs for about 600km up the spine of the South Island […] has ruptured four times in the past 900 years, each time producing an earthquake of about magnitude 8. Approximate rupture dates are 1717AD, 1620AD, 1450 AD, and 1100AD. […] The fault has a high probability of rupturing in the next 40 years. The rupture will produce one of the biggest earthquakes since European settlement of New Zealand, and it will have a major impact on the lives of many people.

Although nuclear plants are routinely built in places like Japan and California I think building one in NZ and especially one in the South Island is inviting calamity.

The other consideration is the question of what to do with the waste. The royal commission had no real answers for this and suggested that this problem had to be solved before we could seriously consider a nuclear program. Unless Ken Shirley is offering his own backyard as a burial site this problem is still with us.

International law prevents us from burying the waste at sea so ideally we would want to bury it somewhere geologically stable where it can’t leach into ground water…which basically rules out the whole of New Zealand. The ideal solution is to send it to another more geologically stable country like Australia. But exporting your waste problem to someone else is pretty unethical and the Australians are having enough problems burying their own nuclear waste. They sure as hell wouldn’t be keen to take ours.

There are other problems not mentioned in the Royal Commission report. Although we have a small amount of uranium in the Buller Gorge area, it's never been considered economic to mine it. This means that all of the reactor fuel would have to be imported from overseas. When we have enough coal to last us for a thousand years or so and we create jobs and benefit the economy when we extract it, why go nuclear? What about the safety issue? After September 11th this is suddenly an important consideration... do we have the ability to transport and store large quantities of radioactive material securely? Probably not.

Ideally I would like to see us use sustainable forms of energy such as wind power, but if we are talking about a straight out choice between coal and nuclear power, coal is the more sensible choice.

All of this of course misses the point. We did not have a power crisis solely because we didn’t have enough power stations. It occurred mainly because the system inherited from the previous government resulted in complete mismanagement of the South Island’s hydro storage. Jeanette Fitzsimons put it best when she said that the market reforms of the nineties had resulted in the invisible hand giving us the fingers.


BBC reporter John Simpson (the one who got bombed by the USAF) has some harsh words on the trigger-happiness of American troops in Iraq.

Saturday, June 07, 2003

A more likely target

NZPols, which NZPundit has denounced as "a bit lefty". Glad to see that there are non-libertarians out there in the NZ section of the blogosphere.

Another NZ blog joins the fray

I Loathe Helen, dedicated to

vitriolic criticism of Our Dear Terrible Leader, Helen Clark, and her disgusting buddies.

Not much there yet, but maybe they'll have some amusing vitriol tomorrow.

Edit: This now seems to have disappeared (or at least its content has). Maybe it'll be back sometime.

Friday, June 06, 2003

Like rolling in your own excrement

ACT is accusing the government of having "conflicting policies" over utilisation of coal. I don't see any conflict here at all. Burning coal for energy is like rolling in your own excrement, and is the sort of thing we should discourage in the long term. The government agrees, which is why it's planning to charge coal-burners a carbon tax.

As for the issue of mining within the conservation estate, the idea that companies should be allowed to do this is simply ludicrous. The point of conservation estate is to conserve. Digging dirty great holes in the ground clearly runs contrary to this aim. Maybe someone should buy Ken Shirley a dictionary?

Still, I'm glad to see this press release from ACT, because the more they spout crap like this, the more they show how far their ideals differ from those of mainstream New Zealand. Ordinary New Zealanders place a relatively high value on conservation. ACT clearly does not, and the clearer they convey this message to the electorate, the better.

Buying back the track

The Greens have been agitating for this for a while, and the government has finally seen the light and bought back the track. Full details can be found in the government's press release on Scoop. The quick version:

  • The government will take a 35% shareholding in TranzRail
  • TranzRail will sell the rail network for $1, the nominal price it paid when it was sold way back in nineteen-ninety-whenever.
  • The government will also buy other assets necessary for maintaining the track for about $50 million.
  • The government will invest $100 million in upgrading the infrastructure, then lease it back exclusively to TranzRail. If they don't meet agreed targets for freight volume, the line will be opened up to competition.

The whole thing is subject to shareholder approval, of course, and if that isn't granted then TranzRail effectively get a $44 million loan at commercial interest rates for a year.

Is this a bad thing? I don't really think so. While Toll seemed interested in buying TranzRail, there was concern over whether they would make the necessary investment in infrastructure or continue to run it into the ground as the previous owners had. And of course there were concerns about monopoly pricing. This solves both problems - it returns a natural monopoly to crown control, where it is less likely to be abused (meaning we can vote the abusers out of office at election time), and it ensures that the infrastructure will be there. If Toll wants to run a railway, then I don't see anything here that stops it from acquiring the rest of TranzRail, and then focus on the core business of moving passangers and freight.

Old Fisk

While Mr Blair talks of victory in Iraq, troops are afraid to go out at night

Class Warfare in America

Michael Kinsley has an excellent article this morning: The Return of Class War: Bush and the new tyranny of the rich. It starts by pointing out the essential tension between the two pillars of democratic capitalism:

Democracy presumes and enshrines equality. Capitalism not only presumes but requires and produces inequality.

Western societies resolve this tension with a truce. We set a balance between the two, where we limit both the inequality the market can produce and the ability of the majority to redistribute wealth to create equality, thus allowing us to benefit from both. Kinsley describes this as unspoken deal, a nonaggression pact, between democracy's political majority and capitalism's affluent minority. The majority acknowledge that capitalism benefits all of us, even if some benefit a lot more than others. The majority also take comfort in the belief that everyone has at least a shot at scoring big. The affluent minority, meanwhile, acknowledge that their good fortune is at least in part the luck of the draw. They recognize that domestic tranquility, protection from foreign enemies, and other government functions are worth more to people with more at stake. And they retain a tiny yet prudent fear of what beast might be awakened if the fortunate folks get too greedy about protecting and enlarging their good fortune.

He then goes on to point out that, in America, this truce is breaking down. The affluent have long used their wealth to leverage political power, but now they are using that power to grant themselves greater and greater tax cuts, undermine social programs, and shift the burden of paying for society onto the less affluent. In other words, the rich are waging class warfare on the poor.

The application to New Zealand? Down here we've traditionally favoured democracy over capitalism, and our truce has included a progressive tax system and a strong welfare state. In the 80's and 90's, Douglas, Richardson and friends shifted the balance in the other direction, and there is still a faction of the affluent (currently being courted by National) who advocate an even more extreme shift towards inequality. The American example shows what this actually means, and IMHO gives us good reason to resist such changes.

Thursday, June 05, 2003

Freedom of the press, part II

And while we're on the topic, the US occupation authority is trying to impose a "code of conduct" on the newly freed Iraqi media. For their own good, of course:

Coalition officials say the code is not intended to censor the media, only to stifle intemperate speech that could incite violence and hinder efforts to build a civil society. The country is just too fragile for a journalistic free-for-all, they say.

"There's no room for hateful and destabilizing messages that will destroy the emerging Iraqi democracy," Mike Furlong, a senior adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority, told The Associated Press. "All media outlets must be responsible."

Just like they are in America, right?

Any Iraqi with a half-decent education (or an internet connection) can see the hypocrisy here. The US media is protected by the First Amendment, and can say whatever the hell they like. Yet the Americans - who claim to be bringing "freedom" to Iraq, remember - are denying that same right to the Iraqis. It's a perfect case of the unstated American axiom that there is one law for them, and another for subject peoples.

Fortunately there are plenty of educated Iraqis, and they are already raising a stink about it.

We've been blogrolled!

Another blog milestone: our first blogrolling by another blog: KiwiPundit.

(I knew mentioning them would get me some attention :-)

We said they were "right wing, but nowhere near as Redbaiter-esque as NZPundit"; they think we "seem rational, except for the repeated links to Robert Fisk". I guess I'll have to try harder...

Freedom of the press

It's good to see official criticism from the government of the King of Tonga's attempts to stifle freedom of the press and punish criticism of politicians. It's also good to see the Progressive Coalition and Greens weighing in. But where are the other parties?

Hmmm.... maybe we should ask.

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

KiwiPundit has an excellent article on Popper's critical rationalism. It's been too long since I've done phil of science...

Salem Pax's first column in The Guardian.

Selling out?

Both Peter Dunne and Ken Shirley are accusing the Greens of "selling out" over their decision to support Labour at the next election even if the GE moratorium is lifted. Dunne sees this as the Greens "selling out their bottom line", and buying themselves a new one. He's wrong.

The Greens have always multiple, competing principles. In addition to their strong beliefs about genetic modification, they have equally strong beliefs about social justice. It's quite clear that once the GE moratorium is lifted, noone is going to reimpose it - the best the Greens would be able to get would be a vote, which they would lose to a combination of the other parties. And so it all comes down to the social justice angle - and it's quite clear that Labour better serves that interest than National.

Far from "selling out", the Greens are sticking to their principles. They're simply being realistic about what is achievable and what is not.


Bruce Simpson's plans to build his own cruise missile have made it onto BBC.

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

"Liberating" Iraq, part II

The common response to rants like the one below about the appalling way the US is handling post-war Iraq is to claim that "anything is better than Saddam Hussein". The obvious response is to ask "But is it 5000 dead civillians better?"

Bloggers will debate that question from the safety of their computer chairs, trading off unexploded cluster bombs and depleted uranium against secret police and torture. But if we ask the people whose opinion really matters - actual Iraqis - we find that out some of them are already nostalgic for Saddam. And it's not difficult to see why: no power, no water, no law, no security, and a bunch of foreigners and their stooges running the show. It's a long, long way from what they were promised. Sure, the Iraqis now have their "freedom", but they see that the new boss is the same as the old boss, and in the meantime someone has stolen their VCR.

Either the Americans should get serious about building a decent democracy in Iraq - commit the necessary resources for rebuilding; engage in serious consultation to build a truly representative government rather than a bunch of unelected puppets - or they should get out.

Bruce defend New Zealand

Bruce Simpson is building a cruise missile, just because he can. But who will he be aiming it at?

Monday, June 02, 2003

New Fisk

...and the truth the victors refuse to see

"Liberating" Iraq

One of the reasons given by the US for the war was the liberation of the Iraqi people. The US army was going to free them from an unelected dictator, and install a genuinely democratic Iraqi government.

Unfortunately, those plans have now been shelved. The Americans are no longer planning on holding a political conference to build an interim government acceptable to the people of Iraq; instead they're just going to appoint whoeever they feel like. Democracy? Sorry, the Iraqis might elect someone the US doesn't like if they're allowed to genuinely express their political will.

Those who backed the war on the grounds that it would liberate the Iraqi people should be appalled. There is no "liberation" here; this is simply the substitution of one unelected prick for another. Getting rid of the Ba'ath and Saddam's secret police? Great - but not if you replace them with hyperaggressive US soldiers with twitchy trigger fingers, who kick in people's doors, search their houses, and machine gun anyone who looks at them funny.

So, they lied about WMD, and it looks like they lied about liberation as well. This was an unjust war, and the sooner the Iraqis rise up and start trying to kick the Americans out, the better.

Sunday, June 01, 2003

In Australia this week, a former Governer-General Sir William Deane launched a stinging attack on the Howard Government and its handling of human rights, social and environmental issues.

Sir William said the Government had shrunk from the "challenge of justice and truth" and instead "sought advantage by inflaming ugly prejudice and intolerance." He went on to say that Australia would "surely lose its way" if future leaders ran the country as badly as the present Government.

In particular he singled out Australia's treatment of refugees at its Woomera detention centre, Howard's flat out lies in the run up to the 2001 elections about refugees throwing their children into the water and the Government's failure to safeguard the rights of two of its citizens who are being held in detention indefinately by the American Government without legal charge or process at Guantanamo Bay.

He also rapped the government over the knuckles for failing to sign the Kyoto agreement on greenhouse gasses and for failing to address the growing gap between the haves and the have nots in Australia.

Why is this relevent to us I hear you ask? Because these are the policies of a conservative government, one that the likes of National, ACT and NZ First would like to emulate should they get into power. In fact National recently sent a number of members of its shadow cabinet on a fact finding mission to Australia to look at how the government there does things. I'm fairly open to the idea of free trade and all that, but I think these policies are one Australian import we can do without.

Yesterday's Fisk

Baghdad: The true picture