Thursday, September 30, 2004

The Russians get on board

Russia is going to ratify Kyoto. The Russian cabinet has approved the decision and sent it to the Duma for formal ratification. If they approve it (and there aren't expected to be any problems - the Duma is pretty much a rubber stamp in Putin's Russia), it will finally allow the protocol to enter into force, despite the USA. There's a quid-pro-quo, of course - the EU will be supporting Russia into the WTO - but I don't see any real problems with that.

As for the consequences for New Zealand, it means that in all likelihood we will be getting a carbon tax in 2007. In the long term, if we want to meet our emissions targets (which are expected to get tougher), we will need to do some combination of a) making a substantial shift away from burning fossil fuels for electricity; b) finding a way of making cows burp less; and/or c) planting a lot more trees. A carbon tax should provide some incentive for the market to work towards the first, but we'll need to do a lot of work on the other two.

"A pale shadow of what I said at Orewa"

Don Brash's words (quoted in the Herald) pretty much sum up NZFirst's new Treaty of Waitangi policy. With his promises to disband the Waitangi Tribunal and remove "Treaty clauses" from legislation, it's clear that Winston is trying hard to recapture the redneck vote. At the same time, closer examination of the actual policies shows that there's more than a trace of rhetoric involved - his "disbanding" of the Tribunal amounts to little more than a name change, and much of the rest is minor administrative tweaking. And there's even some good in it - increasing funding to both the Tribunal and the Office of Treaty Settlements to allow claims to be processed faster (something that was strangely left out of the policy announcement). However, the whole policy is tarred by Winston's desire to remove any legislative reference to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi (or indeed to the Treaty itself) and impose a deadline for filing historical claims. I've argued here that "Treaty clauses" are essentially the sole way of giving the Treaty any legal force, and an important mechanism for preventing future breaches. While they may need to be reworded and refined, removing them would send us back to the days when the Treaty was "a simple nullity", and Maori rights were dependent on "the conscience of the Crown". As for a deadline, as I've said before, having a goal is good, but having an arbitrary date for the express purpose of refusing claims is fundamentally incompatible with justice. And that's what the settlement of historical claims is supposed to be all about. We should do what we can to speed up the process (though the biggest bottleneck seems to be the government's Orewa-induced reluctance to spend too much money on it), but we absolutely should not impose a cutoff.

But what's most disturbing is the sheer amount of historical revisionism which pervades and underpins Winston's policies in this area. "The treaty was not about property rights ... it was about citizenship"? Only if you ignore Article Two. The principles of the Treaty are not and cannot be defined? They've been defined by the courts (notably in NZ Maori Council v Attorney-General (1987)), by the government (in its 1989 Principles for Crown Action on the Treaty of Waitangi), and by the Waitangi Tribunal (who are legally the definitive source, having "exclusive authority to determine the meaning and effect of the Treaty"). The latter body has a useful summary here. They were not inserted at the request of Maori? The original Treaty clause in the State-Owned Enterprises Act 1986 was inserted at the last minute precisely because Maori feared the effects of corporatisation and privatisation on Treaty claims. Treaty clauses have not tangibly benefitted Maori? I think Ngai Tahu and those iwi whose former lands were under threat from privatisation would beg to differ.

When a political party deliberately sets out to lie about history in this manner, you have to seriously question their fitness to govern or influence policy.

By Toutatis!

The sky isn't falling on our heads, but it's getting close. Toutatis - a 5km long asteroid - missed the earth by a mere 1.6 million km today. It's orbit is well known, and this is the closest it will come for at least 500 years, but it is a reminder that there are plenty of similar-sized rocks out there whose orbit is not known, and which could pose a danger even in the near future. While a rock the size of Toutatis doesn't pose a threat to the existence of humanity (we and our technological infrastructure are too widely dispersed to be taken out in one hit), it could make things very difficult for quite some time.

Lembit Opik takes the opportunity to call for an early-warnng system to track asteroids and warn us of any danger.

Per ardua ad astra

I've just been glued to Fox News (!) watching the takeoff of Spaceship One for its attempt on the X-prize. The actual aerial launch should be in about 30 - 40 minutes. I guess it's going to be a late night...

Torture by proxy

From Obsidian Wings: under the guise of implementing the recommendations of the 9/11 commission, the US House of Representatives is moving to legalise the practice of extraordinary rendition, thus allowing terrorist suspects (or anybody else) to be sent to foreign countries specifically for the purpose of being tortured:

The provision would require the Secretary of Homeland Security to issue new regulations to exclude from the protection of the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, any suspected terrorist - thereby allowing them to be deported or transferred to a country that may engage in torture. The provision would put the burden of proof on the person being deported or rendered to establish "by clear and convincing evidence that he or she would be tortured," would bar the courts from having jurisdiction to review the Secretary's regulations, and would free the Secretary to deport or remove terrorist suspects to any country in the world at will - even countries other than the person's home country or the country in which they were born. The provision would also apply retroactively.

(Original emphasis).

It's actually worse than it sounds there. In the comments section, the post's author, having read the text of the bill, notes that

terrorism suspects seem to be excluded from the deportation provisions of the Convention Against Torture entirely, even if they could do the impossible and prove by clear and convincing evidence that they would face torture.

Article 3 of the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment specifically bars this practice:

  1. No State Party shall expel, return ("refouler") or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.
  2. For the purpose of determining whether there are such grounds, the competent authorities shall take into account all relevant considerations including, where applicable, the existence in the State concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights.

While the US has entered a reservation on how this article will be interpreted (interpreting "substantial grounds for belief" as "more likely than not"), the above still clearly violates even their lax interpretation - thus necessitating the (constitutionally questionable) bar on judicial oversight.

I am simply sickened by this. The US is supposed to be a beacon of human rights and freedom, and here it is adopting a "nudge nudge wink wink say no more" attitude towards the worst possible violation of its ideals. If you are an American, please contact your representative and tell them you will not stand for this.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Stupid, stupid, stupid

What sort of democracy does Bush want in Iraq? The same sort there is in Florida! After months of talking about how Iraq would have free and democratic elections, he ordered the CIA to begin a covert operation to support pro-US candidates. Yeah, that's going to give Iraqis faith in the process and help them see the resulting government as legitimate...

Juan Cole has more...


For those who continue to be in denial and claim that Iraq's problems are all the fault of "foreign fighters": the US military thinks that the insurgency is homegrown and that most militants are Iraqis:

Foreign militants such as Jordanian-born Abu Musab Zarqawi are believed responsible for carrying out videotaped beheadings, suicide car bombings and other high-profile attacks. But U.S. military officials said Iraqi officials tended to exaggerate the number of foreign fighters in Iraq to obscure the fact that large numbers of their countrymen have taken up arms against U.S. troops and the American-backed interim Iraqi government.

"They say these guys are flowing across [the border] and fomenting all this violence. We don't think so," said a senior military official in Baghdad. "What's the main threat? It's internal."

But of course US politicians and the Iraqi regime can never, ever admit that.

I like New Zealand

Jews and Muslims denounce hate mail campaign

Leaders of Wellington's Muslim and Jewish communities have joined forces to denounce the racial hatred that has surfaced in the city.


The community leaders issued a joint statement yesterday saying Muslims and Jews were "People of the Book" and had lived together in peace for hundreds of years in many communities throughout the world, including Wellington.

"Together, we denounce all acts inciting hatred as they are contrary to our religious, ethical, and civic beliefs. Let us work together, with all of New Zealand, to build a healthy society where everyone respects each others' beliefs ... ," the statement said.

I guess they'll be marching together against the National Front on Labour Weekend then...

Bush was warned

The Bush admininstration's foreign-policy can be summed up as "faith-based". They set their minds on a particular view of reality (for example, that Saddam has a vast array of WMD, or that Iraqis would greet invaders with flowers and rosewater), and act on that view, regardless of the facts on the ground or any evidence to the contrary. So it's really no surprise to learn that Bush was warned that Iraq would go to hell in a handbasket and that the only winners would be Al-Qaeda, but ignored that warning and invaded anyway:

The same intelligence unit that produced a gloomy report in July about the prospect of growing instability in Iraq warned the Bush administration about the potential costly consequences of an American-led invasion two months before the war began, government officials said Monday.

The estimate came in two classified reports prepared for President Bush in January 2003 by the National Intelligence Council, an independent group that advises the director of central intelligence. The assessments predicted that an American-led invasion of Iraq would increase support for political Islam and would result in a deeply divided Iraqi society prone to violent internal conflict.

One of the reports also warned of a possible insurgency against the new Iraqi government or American-led forces, saying that rogue elements from Saddam Hussein's government could work with existing terrorist groups or act independently to wage guerrilla warfare, the officials said. The assessments also said a war would increase sympathy across the Islamic world for some terrorist objectives, at least in the short run, the officials said.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Nameless horrors

Crooked Timber blogs about Charles Stross' "A Colder War". I read this a few years ago when it featured in a Dozois Year's Best anthology, and it grabbed me immediately. It starts out ordinarily enough - just a soulless CIA analyst looking at some files - and then before you know it you're down the rabbit hole and reading about shoggoth gaps and an exchange of weakly godlike entities. It has everything - Auschwitz, Chernobyl, Oliver North and Stephen J Gould; a fantastic cross between the Mythos and the Cold War.

Like many, I was struck by the similarities between Stross' vision and Delta Green - except that it seems too overt. The world of Delta Green is supposed to be indistinguishable from our own; the horror is hidden behind the curtain, glimpsed out of the corner of the eye (or, if you're unlucky enough, it swallows you whole in the middle of the night). Having shoggoths paraded through Red Square like SS-20s, or nameless horrors imprisoned under the Pentagon as a final deterrent (a more insane form of MAD) would spoil that aspect. Besides, no-one in Delta Green would be mad enough to see the Mythos as a weapon... would they?

North Korea says it has the bomb

In a speech to the UN General Assembly, the North Korean Vice Foreign Minister said that they had reprocessed all their spent nuclear fuel into nuclear weapons to provide a deterrent against the US.

"We have already made clear that we have already reprocessed 8,000 wasted fuel rods and transformed them into arms," he said.

Asked if the fuel had been turned into actual weapons, he replied "We declared that we weaponised this."

Yet another example of how Iraq was an enormous foreign-policy mis-step for America.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Jam tomorrow

After yesterday's marathon effort on fascism, it occured to me that I'd just written as many words as I need to complete the latest piece of non-blog writing which is gnawing on my conscience. So, no posts today - I'm writing other things.


The Whig disapproves of my calling the Allawi regime "unelected torturers". But this isn't chutzpah, and it isn't morally bankrupt - it is a simple statement of the truth. The Allawi regime is indeed unelected, and they are indeed torturers. I cannot in good conscience support any government that uses such tactics. I didn't support Saddam, I don't support Mugabe, and I'll be fucked before I support Allawi. The fact that The Whig feels that I should speaks volumes about his attitude towards fundamental human rights. He is nothing more than an apologist for torture.

I look forward to the elections, and hope that Iraq gets a better government out of the process - one that shows respect for human rights rather than resurrecting Saddam's tactics. But until then, the Allawi regime is not worthy of my or anybody else's support.

The bar is now closed

Billmon has closed the Whiskey Bar. So, let's raise a glass to the memory of his informed cynicism, bitterness, and cold fury at the state of the world.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Fascism: left or right?

Genius NZ asks "what is Fascism?" and attempts to debunk the "illusion" that fascism is a right-wing ideology. In the process he reaches the fashionable right-wing conclusion that fascists were socialists. Since I've been reading Kevin Passmore's Fascism: A Short Introduction recently, I thought I'd throw in my two cents.

Firstly, definitions of fascism vary. Traditional Marxist definitions see fascism solely in terms of class. An example of this can be seen in Reading the Maps' recent post on whether Destiny Church are fascists:

Fascism occurs when a capitalist class, or a section of the capitalist class, is unable to control an insurgent section of the working class using the normal insitutions [sic] of the state. Fascist leaders often come from the petty bourgeoisie or military, and they are called in because they can mobilise a section of the petty bourgeoisie and/or working class to smash organised labour and the left.

Fascist leaders also destroy bourgeois democracy (ie multi-party parliamentary democracy), because it is a luxury capitalism cannot afford in a revolutionary crisis. Fascist leaders also frequently rein in the 'free' market, using a 'corporate state' state to commandeer economic resources and to force puppet unions and a cowed bourgeoisie to cooperate 'in the national interest'.

The problem with this approach is that it puts too much weight on what is almost certainly a matter of historical accident. There's no question that early twentieth-century fascist movements rose to power with the collusion of wealthy conservative factions who feared the influence of communists. German conservatives made Hitler Chancellor in 1933 and helped pass the Enabling Act; Italian conservatives responded to the March on Rome by handing Mussolini the reins of power. But what about our own National Front? They're a group of criminal losers without any wealthy backing, but at the same time they're fairly clearly fascists. It also makes it difficult to distinguish between fascism and a standard right-authoritarian dictatorship (like that of Pinochet in Chile), and indeed difficult to distinguish what a fascist actually is (other than a pawn of capitalism). What it is good for is talking about causes (fascism does seem to be a response to crisis), and for placing fascism in its historical context.

A second approach is that adopted by anti-Marxist American scholars after WWII. Being anti-Marxist, they couldn't talk about class, and in any case their intent was to discredit communism by linking it with fascism, so they defined fascism as a form of totalitarianism. A checklist definition was provided by C. J. Friedrich (as quoted in Passmore):

  1. A single mass party, led by one man, which forms the hardcore of the regime and which is typically superior to or intertwined with the governmental bureaucracy.
  2. A system of terror by the police and secret police which is directed against the real and imagined enemies of the regime.
  3. A monopolistic control of the mass media.
  4. A near monopoly of weapons.
  5. Central control of the economy.
  6. An elaborate ideology which covers all aspects of man's existence and which contains a powerful chiliastic [messianic or religious] moment.

On this analysis, fascism is distinguished from communism by the ideology - fascists pursue an extreme form of nationalism which suborns all other interests to "the nation". Fascism is therefore the totalitarian pursuit of a nationalist utopia. There's some advantage here in that firmly fingers extreme nationalism - the belief that all interests must be suborned to that of the "nation" (usually defined in exclusivist and racial terms) - as being the core of fascism. It also points at the radical aspect of fascism - fascists seek to remake society and sweep away the old, corrupt one. But there's a danger of overstating the case. Fascists seem to be quite comfortable with existing structures and interests if they are not perceived as being incompatible with nationalism. There's also the weakness, shared with the Marxist analysis, of trying to push all enemies into the same box.

A third definition is that given by Umberto Eco in his essay Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt (itself part of a larger essay entitled "Ur-Fascism"). This identifies fascism as an irrationalist, ultra-traditionalist movement characterised by action for action's sake, a fear of difference, and contempt for the weak, born of a sense of frustration, humiliation, and feelings of being beseiged by a vast conspiracy (traits some may notice in a few of our local right-wing bloggers). It's an excellent picture of the psychology of fascism, but puts too much emphasis on the traditionalist aspects and not enough on the revolutionary ones.

Finally, there's Passmore's definition, which draws on some of the above. He identifies fascism as being essentially about ultranationalism, and the core goal as creating a "mobilized national community". He identifies it as reactionary - anti-socialist and anti-feminist - because those "isms" put class or gender above the nation, and as being of the extreme right, chiefly because of its extreme hostility to the traditional left. He also stresses fascism's radicalism, as it seeks to overthrow and replace existing elites who are perceived as having betrayed the nation, and because it will override traditional conservative and right-wing interests (such as private property) in pursuit of this goal. Finally, it is characterised by paramilitarism and a willingness to use violence, thuggery, and intimidation in pursuit of its goals.

Is this "socialist"? No. The hard core of fascism is nationalism - something traditionally associated with the traditional right - and this trumps any conceptions of class. Socialist-style policies may be pursued insofar as workers are identified as important to (or even defining) the nation, but they are not the goal, and woebetide any workers who put their own interests above the perceived interests of the nation (by e.g. striking for higher wages). While some historical fascists started out as socialists (notably Mussolini), this ultimately gave way to nationalist concerns (Mussolini ditched the socialists in 1915, and his movement waged a paramilitary war against them). Genius NZ is correct to say that fascism is not "a classic right of the political spectrum position in the modern sense", because the right is traditionally conservative, while fascism is radical and revolutionary. But it is of the right nonetheless. There are a great many similarities between fascist regimes and Stalinist ones, but that is due to the authoritarian nature of fascism - not because it is of the left.

As for US Republicans, there are some disturbing similarities which become apparent on reading the Eco piece, and they score a couple of ticks on Friedrich's definition. Worse is the growing influence of extreme right-wing elements. Orcinus has spent a great deal of bandwidth on the way that the Republicans' reaching out to gun-nuts and extreme fundamentalist Christians over the last decade has fed those extremist's memes back into the mainstream of the party, notably in his Rush, Newspeak and Fascism. And there's certainly a great deal of fascist-style psychology in the "conservative movement" at the moment. But they're not fascists - yet. What's scary is that they could quite easily go that way. One of my great fears over Iraq is what happens when the Americans lose. Because they're going to lose if they keep doing what they're doing - you simply cannot defeat that sort of popular insurgency with the current tactics - and then they will have a toxic combination of wounded pride, embittered veterans, and serious economic troubles. The parallel with post-Versailles Germany and Italy is striking, and some in America are already complaining of a liberal Dolchstoss (as they did after losing Vietnam). So while the Republican party isn't fascist yet, a loss in Iraq could tip some parts of them over. And then we should all be very, very afraid.

More liberal internationalism

The Sock Thief replies to JustLeft's post on Dichotomies, accusing him of conflating two points when he characterises the underlying dispute as a question of whether the western way of life should be imposed by force. He begins by pointing out that

there probably are those that want the West to "dominate" but they are a very small minority

They may well be, but unfortunately they include some of the world's most powerful people - such as the current President of the United States and his closest advisors. The chief exhibit of this is the US National Security Council's September, 2002 National Security Strategy, which opened with the bold statement that there was

a single sustainable model for national success: freedom, democracy and free enterprise.

It goes on to advocate for the imposition of this model around the world - for the US to use its "position of unparalleled military strength and great economic and political influence" to

extend the benefits of freedom across the globe.We will actively work to bring the hope of democracy, development, free markets, and free trade to every corner of the world.

In other words, an explicitly Rousseauean project of "forcing people to be free", with a peculiarly American definition of "freedom". That isn't democratic by any stretch of the imagination, and it sure as hell isn't liberal.

The problem is that these people have been able to wrap their undemocratic and illiberal goals in the cloak of humanitarianism, democracy and liberalism - at least with regards to Iraq. As for real humanitarian crises, like Darfur, they don't give a shit.

Sock Thief's second point is to make a lot of noise about humanitarian intervention, but this is missing the point. There is widespread agreement on the left as to the desirability of democracy and freedom, and that military intervention can sometimes be justified in pursuit of these goods. What's in dispute is whether it was justified in the case of Iraq, and what else comes along for the ride. Intervening to help people is unquestionably a Good Thing; intervening to help people and totally remake their society without any pretence of their consent is another question entirely.

Finally, as a way of moving things forward (and in response to a Nick Cohen article in the Observer), JustLeft suggests that:

[i]n the current situation, the left should be engaged in a debate about when and how intervention should be done, to protect people's human rights from totalitarian governments. Once a clear position is worked out, it should apply that analysis wherever it is relevant.

I think that Human Rights Watch have given us exactly the sort of clear analysis that is needed, and I've been using it as the basis for my thinking on the matter.

Whitewashing war-crimes

A while ago I blogged about the difference between British and American attitudes towards crimes committed by soldiers. The British prosecute in open court whereever possible, pour encourager les autres; the Americans seem happy to give their criminals a slap on the wrist - even for torture. Today there's more startling evidence of this disparity. While there are honourable exceptions,

by more than a 2-to-1 ratio, military officials have handed down administrative discipline rather than pursue criminal punishments for service members accused of prisoner abuse or sexual-assault crimes in war zones, according to records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and a Pentagon source.

"Administrative discipline" means

reprimands, fines, rank reductions, bars on Internet use and "Chapter 10" agreements, which allow some soldiers who admit guilt to leave the military under less-than-honorable conditions but without being prosecuted.

The examples quoted in the story should give an idea of the ludicrous injustice of this approach. Murder a prisoner? Resign. Rape a fellow soldier? Resign. Beat and abuse POWs, resulting in broken bones? Resign. Oversee that as an officer? Resign. This isn't justice. These people should be facing trial and imprisonment, not a plane-ticket home to civilian life.

As for those who want to continue to claim that this is "just a few bad apples", this sick parody of justice is condoned at the highest levels of the US military. Local commanders cover up for their men by declining to prosecute, and their superiors rubber-stamp the decisions - all the way up to General-officer level. And the incentives it sets? Abuse or kill Iraqis, and you get to go home. Now that's a discouragement.

This process simply has no credibility, and it will not have any until the decision on whether to prosecute is placed in completely independent hands. Until then, the US military can rightly be accused of protecting its own, and of whitewashing war-crimes.

New Fisk

Dramatic plea from al-Qa’ida suspect

Sunday, September 26, 2004

The Sunday Star-Times has as interview with Iraqi PM Iyad Allawi today (sadly not online), in which he doesn't come across too well. But more interesting is his comment quoted in the story about the safe return of the New Zealand engineers from Basra:

Meanwhile, Iraq's interim prime minister, Iyad Allawi, has called on New Zealand to do more to help his country fight terrorism.

In an interview with the Sunday Star-Times, Allawi said Iraq was now the centre of an international war.

"Frankly, here (in Iraq) we are defending you in New Zealand . . . They (the insurgents in Iraq) will go back to New York, they'll go to London, they'll go to New Zealand. . . they'll go everywhere."

This is simply Tui-able; the primary motivation for the insurgants in Iraq is nationalism - kicking the Americans out. They are overwhelmingly locals fighting for a local cause. While we may have a preference as to who wins, there's simply no way that it can be construed as defending New Zealand.

And OTOH, can we really blame a guy who was put in power by the Americans and who is utterly dependent on outside assistance from trying to get others to help keep him in power and prop up his regime of unelected torturers?

Thugs seek legitimacy

The National Front wants to start "security patrols" in low income neighbourhoods. To "protect the elderly", of course - it's nothing to do with them looking for people to beat up and intimidate while cloaked in authority, oh no.

Those who pay attention to my CBIP will have noticed that I'm reading Kevin Passmore's Fascism: A Very Short Introduction at the moment. According to Passmore, one of the defining characteristics of fascism is that it embraces paramilitary violence and vigilantism in pursuit of its objectives. Historically, fascist parties have sought to legitimise this by having their paramilitary wings (such as the SA, SS and Blackshirts) take over some or all of the functions of the police. Our own National Front seems to be no different.

Zaoui update

Zaoui's lawyers are taking his bid for bail to the Supreme Court. It certainly raises some important constitutional issues relating to how long the government can keep people in prison without charging them, but I'm not sure about their chances of success. A number of Habeas cases were appealed to the Supreme Court early on, but none were granted leave.

New Fisk

The worse the situation in Iraq, the bigger the lies that Tony Blair tells us

Indisriminate slaughter

When a car-bomb goes off in Iraq, US officials are quick to condemn the indiscriminate slaughter of innocent civilians. Unfortunately, it seems that US forces are killing twice as many of those civilians as the resistance...

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Liberal internationalism

JustLeft has an excellent post on the growing ideological rigidity surrounding the war in Iraq, in which he identifies the "unspoken core of the debate" as two dichotomous worldviews:

Should the West dominate the world, and seek to make it over in its own image? Or are other ways of life - economic, social, political, religious - allowed to coexist with capitalist liberal democracy?

Like Jordan, I am in the second camp - there's more than one way to run an acceptable society. While I generally approve of "the western model" (give or take a few questions about distributive justice) as generally delivering a high level of freedom and wellbeing to (most of) its inhabitants, there are other ways to pursue those goods, and how a society is run should be decided by its members and not by faraway people motivated by profit or ideology.

This raises the obvious question of what we should do when a society fails to meet minimum standards of acceptability; when it starves, tortures, murders or just generally oppresses its members. What should liberal internationalists do about the Iraqs, the Zimbabwes, the Uzbekistans and the Sudans? Or about the shitty, undemocratic, and oppressive, but perhaps not quite so terrible regimes like Saudi Arabia, China, Belarus or Iran?

The answer is that of course we should help - we should try and give people the four freedoms Roosevelt identified as necessary for human flourishing, as well as the freedom to determine the structure of their own society. But we should generally avoid trying to deliver those freedoms at the barrel of a gun. Timothy Garton Ash summed it up well in his article Beyond the West:

both in principle and in practice, it's better that people find their own path to freedom, in their own countries, in their own time and, wherever possible, peacefully. But should we help these people as they fight freedom's battle? Most emphatically we should, by every non-violent means at our disposal.

(My emphasis). This means linking trade and investment to respect for human rights, it means applying sanctions and international pressure to abusive regimes, and it means providing support and the benefit of our experience to those countries which are working towards freedom. But what it does not mean is using force. Military intervention can sometimes be justified, but only in the most extreme cases (e.g. ongoing genocide). Iraq failed to meet that standard. A much stronger case can be made for intervention in Darfur, but the more I read about it, the more I despair that it would actually do any good. So when we do consider force, it must be with a sense of realism about our chances of success, with humility, and in the knowledge that often the "cure" is worse than the disease - rather than swaggering arrogance and a belief that bombing children will make things better.

Don Brash's moral bankruptcy

Fighting Talk's Lyndon Hood has a throwaway paragraph which exposes Don Brash's moral bankruptcy over human rights:

And while there’s a lull in proceedings I’d like to mention that Dr Don Brash helped set up the Freedom Foundation, a group of New Zealand business types supporting Amnesty International (its other patron is the deputy chairman of Transpower). Recently in question time this same Don Brash was taunting the Government for not immediately taking up his offer to help remove prisoners’ entitlement to compensation for human rights abuses.

Is there any belief that Brash won't sell out for political advantage?

How bad is Iraq?

Daily Kos has posted a daily security bulletin (distributed to civilians, not military) which paints a pretty scary picture. One of his commentators likens it to "the weather report for Hell and its suburbs"...

And for more scariness, check out this map (courtesy of Juan Cole):

Security in Iraq

The red areas are those where the US is completely unable to provide any sort of security. The purple areas are those where there has been recent heavy fighting. The white areas are "peaceful" - though given that Baghdad is classified as such, it's a rather generous definition of "peace".

Half the country is effectively in rebel hands. And the US think they can win this?

Friday, September 24, 2004


National has reacted to the larger than expected budget surplus by (of course) calling for tax cuts. Can anybody say "broken record"...?

Meanwhile, JustLeft has an excellent post on how big a surplus we should be running, informed by considerations of intergenerational equity regarding capital expenditure. It's unfair that today's taxpayers pay the full cost of things like roads that will be used by future generations, and funding through debt seems justified in order to fairly allocate the cost. Looked at this way, we should be running a much smaller surplus - about half the current size, in fact.

Like National, JustLeft sees the surplus as an opportunity. But rather than being an opportunity to redistribute wealth to the already rich, he sees it as an opportunity to restore and rebuild public services to ensure greater equity today. His picks? Student loans, the working for families package, and health. I favour the latter myself: despite the intergenerational atrocity of the student loan system, slashing waiting lists and rolling back usage charges on primary health care so that people can actually see a doctor when they're sick (rather than showing up at A&E later needing a hospital bed) seems to be the priority. Health has a tremendous impact on people's ability to fully participate in society and on life satisfaction; guaranteeing it (or rather guaranteeing rapid treatment) is one of the foundations of a decent society and a core duty of any government.

Must read

Abu Ghraib: The Hidden Story, by Mark Danner.

While in the guise of a review of the two recently released reports into Abu Ghraib (the Schlesinger and Fay reports), this is really a detailed and perceptive exploration of what went wrong and why. I'm still working through it, but it looks very good so far.

Breaching the Electoral Act

The anonymous anti-Hubbard hatchet job flyers currently being distributed in Auckland in breach of the Local Electoral Act 2001 have reminded me that some of my posts (and some of my plans for the next general election) may fall foul of our electoral regulations.

S. 113 of the Local Electoral Act restricts the publication of "any advertisement that is used or appears to be used to promote or procure the election of a candidate" to either that authorised by the candidate or that from ratepayers or residents groups. In either case, you have to stick your full name and address somewhere on it (note that ordinary citizens need not apply; local government is a one-way democracy). S. 221 of the Electoral Act has similar language for general elections. While both Acts have a provision allowing "news or comments" (the more recent one even mentions the internet), endorsements of specific candidates or parties could be considered illegal (it may not be; I should stress that I do not know the case law on this).

Not that this is going to affect my behaviour in any way whatsoever, but it's nice to know what laws I may be skirting.

Southland local body elections just became important

Solid Energy is working on plans to build a coal-fired power plant in Southland. It would burn locally mined lignite coal - the dirtiest, filthiest sort, with the lowest energy content, producing particulate pollution, sulphur dioxide, and acid rain. While it doesn't have to be dirty - gasification allows for cleaner burning and for gases to be seperated out at source - burning it cleanly is more expensive. If we want to ensure that business takes a cleaner route, rather than dumping their costs on us as lung cancer and acid rain, we need to subject them to suitably tough resource consents. And this means electing people to Environment Southland who will set sufficiently tough air-quality standards and not simply rubber stamp whatever proposal is eventually put forward.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Queue jumpers

The government is offering to review the immigration status of the over 2000 Zimbabweans who have fled their country for New Zealand. Those who can will be given permanent residency under existing rules; others will be given special dispensation.

Despite the title, I actually think this is a Good Thing. It's a great example of us doing our bit for people in need, many of whom have used their temporary refuge to start rebuilding their lives. But at the same time there's no question that these people are getting special treatment and "jumping the queue". Other refugees fleeing similarly shitty regimes and whose need is no less are not given this sort of red-carpet treatment; they are denounced as "queue jumpers" and treated as criminals. What is the reason for the difference in treatment? Simply that refugees from Zimbabwe are overwhelmingly white. Suddenly, this isn't looking like something we should be particularly proud of after all...


Yaser Hamdi, a US citizen classified as an "enemy combatant" and held without charge after being captured in Afghanistan, is to be set free - on the condition that he relinquishes his US citizenship and accepts deportation to Saudi Arabia.

This is simply monstrous. Hamdi is as American as President Bush - he was born in Baton Rouge, Lousiana. He has not been convicted of any crime. He has not even been charged. Yet the government, having arbitrarily detained him for two years, is coercing him into giving up his citizenship by the threat of further arbitrary detention. That's not even a pretence of justice - it's extortion, pure and simple.

This is precisely why we have limits on government action - why we have courts, lawyers, appeals, and public oversight. But the Bush administration has managed to evade or neuter all those limits, and is now exiling one of its own.

America's status as a "beacon of freedom", already flickering, has just grown a little bit dimmer.

Charge them or release them

The US government's response to the Supreme Court ruling three months ago that Guantanamo detainees had recourse to US courts has been to drag their feet. Unfortunately, it seems the courts are losing their patience. A US federal judge has ordered the US government to justify why it is continuing to hold prisoners in Guantanamo and to explain for each one why they should not be released. While it's not made explicit in the article, if the government fails to convince the court, a writ of Habeas Corpus will almost certainly follow.

The message to the US government is clear: they must either charge the detainees or release them.

Putting Iraq in perspective

Juan Cole has a scary post which puts the carnage in Iraq into perspective by asking the simple question of "if America were Iraq, what would it be like?". The answer isn't very pleasant:

Thus, violence killed 300 Iraqis last week, the equivalent proportionately of 3,300 Americans. What if 3,300 Americans had died in car bombings, grenade and rocket attacks, machine gun spray, and aerial bombardment in the last week? That is a number greater than the deaths on September 11, and if America were Iraq, it would be an ongoing, weekly or monthly toll.

That's just the beginning, and it's bad enough. But there's a lot more there, and putting it all in one place and putting it in a US context makes it possible to truly grasp the scale of what is going on in Iraq. The situation is simply terrible, it is not improving, and the US seems powerless to do anything about it. They can kill more people, of course, raze neighbourhoods or even whole cities, but that doesn't actualy resolve the problem - it simply results in more recruits for the resistance.

Clausewitz said that "war is merely the continuation of policy by other means", by which he meant that military force is used to achieve political objectives. But it's hard to see what objectives are now being pursued in Iraq. The US cannot create the necessary stability for democratic government to emerge, it cannot protect the current unelected regime or its staff, and it cannot even keep the electricity and water (let alone the oil) flowing. All of the US's stated objectives are now unachievable, and have been for quite some time; all they seem to be fighting for now is to avoid "appearing weak" by admitting defeat. But is that really worth 1200 dead Iraqis and around 60 dead US soldiers every month?

New kiwi blog

Generation Y not?

Inherit the media?

Bloggreen Aotearoa looks at the current influence of the blogosphere in US politics, and speculates that bloggers will inherit the media in New Zealand:

But what I'm looking forward to seeing is the local analysis of us political bloggers on the New Zealand political scene. There are a number of MPs who I know are regular readers of some blogs and a number of parliamentary staff or former staff members are running high profile blogs. It's also funny to see that a trend in Question Time is to table printed out copies of articles on Russel Brown's Hard News as a way of demonstrating 'coolness'.

I think the next election will be quite telling in terms of the influence of the blogosphere. If more and more people are turning to independent commentators for their political information, how much do we as bloggers have influence on a) general public opinion and b) politicians impressions of public opinion. It makes you think ;) or write more...

While it may be tempting to adopt a triumphalist tone ("history is on our side", and all that), realisticly I don't think we're a significant influence on general public opinion. Our combined readership is simply too small. From half-remembered stats published in stories about the kiwi blogosphere, Hard News gets around 15000 visitors a month. NZPundit I think claimed 50000 - but only about 20% of them are actually New Zealanders. I get 4000 going on 5, and from looking at those sites that make their stats public, most kiwi political blogs are smaller. Turning these monthly stats into daily figures (dividing by 25 should get an average weekday total), and we're talking daily readerships in the hundreds. And many of them will be regulars, or junkies who read more than one blog. The upshot is that the total number of eyeballs looking at the NZ political blogosphere is truly tiny - a few thousand people at most - so we're certainly not directly influencing the general public.

What about indirect influence? What gives the US political blogs their teeth are reliable transmission mechanisms to funnel stories to the general media. Journalists and political operatives watch the biggest sites, and are quick to propagate any interesting material. So wingnuttery about typewriters goes from PowerLine to Drudge to the mainstream media, and pointyness about "you bought it, you own it" goes from diaries on Kos to John Kerry's speeches. But apart from some bagging of Ticketek, I don't see a lot of that happening here. Partly that's because our news media doesn't suffer from ADD and isn't so driven to scoop the competition (because there really isn't much competition), but mostly it's because NZ political bloggers (and political bloggers in general) aren't exactly fountains of originality. Most of what we say is entirely predictable and fairly banal - the usual hype, namecalling, and "is not"/"is too" of everyday politics. There's plenty of sources for this, and the media don't need to turn to the net to find it. What gets picked up in the US is original material - the research that undercuts some claim, the devastating point that no-one else has noticed, the close reading of official reports which reveals some lie - or specialist knowledge. We don't really do very much of either.

Where I think we may have some influence is in politician's impressions of public opinion - blogs are like letters to the editor in tracking the public's reaction to political events, only faster. On the other hand, I'm sure that our politicians - or their advisors - know exactly how tiny we are (and if they didn't, they do now).

Overall, claims that NZ bloggers are going to "inherit the media" are almost certainly overstated. If we want influence, we're going to have to earn it. Producing better material that it is actually worth pillaging would be a good start.

Homeland Security jumps the shark

Really, is there any other way to describe their diverting a plane 1000km because former musician Cat Stevens was on board?

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Democracy and national sovereignty

Here's something Maverick Philosopher would definately regard as a reductio of the democratic ideal: Jonathan Freedland, writing in the Guardian, suggests that we should all have a say in the US elections. And he makes a very good case: America's hegemonic power is so great that their decisions affect everybody on the planet. But by the very principles their revolution was founded on - people having a say in the decisions which govern their lives - non-Americans should now have a say in their "internal" elections.

No-one for a moment expects this to happen. But it's a nice idea how the ideals behind democracy - of everyone's interests counting equally, and having to be taken into account in any decision which affects them - undermine the Westphalian doctrine of national sovereignty.

Fionnaigh has an excellent post on the National Front and what they stand for.

Local body roundup

Several blogs have posted guides to their local body elections, so here's a list of links all in one place:




Palmerston North:

Obviously, evey single one of us has our own political views, and the guides should be read with our particular biases in mind.

If anybody else has any other contributions, let me know and I'll add them in.

Goff at the UN

Phil Goff's speech to the UN General Assembly is here. Nothing groundbreaking - just the usual appeals for reform of the Security Council, the elimination of agricultural subsidies, support for international action on Darfur and for the ICC as a means of bringing errant governments to justice, and for a just solution in Palestine.

The fly in the ointment is an announcement of support for the Interim Iraqi Authority. Yes, we've gone on the record as supporting a regime which uses torture. We shouldn't be doing that; we should be pointing out that their human rights record isn't a great improvement on Saddam's, and hoping that the upcoming elections (if they happen) will see them replaced with a better regime. Undiplomatic, but someone needs to be saying it.

Interesting reading

Harpers magazine has an interesting article this month on the rise of the right-wing spin machine in America. The "mighty wurlitzer" of right-wing think-tanks and media outlets didn't come from nowhere, and it didn't evolve from grassroots pressure to represent popular interests. Instead, it was created by some very wealthy conservative Americans with the explicit purpose of manipulating public opinion.

Not that I'm saying that there's anything wrong with this. All's fair in love and politics, and vigorously waging memetic warfare is simply good tactics. But it's interesting nonetheless, for two reasons: firstly, the American left was left behind by this strategy, and has not managed to restore the balance of power; and secondly, it's been happening here - witness the Business Roundtable, Maxim Institute, and all their single-purpose glove-puppet spinoffs like the Education Forum and Local Government Forum. The lesson the for the New Zealand left is clear: we need to create our own think-tanks to provide memetic ammunition, otherwise, in the long-term, we will be outgunned.

New kiwi blog

The Everlasting Man (hat tip: Big News)


Britain has released a prisoner from it's "mini-Guantanamo". While it's great that he's been released - imprisonment without charge cannot be justified - it also underlines the essentially arbitrary nature of the internment process:

D was among the first foreigners to be held under the emergency measures passed within weeks of the 11 September atrocities, and has been in prison since 17 December 2001. Just 11 weeks ago D was being described by an independent commission as a terrorist supporter and a threat to national security, yet the Home Office was unable to reveal why he was now a free man.

What changed? The government will not say. But this refusal taints the entire process, leading to either a suspicion that they have unjustifiably imprisoned an innocent man for the past three years on dubious secret evidence, or that they have released a still-dangerous terrorist. This underscores the need for open justice. Suspected terrorists must be charged, rather than simply imprisoned, and tried in ordinary courts under ordinary standards of evidence. Otherwise, we can have no faith in the verdict.

Democracy and stupidity II

The Maverick Philosopher responds to my post on democracy and stupidity. His chief criticism?

If all interests must be counted equally, then I wonder if this doesn't entail that voting privileges must be extended to all mentally competent people who can read and write.

This would entail extending the vote to children and criminals, something he regards as a reductio ad absurdum. While I agree that it creates pressure for the widest possible franchise, I don't think that it necessarily requires giving children the vote, and I have no problem with inserting a tacit arbitrary restriction to adults if it makes him happy.

(At the same time, the inability of modern democratic systems to properly represent the interests of children and young people is a well-known flaw. Because they cannot vote, they have no effective voice, and it is particularly easy for their elders to pursue policies which unfairly impose costs on them. Running deficits, using finite resources, and allowing pollution are three general examples. More specifically, there's the American policy of conscription during the Vietnam War (which targetted people who could not then vote), and New Zealand's own student loan scheme, which imposed costs on future tertiary students so that their parents could enjoy lower taxes. Recognition of this fact has led to a general downward trend in the voting age, and it looks to go even lower in the future...)

As for criminals, there's nothing at all absurd about them voting - as Maverick points out, they have just as much a stake in society as anybody else. Civilised societies recognise this. Sadly, the United States does not.

Reading on, Maverick shares the same concern as Philosophy et cetera - that people may not necessarily know their own best interests, and that

injudicious and misinformed people could easily vote against their own best interests.

Indeed they might - but that is no reason to deny the validity of their choice. Fallibility is a part of being human, and people's mistakes are theirs to make. Denying this and arrogating to yourself the right to second-guess people's choices on the grounds that they may make a mistake not only strips their lives of meaning, but it invites us to supplant their interests with our own. More importantly, it is the first step on the road to the gulag and the re-education center. "People don't know what's best for them" is the underlying justification of every totalitarian government.

Finally, Maverick raises the idea of the "common interest". This is ontologically dubious - all interests are ultimately personal - and inasmuch as people vote against it, it cannot truly be said to be "common". But even if it were, it would still be no reason to limit political choice. As Mill said,

if all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.

This goes for voting as much as speech.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004


The Dominion-Post has been running a series of feature articles (sadly not online) on the theme of "are we in a moral wasteland?" The first article looks at the the changes in New Zealand society over the past thirty years and suggests that our recognition of personal freedom has resulted in a less moral society. I vehmently disagree. We live in a far more moral society than we did in 1971, and it is precisely because we have recognised individual rights and freedom and substantially eliminated discrimination.

To see just how crazy this idea of a "moral decline" is, let's look at what we've "declined" from. In the New Zealand of 1971:

  • it wasn't just legal to pay a woman less than a man for the same work - it was mandatory under most national awards
  • it was legal for shopkeepers to refuse to serve Maori or Catholics - and many did
  • beating your wife and kids was socially acceptable, and police would simply walk away from a "domestic"
  • there was "spousal immunity" for rape
  • homsexuality wasn't just illegal; juries would refuse to convict those who murdered gays (plus ca change...)

Compare this to New Zealand today: we don't allow discrimination, we protect women and children from abuse, "no" means "no", and the state does not care what happens in the bedrooms of consenting adults. That's not a "decline" - it's real moral progress. Those who do see it as a decline are either viewing the past though very thick rose-tinted glasses, or have a twisted sense of morality.

The second article in the series looks at the role of Parliament in bringing about that moral progress - and in particular at the 1986 homosexual law reform. Along the way there's the following interesting snippet:

If there was ever a moral dimension to the argument about gay sex, it was over what kind of society New Zealand would become if the Homosexual Law Reform Bill had failed, [Fran] Wilde says.

"It became increasingly clear we had to get it through because this hostility had been unleashed, this dark side of society, that, in fact, if they had triumphed would have been a huge setback for New Zealand. In the end it didn't end up being a debate about homosexuality being legalised, it was a debate about the sort of society we wanted in New Zealand. Did we want tolerance and acceptance of diversity. Or did we want an intolerant, legislative regime that reflected the bigotry of religious zealots?"

It draws the obvious parallel - we are facing exactly that sort of choice again today: between an open, tolerant and inclusive New Zealand, or one dominated by bigoted theocrats. Which New Zealand would you rather live in?

Horror stories

The Guardian is carrying the story of Huda Alazawi, a woman who was imprisoned for eight months in Abu Ghraib after refusing to be blackmailed by an informer. One of her brothers was sexually assaulted, another was beaten to death during his interrogation, and she had her shoulder broken by a US guard. And that's before she even reached the infamous prison. And the effects of this?

As Iraq lurches from disaster to disaster, from kidnapping to suicide bombing, from insurgency towards civil war, from death to death, what does she think of the Americans now? "I hate them," she says.

Can you really blame her?

Monday, September 20, 2004

Local bodies

Since everyone else is posting about local body elections, I thought I'd throw my oar in. Unfortunately, I live in a boring place: Palmerston North. Our mayor is most famous for loaning his car to the Mongrel Mob and for a past appearance on "Fair Go" over dodgy fertiliser. Our city council are the usual bunch of petty-minded small businessmen, trying to use the city council to cut their rates while boosting the value of their property investments. And then there's the pervasive feelings of small-town inadequacy which drives them to pursue ludicrous schemes to "put Palmerston on the map"... schemes like selling the council building at a loss so it can be turned into a casino (fortunately this fell through), building a recreational lake (because nobody else has one of those), or trying to wheedle the government into giving them Ohakea to use as a "regional transport hub". This doesn't exactly convince me of their sanity...

We'll start with who not to vote for. The resident's association has been running ads against mayor Mark Bell-Booth and his "team" of Gordon Cruden, Jim Jeffries, Jono Naylor, John Hornblow, Vaughan Dennison, David Ireland, Alison Wall, and Anne Podd. These are the people who voted for the council/IRD building fiasco, to cut down all the trees in the Square, and to rezone one of the city's parks and sell it to The Warehouse. They all need to go. As for positive recommendations, read on. Note that Palmerston North still uses FPP for local body elections, so I'm simply recommending boxes to tick rather than preference lists.


Heather Tanguay all the way. She's left-leaning, has opposed the above projects, and has stood up for council services (especially pensioner housing). Of the others, Mark Bell-Booth is on the "forbidden list", Michael Feyen seems to have stolen his election material from United Future (full of "common sense"), Arshad Chatha has been arrested on fraud charges and is consequently telling people not to vote for him, and Michael Freeman is a joke candidate. Marilyn Craig will be dealt with below.

(Tanguay is the current frontrunner according to a recent poll, but that could change).

Ashhurst ward (1)

The incumbent, Marilyn Craig, has also come in for criticism from the resident's association, but a far better reason for not voting for her is that she runs a sweatshop - sorry, "human resources management company" - which provides casual outsourced labour to the local call-centres under fairly exploitative conditions. I don't think I want someone like that on the council, let alone as mayor. Of the other candidates, Lance Craig is her son, so is probably tarred by association - which leaves Tawhiri Te Awe Awe as the last man standing.

Awapuni ward (3)

No strong opinions either way here, though both incumbents (Peter Claridge and Pat Kelly) have avoided inclusion on the shitlist. Adrian Broad and Jenny Edwards are also good possibilities, being from Labour and the AUS respectively.

Fitzherbet ward (1)

Donald Kerr, the local Forest & Bird chairperson, is the obvious choice - he's an environmentalist with a good grasp of the RMA and strong ties to Massey and UCOL.

Hokowhitu ward (3)

All three sitting councillors are on the shitlist, so it's simply a matter of picking three from Julie Catchpole, Don Esslemont, Jonathan Godfrey and Chris Teo-Sherrell. I think the latter two are the best picks - Godfrey has an amusing wesbite setting out his views, and Teo-Sherrell seems to be a good left / green candidate. Neither supports the Square redevelopment.

Papaioea ward (4)

Phil Etheridge is an environmentalist candidate, Evan Nattrass is explicitly backing Tanguay for mayor, and (of course) Tanguay herself is standing in case she fails to gain the top job.

Takaro ward (3)

Again, no strong opinions here, other than not voting for either Vaughan Dennison, David Ireland, or Alison Wall.

Manawatu-Wanganui Regional Council (3)

Matthew Hodgetts looks good - another environmentalist, interested in democracy and sustainability. The fact that he's under 50 also helps. The other three candidates are all incumbents, and all focusing on flood protection. Roni Fitzmaurice might be worth voting for; as for the other two, flip a coin.

Midcentral DHB (7)

This is done by STV, but there's a large number of candidates none of whom seem to leap out. My advice is to give high rankings to those from the medical profession or associated health industries, and avoid anyone who looks like a bean-counter.

Zaoui bail decision

Media reports of the Court of Appeal's decision to deny Ahmed Zaoui bail or Habeas Corpus has focused on Justice McGrath's implication that immigration regulations should be changed to allow it. In the process they've missed the real significance of the decision. Reading through the rulings, all judges agreed that Zaoui's detention was initially lawful. One - McGrath - said that it was lawful no matter what, and that there was no right to bail or Habeas Corpus. One - Hammond - blasted the government, saying that the detention had already gone on far too long and had become arbitrary. The "swing voter" - O'Reagan - agreed that the detention was lawful for the time being, but

would expressly leave open a possibility that a grant of bail could be an available remedy if the review process is not able to be brought to a reasonably swift conclusion.

He didn't lay down a deadline, but the implication is clear: the Court's patience with the government is wearing thin, and if Zaoui goes back to court in six months time, he may very well be released.

Iraq had no WMD: the final verdict

Hell no, they won't go

In the wake of last month's open warfare in Najaf, the US wants to transfer its troops out and replace them with Poles and Bulgarians. But understandably, the designated cannon-fodder aren't so keen...

Sunday, September 19, 2004

New Kiwi blogs

Genius NZ
Temper Mental (Public Address's Che Tibby?)

Blasphemy and sedition

Generally I think of New Zealand as an overwhelmingly secular and liberal democracy. So I was shocked when a press release from the NZ Association of Rationalists and Humanists pointed out that blasphemy is still a crime here.

"Blasphemy" is speaking of god irreverently or "impiously". It is banned by section 123 of the Crimes Act 1961, which provides for a penalty of up to one year's imprisonment for anyone who publishes "any blasphemous libel". While it has a "good faith" defence, and requires the leave of the Attorney-General in order to prosecute, it still fundamentally seeks to punish people for expressing views on the subject of religion which offend or do not meet with the approval of self-appointed "religious authorities" (such as John Banks, for example).

This is an archaic law, which has absolutely no place in a modern, secular, liberal democracy. It is almost certainly inconsistent with sections 13 - 15 of the Bill of Rights, which guarantee freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, freedom of expression (the right to "seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form"), and manifestation of religion and belief. While it has only been used once (in 1921), and is unlikely to be used again (unless United Future becomes the government), its mere presence on our books is repugnant. It should be repealed immediately.

And while I'm on the subject of stupid, archaic laws which have no place in our modern, secular, liberal democratic state, check out sections 81 - 85, which define the "crimes" of "seditious conspiracy", "seditious statements", "publication of seditious documents" and "use of apparatus for making seditious documents or statements". These are all focused around criminalising speech which might

bring into hatred or contempt, or to excite disaffection against, Her Majesty, or the Government of New Zealand, or the administration of justice.

or which incites or encourages "violence, lawlessness, or disorder" (among other things). While there is again a "good faith" defence, the whole purpose of the law is repugnant. It is not about criminal acts, but about criminalising speech. Unless that speech is akin to crying "fire" in a crowded theatre, such laws cannot be justified. Our laws against sedition should join that against blasphemy in the dustbin of history, where they belong.

Democracy and stupidity

The Maverick Philosopher considers the democratic principle of "one man, one vote" to be "highly dubious":

Suppose you have two people, A and B. A is intelligent, well-informed, and serious. He does his level best to form correct opinions about the issues of the day. He is an independent thinker, and his thinking is based in broad experience of life. B, however, makes no attempt to become informed, or to think for himself. He votes as his union boss tells him to vote. Why should B’s vote have the same weight as A’s? It is self-evident that B’s vote should not count as much as A’s.

Philosophy, et cetera agrees, arguing that "democracy is only valuable to the extent that it tends to produce and preserve a liberal society" and that

in an ideal system, the opinions of those who are more intelligent and well-informed would count for more than those who haven't got a clue.

The problem here is that both are fundamentally mistaken about the purpose of democracy. Democracy is not about making good decisions - it's about making our decisions. It is not a system for aggregating information and reaching a rational decision about what we should do - it is a system for moderating conflicting interests.

Any moral justification for democracy rests on two assumptions: firstly, that people have interests, and secondly, that no-one's interest counts for more than anybody else's. The first is simply a recognition of fact. The second is a statement of fundamental moral equality, and can be taken as axiomatic or justified on the basis of consistency (if I want my interests to count, then I must agree that everyone else's do as well). Note that there's nothing in here about whether you are intelligent, rational, or well-informed - all that is important is that you have interests (and bother to express them). So "one man, one vote" is justified regardless of intelligence or ability on the basis that stupid people have interests too.

Those interests may be ill-informed, based on shoddy reasoning or false axioms, but none of that matters. An interest is an interest is an interest, and if we're committed to moral equality, then all must be counted.

(There's also a pragmatic justification for democracy, resting on purely Hobbesean assumptions that people have interests and are sufficiently equal in physical ability to make counting heads a quick and painless way of determining who will win should things come to blows. On this account, stupid people get to vote because otherwise they may try and kill us. This has nothing to do with morality or rationality, of course - it's all about power and force and violence - but as someone who seeks ultimately to ground political theory in facts about the world, it has a certain appeal).

While I'm not sure about Maverick Philosopher, judging from his suggestions regarding competency tests, Philosophy, et cetera's underlying concern seems to that stupid people may not know what their interests are or how best to advance them. There's a name for this - "false consciousness" - and it's extremely surprising to see a self-professed liberal espousing it. A core tenet of liberalism is that people are the best judges of their own interests, and this rules out any second-guessing.

If we are concerned about voter ignorance, then the answer is to educate them, both through public information campaigns (and vigorous media debate) at election time, and by using universal public education to give people better bullshit detectors and make them better judges of their own interests in the first place. But as liberals, the last thing we should do is try to look inside people's heads or presume to make their choices for them.

See also:
Liberalism, "false consciousness" and deception
Why not Kant?

Friday, September 17, 2004


I'm have other stuff to write today, some of which should eventually end up here, so to fill in here's something I wrote several months ago in response to Philosophy, et cetera and then never got round to posting.

Aquaculture and Treaty settlements

In response to my aquaculture post, Philosophy, et cetera reels out the list of standard responses to any sort of restorative justice for past wrongs. Since we've been seeing a lot of this sort of thing recently, and it's all in one spot, I thought I might as well do a detailed response.

1) Individuals are not morally responsible for the actions of their ancestors. "We" didn't steal anything.

Of course not. But no-one is accusing any living individual over past land seizures - they're accusing the Crown. Our government. Which has maintained a continuous legal existence for the entire period, and can certainly be held responsible for its past actions.

Now, ultimately the cost of any compensation paid will be borne by people who were not responsible in any way for those past wrongs, and had no say over them - but that's hardly unusual. Some of the tax I pay is going towards paying off debt that was run up before I could vote, but I don't see anyone screaming about principles there. And you cannot argue that the settlement program represents a crippling burden on current taxpayers - Treaty settlements accounted for only 0.109 percent of government spending in the lat five years.

2) I have a general distaste for legalistic obsession with 'property rights'. There exists no 'natural law' which gives first occupants an enduring metaphysical right to their land. It's irritating when libertarians get hung up over this, and no less so with lefty anti-colonialists who hijack these right-wing ideals. There are other considerations besides history.

You don't have to be a propertarian absolutist to recognise that the Crown has a moral burden here - not least because of their specific agreement in the Treaty to respect the "lands and estates, forests, fisheries and other properties" of the other partner.

Propertarian absolutists would demand the return of everything that was stolen - every square metre of land, every branch of every tree - and financial compensation for everything that had been destroyed. Plus over a hundred years of accrued interest, at market rates, of course. The government is doing nothing of the sort. For a start, privately-owned land is completely off the table, no matter how significant it is. The government may buy if it finds a willing seller, but it will not forcibly return your backyard to the local iwi. Secondly, the amount of land and compensation paid does not even begin to approach the value of what was stolen; Tainui received $170 million, which I suspect is substantially less than the real estate value of the entire Waikato. The settlements are mostly symbolic, but the symbolism (and the Crown acknowledgment of its past wrongdoing) is extremely potent.

Dubious use of corporate entities [...]

Or, as Margaret Thatcher put it, "society does not exist". Of course all references to groups are ultimately references to distinct individuals. It was distinct individuals who were harmed, and it will ultimately be distinct individuals who benefit from compensation (through the intermediary of some legal corporate body). This does not mean that we cannot generalise where appropriate.

4) Due to generations of interbreeding, there is no longer a clear-cut distinction between Pakeha and Maori. All Maori now have at least some European blood in them. [...]

Or, as they put it in talkback-land, "there aren't any real Maoris left anyway". But even if it were true (and its not), it simply doesn't matter.

What happens to your property when you die? It passes to your heirs and assignees. If you've got a will, then it goes to the people in it. If you don't, then there's a default setting. But regardless, property passes by inheritance, from you to (usually) your descendents.

Treaty settlements are the same. If property had not been seized by the Crown, it would have passed to the heirs and assignees of the original owners. And since land ownership was generally communal, this means from the past members of the iwi to the present ones. Some of those present members may not have very much Maori blood in them, but that doesn't matter - any more than the fact that you only have 1/8th of your great-grandfather's DNA matters when it comes to inheriting his pocketwatch.

5) Why favour the tribal elite, rather than urban Maori?

This is the part that I like the least. But the fact is that the Treaty was signed with iwi, as represented by their chiefs. It was iwi who were disposessed of their communally-owned land. It is therefore iwi who need justice and compensation for those wrongs.

Finally, I think it needs to be pointed out that Treaty settlements, such as the aquaculture settlement, are not any form of "affirmative action". They're not (primarily) about advancing disadvantaged Maori by granting them "special rights". They're about justice, about making some recompense for a past wrong so that we can move on.

Twisted wingnut logic

Two points for NZPundit.

  • one post pointing out that those making much of the typography don't know as much as they think they know is hardly "arguing for days".
  • Knox's claim is not that they must be forgeries because she didn't type them; it's that they are forgeries because she typed documents with the same content and the CBS memos are not those documents.

NZPundit's reaction to this is a perfect example of twisted wingnut logic. If Knox had only said "I was his secretary and I don't remember typing them", he would be screaming it to the high heavens and proclaiming it as proof positive that the documents were forged. But since she's said other things which cast Bush in a bad light, everything she says must be false, and anyone with the intellectual honesty to accept her statements because she was in a position to know must be derided.



We know the name of every victim of September 11th. We know the name of every US soldier who has died in Iraq. Both lists are regularly publicised in order to put a human face to events. But America's victims in Iraq, the civilian "collatoral damage" killed by American bombs, American bullets, or American neglect, have remained nameless. Until now.

Iraq Body Count, using information gathered from press reports and by the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, has compiled a list naming 3,029 of the approximately 14,000 Iraqis dead due to "Operation Iraqi Freedom". As IBC member Scott Lipscomb said,

every one of some 15,000 Iraqi civilians killed was a loved human being, whose loss creates heartbreak and bitterness among the bereaved families and communities.

This is the same reason we remember the names of Americans. But if they deserve to be remembered, then so do Iraqis.

You can read the full list here (warning: large).

And on a final note, the Pentagon's excuse for not making any effort to track civilian casualties is that they're "not fighting civilians". You could've fooled me.

Exactly what you'd expect them to say

America's allies in Iraq have reacted strongly to Kofi Annan's comments, calling them "outrageous" and defending the legality of their actions. Which is exactly what you'd expect them to say. After all, they can hardly admit that the war was illegal - that would be confessing their own guilt and exposing them to charges of waging a war of aggression.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Saying what we all knew all along

The war in Iraq was illegal and contravened the UN charter, according to Kofi Annan.

It's good to see him say it, but it would have been better if he had said it at the time.

Getting out

The New Zealand engineers in Basra are finally preparing for their withdrawl from Iraq. Good. With the mess the Americans have made, and the nature of the regime we are supporting, we should have got out long ago.

If we want to support Iraq, we should do it by funding Iraqi NGOs promoting human rights and democracy - not by supporting a corrupt government which tortures its own people.


The Killian memos have been proven to be forgeries - not by the partisan wingnuts who think that their ignorance of 1970's office technology is a virtue, but by Killian's secretary. The story is registration-required, so if you can't be bothered poisoning their database yourself, use "" and "foobar".

Marian Carr Knox, who worked from 1957 to 1979 at Ellington Air Force Base in Houston, said that she prided herself on meticulous typing and that the memos first disclosed by CBS News last week were not her work.

"These are not real," she told The Dallas Morning News after examining copies of the disputed memos for the first time. "They're not what I typed, and I would have typed them for him."


Mrs. Knox said she did all of Col. Killian's typing, including memos for a personal "cover his back" file he kept in a locked drawer of his desk.

Fair enough. As I said, the fact that they could have been produced on a 1970's typewriter does not mean that they are authentic. If Killian's secretary says she didn't type them, she didn't type them. At the same time, she raises some puzzling questions:

She said that although she did not recall typing the memos reported by CBS News, they accurately reflect the viewpoints of Col. Killian and documents that would have been in the personal file. Also, she said she didn't know whether the CBS documents corresponded memo for memo with that file.

"The information in here was correct, but it was picked up from the real ones," she said. "I probably typed the information and somebody picked up the information some way or another."

If we accept her credibility in saying that the documents themselves are forgeries, we should also accept her credibility in saying that the content is authentic. So who reconstructed it, and why weren't the original documents containing the information released in the White House's "full dump"?

CBS could resolve these questions simply by naming their source. Hopefully they'll have the honesty to do it.

More on US murder in Iraq

The Guardian's Ghaith Abdul-Ahad was there, and he tells his story. Thumbnails of his photographs of the incident are available here.


Ariel Sharon has announced what we've all known all along: that he no longer intends to honour the "road map" peace plan. Which means that the killing in Israel and Palestine is just going to go on, and on, and on...

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

I don't like it at all

KiwiPundit is getting a little hysterical about Helen Clark here, but his basic point is sound. David Irving is being denied entry to the country on the basis of his views. While his deportation from Canada is the pretext, it is ultimately based on his conviction for Holocaust-denial in Germany. Our refusing entry on the basis of that deportation is an implicit endorsement of Germany's restrictions on free speech. That's not something a country which claims to take human rights and freedom of speech seriously should be doing.

It would help if Irving wasn't a Holocaust-denier, and it would help if he wasn't such a self-important arsehole who likes to play silly-buggers with immigration authorities (as he did in Canada, and as he seems to be trying to do here), but there's an important principle at stake. Freedom of speech is not there to protect popular people or views. If we take it seriously, we should ignore Irving's deportation as being based on a violation of his human rights, and allow him to enter. Then, we should take the opportunity to let him and the world know exactly how much we disagree with his views.

Class action

Human rights lawyer Tony Ellis has filed claims on behalf of another 18 prisoners who were subjected to the Department of Corrections unlawful and inhumane Behaviour Management Regime, and is seeking leave to represent up to 200 others in a class action. If successful, the claims could cost Corrections $4.5 million plus court costs.

No wonder the government wants to legislate to discourage claims from prisoners...

Tony Blair and climate change

So, Tony Blair has given a major speech on climate change, and said that he is "shocked" by the scientific evidence. So am I. A couple of weeks ago I finally got around to reading the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's 2001 Synthesis Report, and was, like Blair, shocked - shocked at how bad the future looked, shocked at how anybody could continue to deny the reality of climate change in the face of this evidence (which has only grown stronger in the past three years), and shocked that the governments of certain major industrial powers were continuing their policy of denial.

The short version of the IPCC report is that if we continue to do what we're doing, we're fucked. Blair was more polite, saying that

global warming... is simply unsustainable in the long-term. And by long-term I do not mean centuries ahead. I mean within the lifetime of my children certainly; and possibly within my own. And by unsustainable, I do not mean a phenomenon causing problems of adjustment. I mean a challenge so far-reaching in its impact and irreversible in its destructive power, that it alters radically human existence.

Climate change isn't a threat to the survival of humanity as a species, but it does threaten to make things uncomfortable for many of us for a good long time. And there's no question that it is happening. The global climate has warmed noticeably since the pre-industrial era, and according to the best models available, we are responsible (see fig SPM-2 in the synthesis report for the graphic version). The concentrations of major greenhouse gases have all increased over the last 200 - 250 years - CO2 by 50%, methane by 150%, and nitrous oxide by 17%. The increase in CO2 is highly correlated with the increased use of fossil fuels; the increase in the latter two gases is due to changes in land use and the dramatic growth of agricultural activity (they're also worse than CO2, by 23 and 296 times respectively, and comprise around 50% of New Zealand's equivalent greenhouse gas emissions).

The precise effects of global warming are uncertain, and depend greatly on what assumptions are made about continuing emissions and the level at which the concentrations of greenhouse gases will stabilise. The IPCC estimates, for various scenarios, an increase in global mean temperature of between 0.4 and 1.1 degrees by 2025, 0.8 to 2.6 degrees by 2050, and 1.4 to 5.8 degrees by 2100. This is expected to lead to significant climate change, resulting in decreased crop yields as agriculture struggles to adapt, threats to low-lying islands from increased sea-levels and storm surges, an increase in extreme weather events such as hurricanes and droughts, and an overall detrimental effect on human health due to poorer nutrition and increased incidence of tropical diseases such as Malaria. There is also some possibility of what they call "large-scale, high-impact, non-linear and potentially abrupt changes in physical and biological systems" - melting ice-caps or a shut-down in ocean convection - which would have an even worse impact. However, one thing the IPCC is certain of is that:

the projected rate and magnitude of warming and sea-level rise can be lessened by reducing greenhouse gas emissions... The greater the reductions in emissions and the earlier they are introduced, the smaller and slower the projected warming and the rise in sea levels.

We can reduce the effects, if we have the global political will to do so - and that's where Tony Blair comes in. He has promised to make climate change the centerpiece of his presidency of the G8, and to use the position to secure a new agreement on the basic science and the existence of the threat. He'll also be pushing other G8 members (notably Russia and the USA) to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on cutting emissions. I'm doubtful that he'll succeed with the US - Bush is implacably opposed to any limitation on American's god-given right to drive big cars with shitty gas mileage, and doesn't do quid pro quo (so no payback for being a good little poodle over Iraq) - but at least Blair will be making the effort.

More importantly, he's also talking about the long-term. Kyoto is only the beginning, and the initial cutbacks it requires are insufficient. Worse, it doesn't include China and India, whose emissions are increasing as they industrialise and adopt a more western standard of living for an increasing number of their people. Dealing with climate change means bringing these two countries into the Kyoto system, and getting an agreement to lower their emissions path (meaning that they do not pollute as much as they otherwise would), with the eventual aim of a cap. This raises significant global equity issues (why should Indians and Chinese be made to walk while Americans continue to drive SUVs?), but it is conceivably achievable if linked to technology transfers and increased assistance for clean development (in other words, if the west pays part of the bill).

Blair also puts his finger on the real long-term solution to the problem of global warming. Deniers seem to think that the only solution lies in significant reductions in our material standard of living (based in part on the statements of those green factions that advocate a romanticised peasant existence as the only sustainable way of life). This is simply false - technology provides us with another way out. It's therefore refreshing to see Blair demanding a "new green industrial revolution" to develop environmentally sustainable technologies and make them ubiquitous. We already seem to be in the beginnings of this - hybrid cars, wind turbines, cheap solar panels and energy efficient homes all offer some hope - but its currently in the bootstrap phase. But if we use government to push this trend - by funding research, tightening regulations, and creating a market through government procurement - then there's every possibility that we can reach a (far more) sustainable future.