Sunday, December 31, 2006

A pornography of murder

As expected, video of Saddam's hanging is now available on the web (no links - if you want to watch that shit, find it yourself). And no doubt our local rabid righties are watching it now, kleenex in hand, revelling in every moment of watching another human being die.

This is nothing more than a pornography of murder, a snuff film, and it illustrates perfectly the morality of those who bay for blood and vengeance.

New Fisk

He takes his secrets to the grave. Our complicity dies with him
Football and violence go together

The Annual No Right Turn Christmas Appeal

Christmas is supposed to be the season for giving, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to remind people that they can give to people besides retailers. Below are a couple of links to worthy causes. If you've enjoyed reading No Right Turn this year, or are simply naturally generous, and you have money to spare, please consider flicking them a few dollars to help them in the year ahead.

If you support human rights, then please consider donating to the New Zealand branch of Amnesty International (online form here). They are a strong, consistent and impartial voice for human rights worldwide: for the release of prisoners of conscience, for fair trials, for an end to torture, disappearances and extrajudicial killings, and for the abolition of the death penalty. They do good work, and while the constant flood of stories about human rights abuses may make it seem like they're getting nowhere, they do get results. Amnesty's ability to focus international attention on individual cases has saved thousands of people from torture, imprisonment, and death.

If you think supporting human rights is "too political", or if you're an animal-lover, then I suggest the Auckland SPCA (online form here, or you can call 0900 99 SPCA (0900 997722) to make a one-off $25 donation). They have a tough time around christmas, and they need all the help they can get to deal with the flood of abandoned pets they get in January.

Finally, if you'd like to directly help poor people in the developing world, Oxfam has a number of interesting ideas at Oxfam Unwrapped, including water, farming and educational projects. This stuff is cheap - $10 for a pair of chickens, $20 for trees, $35 to help someone start a business through a microcredit scheme - and there's plenty of options to choose from.

The causes I've highlighted above are those that appeal to me, and there are countless other ones which are equally deserving. I have no way of knowing if any of you will donate or not, but please do so anyway. It's christmas, after all.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

New Fisk

A dictator created then destroyed by America

Now what?

So the Butcher of Baghdad is dead - executed secretly this morning in a desperate rush to get him out of the way before he could tell the world about how the Americans backed his campaign of genocide against the Kurds. But now what? This isn't a bad fantasy novel, where everything is instantly better and the sun comes out the moment the Dark Lord is dead. Saddam's judicial murder will not end the insurgency in Iraq. It will not stop the deaths of more Iraqi civilians or US troops. Instead, it will simply add another body to Bush's pyramid of skulls, a pyramid which is more than high enough already.

Neither is this justice. He may have been guilty - though given the judicial standards displayed at his trial, this is more by accident than the result of any reliable judicial process - but not even Saddam deserved the death penalty. Instead, what happened today was a barbaric act of revenge, a state-sanctioned murder, morally no different from those inflicted by Saddam on his hapless victims at Dujail. Its only purpose was to bring the satisfaction of revenge. That is not justice; it is sadism, and those approving of it are displaying the ethics of kitten-strangling psychopaths rather than civilised human beings.

It is typical that Bush has called this "an important milestone" for Iraq. And it makes you wonder what the hell they use for road markers in Texas.


The New Year's honours list is out, with the usual media profiles of the top awardees (Professor Lloyd Geering, Dr Dorren Blumhardt, and Sam Neill, if you haven't already heard). No doubt we'll also see the usual complaints in the next few days about Labour's preferences from people who do not understand that "services to your own bank balance" or "oppressing the poor" are not sufficient reasons for recognition, or who still cling to outdated ideals of feudalism and deference. But rather than discussing the pros and cons or otherwise of this year's awardees, I thought I'd talk about something else: that in this country, anyone can make a nomination (forms here).

This is a fundamentally democratic practice, and it gives us far more say than countries where the entire business is done in back rooms. It makes it easy for those whose services are primarily to the local community to be noticed and recognised. And it also gives us a direct way of telling the government what sorts of things we believe deserve wider recognition and when it is ignoring certain groups (otherwise known as "shit stirring"). For example, I don't think the government sufficiently recognises those who fight for human rights in this country. So, later in the year, I think I'll be filling out some of those forms for people like Tony Ellis - a tireless defender of human rights and justice for those who are most vulnerable - or Deborah Manning. Or even Ahmed Zaoui himself, for promoting tolerance and cultural understanding. Or some unionists - Andrew Little, Matt McCarten and Laila Harre have all fought strongly for a better deal for workers over the past few years, and succeeded. That's something IMHO we should recognise. Or holding politicians to account (Nicky Hagar is an obvious choice here - though perhaps an anonymous award to his sources would be more appropriate). Some of these people may not want a gong and refuse, but simply nominating them sends a message about what we think matters, and will hopefully encourage them to pay more attention to those areas in future.

An unseemly rush to execution

Having rushed their way through a trial which failed to meet basic standards of justice, the Americans and the Iraqi government are now engaged in an unseemly rush to execute Saddam Hussein, with reports that he could be killed as early as tomorrow. Meanwhile, more evidence is emerging that the process has been a stacked farce from start to finish. According to Richard Dicker of Human Rights Watch, the Iraqi appeals court did not even bother to hold a hearing on Saddam's appeal, and took a mere three weeks to "consider" the 300-page judgement and defence submissions. In other words, it was little more than a Texan-style rubber stamp for execution. But then after a "trial" in which evidence was withheld from the defence, the defence were not allowed to properly confront prosecution witnesses, and the judges were replaced whenever it looked like Saddam might get a fair go, this is hardly surprising.

Apart from the fundamental obscenity of execution, this undermines the entire verdict. We should not begrudge criminal suspects a fair chance in court; rather we should welcome it, both as a basic safeguard to protect the innocent, and to ensure that the verdict is sufficiently robust to withstand scrutiny. In war crimes cases there is an additional element: Saddam's trial could have been a chance to fully document his crimes and make their reality and horror absolutely unquestionable. Instead, we have had a pathetic farce, a slow-motion lynching which will allow his supporters to forever claim that he was a victim of "victor's justice". His victims - and the world - deserve better.

New Fisk

Pray for little countries that believe in empty promises of a superpower

Luis Gerez


Between 1976 and 1983, Argentina's military junta waged a campaign of violence against dissidents, students, and unionists known as the "Dirty War". Thousands were disappeared, tortured and murdered by government death squads, their bodies flung from the backs of planes over the Atlantic Ocean to prevent any evidence. Following the fall of the junta, the new civilian government issued an amnesty for those responsible, but this was overturned by the Argentinean Supreme Court in 2005. And so there began to be justice for the crimes of the past, with former military officers and torturers dragged into court and made to account for their crimes.

Unfortunately, the terror isn't over. Earlier this year a witness in the first trial, Jorge Lopez, vanished within days of the sentence being handed down. Neither he nor his body has yet been found. And now Luiz Gerez, a man who testified against a prominent right-wing congressman and caused him to lose his seat, has also disappeared. The government is blaming former members of the security forces, but one thing is becoming clear: that this will not end until there is justice, and the last of these criminals is behind bars.

Update: Gerez has been found - but it seems Argentinians' worst fears were realised. According to the Washington Post, he "had been abducted by three men who had blindfolded, beat and burned him with cigarettes". These people it seems are willing to return to the tactics of the past in an effort to escape justice. They must not be allowed to get away with it.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Silly season

From tonight's Manawatu Standard:

Clearly a pair of hardened criminals.

Vive la presidente!

Lewis Holden, of the Holden Republic, has been elected president of the Republican Movement of Aotearoa New Zealand.

America's Polish gulag

Just over a year ago, the Washington Post revealed that the US was operating a network of secret prisons and torture centres - "black sites" - in Eastern Europe. Today, the BBC World Service has a piece on one of them, at a place called Stare Kiejkuty in Poland. The Council of Europe draft report into Alleged secret detentions and unlawful inter-state transfers involving Council of Europe member states [PDF] noted that a US Boeing 737, with the tail number N313P - one of the infamous torture planes - had made regular visits to nearby Szymany. The BBC has pinned it down a little further:

After a week of meetings in smoky Warsaw restaurants and coffee bars with Polish intelligence sources, airport workers and journalists, I obtained what I had been looking for, and something that nobody in authority wanted to reveal, the flight log of planes landing at Szymany airport.

They confirmed my eyewitness's account - that a well-known CIA Gulfstream plane, the N379P, had made several landings at the airport in 2003.

The plane has been strongly linked to the transportation of Al-Qaeda terrorists.

(The leaked flight logs up at Ghost Plane show two arrivals and four departures, all in 2003, but they are far from complete).

According to the report and eyewitnesses, the planes would land in the middle of the night and make a secure transfer at one end of the runway. Whoever was in them was taken to Stare Kiejkuty, a former Warsaw pact intelligence training centre. An investigation by the UK's Sunday Mirror actually managed to get inside the place, and reported

a green hangar the size of a football pitch. Locals say this was built last year to house newly-arrived inmates.

The question now is what the EU will do about it. They have evidence that an EU member state hosted a secret US prison in violation of international and EU human rights obligations. That member state is steadfastly refusing to cooperate with any investigation, and behaving like an old Soviet despotism. Surely it is time for the EU to make good on its threats, take a strong stand for human rights, and suspend Poland from membership until it cooperates?

Adding to the commons

While researching the last post I noticed that Wikipedia did not have a page on our Official Information Act 1982. Now, it does. Any help in expanding it would be most welcome.

Smothering freedom of information in the UK

Two years ago, with great fanfare, the UK's Freedom of Information Act 2000 finally (and belatedly) came into force. It was intended to usher in a new age of open government for Britain. Unfortunately, that ended up being a little too inconvenient for the Blair government, who were suddenly being expected to answer all sorts of questions about, for example, their case for going to war with Iraq or the degree of cooperation with the US over Guantanamo, torture and rendition. And so now they're trying to gut it, introducing regulations which would impose an arbitrary time or cost limit on requests (in New Zealand they just charge at a fixed rate beyond the first few hours), and allowing successive requests by the same person or organisation to be treated as one for the purposes of calculating it. The result, according to Maurice Frankel, will be that

Requests on subjects such as identity cards, the Olympics or the war in Iraq might be refused out of hand in future because the number of hours needed to think about and discuss them exceeded some arbitrary threshold.

A journalist asking the Home Office for information about, say, prison escapes, could use up most of the £600 limit in one go. Any subsequent request to the Home Office from any of the paper's journalists could be refused, whether it dealt with immigration, policing, drugs, passports, anti-social behaviour orders, race relations, equal opportunities, animal experimentation, DNA testing or airport security.

This would effectively prevent the Act from being used by the very people who can best use it to hold the government to account and drive public debate: MPs, researchers, and journalists. But somehow, I suspect that is the point. The Blair government does not want to be held to account and it does not want its actions scrutinised and debated by the public. Instead, it wants things back the way they were: behind closed doors, with the public safely on the other side of them.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Half the solution

The US is planning to list polar bears as a threatened species because of habitat shrinkage caused by climate change. This is good - with the ice they rely on disappearing, the bears will need the help - but at the same time it is also only half the solution. If they want the polar bear to survive as anything other than a sad zoo exhibit, then it is also necessary to tackle the problem at its cause, by taking action on climate change, rather than simply relying on a metaphorical ambulance at the bottom of the ecological cliff.

A slow-motion lynching

The rejection of Saddam Hussein's appeal comes as no surprise. From beginning to end, Saddam's trial for the murders of Dujail has resembled more of a slow-motion lynching than any exercise in justice. Failure to disclose evidence to the defence, refusal to allow the defence to confront and test prosecution witnesses, stacked standards of evidence and outright judicial bias (and where it was not present, a change of judges) all meant that the trial failed to meet basic international standards of justice and fairness. To execute someone after such a farce simply compounds the injustice. But then, this has never been about justice; rather it is about revenge - exactly as Saddam's murders were all those years ago.

This is an insult to justice and an insult to Saddam's victims. There's no real doubt of Saddam's guilt, so why bother to stack the deck? Worse, it will allow people to claim forever that Saddam's "trial" was simply an exercise in "victor's justice". And sadly, they'll be right.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Fiji: petty oppression

The Fijian military's campaign against its critics has reached a new level of pettiness: they're now threatening people who write letters to the editor criticizing their demands for legal immunity. What next? Dragging people off for staring at them on the street?

They don't want to talk about it

My piece on people held in immigration detention for years without trial was the lead politics story in the Dom Post yesterday, with full acknowledgment of the sourcing. Clearly, I should be feeding journalists more often. OK, so it was Boxing Day, when people have better things to do than read the papers, but a story is still going to gain far more readers through the much-maligned "mainstream media" than it is in the blogosphere. And this is a story which deserves a lot of attention. Our government is detaining people indefinitely without charge or trial. That is something we strongly disapprove of when the Americans or third-world despots do it; we should not be doing it here.

Meanwhile, the government just doesn't want to talk about it:

The department refused to answer questions about the individual circumstances of each detainee, other than to say that all of the detainees were aged over 17.

And its easy to see why. Once these people have names, faces, histories, they can gain public sympathy, just like Ahmed Zaoui, Thomas Yadegary, or Takshila. Better then (from a bureaucratic point of view) to do everything in secret - just as the Americans tried to do at Guantanamo. Its just so much easier when you don't have the pesky public looking over your shoulder and asking awkward questions.

We need to ask those awkward questions. We need to find out who these people are and why they are facing deportation. Then we can force the government to front up and try and explain why it thinks indefinite detention is justified - and hopefully force a change in policy.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Fiji: Gestapo tactics

The Fijian military is continuing its campaign to silence those speaking out in support of democracy - this time by taking six human rights activists from their homes in the middle of the night and allegedly assaulting them:

Among those questioned were Fiji Women’s Rights Movement Virisila Buadromo, her partner, Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua 2006 election candidate Imraz Iqbal and pro-democracy supporters Jacqueline Koroi, Laisa Digitaki and Pita Waqavonovono.

The six were taken from their homes late last night.

It’s alleged soldiers assaulted several of them and made them run from QEB in Nabua to Digitaki's home in Lami to remove banners and placards calling for the return of the country to democracy.

The Fiji Times has more on the incident, without the allegations of assault, but with a chilling warning from Commodore Bainimarama:

He warned members of the public and non government activists that included Fiji Womens Rights Movement executive director Virisila Buadromo, Human right activists Patricia Jalal, journalist Imraz Iqbal and businesswoman Laisa Digitaki to stop saying things that would incite unrest in the country.


He said that these individuals should shut their mouth or else the military would shut it for them and they should not forget the death that had occurred at the military camp on November 2.

The latter is the date of the 2000 post-coup mutiny, though it is not clear whether he is referring to the four soldiers shot during the mutiny... or the four he had beaten to death in the aftermath. But the first part is absolutely clear: the military will not tolerate any dissent, and is willing to use Gestapo tactics to silence it.

The Christmas terror

Looks like I'm not the only person rattling the tip jar at Christmas. French and American security services are warning of an imminent attack on the Channel Tunnel, saying the threat-level is "sky high". I guess they must want a large budget increase, a further erosion of civil liberties, and some shiny new gadgets under the tree.

Seriously, given the number of times these people cry wolf, it is very difficult not to be cynical about them.

Stuck in the twilight world

The new version of Blogger is out of beta, and so naturally I've tried to upgrade. Unfortunately while I can upgrade my account, blogs this large are at the back of the queue, so we'll all have to cope withthe exces javascript for a while longer. Meanwhile, the partial upgrade has resulted in some problems; I log in to new Blogger, but it has to talk to old Blogger if I want to post. And if I've already been talkign to old Blogger - for example, by posting comments - then there can be some problems.

Fortunately this is happening at a time when there isn't much news anyway. But it is highly irritating, to say the least. Hopefully it'll all be ironed out before the news picks up again.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

New Fisk

Banality and barefaced lies

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Hypocritical and racist

The High Court has confirmed Ngati Tama's title over the Wakapuaka estuary near Nelson. National MP Nick Smith is livid, claiming that this shows that the government's promise that Maori would not be able to gain freehold title to the foreshore and seabed was worthless. Except that this case has nothing to do with the Foreshore and Seabed Act, or with the precedent of Ngati Apa v Attorney-General. Ngati Tama's claim of ownership is not based on customary title, but on freehold title awarded in the 1880's and upheld three (now four) times by the courts since then. Some of the original documents have now apparently been lost, but this doesn't mean they don't own it, anymore than the government losing the original survey data would undermine title to your house.

Smith's longstanding refusal to accept to this fact and his repeated attempts to have the title revoked (he has been pushing it since he was Conservation Minister back in 1999) reveal the true attitudes behind National's stance on the foreshore and seabed issue. Rich, white people are allowed to own beaches. Brown people are not. This is not about equality under the law; rather it is about enforced inequality on the basis of race. There's no other way to say it: National's position on the foreshore and seabed is hypocritical and racist.

Justice for Haditha?

The US military has charged eight marines over the 2005 Haditha massacre, in which US soldiers engaged in "extensive, unprovoked killings of civilians", killing 24 Iraqis. Four have been charged over the murders themselves, while the other four have been charged with dereliction of duty and covering up the crime. I'm pleased, but at the same time doubtful. Previous trials over the abuse, torture and murder of Iraqis by US forces have failed to produce justice. Rather, they have effectively endorsed such behaviour and sent a clear message that it is acceptable. So, I think I'll wait to see what emerges at the end of the process before deciding whether there has been justice for the dead of Haditha.

Friday, December 22, 2006

An Orwellian moment

There's a memorable scene in 1984 where the official narrative about who the government is at war with changes in the middle of a news broadcast - and it just adopts the new line seamlessly and continues on as if nothing has happened. The same thing seems to have happened in the middle of Gordon Copeland's latest press release on climate change policy. At the beginning of the release, Copeland attacks the government's sustainable land management and climate change policy for suggesting that forest owners pay (either by a flat charge or a tradable permit regime) the cost of carbon released when forested land is converted to agriculture. He then goes on to talk about United Future's new climate change policy, which includes... forest owners paying the cost of carbon released when forested land is converted to agriculture:

"United Future's climate change policies that were announced this morning include a provision that requires the internalisation of all greenhouse gas costs when forested areas are converted to intensive agriculture.

"Where forested land is converted to farming the landowner would bear the Kyoto costs arising from the loss of the carbon sequestration, but would not face a land tax."

Which is exactly the policy he was attacking literally a sentence before. But Copeland doesn't seem to have noticed or care about his contradiction. Oceania has always been at war with East Asia. And United Future has always been in favour of internalising carbon costs.

Carnival of the Liberals

The twenty-eighth Carnival of the Liberals is now up at Living the Scientific Life.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

A white christmas?

I'm sorry, but snow at christmas in the southern hemisphere is just wrong. It's the summer solstice, for Cthulhu's sake!

Not just Thomas Yadegary

Over the past few months, I've made several posts about the plight of Thomas Yadegary, imprisoned without trial for over two years because he refuses to cooperate in his own deportation back to persecution and possibly death in Iran. Like many, I am appalled that we can continue to hold a man in jail for over two years without trial. But what's more appalling is that Thomas Yadegary isn't the only person held in this fashion, nor has he been held the longest.

According to information released under the OIA, as of 17th October six people have been held without trial in immigration detention for more than 300 days. Two, including Yadegary, have been held more more than 700 days, and the longest has been held for almost a thousand:

Date taken into custodyDays in custody (as at Oct 17 2006)

If these people are still being detained - and we just don't know - then this would mean that as of today, all had been imprisoned for more than a year, two for more than two years, and the longest-serving detainee is now coming up for their third anniversary in prison. All of this, remember, without any charge or any trial.

Apart from Yadegary, we have no idea who any of these people are, or the circumstances of their detention. The whole process happens in secret, unless someone is lucky enough to have their case highlighted and publicised.

You can think what you like about immigration and the need for deportation, but this sort of indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial goes against our deepest values. It is the sort of thing practiced by absolute monarchs, third-world despots, or the Americans in their Caribbean gulag in Guantanamo. People are being given effectively open-ended sentences, without having committed any crime. And that is simply wrong.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A hypocritical approach

So, the government wants to ban party pills on the basis of their health effects. But while the government's expert committee found that a number of studies had showed "potential for serious harm in some individuals" due to side effects, they also noted that

there have been no recorded deaths attributed solely to the use of BZP

Meanwhile, according to a study commissioned by ALAC, alcohol directly kills over a thousand people a year [PDF]. By any reasonable standard, we're banning the wrong drug.

Before anyone gets the wrong end of the stick, I do not want to see alcohol prohibition. Rather, I want to see some consistency. If we're happy for people to drink booze at such an enormous cost in human life, then we should be happy for them to take party pills at a far lower cost. And if we're concerned about medical costs or use by children, we should adopt the same approach of excise taxes and age limits. If we think adults are free to fuck up their own lives with the odd drink, then we have to also grant them the right to fuck up their own lives with the odd party pill. Anything else is pure hypocrisy.

Unfortunately, "pure hypocrisy" describes the government's approach to a T - a fact which is unlikely to go unnoticed by party pill poppers. And rather than engendering respect for the law, it is likely to result in their concluding that it, and Anderton, is an ass.

Climate change is now common sense

This year has seen a massive turning of the political tide on climate change. This time last year, the government had been forced to dump its plans for a carbon tax in the face of opposition from its new coalition partners. Now, thanks to some bad weather and Al Gore, climate change is common sense. And so even United Future - a party which went into the last election opposed to any action on climate change and promising to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol on the grounds that it was "based on debatable science" - now has a climate change policy.

Media reaction has focused on the somewhat kooky idea of getting householders to stick another five grand on the mortgage for insulation - something which is unlikely to be effective in the absence of a solid regulatory regime (and currently United Future is only proposing compulsory ratings, not higher insulation standards). But the real news here, overlooked in the TV and radio reports I've seen, is that United Future now supports emissions trading. They also support biofuels and deforestation liabilities, so it looks as if the government is going to get its policy agenda through. And if the cost of that is substantially boosting funding to EECA for "a comprehensive nationwide programme of retro-fitting existing homes with energy saving improvements" (something which should have happened long ago), then who am I to complain?

A closer look: sustainable land management

I've been busy reading the government's new policy on Sustainable Land Management and Climate Change [PDF]. This is the other half of their climate change policy, targeting the agriculture and forestry sectors. The former is our major source of greenhouse gas emissions, responsible for 49.4% of emissions in 2004, while the latter promises the quickest way of reducing our Kyoto liabilities short of shutting down Tiwai Point (and don't think they haven't been thinking about it) - so this is an important policy.

Previous policy for the agricultural sector has revolved around shielding farmers from the cost of their emissions while funding research in the hope of finding a long-term solution. Partly this is justified - there seem to be few options for emissions reduction other than shooting cows and throwing them in a ditch. But it also causes significant distortions - paying a billion dollar a year subsidy to your dirtiest emitters does that - and undermines policy in other sectors. The good news is that this is going to change. Agricultural policy is now premised on farmers paying the cost of their emissions as technological options for reduction become available. The government believes that nitrification inhibitors now offer significant opportunities for reducing nitrous oxide emissions, so farmers are going to have to pay for them one way or another.

The report presents four ways of doing this: a tax on nitrogen-based fertiliser coupled with a subsidy for inhibitors; a tradable permit or offset trading regime covering all agricultural emissions; or regulation through the RMA. Of these, the last is clearly the "salmonella" option - something chosen to make the alternatives look good. The two trading regimes are clearly unworkable due to a lack of solid information on farm emissions (something farmers don't seem to be in any hurry to fix). So, we are likely to have a nitrogen tax and encouragement of inhibitors. This doesn't sound like much, but it’s a start, and together is expected to reduce net emissions by 2.25 megatons of CO2-e over CP1. Unfortunately as it involves them a) admitting that climate change is happening and b) taking responsibility for their pollution, I expect the farmers to go absolutely feral over it and drive another tractor up Parliament steps.

The forestry section seeks to repair some of the damage done over the past decade. When Kyoto was negotiated, we expected to be one of the big winners due to a large amount of forest cover and a high level of forest planting in the 90's. But the myopic "the market will provide" attitude of National coupled with a desire by Labour to avoid creating winners and losers has turned that potential success into a failure. Low wood prices, the dairy boom, and downright perverse policy has resulted in unacceptable levels of deforestation which threaten to impose significant costs on the taxpayer. Meanwhile, parts of the industry have pumped themselves up on tales of Kyoto gold, and are squealing for a handout.

Boy, are they disapointed. Contrary to their belief, the purpose of policy in this area is not to reward existing forest owners for having trees, or to subsidise clear-cut plantation forestry (something which has no net carbon effect whatsoever over its rotation). Rather, it is primarily to discourage deforestation. Cutting down trees without planting new ones imposes a cost on the planet and (thanks to Kyoto) on society. This is a classic example of an externality, and the classic solution is to make those responsible pay for it. And ignoring the obvious salmonella options of central direction and the RMA, this is exactly what the government intends to do. The simplest method is to apply a flat deforestation charge of $13,000 per hectare (or around 800 tons of CO2) on those who deforest without replanting. However, this can be framed as a tax, and it paints the government as the bad guy who takes money off people, so they are likely instead to go for the tradable permit option which involves forest owners giving money to each other. Besides the obvious political advantage of taking the government out of the firing line, this also can be easily expanded later to cover either afforestation (which it is currently proposing to deal with by a grants scheme similar to the Projects Mechanism) or full emissions trading, and it creates vested interests who will defend the system against future governments (yet another reason I like these systems: they use capitalism against itself). On the minus side, it is likely to involve the same endless debate around allocation methods that we have seen in the energy sector. And OTOH, the government has shown a willingness to bite the bullet and create winners and losers with this policy, which suggests they will be willing to do so around allocation as well.

One side-effect of these policy announcements is a further perverse incentive to deforest - a point highlighted by National and forest owners. This is a consequence of democracy, and it is just something we have to live with. While it would no doubt be more effective to impose policy in the dead of night with no public consultation or time to organise against it, that would make us a rather different sort of country, and not really one I want to live in.

As an interesting point, there is a large hole in policy coverage. The two most likely deforestation policies will apply only to forests planted before 1990, while the afforestation policy will apply only to those planted after 2007 (the PFSI covers exotic forests planted since 2002, and indigenous forests planted since 1990). So the "Kyoto forests" planted since 1990 do not seem to be covered at all, despite posing just as much of a potential liability to the crown as pre-Kyoto forests. I doubt this is an oversight, which suggests that there are plans to expand the policy to cover them.

As with the energy strategy, you can submit on this thing, and I suggest that everybody who wants to tackle climate change does. I think the policies are relatively solid, though I will be pointing out the gap in forestry policy and encouraging the government to extend the deforestation liability to all forests, not just those planted before 1990.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Whangamata decision

The Minister for the Environment, David Benson-Pope, has released his decision [PDF] on the Whangamata marina, granting it resource consent, but with more stringent conditions than those proposed by the Environment Court. The Whangamata Marina Society is of course pleased, and National is calling it "an embarassment for Labour", but I don't think so. As I pointed out earlier in the year, the questions at issue were not questions of facts, but questions of values: the value of a salt marsh, the value of local iwi being able to collect kaimoana, and the value of (some forms of) recreational use. Such questions are the essence of politics, and are things on which people can disagree (in fact, not just can, but will, as there's no universally agreeable way of ranking such values). All the decision tells us is that Benson-Pope values these things rather differently to Carter - and that I'd rather have the latter as Minister for the Environment than the former.

An appalling question

DPF has commented on the annual EML awards, which has reminded me about the Agenda interview they screened a segment of, in which Lisa Owen repeatedly asks John Key whether he believes in god:

Lisa: Do you believe in God John?

John: That’s an interesting question do I believe in God. I don’t believe in life after death.

Lisa: Do you believe in God?

John: Well I don’t believe in life after death, I don’t know how you'd define it really.

Lisa: Are you agnostic, are you atheist?

This is a simply appalling line of questioning. It's one thing for a politician to go out in public and talk about god, but being asked about it is downright rude. John Key's religious beliefs are between him and his conscience, and no-one else's business at all. To even be asked about them smacks of a US-style religious test for politicians (though given the context, one based on secularism rather than religious belief, which is just as bad). And that is simply not something I want to see established here.

The PFSI pays off

The government's Permanent Forest Sink Initiative looks to have paid off already, with Ngati Porou planning to plant 30,000 hectares in permanent forest on the East Coast. This is expected to sequester 15 million tons of carbon dioxide over the next few decades, which at NZ$30 a ton will yield $450 million for Ngati Porou and its investment partner. Not bad for land that was just sitting there and doing nothing - and all they have to do is plant the trees and sit back and watch them grow.

On the down side, the desire for quick carbon uptake means they will be planting mostly eucalyptus rather than natives. But at least there'll be trees rather than bare hillside.

The difference between National and Labour

With the government shackled into a coalition arrangement which forces them to go right more often than left, I sometimes wonder what the point of having a "Labour" government is. Today, they reminded me why, with the largest increase to the minimum wage since 1999. Labour has raised the minimum wage every year since coming into office, and boosted it by almost 60% over that period - about three times the rate of inflation. This hasn't just boosted incomes at the bottom of the heap; it has also helped raise them higher up as well - and with no adverse effects on employment. The net effect has been to redistribute income down the pyramid, from the greedy to the needy, in the process helping to counteract some of the inequality that had opened up during the Revolution. The vast majority of New Zealanders gain from this process; the only ones who don't are the selfish at the top who want to ensure that they alone capture the fruits of economic growth. And boy do they squeal loudly when forced to share.

The Employers' and Manufacturers' Association is making the usual claims about how this will lead to job losses and price some jobs out of the market due to "insufficient productivity". But somehow I don't think our local rich will be willing to clean their own toilets or make their own coffee. And I don't think they'll be willing to do that when it goes up to $12 an hour in 2008 either.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Death of the Orangutan

Yesterday's Independent had a report which particularly caught my attention: The destruction of Borneo's rainforst (ironically, to produce palm oil, a biofuel) means that Orangutans are expected to be extinct in the wild in ten years.

This is immensely depressing. Orangutans aren't our closest living relative (that distinction goes to the Bonobos), but they're cousins, and you can see it. When you look at one, there's definitely someone looking back. Terry Pratchett, who has worked with the Orangutan Foundation and donates some of the proceeds of his books to Orangutan conservation (its a moral debt to the Librarian), has an amusing story about the reactions of different Great Apes to being given a camera. A Chimpanzee will probably smash it. A Gorilla will look at it curiously and hand it back. An Orangutan will carefully dismantle it, and hand the pieces back with a grin. The reason that Visa ad [video] works so well is precisely because Orangutans are so bloody smart.

(As for Bonobos, if given a camera they would either a) try and hump it; or b) use it to make porn. But they do that with everything...)

A world without Orangutans will be a much poorer place. Unfortunately, there seems to be little we can do about it. Killing our relatives and burning them out of their homes seems to be the price of capitalism - just as it was in Scotland in the nineteenth century...

Something to go to in Auckland

The Auckland-based Coalition for Democracy in Fiji is holding a seminar on Fijian democracy on Wednesday night. Speakers will include Keith Locke on whether the New Zealand government is doing enough to help restore democracy in Fiji; human rights activist (and former manager of the Fiji Daily Post) Thakur Ranjit Singh on Fiji's government system; and Suliana Siwatibau of the Pacific Centre for Public Integrity on the role of NGOs in Fiji.

When: Wednesday, December 20th, 18:45 - 21:00
Where: Wesley Community Centre, 740 Sandringham Rd Extension

If you're in Auckland and want to learn more about what is going on in Fiji and the roots of the current problems, it is probably worth going to.

Hogswatch Night

Today is Hogswatchnight, on which the Hogfather in his red fur lined cloak and sleigh pulled by four wild boars visits children. Good children receive pork products. Bad children receive a bag of bloody bones. And children with broadband who don't care too much about intellectual property rights receive a download of Terry Pratchett's Hogfather...

Dirtier and dirtier

The story of the UK's turning a blind eye to corruption by pulling the plug on an investigation into massive corruption by BAE in arms deals with Saudi Arabia is getting dirtier and dirtier, with the Independent reporting that despite efforts to dump the blame on the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office, the pressure to kill the investigation came from Downing Street. This is a clear case of political interference by a Prime Minister in a criminal investigation - anathema in a democracy which supposedly respects the rule of law. But it gets worse - much worse:

One senior figure who had been helping the SFO said the investigation's security had been repeatedly compromised. "I was told by detectives that the probe was being bugged. They had reached this conclusion because highly confidential information on the inquiry had been reaching outside parties."

Of course, any inquiry into this would also likely be killed by Blair to protect his mates - that is if it wasn't the British intelligence services doing it in the first place.

Meanwhile, there are also concerns that the British government's actions have violated international law - specifically the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions. Blair's excuse for killing the investigation was "national security". But Article 5 of the Convention, to which the UK is a signatory and which is incorporated into British law, states:

Investigation and prosecution of the bribery of a foreign public official shall be subject to the applicable rules and principles of each Party. They shall not be influenced by considerations of national economic interest, the potential effect upon relations with another State or the identity of the natural or legal persons involved.

(Emphasis added)

Several NGOs are reportedly planning to mount a judicial review on these grounds, and the British government is also likely to be called to account before the OECD's anti-bribery working party next month. Hopefully this will force them to restart the investigation, and uphold the rule of law rather than the privilege of the rich and powerful.

The "war on terror" erodes freedom of speech

An Australian man was refused permission to board several international and internal flights recently. His "crime"? Wearing a "George Bush: World's #1 Terrorist" T-shirt (he was of course allowed to board after he had changed to a T-shirt less critical of the hegemon). It's a perfect example of how the "war on terror" has eroded freedom of speech, and how rights we take for granted - for example, the right to criticise our political leaders and their policies - are being abrogated in the name of "security" by the fearful and the cowed, even without formal censorship from the government.

(If anyone is wondering, the airlines in question were Qantas and Virgin Blue).

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Women in Armed Forces bill reported back

The Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee has reported back [PDF] on Lynne Pillay's Human Rights (Women in Armed Forces) Amendment Bill, and recommended unanimously that it be passed. The only significant change they have suggested is to the purpose of the bill, to change language about women serving "at the front line" to "serving in an active combat role". It's mostly a dead issue anyway - the New Zealand military has allowed women to serve in combat roles for quite some time - but it will tidy up the law and remove a rather offensive clause from the books.

The bill will get its second reading (along with s59 and the two Easter trading bills) on February 21st, and I expect it to whiz through. With this level of unanimity, there's a strong prospect of it gaining leave to go through its second and third readings simultaneously and becoming the first Member's Bill to become law this Parliamentary term.

New Fisk

Different narratives in the Middle East

Friday, December 15, 2006

Turning a blind eye to corruption

For the past two years, the UK's Serious Fraud Office has been investigating allegations that BAE paid the Saudi royal family hundreds of millions of pounds in bribes to secure a multi-billion pound arms deal in the 80's. Today, the UK's Attorney-General pulled the plug. His reason?

It has been necessary to balance the need to maintain the rule of law against the wider public interest. No weight has been given to commercial interests or to the national economic interest.

And if you believe that, I have a lovely batch of Eurofighter Typhoons to sell you. But it gets worse:

The prime minister and the foreign and defence secretaries have expressed the clear view that continuation of the investigation would cause serious damage to UK/Saudi security, intelligence and diplomatic cooperation, which is likely to have seriously negative consequences for the UK public interest in terms of both national security and our highest priority foreign policy objectives in the Middle East.

Or, to put it another way, the Saudi kleptocrats who could have their funds cut off if the case proceeded threatened to withdraw cooperation in the "war on terror" unless the British government allowed a British corporation to piss all over British law and engage in corrupt and illegal practices. And the Blair government gave in, nakedly interfering to kill a criminal probe (in violation of clear constitutional convention) in order to appease its allies and guarantee the dividends of BAE's wealthy shareholders. Kindof shows you what both parties really care about, doesn't it?

New Fisk

Who's running Lebanon?

Tonga: Tyranny extended

Meanwhile in Tonga, the Tongan monarchy has extended its state of emergency banning public gatherings and political protests for another month. They have also established a blacklist of "troublemakers" who will be forbidden to enter Tonga - including prominent Tongan democracy campaigners living in New Zealand. As with the Fijian junta, the Tongan regime now seems to be in the business of banning people from returning to their own country, effectively sentencing them to exile in absentia without trial. Why are we supporting this regime again?

Fiji: silencing the media

The Fijian military have continued their crackdown against dissent, this time targetting the media. The editor of the Fijian Daily Post has been arrested and will be deported:

Fiji's Military confirmed today that they had arrested Daily Post editor-in-chief, Robert Wolfgram after a wild goose chase in Suva.

Military spokesman Major Neumi Leweni said they managed to arrest him at the Daily Post office before taking him up to the Queen Elizabeth Barracks for questioning.

But as the Fiji Times notes, Wolfgram is a Fijian citizen. As such, he cannot legally be deported from Fiji. But none of that seems to matter to Fiji's thuggish military, who seem to now be sentencing their opponents to indefinite exile for unspecified offences, without any testing of evidence before a court or jury. That is, when they're not simply threatening to rape them...

Ding dong the paywall's dead

As I'm sure you've all noticed by now, the New Zealand Herald has a new website (so does Stuff, but that's less important). But apart from being prettier yet somehow more irritating to navigate (there's no longer the long list of stories down the side of each page), it also makes a very welcome change: there's no more paywall, so their opinion content is available to all again. I guess they decided that there was no point locking away their best content where people couldn't see it (and where it would earn them no advertising revenue).

On the minus side, those big animated ads make it a bit of a browser hog. Any suggestions as to how to kill them?

Thursday, December 14, 2006


The final list of bills before select committees is out, and it has an interesting surprise: Doug Woolerton's excreble Principles of the Treaty of Waitangi Deletion Bill has been delayed until December 2007. Which effectively means it is dead and buried. As someone who submitted against the bill, I'm very pleased. Unfortunately I don't think New Zealand First will get the message and give up - but OTOH, if we're lucky they won't be around after the next election anyway.

Fighting city hall in China

There's an old saying that you can't fight city hall. In China it seems to be literal. Chinese human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng has been secretly put on trial for "subversion". His crime? Apparently he was winning too many cases against the government, and forcing it to abide by its own laws rather than making things up as it went along. Those who benefit from the latter approach were clearly displeased by this, and so now he is facing 15 years in prison.

China is supposedly trying to clean up its human rights record in the lead up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Unfortunately they seem to be doing it by sweeping the whole issue under the carpet and jailing anyone who speaks out.

The trappings of tyranny

The position of "Minister of State Security", in charge of coordinating intelligence services and rooting out enemies of the state, is normally associated with tyrannies such as China or the former East Germany. Now the UK wants one. I think this really speaks for itself about the direction Britain is heading in under Blair. All they need now is some black uniforms, and the transformation will be complete.

Easter trading bills back

Earlier this year, two Member's Bills addressing Easter trading were drawn from the ballot: Jacqui Dean's Easter Sunday Shop Trading Amendment Bill and Steve Chadwick's Shop Trading Hours Act Repeal (Easter Trading) Amendment Bill. The former would have added Wanaka and Tauranga to the list of districts allowed to trade over Easter, while the latter would allow communities to decide for themselves, but only addressed Easter Sunday. A second difference was that Chadwick's bill contained protections for workers similar to those in the original Shop Trading Hours Act Repeal Act 1990, while Dean's bill would have left workers significantly worse off than before (see the respective "In the ballot" posts here and here).

Both bills passed their first reading with significant majorities and were forwarded to the Commerce Committee. The committee considered the bills in tandem, and has now reported them back [PDF], recommending that both be passed. However, they've made some changes. Both bills now have extremely robust worker protection clauses ensuring that workers cannot be forced to work over Easter, or discriminated against if they refuse. The scope of Dean's bill has also been extended to include every local authority in the country; it is expected that those that want to will opt out, with an amendment passed during the bill's Committee Stage. Unfortunately, under Standing Order 288, the committee was unable to take the obvious step of merging the bills, or incorporating the clearly superior local consultation provisions from Chadwick's bill into Dean's - so now we have the worst of both worlds: a bill which allows communities to decide for themselves, but which only affects Easter Sunday, or one which affects both days but leaves the decision in the hands of local councils with no scope for public consultation before the bill reaches committee. Hopefully this will be able to be addressed by a Supplementary Order Paper during the committee stage, allowing the best parts to be passed as one bill.

The issue as far as I'm concerned is really public holidays; neither bill amends the Holidays Act 2003, so if shops open on Good Friday workers are entitled to time and a half and a day in lieu (and under the protection provisions, cannot be forced to work). Unfortunately, no such protection exists for Easter Sunday, it being seen as unnecessary when shops were forbidden to open. But if we're going to have Easter in the Holidays Act, while at the same time allowing shops to open if they're willing to properly compensate their workers, then it strikes me that Easter Sunday should be given the same protection and be listed in s44. This would be irrelevant to most workplaces, as offices tend not to operate on a Sunday anyway (the Holidays Act only grants a paid day off if it is a day that would otherwise be a working day) - but it would ensure a level playing field between the two days. The select committee considered a consequential amendment to the Holidays Act to be "beyond the scope of [the] bill[s]", and I'm not sure if an SOP can be put to propose it. But it would be IMHO an excellent solution.

The bills will get their Second Reading in late February.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

More petty authoritarianism

Christchurch City Council wants to enact a bylaw banning gang patches and colours and granting police the power to "arrest people hanging out in gangs in the city". Like Rotorua's plan to punish criminal offenders without trial using the Trespass Act, the move is driven by the police approaching the city council with a plan to limit freedoms, and as with Wanganui's similar efforts earlier in the year there are significant legal barriers. As Dean Knight pointed out in the Wanganui case, bylaws can only result in a fine, not arrest, while s155 (3) of the Local Government Act 2002 requires all bylaws to be consistent with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act. There are significant issues here with the BORA-affirmed freedoms of expression and association which mean that such a bylaw would be highly unlikely to survive a BORA challenge. Sadly, that doesn't seem to stop the police from trying.

I'll do some digging with the OIA and try and find out more about this. It will be interesting to see whether I get another phone call from the police as a result as well...

Pulling the plug in Canada?

At the beginning of the year, Canada's corruption-tainted Liberal party was defeated in a snap election, and replaced by a minority Conservative government. Now the party which props it up - the Bloc Quebecois - is threatening to pull the plug over Canada's commitment in Afghanistan, forcing another election. They've been there for five years, and seem to be achieving very little while facing an escalating death toll, and I can't exactly blame the Bloc for beginning to get uneasy and wanting to see some change in policy.

Any motion would be submitted in the new year, meaning an election around a year after the last one if the government falls.

The quid pro quo

This morning's Independent Financial Review reports that Don Brash was offered a significant diplomatic post in exchange for going quietly. "Significant" in this case means London or Washington, and Brash reportedly prefers the latter. So if National is elected, we can have Don making more promises to the Americans about how we'll get rid of our anti-nuclear policy. Quite a quid pro quo, neh?

The interesting question here is "who talked"? Did John Key use the same back channels he used to sink Brash to publicise the deal, allowing him to wiggle out of it and avoid the public odium of a transparently political appointment? Or did Brash's habit of bumbling strike again? Either way, now that it's been made public, it should be sunk. Jim Bolger had the foreign policy experience of being Prime Minister to back him up. Jonathan Hunt can at least hold a good party. But Brash was always a lightweight on foreign policy, and all he ever did was stick his foot in his mouth. That's not something we can afford in the case of a top diplomat.

Questions they won't ask you in an Australian citizenship test

John Howard wants to impose "citizenship tests" on new migrants to Australia, quizzing them on English-language and Australian history and values before granting them citizenship. This sort of exercise has a long history, dating back to the "White Australia" policy which held sway up until 1973, and it is primarily aimed at excluding the "wrong sort" (meaning "wrong colour") of immigrants. At the same time, its also aimed at propagating Australia's national myths, a false and sanitised version of its history. So here's a few questions they probably won't be asking.

  • Who discovered Australia?
  • Where was the first Australian settlement?
  • What proportion of Australia was originally owned by its indigenous peoples?
  • How many Aborigines did European colonists kill between 1770 and 1900?
  • What happened to the Aborigines of Tasmania?
  • When were Australian aborigines granted Australian citizenship?
  • When did Australian aborigines get the vote?
  • When was the last legal "abo hunt"?
  • What was the purpose of the policy of forcibly removing aboriginal children from their parents and giving them to white families?
  • How many aboriginal children were removed from their parents in this way?
  • When did the policy of forcibly splitting up aboriginal families officially end?
  • When is the "Day of Mourning"?
  • What is the common-law doctrine of "aboriginal title"?
  • What was Mabo v Queensland about?
  • Should land taken from aborigines be returned to its original owners?
  • Do Aborigines have an equal right to protection under the law as other Australians?
  • Do Aborigines have an equal right to education, healthcare and government services as other Australians?
  • Is it appropriate for the Australian government to spend only half as much per capita on healthcare and education for Aborigines as it does on other Australians?
  • How many Aborigines die in Australian jails each year?
  • Should the Australian government do anything about this?

And finally,

  • Should the Australian government say "sorry" for its treatment of its indigneous people?

Unfortunately, John Howard's answer to the latter is a firm "no".

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Something to go to in Wellington

Andrew Brettell is a video dude who creates award-winning video projections for New Zealand theatre (most recently for the plays Democracy and Dr Buller’s Birds). This weekend, he's "haunting" the historic Futuna Chapel in Karori with video projections of ghosts and stories from its past as an awareness-raiser for the Friends of Futuna Charitable Trust.

When: Friday December 15th - Sunday December 17th, 10am - 10pm
Where: Futuna Chapel, 62 Friend Street, Karori
How much: Free!

There's also a talk at 20:30 each evening from Nick Blake on the architecture of the chapel.

I'm in Wellington this weekend for a civil union picnic (new institutions means new ways of celebrating), so I might just go along.

Regrets, he's had a few

Don Brash gave his valedictory speech today, and in it he admitted to a few regrets about his time in Parliament. Sadly, crawling into bed with the Exclusive Brethren or systematically lying to the new Zealand public were not among them. Instead, he's sad that

"I never made it into government. I didn't change a single law."

Brash may regret that, but I for one don't. And I'm very glad to see the back of him. Hopefully with his departure National will finally admit that the New Zealand public do not want to restart the Revolution, and move on from the 90's.

Du Fresne on blogs

Karl du Fresne (the Dominion-Post's resident curmudgeon) takes aim at bloggers this morning, labelling the blogosphere as

barely literate rants written by angry, selfabsorbed no-hopers with too much time on their hands. They are often toxic, petty, juvenile and malicious.

Which is all too often an entirely correct description. Unfortunately, it's also an entirely correct description of du Fresne's regular column in the Dom-Post. The primary difference seems to be that he gets paid for it.

A closer look: the New Zealand Energy Strategy

I spent most of yesterday digesting the draft New Zealand Energy Strategy [PDF]. On a closer reading, my initial reaction may have been a little harsh. Overall, the strategy is excellent, but the lack of a firm policy for putting a price on emissions is more than a little disappointing.

The goal of the energy strategy is "a reliable and resilient system delivering New Zealand sustainable, low emissions energy". It aims to achieve this by laying out broad policy the government will follow in the energy sector. Obviously, its success or failure depends on whether that policy is implemented and funded by future governments.

The accompanying action plan is divided into seven sections:

  • Low-carbon transport: A key goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transport, while allowing an increase in demand. This seems contradictory, but it can be done by both higher efficiency vehicles and switching fuel types, to diesel and (most importantly) biofuels. There's also an emphasis on increased public transport funding, but it comes far behind fuel switching in terms of emissions reductions; instead its more of an investment in the future and ensuring that cities such as Auckland have the basic infrastructure expected of them.
  • Security of supply: This is mostly about ensuring that there is adequate dry-year backup and tinkering with the market structure. The good news is that investment in new generation is more than keeping pace with demand growth; the better news is that two-thirds of all new generation (and pretty much everything after 2007) is renewable. Interestingly, the table of new projects does not include the coal-fired Marsden B plant - does the government know something we don't?
  • Low emissions power and heat: otherwise known as "tackling climate change". There's a clear vision here for a move to a more sustainable energy system, with greater use of renewables and reduced use of fossil fuels (at least until carbon capture and storage is invented, however far away that might be). And there's no question that vision is achievable - we have more than enough potential for cheap renewables to see us through to 2030 (and much longer, if we can make a swift move to wave power), and wind and geothermal are already cheaper than coal and gas - something which will only be reinforced by the internalisation of carbon costs. But there's no concrete policy to make this happen; instead, the government lays out some principles to guide policy development (which basically amount to "policy should move us gradually towards a carbon market without putting electricity prices through the roof"), but punts the entire question to another round of consultation. This is more than a little frustrating. As I've noted previously, we have been circling around these issues for the last ten years. There are no new options in the accompanying Transitional Measures discussion paper [PDF]; every single one of them has been considered before (and often more than once). The problem is not in deciding what the best policy is - we know the answer to that question (short answer: carbon taxes or emissions trading, either works perfectly well, and if they're not politically achievable, regulations, renewable obligations and feed-in tariffs work well enough) - the problem is biting the bullet and actually implementing one. CP1 starts in a little over twelve months; this is not something we have time to piss about on.

    That said, it looks as if the government is moving to a narrow cap and trade regime for the electricity sector over CP1, and it seems to favour auctions over grandparenting. But there's no mention of sinking caps or other measures which would ensure a gradual shift towards carbon neutrality (in electricity generation) over the long-term. It's a glaring failure of vision at the heart of the policy, and one they should correct before finalising it.

  • Energy efficiency: This is being handled through the development of a replacement National Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy (the previous version of which promised too much and delivered too little, partly due to systematic government underfunding, and partly due to EECA following the government's lead in circling endlessly around known problems rather than actually doing anything about them). But there's also talk of further information and promotion campaigns. The big change, however, is a significant reduction in the discount rate used for energy efficiency projects, which will result in more getting government funding.
  • Sustainable technology: Basically a research roadmap, laying out what avenues we should be pursuing domestically, what we should be keeping a close eye on overseas (CCS), and what we should ignore (nuclear). The headline policy is $8 million over four years for research into marine energy, which has significant potential in New Zealand. That should be enough to map the resource and run some trial projects; hopefully it will be enough to ensure early uptake as the technology matures. And if the government retains a projects mechanism (one option they are considering to reduce greenhouse gas emissions) we may be able to use it to kick-start wave power in the same way that it has already kick-started wind.
  • Affordability: Not much here, given that we have a market-based system where prices are set by market forces rather than centrally by the government. The key measure here is targeting energy efficiency programmes at low-income households, achieving both energy savings and reducing the impact of increases in electricity prices.

So overall a solid document, if frustrating on the climate change front. And while National is (predictably) criticising it as more hot air, its worth noting that their "plan" for the energy sector is to leave everything for the market to work out - which isn't much of a plan at all.

You can submit on this thing, and I suggest that everyone who wants to see a greener future does. I will be stressing the need for steady increases in the biofuels obligation, and a "sinking cap" on electricity sector greenhouse gas emissions. Submissions are due by 30th March.

Hardcopies of the Energy Strategy can be requested here.

Monday, December 11, 2006

New Fisk

Revolution in the air as Lebanon's rift widens

First thoughts on the New Zealand Energy Strategy

The government has released its draft New Zealand Energy Strategy, Powering Our Future – Towards a Sustainable Low Emissions Energy System [PDF]. It will take a while to fully digest, but an initial skim suggests that its not the silver bullet for climate change that was expected. It has some welcome suggestions around biofuels and the promotion of wave power, but no specific measures to reduce electricity sector emissions. Rather, it "lays out a pathway" for carbon costs to be fully internalised, at a rate no faster than our competitors. As the Sustainable Energy Forum notes, this is a cloudy vision indeed, and it seems likely to result in another decade of foot-dragging on climate change, with emissions continuing to rise as generators dump their costs on wider society.

I'll post more on this when I've given it a thorough going over. But at first glance, it doesn't really measure up.

Fiji: crushing dissent

The Fijian military has started crasking down on opposition, with those who speak out for democracy being taken to the military barracks by armed soldiers:

"When we hear or it is reported that some individual is attempting to make some statement that we see as inciting or could create problems, we will call the individuals in and speak to them," said Maj Neumi Leweni, a military spokesman.

He said those who refused to go voluntarily would be "persuaded by other means".

FijiLive reports that some taken in by soldiers have been threatened, abused, and "told to do press-ups and made to round around a rugby field". Others, particularly human rights advocates, have received threatening phone calls, apparently from soldiers. Meanwhile, soldiers have broken into the "democracy shrine" in Suva and demolished its placards. I guess they didn't like the message it was sending.

Pinochet escapes justice

Chile's former dictator Augusto Pinochet is dead. I can't say I'm unhappy about it. He was a torturer and a murderer, responsible for the disappearance, torture and murder of over 3,000 Chileans - including the father of Chile's current President. The only thing that annoys me is that he died before he could be convicted for his crimes.

Update: Forme British PM Margaret Thatcher is "greatly saddened". I guess that tells us everything we need to know about her.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Winning hearts and minds II

While the British are wining hearts and minds in Afghanistan, they're also trying hard to do it at home, with Prime Minister Tony Blair telling Muslims

"Our tolerance is part of what makes Britain, Britain. Conform to it; or don't come here."

As usual, the irony of the statement seemed completely lost on him.

But apart from the irony and hypocrisy on display here - Like Don Brash, Blair is quite happy to tolerate the intolerant, provided they are white or Christian - this sends a clear message to British Muslims: that they are not and can never be truly British. When combined with a program of sackings and discrimination, it's a great way to win hearts and minds...

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Winning hearts and minds I

The British appear to be learning some bad lessons from the Americans. A British convoy in Kandahar was hit by a suicide bomber last weekend, and British troops responded by firing indiscriminately into the crowd, killing two and wounding five. These, remember, are the people they are supposed to be in Afghanistan to protect; now they're being gunned by trigger-happy goons who don't seem to be too picky about distinguishing between civilians and combatants, or who just see all Afghans as subhuman enemies.

But it's worse than a crime - it's also a mistake. Fighting terrorism is fundamentally about winning hearts and minds, persuading people that the occupiers are their friends and that they should report suspicious behaviour and not provide support for insurgents. The trigger-happy response of those soldiers has just ensured that the friends and family of those they shot at will be that much more inclined to look the other way next time someone wants to take a shot at the British, if not actively support the Taleban or other guerrilla groups. If they're trying to lose the "war on terror" and ensure that Afghanistan becomes another Iraq, then this is the way to go about it.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Why Iraq is a disaster

Why has Iraq turned into a disaster? There's all sorts of reasons - my favourite being that it was a bad idea to go there in the first place - but one thing that isn't helping is the insular mindset of President Bush and his contemptuous disdain for accurate intelligence reports. Salon's Sidney Blumenthal gives the example of the CIA's Baghdad station chief who briefed the President on the growth of the insurgency and predicted that the US would suffer more than 2,000 dead (currently the total is 2,918). The reaction was predicatable: the man was called a "defeatist" and reassigned. But it gets worse. Much worse:

[O]n Dec. 17, 2004, Col. Derek Harvey, the Defense Intelligence Agency's senior intelligence officer for Iraq, was ushered into the Oval Office. Harvey, who had "conversed repeatedly with insurgents, and had developed the belief that the U.S. intelligence effort there was deeply flawed," according to Thomas Ricks in "Fiasco," briefed the president about the insurgency: "It's robust, it's well led, it's diverse. Absent some sort of reconciliation it's going to go on, and that risks a civil war. They have the means to fight this for a long time, and they have a different sense of time than we do, and are willing to fight. They have better intelligence than we do." Harvey also explained that foreign fighters, jihadists and al-Qaida were marginal elements. Ricks reported that after the briefing, Bush in his speeches still "would refer to setbacks only in vague terms."

But there is more to the story. A former high-ranking intelligence officer and close associate of Harvey's told me that during Harvey's briefing the president interrupted, turning to his aides to inquire, "Is this guy a Democrat?" Harvey's warnings, of course, were as thoroughly ignored as those of the CIA station chief.

(Emphasis added)

So, in Bush's eyes, anyone bringing bad news is a "defeatist", a Democrat, or worse. With a leader like this, its no wonder they're losing.

The problem with anti-terrorism laws

Aussie anti-war activist accused of terrorism

That's right - being a bog-standard student activist makes you a terrorist in the eyes of some, though fortunately not the Australian police.


Our ugly "provocation" defence has claimed another victim, with a man who beat his wife to death with a cricket bat in the belief that she was going to leave him for another being convicted of manslaughter rather than murder. The message the jury has sent is absolutely clear: that it is acceptable to kill your wife if the bitch was thinking of sleeping with someone else.

The phrasing is deliberate: it makes crystal clear the bigoted and backward attitudes protected by this law. The killer thought his partner was a posession, and he reacted to evidence she might not be with murderous rage.

In such circumstances, anger is understandable. But violence is inexcusable. Applying "provocation" in such cases essentially blames the victim for her own death, when the problem is clearly the killer's utter lack of self-control. Such people should not be rewarded in our legal system by having the seriousness of their crime diminished. Instead, it is time to ecrasez l'infame and repeal this atrocity, before it provides an excuse to any more murderers.

The fate of the Jedi

A couple of people were wondering what happened to the Jedi in the census religion stats. A story in the Dominion-Post has the answer:

And for those of you who were wondering what happened when you wrote down "Jedi", the cheeky reply was lumped into the "response outside scope" category.

However, census general manager Nancy McBeth told The Dominion Post there were more than 20,200 followers of the force - down from 54,000 in 2001.

No news on the Cthulhu cult, however.

Even less impressed

Six months ago, the government launched a review of the Immigration Act. I was not impressed with the proposals in the discussion document, and I am even less impressed with the government's decisions. Pretty much everything you need to know about it can be surmised from New Zealand First's reaction of calling it "a step in the right direction". While there is some good news, the control-freaks at Immigration got almost everything on their wishlist. And this will make our immigration system more vicious, more unfair, and more arbitrary, with less oversight, less accountability, and substantially greater potential for injustice.

First, the good news, such as it is: Firstly, the Convention Against Torture and ICCPR will be fully integrated into Immigration law (alongside the Refugee Convention), with explicit recognition of the ban on refoulement and deportation to torture or execution. However, the government will retain the option of deportation to a "safe" country when faced with having to protect someone they regard as "undesirable" - in other words, of wiping their hands of the obligations we have agreed to accept and dumping our problems on other countries. Clearly, the government is as committed to our fundamental human rights obligations as it is to our obligation to prosecute war criminals - i.e. not at all. Secondly, there will be no health exclusion in legislation. However, it will still remain in policy, and we will still turn away people on the grounds that they might be a "burden" on the health system, regardless of their merits or needs. Eve van Grafhorst must be turning in her grave. Thirdly, applicants must still be given reasons for decisions, and access to and a chance to respond to "potentially prejudicial information", as is required by the principles of natural justice. However, this is completely undermined by a decision to allow the use of classified information in immigration and deportation proceedings. While there are "safeguards", including non-classified summaries "if possible" and the use of "special advocates" to respond to classified evidence, these are not sufficient to ensure that classified "evidence" is properly tested, or that basic standards of justice and fairness are met - a fact which has caused British lawyers to refuse to serve as special advocates as they are forbidden from effectively representing their clients. This is one of the basic injustices of the Ahmed Zaoui case, and the government is now planning to inflict it upon even more people. Clearly, they've learned absolutely nothing from the whole saga.

And that's the good news, remember. The bad news is truly horrifying. Deportation thresholds will be lowered, and "permanent" residency retrospectively revocable on receipt of new information. Time-limits for appeals have been tightened, with a consequent undermining of justice and loss of accountability for decision making. The Chief Executive of the Department of Immigration - an unaccountable bureaucrat - will get a blank cheque to define search and entry powers through Order In Council - meaning that immigration officers could gain the power to kick in doors to look for suspected overstayers, without those powers being debated transparently in Parliament by representatives who can be held accountable through the electoral system. Detention periods will be increased, and judicial oversight decreased, solely for reasons of administrative convenience. Detention of refugee claimants will be permitted, and indefinite detention will be allowed where people refuse to cooperate in being deported back to torture and death (as in the case of Thomas Yadegary). Oh, and Immigration will get to run its own jails. No wonder New Zealand First is happy.

As a final note, the government wants to give the Department of Immigration the power to fingerprint New Zealand citizens at the border. So at some stage in the future, we could end up being fingerprinted (and having our fingerprints put on file, and shared with other agencies) not on being charged with a crime, but simply to re-enter our own country. This is simply grossly intrusive, and a violation of people's privacy. We don't allow the police to go around randomly fingerprinting people, and we shouldn't allow Immigration to do it either. International travel is not a crime, and kiwis taking overseas holidays should not be treated as criminals - no matter how convenient it is for the Immigration Service.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

New Fisk

The Roman Empire is falling - so it turns to Iran and Syria

Walking the talk

The Green Party has been pushing for the government to seriously address climate change for years. Now they're also walking the talk, paying out of their own pockets to offset the greenhouse gas emissions of their Parliamentary air travel. It's not total carbon neutrality - that's in the hands of Parliamentary Services anyway - but it is a start.

The question now is whether the government will follow suit. Reducing government emissions would be a strong symbolic move on the climate change front (not to mention having an actual impact). Will the government commit to a similar move, or will they continue to proclaim the need for action without taking any themselves?

Recommending (slow) withdrawal

The Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan panel chaired by Bush Senior consigliere James Baker and former Democrat Congressman Lee Hamilton has reported back. Their key finding is that the current US strategy of "staying the course" is not working, and that unless the US changes tack, Iraq will slide into chaos (that's funny; I thought it was there already). To prevent this, they recommend a switch from combat operations to supporting Iraqi troops - "Iraqification", in other words - and a withdrawal of most US combat forces by early 2008.

President Bush has said that he will take the report's advice "very seriously", but given that they are effectively asking him to admit that he made a mistake, I regard that as unlikely. Likewise, I don't expect the Bush administration to make more than token efforts to engage with Iraq's neighbours to find a solution. Besides which, contrary to the report's assessment, Iran does benefit from an unstable Iraq - or rather, they benefit from having America tied up and bleeding there. And as Simon Jenkins notes, they're happy to see the "Great Satan" drive himself to hell in a handcart.

So, in short, I don't expect this to result in any great policy change from the Bush Administration. The faith-based Presidency's solution to being in a hole is to keep on digging in an effort to prove their willpower, and it’s unlikely they'll start paying attention to reality any time soon.