Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Punishing the victim

When a woman goes to the police to report that they have been raped, you expect the police to investigate and ultimately arrest the perpetrator. In Florida last week, they arrested the victim instead:

A college student who told police that a man raped her was jailed for two days on an old warrant and was denied a dose of a morning-after contraceptive pill while in jail, her attorney said Tuesday.

The 21-year-old woman was released Monday only after attorney Vic Moore reported her plight to the local media.

"Shocked. Stunned. Outraged. I don't have words to describe it," Moore said. "She is not a victim of any one person. She is a victim of the system. There's just got to be some humanity involved when it's a victim of rape."

While she was behind bars, a jail worker refused to give her a second dose of the morning-after contraceptive pill because of the worker's religious convictions, Moore said.

The latter just adds insult to injury. Meanwhile, you have to wonder what sort of police force stops a rape investigation dead because the victim was in trouble with the law as a teenager. Aren't former criminals also entitled to the protection of the law? Or is this police force saying that anyone who has committed a crime, however minor or long ago, is an outlaw and able to be victimised at will?

[Hat tip: Talk Left]

Climate change: Time to wake up and smell the coffee

A Green party press release this morning alerted me to the fact that UK supermarket giant Tescos has committed to labelling the full carbon footprint of all their goods. This will start by labelling goods which are airfreighted, with more information being added as it becomes available. Phil Goff says that this won't hurt New Zealand exporters, and will benefit them in the long term as the total carbon cost of production is far lower here in New Zealand than it is in Europe, but I'm not so sure. The problem is that that long-term benefit depends crucially on reliable information on the carbon footprint of New Zealand goods becoming available. And if there's one thing New Zealand farmers are opposed to, it is measuring their carbon emissions. Currently, the government is working on a voluntary scheme, but according to my sources, farmers are virulently opposed to participating it for fear that the information will be used to make them pay the cost of their emissions in future. By their logic, if they don't measure it, they can't be taxed on it, and they can continue to dump their costs on the rest of society, just as they've always done. Unfortunately, this attitude may mean that they will find it increasingly difficult to sell their goods overseas to companies which demand such information.

Tesco's decision is a real "wake up and smell the coffee" moment for New Zealand farmers. If they continue to be obstructive Deniers, they will pay an economic price for it. It would be far better for them to take advantage of New Zealand's "clean and green" brand by measuring their emissions and promoting the fact that feeding cows grass and letting them live outdoors rather than in a heated barn means there is less carbon emitted per bottle of milk or block of cheese from New Zealand than there is in one from England or France. The facts are on their side; all they have to do is let them speak for themselves. The question is whether they can overcome their culture of Denial and leadership hostile to the idea of climate change in time to do this.

Some facts on the state of the nation

In response to John Key's speech about the "growing" underclass, the government has released some facts on the state of the nation. And they make a powerful case that his whole premise - that the number of those at the bottom of the heap is growing - is wrong. We have less unemployment, less child poverty, less crime, and greater access to education than we have had for a long time - and certainly far less than we had the last time National was in charge, when their policies combined to push all of these social indicators in the wrong direction. And how has this been achieved? The rebuilding of the welfare state and government services - the very things National will inevitably cut to give out tax cuts to their rich friends and backers.

Since I seem to be quoting Marx today, Groucho said

Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.

I think this applies perfectly to John Key.

The second time as farce

The US is set to present a dossier detailing Iranian influence over shi'ite groups in Iraq. But apart from the basic hypocrisy here - does a government which invaded and occupies a country to support its "national interest" really have any basis to complain when people use similar tactics against it? - this also reeks of the selective release of "evidence" that preceeded the Iraq war. There's the same reliance on exiles for "intelligence", and of course the same purpose: to whip up public support for war. All it needs is a "B-team" within the Pentagon to be shaping the evidence around the policy, and the sense of history repeating itself will be complete.

Marx famously said that history does repeat - the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. It looks like we are about to have the latter on our hands, unless we stand up and say "no".

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Key's "compassionate conservatism" isn't

John Key's speech today was full of ironies. Like for example the fact that here was a man talking about New Zealand's "underclass" to an audience who had paid $65 a head to chow down on Thai chicken salad and sip wine while making polite dinner conversation about their BMWs and stock portfolios and their latest housing market windfall to their rich friends. Or the fact that it was his own party which created that underclass with its savage spending cuts to welfare and state services in the early 90's, and that the current government has made enormous progress in shrinking it. Or indeed that the reason that his "poor boy made good" story was possible was because welfare levels were much higher in the 70's, and the state services which provide the opportunity vital to upward social mobility much more accessible to the poor than they are today.

Meanwhile, some are welcoming the speech as a sign that National has shifted to the centre. IMHO, this is a mistake. Because when you strip away the warm fuzzies and "compassionate conservative" talk of "opportunity" and "a fair go", Key is advocating exactly the same tired policies National was pushing in the 90's - and indeed the same policies Don Brash was pushing this time last year. Work for Dole, whose only effect is to stop people moving off benefits into real jobs. Privatising welfare, which led to underfunding and stretched social services. Demonising the poor, so that the rich don't have to feel guilty about the resulting mess, because "it's all their own fault". Any minute now, he'll be bringing back Jenny Shipley's Code of Family and Social Responsibility as well.

Key's "compassionate conservatism" isn't. Instead its the same old National beneficiary-bashing, sugar-coated in the hope that middle class voters will swallow it this time. Which suggests immediately the left's slogan for the next election: "don't get fooled again".

Mandatory disclaimer required

Yesterday saw open warfare in Iraq, with US forces reportedly killing 250 Sunni guerillas outside Najaf. Meanwhile, in the Independent, veteran reporter Patrick Cockburn has started attaching disclaimers to statements by US officials:

Statements by Iraqi and American officials are often highly propagandistic and exaggerate the other side's losses. The low casualties of the Iraqi army - three soldiers and five policemen killed - and the Americans can only be explained if the 'Soldiers of Heaven' were caught in the open by US air attack or many of those who died were civilians.

Clearly, Cockburn and his editors at least are sick of being used as a propaganda channel by a US military desperate to spin their excesses into signs of "victory". And until there's far more openness from the US about what is going on, such disclaimers seem perfectly justified.

Blair: soft on bigotry

The problem with Tony Blair is that he is very good at saying one thing while doing exactly the opposite. For example, take his position on the UK's Equality Act. After being forced to back away from plans to create an opt-out allowing Catholic bigots to discriminate against gays, Blair is talking tough, declaring that

"I start from a very firm foundation. There is no place in our society for discrimination."

Meanwhile, he is planning to create exactly such a place, by ensuring that the new regulations will contain a long "transitional period" for adoption agencies, allowing bigots to continue to discriminate until the end of 2008. And to avoid the embarassment of having his weak position strengthened in Parliament by his own backbench, he will not be allowing a free vote. There's no other wayto describe it: despite his tough talk, Blair is soft on bigotry.

Meanwhile, for the proponents of a religious exmption, there's this wonderful example of what this entails from a commenter on European Tribune:

I was listening to 'Any Answers' on Radio 4 earlier, which contained a contribution from a blind person who had been refused access to taxis and restaurants by Muslims because of her assistant dog.

That is now, apparently, and I think rightly, illegal. But I wonder how many of the discrimination-as-a-matter-of-conscience crowd would be willing to stand up and claim this form of exclusion to be just? Or is it only their religiously-inspired prejudices that deserve the protection of law?

I think the answer to the second question is obvious. This isn't about conscience; it's about bigotry, pure and simple.

Siriwan sues

Remember Sunan Siriwan? He was the Thai tiler who initially sparked allegations of corruption against Taito Phillip Field, after he supposedly did construction work on Field's house in Samoa in exchange for immigration assistance. Last year's Ingram Report [PDF] into Field's dealings found that the allegation could not be upheld, and that Siriwan had not been employed by Field, but by members of Field's family without his knowledge.

But that's not what Siriwan thinks. And after spending 16 months in Samoa tiling houses without being paid, he's suing Field for unpaid wages.

I know nothing about Samoan labour law, the level of any minimum wage there, what level of contractual formality is required for a relationship to be considered employment, and whether it is legal to pay people in food and board plus an irregular living allowance. But it is telling that he has chosen to sue Field rather than those named in the Ingram report as his "employers". He will have to present evidence in court that it was Field who ultimately directed his work for this to be upheld - which is exactly what Field doesn't want people in New Zealand to see.

If the suit is successful, it will be clear that Field is the exploitative, manipulative, self-interested person we thought him to be. Not to mention a liar, who misled Noel Ingram's inquiry to divert blame from himself. Even though his reputation is already mud, Field can't really afford this, so expect the suit to be settled quickly. Which may in fact be what Siriwan is hoping for...

Monday, January 29, 2007


Tony Blair reportedly wants to stay in office until July, declaring that he's not finished yet. Unfortunately for Blair, the UK's electoral watchdog, the Electoral Commission, disagrees, and is about to recommend that charges be laid against the Labour party over the cash-for-peerages scandal. While Blair is unlikely to be prosecuted himself, he is almost certain to be called as a witness if a case is brought, a move that will put the final nail in the coffin of his premiership. So, contrary to his assertion, he is finished. The only question is when he will admit it and make way for his inevitable successor.

Not Left

Ever since the Maori Party was formed, people on the left have been suspicious of where it stood. Are they generally left, or generally right? Results have so far been mixed - support for an increased minimum wage and the abolition of youth rates, votes both for and against Wayne Mapp's probationary employment bill - but I think Pita Sharples' support for Work for Dole provides a definitive answer. Over on Public Address, Tze Ming goes over the evidence showing that Work for Dole doesn't work - it actually decreases employment outcomes over the first year, and does nothing thereafter. But the purpose of Work for Dole was always ideological - to ensure that those shiftless layabouts on the unemployment benefit were properly punished for their misfortune in being victims of government-set monetary policy, not to help them find real work or a way out of poverty. Backing it marks the Maori Party as being definitively on the right and wanting to punish the poor, rather than help them.

Fortunately, being in Parliament also means being accountable to the electorate. I can't imagine this policy being palatable to the Maori Party's voters (too many of whom will remember unemployment in the 80's and 90's), and so hopefully they'll be forced to change their minds. Otherwise, they've just handed Labour a perfect stick to beat them with in the next election campaign.

Climate change: getting dangerous

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Fourth Assessment Report is due out on Friday - but the contents are already being widely leaked. And according to the summary in the Independent today, they're scary. The Third Assessment Report, released in 2001, predicted an average global temperature increase over the next century of between 1.4C and 5.8C, with considerable uncertainty about where in that range was most likely; now that has been narrowed to 2C to 4.5C, with increases of 6C or more unable to be ruled out. What this means is that we are almost certain to breach the 1.5C (2C over pre-industrial) threshhold that the EU considers to signify dangerous levels of climate change - unless we do something about it of course.

Meanwhile, it also puts the final nail in the coffin of the Deniers, stating that

Confidence in the assessment of the human contributions to recent climate change has increased considerably since the TAR [Third Assessment Report]

which was already pretty confident, and that the increase has occured when natural climate signals were very much pushing the other way. But overwhelming evidence hasn't silenced those who deny the reality of the Holocaust, and I doubt it will silence the similar cranks in the climate denial movement either.

A smokescreen

That's the US's latest "answer" to climate change - literally. Rather than focusing on emissions cuts and developing low emissions technology, they instead are urging scientists to investigate ways of blocking out incoming sunlight through orbiting mirrors, shiny balloons, and reflective aerosols. Anything so they can keep driving those gas-guzzling SUVs and keep the coal industry in business.

Theoretically, this solution is flawless: stop the heat reaching the Earth so it cannot be trapped. But there are two significant reasons why we should regard it as a completely mad scheme. Firstly, it is horribly risky - the difference between a temperate climate and an ice age is less than 1% of insolation, so if they overestimate, we might end up with a completely different sort of climate chaos. And secondly, such solutions are not without side effects. For example, reflective aerosols in the form of air pollution from the US and Europe have been linked to the devastating decade-long drought which affected Africa in the 70's and 80's and killed at least a million people. And America's "solution" is to do this again? It's a powerful illustration of their myopia and self-centredness.

Meanwhile, the US is also working hard to try and sabotage any binding post-Kyoto regime, demanding that the IPCC report remove language promoting Kyoto-style binding international emissions targets and instead pump up the "benefits" of voluntary schemes such as their AP6 coal club. I think this shows clearly that they are not seriously interested in doing anything about the problem, and instead simply want a license to continue polluting. But we successfully managed to bring Kyoto into force in the face of American opposition, and we will do it again if necessary. America will then have to decide whether it wants to be a part of the solution - or face having a carbon tax applied to its exports by those that are.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

New Fisk

World ignores signs of civil war in Lebanon

Justice for Mulrunji Doomadgee?

In 2004, Mulrunji Doomadgee died in police custody on Palm Island. His death at police hands led to a riot in which the police station and government buildings were burned to the ground. Now, over two years later, the police officer responsible for Doomadgee's death has finally been charged with manslaughter. And from the details of the officer's vicious assault (quoted here from an essay in The Monthly), it seems entirely appropriate:

Roy was sitting in the station’s yellow chair when Chris Hurley dragged Cameron Doomadgee into the hallway. Roy heard [’Mulrunji’] say, “I am innocent, don’t lock … Why should you lock me up?”

Chris dragged him in and he laid him down here and started kicking him. All I could see [was] the elbow gone down, up and down, like that … “Do you want more, Mister, Mr [’Mulrunji’]? Do you want more of these, eh, do you want more? You had enough?”

Roy’s view was partially obscured by a filing cabinet, but he could see [’Mulrunji’]’s legs sticking out. He could see the fist coming down, then up, then down: “I see knuckle closed.” Each time the fist descended he heard [’Mulrunji’] groan.

Cameron, he started kicking around and [called] “leave me go,” like that, “now”. “Leave me go – I’ll get up and walk.”

But Roy says Hurley did not stop:

Well, he tall, he tall, he tall, you know … just see the elbow going up and him down like that, you know, must have punched him pretty hard, didn’t he? Well, he was a sober man, and he was a drunken man.

Doomadgee was then dragged into the cells. Moments later, Chris Hurley came back and Roy saw him rubbing his chin. Hurley had a button undone. “Did he give you a good one?” Roy asked. “A helluva good one,” Hurley apparently replied. Then Hurley asked Roy if he had seen anything. Roy said no, and Hurley told him to leave. Roy went to get his social security cheque, along the way telling some friends, “Chris Hurley getting into [’Mulrunji’].” They told him, “Go tell someone, tell the Justice Group.” But none of them did anything. They went on drinking.

The cell’s surveillance tape shows [’Mulrunji’] writhing on a concrete floor, trying to find a comfortable position in which to die. He can be heard calling, “Help Me!” Another man, paralytic with drink, feebly pats his head. Before he dies [’Mulrunji’] rolls closer to the man, perhaps for warmth or comfort. The camera is installed in a high corner, and, from this angle, when Hurley and another police officer walk in they look enormous. The officer kicks at [’Mulrunji’] a few times – later referred to as “an arousal technique” – then leans over him, realising he is dead. At 11.22 am Senior Sergeant Hurley called an ambulance. Three minutes later the ambulance arrived and paramedics determined that [’Mulrunji’] had been dead for at least twenty minutes. The tape records Hurley sliding down the cell wall with his head in his hands. [’Mulrunji’], it would turn out, had a black eye, four broken ribs and a liver almost cleaved in two. His injuries were so severe that even with instant medical attention he was unlikely to have survived.

(Original emphasis).

Meanwhile, Queensland Police are outraged that one of their own could be facing charges, and threatening to strike. Apparently, they think that beating prisoners to death in the cells is part and parcel of the job, and that if the prosecution is successful, they'll have to stop doing it. Which is rather revealing of their attitude towards both the law, and the people they are supposed to be protecting.

Unfortunately, I don't have much faith that this will lead to justice. The Queensland Department of Public Prosecutions is simply not interested in holding the police to account - they originally refused to lay charges, and this decision has been taken only after a review by an out-of-state judge - so they are unlikely to put much effort into it in the courtroom. And of course the trial will be held in Brisbane, in front of an all-white jury, who are unlikely to care too much about the death of an aboriginal man. So, I expect the officer to be acquitted, and justice to be once again denied. But I hope to be pleasantly surprised.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

New kiwi blog

Single Malt Social Democrat (as opposed to a "Chardonnay Socialist")

[Hat tip: Red in Roskill]

Friday, January 26, 2007

New Fisk

Money can't close the sectarian divide in Lebanon

Electoral fraud in the US

Everyone knows about the controversy over the 2000 US Presidential Election in Florida. But there were also concerns about the 2004 election, particularly in Ohio where Secretary of State Ken Blackwell filled multiple roles as the ultimate arbitrer of electoral processes, co-chair of the "Committee to re-elect George W. Bush", and Republican Gubnetorial candidate. These concerns have received little media coverage. And then you read something like this:

Two election workers were convicted Wednesday of rigging a recount of the 2004 presidential election to avoid a more thorough review in Ohio’s most populous county.

Jacqueline Maiden, elections coordinator of the Cuyahoga County Elections Board, and ballot manager Kathleen Dreamer each were convicted of a felony count of negligent misconduct of an elections employee. They also were convicted of one misdemeanor count each of failure of elections employees to perform their duty.

Prosecutors accused Maiden and Dreamer of secretly reviewing preselected ballots before a public recount on Dec. 16, 2004. They worked behind closed doors for three days to pick ballots they knew would not cause discrepancies when checked by hand, prosecutors said.


Ohio gave President Bush the electoral votes he needed to defeat Democratic Sen. John Kerry in the close election and hold on to the White House in 2004.

The prosecution stuck to what could be proved, and did not claim that this affected the outcome of the election. But thanks to these people, we'll never know. It's a clear example of how the US can't run an election properly, and why their practice of having partisans in charge of electoral arrangements at every level has to end.

Parliament moves into the 21st century

One of the things I do here is encourage people to participate in their government by submitting on legislation. It's quite easy to do this - write a letter saying "I support / oppose this bill" and give reasons why - but now Parliament is making it even easier. The Commerce and Justice and Electoral Committees are piloting a new system for making submissions electronically. So now rather than having to print 20 copies of your letter and post them, you will be able to submit simply by filling out an online form and uploading a file.

Unfortunately, there's still no easy way of getting round having to write the submission in the first place - which is the primary reason why I fail to submit.

Fiji: "inciteful"

The Fijian military is currently hunting for pro-democracy activist Laisa Digitaki over an "inciteful" statement she made regarding her detention in December. The statement is an account of the abuse and beating received at the hands of the military's thugs - and it is harrowing reading:

The soldier made some calls on his walkie talkie. He than advised me to run with him to a place he called the officer's mass which was about I00meters away from the guardhouse. He led me to this semi open hall which was in total darkness. As we entered I noticed the silhouette of I person standing in the hall which turned out to be Virisila Buadromo. As I moved closer to talk to her, I heard a man's voice call out that Virisila move some I0 meters away from me. I saw another silhouette of a man standing across the hall from me. I could not see their faces as it was very dark.


One of them moved closer to me, he would be the same height as me but with a bigger and firmer built. He wore a hat pulled down to about eye level but I couldn't make out who he was as it was too dark. His voice sounded familiar to that of Pita Driti. He lifted his arm and cocked a hand gun on my face and asked me whether I knew that sound. I answered that I did. I could see the silhouette of the hand gun from the spec of light from a far off tube light at the top left hand corner of the building we were in. He then ordered me to sit on the floor at the spot where I was standing.


After being interrogated for about 30 minutes, we were then ordered to run to the ground directly opposite the officer's mass. We were led down the road onto the steps to the ground up to a cement pitch which I presume is the cricket pitch. We were told to lie face down with our arms beside us and chin up. One of the soldiers asked me whether I was pregnant of which I said I was not sure. A pair of boots immediately jumped onto my lower and middle back and bounced on it for a few seconds.

The soldiers started calling us names and were swearing at us. One of them walked to our faces and told us to kiss his boots which we did. One of the soldiers started accusing me personally and mentioned Naisoro (a friend and colleague during the SIDL election campaign), Chang (a friend and a business client of my PR company) and Weleilakeba (my ex?husband and now a live?in partner) and asked, "so how many other men have you f*&*ed? He accused me of stealing money from Chang and blamed me for corruption. I could feel boots running over my body followed by kicks on my sides and slaps on my face. Another soldier slammed my neck and than my face against the cement with his boots. I turned my head to the right in pain while he trembled my face on the ground causing my cheek to graze against the cement ground. I felt a toad placed between my thighs and I heard a soldier say that a toad be given to Virisila to hold. She was lying face down next to me on my right and Imraz on my left. Imraz was then told to crawl a distance forward and back again while they kicked him.

(Emphasis added; reformatted for space)

If this is inciteful, then it damn well ought to be. The soldiers responsible for this should be facing criminal charges of assault and threatening to kill. Instead, they have been granted impunity.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

A victory for equality in Britain

Earlier in the month, Britain's House of Lords passed the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland), forbidding discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in Northern Ireland. This week, the UK cabinet has been wrestling with a similar provision for the rest of the UK. The Catholic Church - backed by the Prime Minister and Equality Minister Ruth Kelly - wanted a special exemption for Catholic Adoption Agencies to allow them to continue to turn away gay couples as adoptive parents. Today, their proposal was rejected by cabinet. And so it should have been - these agencies receive public money to operate a public service. To allow them to use this money in a bigoted manner would be simply intolerable in a modern, secular society. As Polly Toynbee said earlier,

public services paid for out of general taxes can't be held to ransom by the weird sexual fantasies of unelected service providers

The debate is now about how long they will have to either accept the law or close down. But despite the latter being threatened by church authorities, it is not much of a threat - Catholic agencies handle a mere 4% of adoptions, and it seems likely that many will simply secularise and continue their work, rather than close their doors. Meanwhile, the British churches have once again exposed themselves as havens of homophobic bigots (the Archbishop of Canterbury's betrayal here is particularly nauseating). Is it any wonder that most UKanians now think they're toxic?

As for Ruth Kelly, she has shown conclusively through her advocacy for bigotry that her private religious beliefs are incompatible with her duties as Minister for Equality. She should resign.

Taito Phillip Field and the right to silence

So, suspended Labour MP Taito Phillip Field is now refusing to be interviewed by the police. National is of course outraged, and trying to blame Helen Clark for it (of course. As opposition, they'd blame the government for the weather if they thought it would stick). Meanwhile, since it has so obviously slipped John Key's mind, I thought I'd remind people again: we have a right to silence in this country, and no-one, no matter who they are or what they are accused of, has to talk to the police. As the subject of a criminal investigation, Field is merely exercising that right - a right which exists to protect people from abuses of power and society from a police force which forces "confessions" - and he has every right to do so.

Meanwhile, I'm sure that Key's statement that "If Mr Field has nothing to hide, he would have no problem speaking to the police" will be very useful to Field's lawyer if he is every prosecuted, in arguing that he cannot possibly receive a fair trial due to widespread pronouncements from authority figures and assumptions about his guilt.

From what we've already seen about Field, we can conclude that he's not fit to be in Parliament. But it would be better for politicians to stand back and let the police conduct their investigation, rather than wading in and potentially undermining both it, and our human rights.

New Fisk

Opposition demonstrations turn Beirut into a violent sectarian battleground
Hizbollah warn that Lebanon will see more violence

Fiji: suppressing the truth

According to Fiji Live, the Fijian military has started a manhunt for pro-democracy activists Angie Heffernan and Laisa Digitaki. I am not sure about Heffernan, but Digitaki was one of those responsible for the "democracy shrine" in Suva during the coup; as a result she was subjected to Gestapo tactics, dragged from her home in the middle of the night and assaulted and abused by soldiers. According to the army, she has made "inciteful statements", but a later article gives more details:

It is understood the military wants Digitaki because of an emailed statement explaining in detail her interrogation at the Queen Elizabeth Barracks last year.


According to the source, the military was not happy that [Military Land Force Commander Colonel Pita] Driti's name had been mentioned in the statement.

So, telling people what the army does to people and naming those responsible is now apparently a "crime" in Fiji - at least in the military's eyes.

Bush's lead balloon

Yesterday, in his State of the Union speech, US President George Bush begged Congress to "give him a chance" on Iraq. Unfortunately for him, it seems to have gone down like a lead balloon, with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee immediately declaring that the escalation of the Iraq war was "not in the national interest". The full Senate is likely to confirm the committee's judgement next week, and while it will have no legal effect, it will be a powerful slap in the face to the President, and a strong symbol of his new lame duck status.

The question is whether Congress will feel the need to take stronger action, such as refusing to fund additional troop deployments. At the moment the Democrats are still cautiously assessing the public mood - but I think they are likely if anything to get bolder in the coming months as the war continues to pointlessly drag on.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Fiji: the oppression continues

On Monday, in an interview with Radio New Zealand, Fijian constitutional lawyer Richard Naidu accused the Fijian military of interfering with the judiciary and Fiji's President of being a military puppet. Last night, he was detained by the military for his comments. He has since been released after intervention by the Human Rights Commission and the Attorney-General, but the mesage is clear: the military will not tolerate people criticising or questioning its rule - a fundamental right in a democratic society.

Meanwhile, there's some unintentional irony in FijiLive's misspelling of a military spokesman's claim that Naidu was detained because his comments were

insightful [sic] against public order and simply disrespectful of a person who has shown wisdom.

Clearly, insight into the true nature of the military regime is a crime.

Where do you stand on Australian politics?

The Oz politics blog has a nifty political test here, which maps answers to the positions of the various Australian political parties. It should come as no surprise that, were I in Australia, I would likely vote Green or Democrat - or that I come out as 94% opposed to "traditional values". And they didn't even ask me about flag-burning...

It would be nice to see a New Zealand version of this, though Australia is fairly close in some respects, and at least its different from the traditional Americentrism of such tests.

Not-so-new Fisk

Fear climate change, not our enemies

Shorter New Zealand Pacific Business Council

"Fuck the morals, does it make any money?"

And businessmen wonder why people think they are sociopaths...

No freedom to criticise CYFS

It should come as no surprise that people hate CYFS. Any organisation which separates parents from their children, however justified, is going to attract a fair amount of strong feeling - even if they had a perfect record and their interventions were never based on vicious smears by ex-partners, and never resulted in tragedy. Being composed of fallible human beings, working in often very murky situations and against the backdrop of a society which will not tolerate children being left in reportedly abusive households (which in turn promotes a "better safe than sorry" attitude), CYFS' record is far from perfect - which hardly encourages those they deal with to like them. Apparently, though, people aren't allowed to express this hatred or criticise their actions on the internet. The Ministry of Social Development's response to the CYFSWatch blog, which provides an anonymous platform for people to recount their bad experiences with CYFS, and "names and shames" the social workers involved, is simple: lawyers have been instructed to

do whatever is necessary to get rid of this website

In a democratic society, this response is simply chilling.

A comparison with the (now departed) RedWatch is appropriate here. RedWatch was a neo-Nazi site established to "build a catalogue of information and pictures of the Left" - including names, addresses, phone numbers, and pictures of where people live. The purpose was clearly intimidation and to encourage violence against those listed on the basis of their political beliefs. However, while its content was vile and its purpose clear, it stopped short of criminal incitement, and no specific crimes were linked to the site (unlike the UK version).

Compared to this, CYFSWatch doesn't even come close. Oh, its abusive and defamatory, but it doesn't encourage violence to anything like the same degree as RedWatch. And while it has threatened to publish addresses, it doesn't seem to have posted photos of people's homes, partners and pets. While its content was loathsome, there was no justification to close RedWatch down, and the same is even more true in this case. I may not like it - but people I don't like are as free to speak as those I do. And in a free and democratic society, that is something the government should remember.

As for the defamation angle, CYFS or those named can of course try suing - but I expect they will quickly learn the joys of the internet. We have a free market in legal jurisdiction now, and this provides a great deal of insulation from legal action. More importantly, even if a site can be taken down, the "victory" may only be temporary, as it can easily be put back up elsewhere, usually within a day. The government can try playing whack-a-mole with CYFSWatch, but this will simply make them look thuggish and stupid. A better response would simply be to ignore it, and accept the fact that in this day and age, they cannot stop people from saying bad things about them.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

A "war on terror" is no excuse for murder

Fifteen years ago, the UK was engaged in its own "war on terror", in Northern Ireland. Republican and Loyalist militias were engaged in murder and terrorism in pursuit of their respective political goals of a united and divided Ireland, with the British supposedly caught in the middle trying to keep the peace. Except it turns out that they weren't "caught in the middle", or trying to keep the peace - rather, they were colluding with the violent terrorists of the Ulster Volunteer Force to cover up at least a dozen sectarian murders, as well as assaults, "punishment shootings", extortion, drug dealing, and terrorism. In other words, they were running a death squad. And now they've been found out, the best they can come up with is to say that

[have] always acted in the best interests of the pursuit of justice and [have] nothing to be ashamed of.

Which sounds an awful lot like General Pinochet, doesn't it?

What's frightening is that far too many of the people involved in this are still working in the RUC, and one is even heading the UK's Inspectorate of Constabulary, tasked with maintaining police standards. I'm sure he'll be doing a great job.

No-one who would look the other way on murder or serious crime is a fit member of any police force. Those still in law enforcement should be fired, and then, where there is sufficient evidence, they should be prosecuted for perverting the course of justice and as accessories to murder. Because if the police can't police themselves properly, then they sure as hell can't be trusted to police anyone else. In the meantime, there's a lesson here for those governments currently engaged in America's "war on terror" about the moral corruption such crusades lead to, and the need for those involved to be fully accountable and maintain a proper respect for human rights. Not even a "war on terror" is an excuse for murder, and those who think it is simply end up feeding the very beast they pretend to be fighting.

World to US: "you suck"

At least according to this international poll by the BBC World Service. The interesting thing is that an increasing number of Americans are beginning to agree, with the number of Americans who believe their country is having a positive influence on the world dropping to 57% - six points down on last year, and 14 points down on two years ago. Globally, the only continent the US seems to have friends is Africa - mainly because they haven't bombed anyone there recently (the survey was taken before the US's recent attacks on Somalia). Everywhere else the prevailing opinion (with the odd exception like Italy and the Philippines) is negative. Even their loyal toadies the Australians don't like the direction things have gone in or the messes they have been dragged into - which will hopefully spell trouble for John Howard later in the year.

The full survey results are here [PDF].

Fiji: Impunity and incitement

So, Fiji's President has promulgated a decree granting full and unconditional immunity from criminal, civil and professional proceedings to Commodore Bainimarama, his troops, and all acting under his direction over the last month. While there is provision for compensation, this is solely at the discretion of the state and not awardable by the courts. What this means in English is that the soldiers who have detained, beaten, and abused people, and the officers who gave the orders, will get away with it. In one case, this means getting away with murder.

The deep hypocrisy here should be obvious. One of the "justifications" for the coup was the threat that the elected Qarase government might grant an amnesty to those involved in the 2000 coup. Now Bainimarama is doing exactly the same thing. Does that mean people would be justified in overthrowing him too?

Meanwhile, the Army has warned that it considers demanding respect for human rights to be "incitement", and those doing so will be dealt with accordingly (how - by being dragged to barracks and beaten by soldiers with impunity for their actions?). And the "interim" government is declaring that it may remain in power for up to five years. That's five years of rule by decree, without any form of electoral mandate or accountability to the people. And they think that this will strengthen Fiji's democracy?

Friday, January 19, 2007


Up in Auckland, people are buggering off for the Big Day Out, gathering in their thousands to (to paraphrase Russell) conduct themselves in a depraved fashion for hours to the accompaniment of the Devil's music. Meanwhile, I'm off to Wellington, to gather with other geeks in our hundred (or so), to play the Devil's games with the assistance of funny-shaped dice.

Back Monday.

Comet madness

In 1910, the appearance of Halley's Comet led to an outbreak of popular fear. Astronomers had recently discovered that the comet's tail contained the deadly gas cyanogen - and the earth was expected to pass right through it. People fearing cyanide poisoning bought gas masks and "comet pills" to protect themselves. Of course, nobody died (well, possibly someone choked on one of them).

Today, we have our own madness over Comet Mcnaught, with it variously being mistaken for a "an object falling from the sky" and a plane on fire - leading to calls to the fire service and police. You'd think the fact that it wasn't moving might signal to people that it wasn't anything of the sort - but apparently not.

Meanwhile, I've finally seen it (despite the clouds), and it is indeed magnificant. Halley in 1986 was just a fuzzy blob, wheras McNaught is quite spectacular. It's not a patch though on some of the Great Comets I've been reading about, which had tails stretching 90 degrees or more across the sky. Something that big and bright seems to come along every 25 years or so, so there's a good chance that I'll be able to see one in my lifetime.

A clear message

Something else caught my eye in the furore over Sheik Feiz Mohammed: Australian opposition leader Kevin Rudd's comment that

I would say this to Sheik Mohammed: 'Do not return to Australia, you are not welcome here.'

But Mohammed was born in Sydney, making him as Australian as Rudd himself.

Rudd would never dream of saying the same to, say, an Aussie skinhead who made similar comments about Jews - but he feels that it is perfectly appropriate to tell a Muslim Australian that they are not welcome in their own country. The message couldn't be clearer: in his eyes, Muslims are not real Australians and can never truly belong there. And what worries me is that far too many Australians apparently feel the same way...

Sheik Feiz Mohammed and freedom of speech

The Australian press is in an uproar over DVDs of sermons by Sydney Muslim leader Sheik Feiz Mohammed in which he refers to Jews as pigs and argues that young Muslims should be taught the virtues of jihad. The police are investigating, and there is some chance Mohammed will become the first victim of Australia's new sedition laws. This would be both a gross affront to freedom of speech, and a terrible mistake.

There is an obvious comparison with Holocaust-denier David Irving here. Irving was a jerk, a fraud, and an anti-semite - but prosecuting him turned him into a martyr for freedom of speech, and gave his views far more prominence and credibility than they deserved. Prosecuting Mohammed is likely to do the same, with the added bonus of symbolising Australia's hatred of Muslims - something which is not exactly going to help in the battle for "hearts and minds".

Freedom of speech cuts both ways, and applies to views you don't like as well as those you do. Sheik Mohammed's views are vile and hateful, but they do not in and of themselves harm anyone. They are offensive, but giving offence is not harm. In the nineteenth century, the great liberal John Stuart Mill argued forcefully that

the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection

In cases involving speech, this is traditionally interpreted as "shouting fire in a crowded theatre". Sheik Mohammed's words simply do not reach that threshold. If people do not like what he is saying, then they have a simple response: argue with him. But there is no justification in a liberal society to ban his words or punish him for them.

Sedition in Tonga

Last week, Tongan police arrested pro-democracy MP 'Isileli Pulu over last year's riots in Nuku'alofa. Today, they also arrested ‘Akilisi Pohiva, the leader of Tonga's pro-democracy movement. The charges Pohiva faces are unclear, but are likely to be similar to those faced by Pulu: sedition, abetting wilful damage, and (according to some sources) murder. The latter carries a mandatory death sentence in Tonga - which is exactly what some among the Tongan aristocracy think should happen to "dirt eaters" who get uppity.

Tonga's sedition law mirrors New Zealand's. Section 47(1) of Tonga's Criminal Offences Act imposes a 7 year jail term for the speaking or publication of words expressing a seditious intention. Section 48 defines a seditious intention as an intention

(a) to excite disaffection against the King of Tonga or against the Parliament or Government of Tonga;

(b) to excite such hostility or ill-will between different classes of the inhabitants of the Kingdom as may be injurious to the public welfare;

(c) to incite, encourage or procure violence, disorder or resistance to law or lawlessness in the Kingdom;

(d) to procure otherwise than by lawful means the alteration of any matter affecting the Constitution, Laws or Government of the Kingdom.

Unlike New Zealand, there is no "good faith" defence, and in the past the law has been used against the Taimi 'o Tonga newspaper for its criticism of official corruption.

It is unclear exactly what Pulu or Pohiva are alleged to have said, but as in the Selwyn case I take issue with the very idea of a sedition charge. If they incited a riot, wilful damage, or murder, they should of course be charged with it. But no-one should be held criminally liable for saying (however forcefully) that the current political situation is unacceptable and calling for change.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Fiji: defying the courts

One of the big questions about Fiji is what the military and interim regime will do if the courts rule that their appointment was illegal (as they are likely to do if anyone challenges it - as Qarase is expected to this afternoon). Unfortunately there's a foretaste in the treatment of Fiji Sugar Cane Growers Council chief executive, Jagannath Sami. Sami was purportedly sacked by the military in the aftermath of the coup, but challenged his dismissal in court. Yesterday, the High Court in Lautoka ordered that he be reinstated pending a full hearing into the situation next week, but he was stopped from returning to work by soldiers. Sami then gained an interim order barring the military from threatening, annoying, or harassing him or council staff. The military responded this morning by sending armed soldiers to detain him, despite the assurances of the interim Attourney-General that the court orders would be respected. The upshot seems to be that despite the purported return to civilian rule, the military is still firmly in charge, and will abrogate the rule of law when it suits them.

Update: It gets worse: Sami has reportedly been rushed to hospital after he "fell" while in military custody. These people are thugs, pure and simple.

The cost of Iraq

How much has the Iraq war cost? When the war began, the White House famously downplayed estimates that it could cost up to US$50 billion, saying that it was impossible to tell what the ultimate cost could be. That was of course when they thought it would be in, out, and home by Christmas. The reality has turned out rather differently, and the cost has ballooned - to well over a trillion dollars. US$700 billion of that is the direct cost of salaries, fuel, and ammunition, and the rest - different amounts, depending on how much you ask, but probably another US$500 billion - covers things like the extra medical care required for crippled veterans, replacing the equipment and people squandered in Bush's mad crusade, and (in some estimates) the cost of higher oil prices. No efforts are made to put a price on the 3000 dead soldiers - let alone the estimated 655,000 dead Iraqis.

This points out a flaw in the analysis: that it looks only at costs to America. But while they're paying the bills, it is Iraqis who have paid the price, both in shattered lives and a shattered country.

The New York Times attempts to put the cost of the war in context by comparing it to the cost of domestic spending programmes in the US. Instead of a US$200 billion a year war, the US could have had universal healthcare, universal preschooling, implemented the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission for better port security - and still had the paltry US$0.6 billion a year left over to immunise every child in the world against measles, whooping cough, tetanus, tuberculosis, polio and diphtheria. But this war was ostensibly fought for the benefit of Iraqis, not Americans - so what would it mean to them? And here it gets truly horrifying: the US$200 billion estimated annual cost of the war is five times Iraq's pre-war GDP. If doled out on a per-capita basis, it would have raised per-capita incomes from the pre-war realm of Togo and Nepal to the not-too-shabby (on a global scale) ballpark of Eastern Europe and Chile. If invested in a development program, it would have been bigger than the Marshall Plan, and laid the foundation for a massive and long-term lifting of Iraqi living standards. In short, if the US wanted a democratic beacon in the Middle East to showcase the benefits of western society, they could have just bought one. Instead, they decided it was better value for money to kill people - and spend well over a million dollars per corpse doing it.

Carnival of the Liberals

The 30th Carnival of the Liberals is now up at Shakespeare's Sister.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Eroding justice in the UK

Two years ago, the British government introduced a system of control orders, allowing them to restrict the freedom of movement, speech or association of suspected terrorists, or even place them under house arrest, all with the flick of a minister's pen. One of the arguments against this move was that it circumvented the vital protections of independent review before a judge and jury. Another was that this erosion of fundamental human rights would not long be restricted to suspected terrorists, but would inevitably be extended into other parts of the criminal justice system. Sadly, it seems these fears are about to be realised. The government's new Serious Crime Bill includes a control order-style system for suspected criminals, allowing a court to restrict the movements, business, associations, or access to banking services or the internet of anyone found to be acting in a way which helps or is likely to help a serious crime. As a civil order, the standard of proof would be a "balance of probabilities" rather than the criminal "beyond reasonable doubt" - meaning that people could find their liberties significantly restricted on the grounds that they are "probably" criminals.

This is simply monstrous. The orders would effectively impose criminal sanctions on a civil standard of proof, and it is difficult to see them as anything other than an attempt by a party desperate to be seen to be "doing something" to circumvent the safeguards built into the criminal justice system. But as I have said before, those safeguards exist for very good reason: to prevent injustice. They help keep the innocent out of jail, and that the police do their job and thoroughly investigate crimes rather than just pinning them on the first likely suspect they come across. Removing them opens the door to innocent people incorrectly suspected of criminal activity losing their liberty, their jobs, and even their lives. And it opens the door to lazy policing and gross miscarriages of justice.

In a free and democratic society, restrictions on an individual's liberty must meet the highest standards of evidence. This proposal does not. it is unjust, unsafe, and should not proceed.

Privatising public information

Last week, I welcomed the government's move to put tenancy tribunal decisions online, on the basis that it would allow people to see how the law is interpreted and applied in practice and therefore give them greater certainty about what their rights as a tenant or landlord actually are. Unfortunately, not everyone feels that way. One objection has come from Geoff King of Tenancy Information NZ, on the grounds that it would undermine his business:

[King] questioned the Government's decision to put the tribunal's rulings online, saying he would have paid to get the rulings and provide them to the rental sector.

"Why is the Government trying to reinvent the wheel? There are already tenant checking systems in place in the private arena via Tenancy Information NZ and Baycorp," King said.

"The Government could have saved the taxpayer a lot of money and given access to the information to these two companies, which have a financial interest in selling the information," he said.

So, just to get this straight, he thinks that the government should keep public information secret or sell it only to him so he can continue to profit from it. It's an astonishingly narrow view, which ignores completely the substantial public benefit of making these records widely available. But this is a small business owner we're talking about, I suppose.

Contrary to King's beliefs, it is not the purpose of government to guarantee the profits of existing businesses, or insulate them from technological and social change at the expense of the rest of society. Open public records are now a basic part of our political culture, and if King can't adapt to this situation (or see the very obvious opportunities it presents), then his business deserves to go to the wall.

More impunity in China

Lan Chengzhang was a trainee journalist for the China Trade News. Recently he was assigned the story of reporting on safety at the Hunyuan coal mine in Shanxi province. The mine owner objected to this, and Lan was brutally beaten by a group of hired thugs in the mine owner's office. He died the next day is hospotal. His two companions had their legs broken.

You would think that the murder of a journalist at the behest of a corrupt official would gain some coverage, even in China. But according to Shanghai Daily, local media have ignored the story. Instead, Lan's credentials have been questioned, and he has been labelled a "false journalist" who was engaged in extortion. And so corrupt officials who behave like gangsters protect their positions - and get away with murder.

Not justice, but some consolation

Three years ago, cameraman Jose Couso was killed when a US tank deliberately fired on his Baghdad hotel room. Today, a Spanish court issued international arrest warrants for three US soldiers in the tank's crew on murder charges. While it is unlikely they will ever be extradited to stand trial, the warrants will follow them forever - they will die as hunted men, unable to leave their country for fear of arrest. While it's not justice, it is at least some consolation, and an important symbolic victory for those who think that war is not a blank cheque for murder.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Comparing freedom of information in Australia and NZ

Rick Snell of the University of Tasmania has an interesting piece in the Sydney Morning Herald comparing the freedom of information regimes in Australia and New Zealand. I've blogged a little before about the differences in the two laws, but the key one is that New Zealand's OIA starts from a principle of availability, that "information shall be made available unless there is good reason for withholding it". By contrast, the Australian legislation has no similar overarching principle, and its clauses covering "exempt documents" start from a position of refusal, with a public interest override tacked on seemingly as an afterthought. Combined with an extremely narrow interpretation of "public interest" by the Australia courts, this has allowed a culture of bureaucratic secrecy to flourish, backed by arguments that government would cease to function if officials were forced to reveal draft policy documents, ministerial advice, basic statistics, or any of the information whose accessibility we take for granted here in New Zealand. Snell's point is of course that New Zealand provides a clear counterexample to that argument - the New Zealand government functions just fine under the enhanced level of public scrutiny that greater openness allows. Left unstated is the real point: that those making this argument and seeking to hide behind secrecy fear the greater accountability that comes with openness.

Australia desperately needs stronger federal freedom of information legislation, just as it needs stronger federal protection for human rights. But the political culture over there is so different that I don't see either of the major parties committing to either any time soon.

[Hat tip: Dean Knight]

Will Blair kill this investigation too?

Last month, Tony Blair pulled the plug on a Serious Fraud Office inquiry into corruption by Britain's biggest arms exporter, BAE, on spurious grounds of "national security". Now the SFO has BAE in its sights again, this time over payments made as part of an arms deal with Tanzania. Again, the charges are very serious, and could see BAE executives in jail. So, how long do you think it will take for Blair to kill this investigation into his buddies in the arms industry as well?

Meanwhile, it turns out that the Attorney-General, Lord Goldsmith, lied to the House of Lords when justifying the decision to terminate the earlier investigation:

The attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, told parliament before Christmas that the intelligence agencies "agreed with the assessment" of Tony Blair that national security was in jeopardy because the Saudis intended to pull out of intelligence cooperation with Britain. But John Scarlett, the head of MI6, has now refused to sign up to a government dossier which says MI6 endorses this view.

Whitehall sources have told the Guardian that the statement to the Lords was incorrect. MI6 and MI5 possessed no intelligence that the Saudis intended to sever security links. The intelligence agencies had been merely asked whether it would be damaging to UK national security if such a breach did happen. They replied that naturally it would.

This was a clear attempt to blame the intelligence agencies for a political decision made in Downing Street - and I'm glad that they're refusing to carry the can. If politicians want to support corrupt practices in the name of "protecting British jobs" in an industry we would all be better off without, they should do so openly so they can be judged on it by the electorate, rather than seekign to pass the buck onto others.

In the days of the comet

In the past, bright comets were regarded as a bad omen and a sign of impending doom. So its somewhat fitting that one has now appeared just as president Bush has ordered his futile escalation of the Iraq war. Coment McNaught is the second brightest comet since serious records began in 1935, and is bright enough to be visible in broad daylight (though I wouldn't recommend trying, as it is very close to the sun). Fortunately, we should all be able to get a good look around sunset over the next week.

Ahmed Zaoui: the farce has gone on too long

Two years ago, Ahmed Zaoui was freed on bail into the custody of the Dominican Friars. Since then, he has been waiting for the Inspector-General of Security Intelligence, Paul Neazor, to begin the review of the Security Risk Certificate against him. The review was originally scheduled to begin in August, but was delayed after the SIS failed to provide a full summary of allegations or "evidence" against Zaoui - in clear violation of a High Court order. And now, according to a Parliamentary question from the Green Party, it has been delayed again until July or August 2007. Worse, Neazor's term expires for then, so there is the prospect of still more delays as a new Inspector-General - Zaoui's third - is brought up to speed on the case.

This is no longer acceptable. The SIS has had more than enough time to get their house in order - it has been over three years since they were ordered to produce their "evidence" - and they have repeatedly failed to do so. This refusal to abide by the orders of the court has undermined Zaoui's ability to defend himself - as Locke's press release notes, it is difficult enough to arrange for international witnesses to travel here, let alone do it repeatedly to cope with constant delays. If the prosecution had behaved in this manner in a criminal case, refusing to specify the charges or evidence against the defendant, then it would have been thrown out long ago. We should adopt the same solution in Zaoui's case - this farce has simply gone on too long.

But in addition to the obvious problems of justice, the SIS's refusal to abide by the orders of the court raises another problem: the SIS's refusal to accept civilian oversight and review. They clearly think they are above the law, and this must change. And if it will not, they must be purged until they accept that in this country, it is the democratically elected Parliament and the laws they make that constitute the ultimate authority - not the spies.


Today (American time) is Martin Luther King day, a public holiday to celebrate the life and achievements of the great civil rights leader. In honour of this, here is part of his speech "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence", given exactly a year before his death.

The only change [in Vietnam] came from America, as we increased our troop commitments in support of governments which were singularly corrupt, inept, and without popular support. All the while the people read our leaflets and received the regular promises of peace and democracy and land reform. Now they languish under our bombs and consider us, not their fellow Vietnamese, the real enemy. They move sadly and apathetically as we herd them off the land of their fathers into concentration camps where minimal social needs are rarely met. They know they must move on or be destroyed by our bombs.

So they go, primarily women and children and the aged. They watch as we poison their water, as we kill a million acres of their crops. They must weep as the bulldozers roar through their areas preparing to destroy the precious trees. They wander into the hospitals with at least twenty casualties from American firepower for one Vietcong-inflicted injury. So far we may have killed a million of them, mostly children. They wander into the towns and see thousands of the children, homeless, without clothes, running in packs on the streets like animals. They see the children degraded by our soldiers as they beg for food. They see the children selling their sisters to our soldiers, soliciting for their mothers.

What do the peasants think as we ally ourselves with the landlords and as we refuse to put any action into our many words concerning land reform? What do they think as we test out our latest weapons on them, just as the Germans tested out new medicine and new tortures in the concentration camps of Europe? Where are the roots of the independent Vietnam we claim to be building? Is it among these voiceless ones?

We have destroyed their two most cherished institutions: the family and the village. We have destroyed their land and their crops. We have cooperated in the crushing of the nation's only noncommunist revolutionary political force, the unified Buddhist Church. We have supported the enemies of the peasants of Saigon. We have corrupted their women and children and killed their men.

Now there is little left to build on, save bitterness...

The parallels to Iraq should be obvious.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Fiji: what threat?

Fiji's military regime has announced that its "state of emergency" will continue and that the nation was still on "high alert". But you have to wonder exactly what this lurking, undefined 'threat" is. What are the Fijian military afraid of? Someone writing a letter to the editor calling them nasty names?

More judicial murder in Iraq

Iraq has executed two more of Saddam's accomplices - Barzan al-Tikriti and Awad Hamad al-Bandar. Both were undoubtedly bad men guilty of numerous atrocities - but like Saddam, neither deserved death. Neither did al-Tikriti deserve the mutilation inflicted upon him by the hangman (and there is no doubt it was deliberate - Iraq uses long-drop hanging, which has sadly been refined down to a precise science through long practice. The only way you decapitate someone by that method is if you intend to). But this is George Bush's new, modern Iraq - barbarity piled upon barbarity, a little Texas in Mesopotamia, complete with its own death penalty and Ku Klux Klan-style death squads.

When Saddam and his accomplices murdered the victims of Dujail, they claimed to be acting under colour of law. Those carrying out sentence today are no different. But hopefully they won't face the same fate.

Climate change: ranking the parties

How do the various political parties score on climate change? The Greens have produced a ranking, backed by copious analysis, here [PDF]. While it shows the Greens leading the pack, even they admit that they do not yet have good policy on agricultural emissions (something I attribute to their reluctance to bite the bullet and insist that farmers pay the full cost of their pollution, regardless of the lack of abatement options, simply so that people are paying proper prices and can make decisions accordingly rather than paying farmers a billion dollar a year environmental subsidy). Meanwhile, the other parties go from fairly good (Labour and the Maori party) to outright deniers (ACT), with National and United Future only just beginning to wake up to this important policy area. Clearly, some of the parties have a long way to go before their policies in this area are even remotely credible. And OTOH, much of Green policy - for example around air travel and coastal shipping - is more symbolic nibbling around the edges than effective. What's important at this stage is to stick a price on emissions to tackle growth in the energy sector (and give people a clear price signal on conservation) and shift our fuel mix rapidly towards biofuels. The Greens do advocate this, but they seem often to lose that clear policy message in the fluff.

What the rankings really show is the vast gap between Labour and its coalition partners, and the difficulty it had in advancing policy post-election. But with United Future moving towards the centre on this and expressing guarded support for emissions trading, and the piecemeal nature of much of policy, I think we will see that gap largely crossed over the next year. The major sticking point will be on electricity-sector emissions trading, and there it is a question of whether NZ First will threaten its relationship with Labour over it, or whether it will bow to the clear Parliamentary majority which exists on the subject and admit that it has lost the argument. Whether the government is planning to recycle revenue into energy efficiency schemes for poorer customers will matter a lot here, and could provide NZ First with the political cover it needs to back down gracefully, so it may all depend on whether the government can kick Treasury into line or not.

Climate change: hell freezes over?

According to the Guardian, the Bush Administration is about to reverse its position on climate change, and push for a domestic emissions cap. I'll believe it when I see it, and then I'll believe it when a robust policy is implemented rather than seeing the different branches of the US governmental system using one another as a convenient excuse for inaction. OTOH, is this really surprising? The major oil companies have already changed their position, and this week Exxon-Mobil, the last major holdout, decided that the path of outright Denial was simply embarassing and decided to push for a more serious policy (they also stopped funding their shills in the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which ought to raise the tone of the debate somewhat). When the people who jerk Bush's strings change their position, it will hardly be surprising if he does too.

Fiji: looking the other way on thuggery

Last week, Fiji nominally returned to civilian rule, when President Iliolo appointed Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama as head of an interim government. But despite the nominal change in power, there has been no change on the streets; soldiers still man checkpoints around Suva, and they still detain and beat (and even murder) those reported as speaking out against the coup. So, the Fiji Times had the interesting idea of asking the civilian ministers in the interim regime how they felt about this. To their credit, several denounced it openly. Others however seemed quite happy to look the other way on the thuggery which keeps them in power:

Interim Lands Minister Tevita Vuibau reserved his comments, saying this was because the country was in a State of Emergency.

"Interim ministers are there to lead the country forward. Abuse cases are a side issue that should be dealt with separately," he said.

Interim Minister for Sports Lekh Ram Vayehnoi said, "I don't need to comment."

Unfortunately it can't be separated off so easily; the beatings and thuggery are a distinctive feature of the military regime without precedent in Fiji's post-independence history. And they are a clear violation of Fijian law and the rights affirmed in the Fijian constitution. To the extent that the interim cabinet is actually in charge, rather than just being a rubber-stamp for the military, those serving in it are collectively responsible for this policy of oppression. If they do not end it, it will be on their consciences and their heads. And if they can not end it, then they should not serve such a regime.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

New Kiwi Blog

Born on State Highway One

New Fisk

This jargon disease is choking language

Friday, January 12, 2007

Guantanamo: Five years of silence

For the past five years, the US government has been detaining, abusing and torturing suspected terrorists in Guantanamo Bay. So what has our government - a government which purports to be a strong supporter of human rights - said about it?


For five years this has been going on, and for five years our government has weaseled and remained silent. They disapprove in private - the MFAT paper trial is clear enough on that - but they have repeatedly refused to voice their opinions publicly. Even over something as fundamental as torture.

This is, as Keith Locke has said,

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

Our government's sycophantic silence over Guantanamo makes it clear that they do not stand for those values at all.

Guantanamo: Five years of torture

The LA Times is marking the fifth anniversary of the opening of America's Caribbean gulag at Guantanamo by publishing a letter from one of its prisoners. Its powerful reading:

At Guantanamo, soldiers have assaulted me, placed me in solitary confinement, threatened to kill me, threatened to kill my daughter and told me I will stay in Cuba for the rest of my life. They have deprived me of sleep, forced me to listen to extremely loud music and shined intense lights in my face. They have placed me in cold rooms for hours without food, drink or the ability to go to the bathroom or wash for prayers. They have wrapped me in the Israeli flag and told me there is a holy war between the Cross and the Star of David on one hand and the Crescent on the other. They have beaten me unconscious.

What I write here is not what my imagination fancies or my insanity dictates. These are verifiable facts witnessed by other detainees, representatives of the Red Cross, interrogators and translators.


I would rather die than stay here forever, and I have tried to commit suicide many times. The purpose of Guantanamo is to destroy people, and I have been destroyed. I am hopeless because our voices are not heard from the depths of the detention center.

If I die, please remember that there was a human being named Jumah at Guantanamo whose beliefs, dignity and humanity were abused. Please remember that there are hundreds of detainees at Guantanamo suffering the same misfortune. They have not been charged with any crimes. They have not been accused of taking any action against the United States.

Five years of this obscenity is five years too long. Guantanamo delenda est - Guantanamo must be closed.

Questions for Winston Peters

Jim Anderton has attacked America's adventure in Iraq as "another Vietnam":

"It is hard to see how an additional 20,000-25,000 troops are going to be capable of making any real difference and this has an eerie Vietnam revisited element to it.

"One wonders whether the lessons I would have expected to be learnt from that fiasco have been learnt in any way at all.

"It is literally years since Mr Bush landed on an aircraft carrier and announced the war was over. I don't know whether he remembers that," he said.

"It is very easy to get into (wars) but very hard to get out of them. The US is not the first or the last military power to find that out.

"We remain consistent with our original view about military action not being a sustainable or long-term contributor to the peaceful development of Iraq," he said.

Winston Peters has responded by calling the comments "ill-informed and regrettable". So perhaps he'd like to answer: which part of the above is "ill-informed", and why is it "regrettable" for a member of our Parliament and government minister to voice the views of his constituents and indeed the vast majority of New Zealanders? Or must the basic premise of our system of government - representation - take a back seat to Blairite sycophancy towards the hegemon?

Guantanamo: Five years of illegality

Five years ago today, the US shipped its first load of prisoners - drugged, shackled, and in total sensory deprivation - to its Caribbean gulag in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Since then, the place has become a synonym for everything that is wrong with America's "war on terror", a legal no-man's land where "enemy combatants" - less than half of whom are even accused of committing hostile acts against the US or its allies - are detained arbitrarily and indefinitely on "evidence" which is charitably described as "laughable", subjected to a Kafkaesque mockery of the judicial process, abused and tortured until they go mad or commit suicide. The place is an obscenity, an affront to our fundamental principles of justice which demand that everyone, no matter what they are accused of, is entitled to a fair trial, and that no-one, no matter what they have done, should be detained arbitrarily or tortured. Once upon a time, the US was a proud upholder of those principles. Now it has joined the Saudis, the Chinese, the Iranians, North Koreans, Uzbeks, Burmese, and a dozen other despotic, totalitarian abusers in pissing all over them. Where it differs from the others, however, is that it doesn't even have the decency to be properly ashamed about it.

Guantanamo has become a symbol of America's post-9/11 madness and its abandonment of the values it once held dear. And it is a warning that even governments which purport to uphold human rights can backslide - as our own has done with the shameful imprisonment without trial of Ahmed Zaoui, or the indefinite detention of Thomas Yadegary and at least six others (one of whom will soon be "celebrating" their third anniversary behind bars). It is a warning that governments can abandon their citizens, look the other way, and maintain a shameful silence on gross human rights abuses. We should not let them get away with it.

Guantanamo degrades America, it degrades our governments through their complicity, and by our failure to uphold universal human rights, it degrades and threatens us all. And after five years, there's really only one thing that can be said about it: Guantanamo delenda est: Guantanamo must be closed.

Provoking Iran

US troops have raided the Iranian consulate in the Iraqi town of Irbil, arresting five members of the consular staff, and seizing documents and computers. This is both a deliberate provocation, and a serious violation of international law. The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations provides that, among other things:

  • "Consular premises shall be inviolable" (art 31.1);
  • "The authorities of the receiving State shall not enter that part of the consular premises which is used exclusively for the purpose of the work of the consular post except with the consent of the head of the consular post or of his designee or of the head of the diplomatic mission of the sending State" (Art 31.2);
  • "The consular archives and documents shall be inviolable at all times and wherever they may be." (Art 33); and
  • "Consular officers shall not be liable to arrest or detention pending trial, except in the case of a grave crime and pursuant to a decision by the competent judicial authority" (Art 41.1)

The seriousness of this cannot be understated - attacks on diplomatic and consular premises have traditionally been regarded as casus bellum. When mobs stormed the Danish embassies in Beirut and Damascus last year, the US screamed bloody murder over the violation. And when Iranian students stormed the US embassy during the Iranian Revolution, they called it a "declaration of war on diplomacy itself". Now they've pissed all over the very laws they have sheltered behind in the past (and will no doubt try and shelter behind in the future). But then, isn't that contemporary American foreign policy in a nutshell?

The Madness of King George

So Bush has finally made the announcement everyone was expecting - that another 20,000 young Americans are to be thrown into the meatgrinder in Iraq to die for his vanity. It's madness - the "plan" is predicated on Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki attacking one of the foundations of his own government, and backing a political programme he has neither any interest in or ability to pass - but Bush is so lost in fantasyland and unwilling to admit that the war is lost for good that he is willing to bet the farm on it. On the other hand, what is he really betting? The generals say it will take two or three more years - another three thousand dead Americans, another half million dead Iraqis - before we know whether it has succeeded or failed. And by that time, Bush will have safely left office. Essentially, this plan is about Bush dumping his problem in his successor's lap - which if you'd always had Poppy to bail you out, probably seems like perfectly acceptable behaviour.

Again, as reasons to die go, protecting the President's ego is a pretty piss-poor one - and its long past time US soldiers in Iraq stood up and said so, and told their political leadership to fight their own damn wars for a change.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

New Fisk

Bush's new strategy

Fiji: a legal challenge?

Fiji's Citizens Constitutional Forum is talking about challenging the legality of the military regime in the courts. And they'd have an excellent case. In the wake of the 2000 coup a similar case was launched challenging the legality of the intrim Qarase government and succeeded in gaining a ruling that the President's refusal to recall Parliament was inconsistent with the constitution. While it failed in its attempt to have the interim regime declared illegal, the point being considered moot, the Court of Appeal did rule that there were extremely tight constraints on the dismissal of a Prime Minister and appointment of a caretaker - essentially a Prime Minister can only dismissed if they actually lose a vote of confidence in the House, not just because the President (or the person pointing a gun at their head) wants them out. Iliolo's effective dismissal of Qarase and appointment of Bainimarama fails to meet those criteria, and I'd expect any court to follow precedent in saying so.

You have to wonder though what the military regime will do about this, given its demonstrated intolerance towards criticism and those questioning its rule. Will it sit back and allow the legal process to take its course, or will it simply pressure the judiciary and beat and imprison those who dare challenge their rule? On the evidence so far, my money is on the latter...

Egyptian "justice"

Emad Kabeer is an Egyptian cab driver. In January last year, he saw two men assaulting one of his cousins on a crowded Cairo street, so he stopped and asked them what they were doing. The men turned out to be plainclothes police, and for his curiousity Emad was arrested. While in custody, he was kicked, beaten, and sodomised with a stick. The torture was videoed and distributed to others as a warning not to question the police.

Two of Emad's torturers have since been detained. Meanwhile, yesterday, he was jailed for three months on a charge of "resisting authority". In Egypt, resisting illegal sexual torture by the police is apparently a crime.

No more Nazis

Last year I blogged about RedWatch NZ, a neo-Nazi website established to "build a catalogue of information and pictures of the Left" - including names, addresses, phone numbers, and pictures of where people live. The purpose was clearly intimidation and to encourage violence against those listed on the basis of their political beliefs.

I'm pleased to say that RedWatch is no more. It has disappeared into the bit bucket, apparently some weeks ago. Though no doubt its dossiers and hit list will still be circulating around New Zealand's extreme right.

[Hat tip: t94xr]

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

"Credible intelligence"

The US is bombing again, this time in Somalia. But they have reasons, apparently:

US air strikes in Somalia are aimed at al-Qaeda leaders in the region, and based on "credible intelligence", a Pentagon spokesman has said.

That would be the same "credible intelligence" that told the that Saddam had WMD, then?

Unfortunately, thanks to the Iraq debacle, the US's "credible intelligence" simply isn't credible anymore.

Faith, discrimination and hate in the UK

The British House of Lords has passed the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland), 199 - 68. The regulations will outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the provision of goods and services - meaning that in Northern Ireland at least people won't be able to refuse to rent you a house or provide healthcare simply because you are gay (or straight, for that matter). The regulations will be extended to the rest of the UK later in the year.

Naturally, this has precipitated the usual religious backlash, with extremist Christians, Muslims and Jews united in bigotry and homophobia. Meanwhile, their more mainstream compatriots look on from the sidelines in silent but deniable approval (not so silent or deniable in the case of some Bishops, it seems). If anyone was wondering why 82% of UKanians believe that religion is a cause of division and tension between people, this is one reason. When religion speaks nowdays, it is too often a voice of hate, trying to exclude people from society, seeking tolerance only for themselves. While there are decent and liberal religious people, they don't seem to be speaking up about it and making it clear that their god isn't about hatred.

Meanwhile, the Guardian's Polly Toynbee makes the excellent point that the state should not be devolving social services to those who insist on a right to discriminate:

Lord Ferrers in the last debate said hospitals should be allowed to discriminate if they had a Christian ethos. Does that mean they do now? Are they turning away gay Aids patients? He said a pro-life Catholic hospital should be allowed to turn away a lesbian for fertility treatment. (Though any non-Catholic turning to Catholics for fertility treatment needs their head examined.) The Catholic adoption society said it will shut up shop if it has to allow gay couples to apply. Churches say they will never let out a hall to a gay organisation. Christians running soup kitchens say they want to refuse gays shelter and soup. (Soup!) The Catholic Archbishop of Liverpool threatens to withdraw all cooperation over schools and charity programmes if the law goes through. The Bishop of Rochester says it will damage church work in inner cities. (Only if his church shuts down services.) The C of E pretends that the law would force it to bless civil unions (it won't).

Listen to all these good reasons why the state should step back from its current infatuation with faith provision of social services. In a democracy, public services paid for out of general taxes can't be held to ransom by the weird sexual fantasies of unelected service providers.

(Emphasis added)

I couldn't agree more. If social service agencies aren't willing to comply fully with anti-discrimination law, they shouldn't be receiving state funding.