Add Condi to the list

datePosted on 20:43, May 2nd, 2009 by Lew

According to this story, Former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has admitted involvement in a (technical) conspiracy to torture US terror detainees:

In little-noticed comments Thursday, the former White House counsel for President Richard Nixon John Dean said Thursday that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice may have unwittingly admitted to a criminal conspiracy when questioned about torture by a group of student videographers at Stanford.
Rice told students at Stanford that she didn’t authorize torture, she merely forwarded the authorization for it. …
“She tried to say she didn’t authorize anything, then proceeded to say she did pass orders along to the CIA to engage in torture if it was legal by the standard of the Department of Justice,” Dean said. “This really puts her right in the middle of a common plan, as it’s known in international law, or a conspiracy, as it’s known in American law, and this indeed is a crime. If it indeed happened the way we think it did happen.”

Now, there’s a lot of ifs in there, and anyone with a more thorough knowledge of the issues in play is welcome to pour cold water on it. But to my eye, if this lawyer is right then it stands to reason that the Hat Trick of those at the top of the US torture agenda has now expanded to a Gang of Four.

Incidentally Pascal’s bookie, who ought to blog more often, makes a strong case in defence of Obama’s restraint on the torture issues in a series of comments at The Standard. The key point is the following:

[if Obama was too heavily involved] the story would become Obama v Bush, Dem v GOP. Rather than The Law v Criminals.

He’s right: if it’s to be done, it must be done right, and the taint of partisan politics mustn’t be admitted as a distraction. His role is to provide political and legal conditions within which such a prosecution can thrive of its own accord, not to drive the prosecution himself. He’s doing that; those who want Bush, Cheney, Gonzales and (perhaps) Rice to stand trial had best hold their tongues and show a little faith.


A return to “our foreign policy is trade”?

datePosted on 23:57, May 1st, 2009 by Lew

Murray McCully hasn’t so much taken the razor to NZAid as taken the axe to its foundations, in one of the clearest indications so far of the new government’s ideological intentions:

Following a review process, the government has decided to change the mandate of NZAID, the government’s aid agency, to focus on sustainable economic growth.

Notice how he leaves out what the mandate was changed from. Good press release-writing. National Radio is more explicit, however:

The semi-autonomous body NZ Aid will be brought back under the control of the Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry and its focus will change from poverty elimination to sustainable economic growth.

Now we see the dichotomy I theorised a while ago made plain: from from least harm to greatest good.

Now, in the context of foreign policy I don’t have a categorical problem with this approach, because foreign policy is different to domestic policy where the government bears a direct and explicit responsibility for the wellbeing of the worst-off of its citizens. NZ doesn’t necessarily have that responsibility to the worst-off citizens of its donee nations. While it serves NZ to look after them, fundamentally all foreign policy actions are taken with the home nation’s interests at the fore, not with the foreign nation’s interests. So I’m not going to argue against this change of mandate on the basis that it’s cruel or unjust or unfair on the poor of the Pacific, plenty of people are doing that. I’m going to argue against it on the basis that it’s short-sighted and bad for NZ in the context of our relationships with our Pacific neighbours.

The problem, paradoxically, is that the realignment of NZAid with the trade agenda prioritises immediate NZ commercial interests to the exclusion of other, more strategic goals. Like democracy, sustainable economic development isn’t something you can create by throwing money about. NZ’s aid agenda to provide an economic floor in (parts of) the Pacific has generally had three broad purposes: 1. maintain peace and order; 2. deter the advances of more predatory regional powers*; 3. enable people to develop economic structures on their own terms. Largely the first two have succeeded; the third remains a work in progress. The three points are in ascending strategic order; that is, the longest-term goal is to enable the people of the Pacific to develop their own economies and their own market structures, structures which serve them, rather then serving the interests of foreign entrepreneurs first. The changed NZAid mandate, which to my mind roughly reverses the order of the three priorities on the reasoning that if people have the third then the first and second will follow, seems unwise because I don’t think they will follow. Markets which exploit people’s vulnerability, or which concentrate wealth and power among the usual sorts of tin-pot third-world elites will not result in stability, and will render the disgruntled Pacific vulnerable to the aforementioned depredations. This policy realignment (by McCully’s own admission) will divert aid money from those at the subsistence line into private enterprise, most of which is owned outside the Pacific. It will result in a subclass of client entrepreneurs both here and in the Pacific, those with the connections to sign on early and sew up a section of the nascent market for themselves, with full government favour. The Pacific needs trade strategies for mutual benefit, driven by Pacific people to meet their own needs, not created artificially from outside with a territorial gold rush in mind. If we profit to the detriment of our neighbours, our trade might be healthy, but the wider Pacific situation will not, and we will suffer in other ways.

In this situation, trade wins and everything else loses. This is what I mean by the title: McCully has tacitly declared that nothing other than trade really matters, a return to Muldoon’s famous position on the matter. Although the aid agenda is more closely targeted to the Pacific, the focus on trade signals the beginning of a more arm’s length relationship based on cash rather than regional allegiance. This in tandem with a more realist positioning from the defence review, in which the “benign strategic environment” doctrine of Clark’s government has been discarded with, I think, little evidence. Those changes will result in less development and support work and a more hard-power focused defence strategy, with its eye on a phantom threat, and a consequent cooling of the excellent operational relationship the NZDF has with the Pacific. Of course, such a realignment will be necessary if the aid=trade agenda results in the sort of destabilisation I’ve talked about.


* Clearly, in this context I’m talking about China. I don’t typically ascribe to the Sinophobia so rampant in the West, but in the Pacific case I think it’s justified.

A May Day Reminder.

datePosted on 20:31, May 1st, 2009 by Pablo

For workers around the world, May Day is not just a statutory holiday. It represents over a century of hard won rights, rights that in most cases were won in the face of considerable structural and political odds. It is also a reminder that without vigilance, solidarity and organisation, those rights can be lost in the blink of a legislative (if “democratic”)  or blinkered dictatorial eye.  New Zealand is an exemplary case in point, with the legacy of the Chilean-dictatorship inspired Employment Contracts Act still strongly felt in the labour market (and likely to be felt even more so if the National government is able to undertake its proposed reforms of current employment law).

Less people think I am exaggerating about the Chilean connection to the 1991 ECA, let it be noted that its inspiration was the 1979 Plan Laboral (Labour Plan) imposed by executive fiat on Chileans by the Pincohet regime. The author of the Plan, Jose “Pepe” Pineda, was a frequent guest of Roger Douglas and the Business Roundtable in the 1980s and 1990s, and his framework for acheiving what is known as “enforced” or “atomizing” pluralism in the labour market is the essence of the ECA (and one that was not completely undone by the 1999 Employment Relations Act). Atomizing pluralism is the forced decentralization of collective bargaining at the lowest productive levels. It mandates a mix of individual and collective contracts and the multiplication of bargaining agents on the shop floor. The stated intent is to achieve “labour market flexibility,” but the real intent is to destroy the union movement as an effective economic and political agent of the working classes by forcibly dividing worker representation. This has been achieved in New Zealand.

In a book co-authored with Kate Nicholls titled “Labour Markets in Small Open Democracies” (Palgrave MacMillan 2003) I compared labour movement responses to the double impact of globalization of production and market-oriented reforms (including labour market reform) in Australia, Chile, Ireland, New Zealand and Uruguay after 1990. We paired the cases based upon their similar location on the global production chain (Australia and Chile, New Zealand and Uruguay, with Ireland as an extra-regional outlier that served as a quasi-control variable). Among other things we found that the single most important factor that allowed the labour movement to resist attempts to reduce or break its collective power in the face of the dual threat posed by market globalization and neo-liberal inspired macroeconomic reform was ideological unity and independence from working class based political parties.

Let me rephrase that: ideological unity and independence  are the key to labour movement success in a market-driven age. Thus, Australian and Uruguayan unions, rooted in a strong blue collar ethos, ideologically unified and independent from Leftist parties, retained a considerable capacity to thwart the most noxious of labour market reform prescriptions such as enforced shopfloor pluralism. Conversely, Chilean and Kiwi unions, subordinate to the interests of Left parties and ideologically divided amongst themselves, were powerless to stop market-driven reforms, especially when those reforms were pushed by Left-centre governments they helped elect and in which former union bureaucrats held official positions. Successful betrayal of working class principles in favour of pro-capitalist reforms by the political Left in power was due, more than anything else, to the subordinate status of the union movement relative to the political Left. The political ambitions of professional politicians and union bureaucrats took precedence over the material interests of the rank and file, and the result was a relative decline in union fortunes.

There is more to the story, to include the impact of a working class debt culture and the role of popular diversions in eroding working class solidarity. But  the cautionary tale on this day is that workers need to remember that their political representatives on the Left should work for them, rather than the other way around. Contrary to Leninist principles of party vanguardism where the Party dominates the union movement, the union movement needs to control the Party if it is to be a genuine agent of working class interests. In this age of globalization in which the class “enemy” is diversified, flexible and fluid, social movement unionism and labour internationalism needs to be coupled with a reassertion of grassroots representation in union leaderships, which  in turn must lead to a reassertion of union authority within Left political parties. The stakes are simply too high for workers to allow union apparatchiks and party bosses to determine their fortunes for them.

UNITE is an example of such a new union. The NDU is known to retain a sense of responsibility to the rank and file, Beyond that, the New Zealand labour movement obeys the iron law of oligarchy, whereby the first duty of the organisation is to preserve itself, which means in practice that the interests of the agents rather than the principles is what comes first.

On this May Day, confronted by a Centre Right government after 8 years of sold-out Labour rule, it may be a time for the intellectual Left as well as workers to reflect on these issues in order to effectively confront (if not reverse) the adverse tide into which they have been headed for nearly twenty years. Or as Lenin put it: “What is to be Done?”

PS: I have previously made comments along these lines in the comment thread on Anita’s earlier post titled “Worker Organized Resistance.” For those who have read it my apologies for the overlap.

Hope springs eternal

datePosted on 11:06, May 1st, 2009 by Lew

Over at The Standard the aptly-titled Mathemagician has been snapped trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat to prove that the government’s student loan carrot is in fact a stick.

This is fundamentally the problem with True Believers – they’re so committed to an ideological position (in this case, that National are trying to rip everyone off) that they’re credulous to the point of naïvete. Skeptic founder Michael Shermer lists this as one of the five core reasons Why People Believe Weird Things in his book of the same name: if it suits people’s worldview to believe something, they don’t bother to examine it too closely for fear they might prove themselves wrong.

The most cursory bit of critical thinking about this topic ought to have revealed it was all smoke and mirrors, but there wasn’t even that – in this sense it’s sort of like Schneier’s Law, viz:

Any person can invent a security system so clever that he or she can’t imagine a way of breaking it.

Since they’ve deleted the old table showing the original calculation, here’s a screenshot. Good work, Pat.


Protesting too much

datePosted on 23:09, April 28th, 2009 by Lew

I don’t mean to post on Kiwiblog so frequently, but oh well – there’s a lot to post on.

Annette King (or the minions who write her press releases) appear to have jumped the shark, intimating that a Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy is behind David Farrar’s release of two of David Shearer’s old papers advocating the use of mercenaries. Ok, we know that this sort of thing happens – that some right-wing blogs are used to fly kites for politicians or parties who can’t afford to fly them themselves, and undoubtedly the same happens on the other side. But honestly, DPF does background research like this consistently and well, there’s no secret there, and when you allege this sort of thing in relation to a discrete event then you can expect to get taken to the cleaners if you don’t have the necessary documentary evidence. And, frankly, the real story here is the contents of the papers, not the circumstances of their discovery. So King looks like a weeny whinger unless she can put up, and perhaps even then.

On the other hand, it’s a bit rich for DPF to take such exception to the fine distinction between the parliamentary National party and its wider community apparatus. DPF and the KBR are highly important to National’s political strategy, and the lines between traditional media and citizen media, between internal (orthodox) and external (unorthodox) channels of political advice and communication are getting more blurred by the day. King’s press release makes the mistake of being too specific and trying to pin the issue on the official National apparatus, rather than simply being vague about it and probably having the same effect. Because ultimately, it’s no different whether National’s proxies David Farrar and Cameron Slater do the work or whether someone on the inside does it.


Just do it! The Auckland referendum

datePosted on 18:50, April 27th, 2009 by Anita

If a political party, or combination of political parties, truly wanted a referendum they could just run one. It wouldn’t be governed by any legislation, but who cares? It would be just as powerful as a CIR (which relies on expressing public opinion and is not binding).

Political parties have access to electoral rolls, parliamentary service funding for material and postage, and free mail for people returning material to parliamentary addresses.

The parties would probably want  to find some eminent people for a panel to oversee the decision on the question and the rules under which the referendum will be run. They’d also benefit from maximum transparency: invite in all the media who want to be there, ensure all meetings are open, all agendas and minutes are public, and so on.

Figuring out the question’s gonna be tough; that’s the key to a referendum and worth putting time and effort into consultation and getting it right.

But, seriously, just do it!

It doesn’t matter that National and Act don’t want one, run it anyway!

It doesn’t matter that National and Act will say it’s not binding, would they ignore the outcome?

Just do it!

Cry havoc

datePosted on 18:38, April 27th, 2009 by Lew

DPF is up to his old tricks again – this one about Hone Harawira is content-free and David’s own comments are typically innocuous, but it functions very well indeed as a bone for the slavering mastiffs of the KBR to gnaw upon, making him look like a sensible moderate, if you squint a bit. For once, this one wasn’t tagged `Fun Things’.

All the necessary ingredients are there – race, privilege, power differential, obscenity and homophobia – because all minorities are equivalent, right?

Aspiring demagogues, take note.


Press complaint: exploitation of mental illness

datePosted on 12:13, April 26th, 2009 by Anita

This is my first try at a press complaint, so I’d appreciate suggestions and feedback before it goes in the mail next week. As you can see I’m struggling to address only the issue of coverage of the actions of the mentally ill.

The process is that I have to complain to the editors first, so this will go to all three sunday papers.

Dear <title>.

Complaint: exploitation of mentally ill individual

On Sunday 19 April 2009 <paper> ran a story about the actions of an mentally ill man titled <title>. This story included personal details including details of a suicide attempt and communication with the media when his thinking was clearly disordered and altered by his mental illness. I believe the publication of this article was unethical, is inconsistent with the principles of the New Zealand Press Council, and sets an unacceptable precedent for media coverage of the actions of the mentally ill. It is also damaging for other mentally ill New Zealanders by diminishing the privacy which they can expect to be provided.

The principles of the New Zealand Press Council not only identify privacy as a core principle, but also touch on issues such as individuals suffering from trauma or grief and children and young people. They provide clear guidance that vulnerable people must be protected from unnecessary scrutiny and from exploitation by the media.

While, in this particular case, the mentally ill individual has clearly voluntarily previously engaged with the media over his personal life, no reasonable person could be sure he was capable of genuine consent given the state of his mental health described in the article. The article, therefore, significantly breached his privacy. It may be possible to argue that this case was exceptional, but the underpinning principles of privacy and fairness are not exclusive to people who have no previous media engagement.  People in New Zealand have a right to have their privacy protected, particularly when they are vulnerable or suffering from disordered or delusional thinking which prevents them from actively protecting their own privacy.

Stories like this have two important negative impacts on mentally ill people in New Zealand. Firstly they set a precedent that the media may freely publish information either about the disordered actions of mentally ill individuals, or information they may disclose while disordered or delusional. Secondly they create a culture in which the expectation of privacy of the mentally ill is diminished and increases expectation that the stories of mental illness should be made public for the titillation and curiosity of acquaintances, strangers and colleagues.

I am requesting three remedies to balance the damage done by the article:

  1. An acknowledgement that the publication of the article was inappropriate.
  2. The dissemination of clear guidelines for staff addressing the requirement to respect the privacy of the mentally ill (and other vulnerable groups which may feel some obligation to disclose private information). Training for some staff may be appropriate.
  3. The publication of an in depth article on mental illness in New Zealand focussing on the issues of privacy and the impact of disclosure and the attitudes of acquaintances.

If you or your staff would like to get in touch to discuss…


Mt Albert and Russel Norman

datePosted on 11:04, April 25th, 2009 by Anita

What’s with that? I mean, really, what’s with that?

Norman can’t possibly hope to win Mt Albert, this bears no resemblence to either Ōhariu or Epsom and there is no obvious electoral advantage to Mt Albert voters in voting for Norman. The only possible outcome of Norman upping the Green electorate vote in Mt Albert is converting a historically strong left wing seat to an apparently right wing one, and Lee may have the skill to keep it soft blue from there on out.

So the Greens appear, to my outsider’s eye, to trying something which has a possible down side but no possible up side. At the same time Norman’s dragging the Greens away from their reputation for principled electoral politics into the arena of carpetbagging disingenuous political gamesmanship.

No chance of an overt win, significant possible cost, and treating voters like chess pieces – is Russel Norman the Greens’ Murray McCully?


Everyone loves a referendum

datePosted on 01:18, April 25th, 2009 by Lew

… but only when they serve our political purposes.

That’s the message you can draw from the two cases in which referenda have been recently proposed; for s59 and for the future of Auckland. The clearest distinction is between ACT and Labour, with Labour calling for a referendum on the Auckland issue in much the same way that ACT pushed for a referendum on s59; and Rodney Hide declining on a pretext, as Helen Clark was widely criticised for doing.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not trying to equivocate on the two issues. I think the Auckland supercity referendum has merit (though phrasing the question will be tricky) and I think the s59 referendum is a jack-up for pure PR purposes – the point I’m making is about parties’ willingness to resort to plebiscite when it suits them, but not when it doesn’t.


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