Follow up on the SIS files and what should be done.

datePosted on 13:26, February 11th, 2009 by Pablo

When I found out that I was mentioned in the SIS files on Keith Locke (apparently in an unflattering letter), I got to thinking further about what can  be done to improve that agency and rid it of an institutional culture that is seemingly unprofessional, unaccountable and biased in its presentation of threats. There is more to the story, which revolves around the window of opportunity presented to the new government by the director-general of the SIS, Warren Tucker,  in opening up the SIS files to public scrutiny. Rather that repeat it here, please see the link below, where I outline the broader picture. I do not mean to be shameless with the link, just synergistic. A full post (on direct action) is forthcoming soon.

Short not-sharp shock

datePosted on 10:26, February 11th, 2009 by Lew

NatRad’s PCR Jane Patterson on Nine to Noon this morning characterised the government’s counter-recession plan as “drip-feeding”, opposed to Obama and Rudd’s “big bang” approach (audio). But drip-feeding would imply a long-term commitment, and Key doesn’t believe the recession will be a medium or long-term problem.

Rather than either of those metaphors, I would characterise the front-loading of already-planned expenditure and development into the coming six to eighteen months as a short sharp shock; however, given the relatively small amount of expenditure and development in the plan, it’s not even very sharp. Of course, there’s the argument that the government doesn’t have any more money to spend, but Key has bet on a short recession, and that implies short-term debt. I would think that if one was betting on a short recession, one would do everything in one’s power to ensure it was a short recession.

If it turns out to not be a short recession, Key (and English) will have to return to the drawing board, and that will very likely mean another short (perhaps sharper this time) shock, rather than introducing a strategic counter-recession plan mid-term and mid-recession. DPF raises (in some jest) the idea that Key might emulate his hero Muldoon on another matter, but to me it looks like this track could lead to economic micro-management of a very Muldoon-like nature. And the broadband plan is very Think Big.


This week we look certain to see National repeal most of the Electoral Finance Act under urgency. While Simon Power is publicly stating they’re going to keep the disclosure rules, which sounds good but … as National well knows the disclosure rules have loopholes.

Like the old rules they allow organisations and individuals to wash large donations by cutting them into smaller donations which fit below the “anonymous” donations threshold. This is the same practice that was enabled by a similar loophole under the old electoral finance rules.

If National was committed to transparency it would be closing that loophole now, and publicly shaming any party that refused to support the action. In reality, of course, National is committed to the appearance of clean hands while maintaining funding routes for its large donors.

Whither Labour?

datePosted on 23:02, February 10th, 2009 by Lew

That’s a question, not an imperative.

It’s impossible to ignore the impact of the Clark-Cullen legacy on NZ’s political orthodoxy. Their government – like Thatcher’s and like Lange’s – moved the political mainstream, requiring incoming governments to appeal to it in order to win support. John Key’s ability to learn from some of the mistakes of his predecessors in both major parties, but not others, has been considered in plenty of different ways, and some of those give more than a moment’s thought to his future. At least now people agree that he has one which doesn’t involve being rolled by Bill English.

But what of Labour? I see two broad possibilities, which I’ll characterise as the Crusaders Game and the Hurricanes Game. Despite being a Hurricanes supporter, by that I don’t mean to privilege one over the other.

The Crusaders Game

Labour recognises that the political agenda is no longer theirs, and concentrates on their core stuff: defence, set-piece, taking advantage of their opposition’s mistakes and infringing at the ruck (but not so much as to seem a cheat).

This means a retrenchment of sorts. Goff is the ideal leader for this game: steady, capable, etc. but they will probably have to alienate the Greens, and if the māori party and its constituency gets what it needs from being part of the National-led government Labour may find themselves friendless. Whatever the case, this strategy will mean ceding the political field to National and starting again in three or six or nine years from within someone else’s political agenda – as National are doing now. This relies on fairly orthodox two-party-plus-hangers-on political thinking – the idea that occupying the centre is the route to success.

The Hurricanes Game

Labour sees in Key’s concessions to the Clark-Cullen agenda an opportunity, and maximises it by relying on gut instinct, team spirit, inspirational leadership, raw opportunism, personal brilliance and complaining about Key’s infringing at the ruck (but not so much as to appear a whinger).

This strategy will require three things: first, new leadership; second, a much closer relationship with the Greens; third, intense and sustained energy. Labour will have to learn to live lean, to rehabilitate itself with the wider left, and ultimately to normalise the idea of the Green New Deal among skeptical NZ voters. This relies upon a quite unorthodox political strategy – the idea that a party or bloc of parties can and should cooperate to move the centre in order to more easily occupy it in their common interest. The danger is that they run out of puff in getting there, and find themselves in three or six or nine years having to adopt the Crusaders Game anyway.

There are other possibilities, of course, but these seem most plausible and simple dichotomies are nice.

So, four questions: what should Labour do (in your humble opinion) and what will Labour do? How, and why?


Framing fires

datePosted on 16:03, February 10th, 2009 by Lew

Parliament is sitting today, and the 2009 session rightly opened with a unanimous motion of support for those affected by the Victoria bushfires. The events themselves have been very thoroughly covered on NZ media and internationally, but what I’m interested in is the way in which our politicians have been speaking about them. So, a quick look at each party’s contribution to the debate of the motion this afternoon.

John Key, National: Emphasised close cultural, economic and military relationship – “like no other”, and history of mutual support in times of need. Strong sporting rivalry means strong cultural ties. Firefighters as heroes who care not for borders and are an example to us all. Top-level links between himself and Rudd. Closed with “kia kaha”. Focused on the magnitude of the events on Australia, though a questionable choice of words with “the enormity of what is happening has burned into our consciousness”. Strongly-worded, statesmanlike, decisive.

Phil Goff, Labour: Spoke for “all New Zealanders”, focusing on impact on families of victims and the “human tragedy” and loss of property. Used family and sport metaphors for the strength of the relationship, like Key. The offer of 100 firefighters “was a good first step”. Generally somewhat procedural, lacked the bite of Key’s speech.

Russel Norman, Green: Very brief. Ticks off main points re support for the motion and assistance, and “respectfully note” the debate on climate change in Australia – but perhaps wisely doesn’t make too much of this.

Rodney Hide, ACT: “All New Zealanders” and “brothers and sisters”, again. Moved quickly to Rudd’s “hell on earth”, then to the possible criminal element behind the fires, hoping that those who committed the “evil” of the arson receive their “just desserts”. He’s angry, first and foremost.

Tariana Turia, māori party: Expressed sympathies in the first place to “the Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd” and then to those “families and communities” who have suffered – formally, she’s speaking as ariki ki te ariki, I think. Rather than using family as a metaphor, highlighted the fact that many New Zealanders actually have relatives in Victoria. Fire is “merciless”, families are “scarred’. Said her party would “support the role that this government and this country will play” as if she’s not involved or hasn’t been consulted about it.

Jim Anderton, Progressive: “Brothers and sisters” again, emphasising global and historical magnitude of the fires. NZ being “compelled to share [victims’] grief”. Focused on rebuilding and the resilience and “Aussie dauntlessness”. Firefighters as heroes. Amazingly, he compared the fires to September 11 2001, rationalising it on the basis that the same proportion of population have supposedly been killed. Irony of flooding in Queensland at the same time. Generally a strong speech, but – September 11, WTF! At least he didn’t refer to the supposed arsonists as “terrorists”.

Peter Dunne, United Future: “Kith and kin”. Enormity of the events – “Australia’s worst peacetime tragedy”, which is rhetoric reminiscent of post-9/11. Warns that life will take a long time to return to normal. Talks about media imagery a lot. Encourages people to be “as generous with their resources as they are with their sentiments”.

I see a few true colours there, I think.


Propaganda is everywhere

datePosted on 13:42, February 10th, 2009 by Lew

Hi folks. I’ve been invited to join the other posters here, and I’ll put up things which occur to me from time to time. To start the ball rolling, here’s an image I think has some pretty interesting meanings:


(Image sourced from here.)



NGO advocacy: it’s all right with me!

datePosted on 06:00, February 10th, 2009 by Anita

Idiot/Savant has been wading through OIAs in an attempt to figure out which government agencies joined SOE Solid Energy in paying for a report to undermine government climate change policies. Solid Energy has paid nearly a quarter of a million dollars of our money to lobby against the government addressing climate change.

Yet at the same time NGOs are rigourously banned from using any state funding to advocate for legislative or policy change. Small volunteer run organisations are forced to segregate their government funding from any funding used for advocacy.

This causes all kinds of administrative and compliance overhead – if a social worker’s salary is paid by a government contract for service, can they discuss difficulties caused by Housing NZ policy when they meet HNZ staff to organise emergency housing for clients? If someone producing information material’s salary is 60% funded how can we prove that the time they spent putting together material for the CE’s meeting with the incoming Minister was in their other 40%?

On the one hand we give the most ethically dubious state owned enterprise the right to use as much of our money as they like to lobby, hire spies, breach the Conservation Act and pay private investigators to summarise Indymedia.

On the other we load such compliance cost on small NGOs that using their own money to lobby becomes impractical.

As well as tightening the leash on Solid Energy, we need to give NGOs their freedom. NGOs provide richness and diversity, they advocate for people whose voices are lost in our majoritarian culture – a little government funding would be worth every dollar.

The deserving poor

datePosted on 06:00, February 9th, 2009 by Anita

A few weeks ago I was reading about the way refugees are talked about and ran across an article by Vanessa Pupavac in which she talks about the way refugee advocacy groups have fought the negative xenophobic framing of refugees that has become so attractive to politicians across the world.

One of her findings is that advocates have built stories about exceptionally talented refugees and middle class professionals to build a picture of deservingness. Somehow we have come to believe that being a human being who is homeless due to persecution is not enough in itself to deserve help, we need to be told that they’re special.

The problem, of course, is that most refugees aren’t special, refugees are a mix of people just like our communities. To quote Pupavac

Asylum rights are thereby implicitly made conditional on qualifying as nice, talented, sensitive individuals. But where does this leave any unappealing, untalented, unskilled asylum seeker with culturally repellent views and habits? A well-founded fear of persecution is not confined to nice people.

This pattern of needing people to prove their deservingness before we give them basic human support and kindness is seen again and again in the rhetoric of the new right: there are deserving beneficiaries and the others that don’t deserve help, there are deserving families that deserve state help and those that don’t … .

When did we become a society where people have to prove that they deserve to be able to buy food for their children? Or live in a country where they won’t be killed?

Hat tip to Julie’s post at The Hand Mirror

Paying the “true cost”

datePosted on 06:00, February 8th, 2009 by Anita

Over at The Hand Mirror Anna has a post up about the anti-worker sentiment expressed by the 15% holiday surcharge, and I totally agree. But … :)

One of the things about the holiday surcharge is that it passes on to me the cost of disrupting someone else’s holiday. I am asking for someone to work on their holiday, shouldn’t I pay for my convenience? Penal rates are designed, in part, to be a disincentive to employers making people work on public holidays, so it makes a certain amount of sense that is is passed on to act as a disincentive to me.

In a free market economy ideal where nothing is to be banned, price signals take the place of regulation, and price signals are only effective when the cost is paid by the decision maker. So if we have accepted the free market approach, the question in this case is who the decision maker is; the cafe owner who opens the doors, or the cafe patron who comes through them?

This illustrates one of the many downsides of relying on price signals to define acceptable behaviour: some of us can pay  and some cannot; some can afford to turn down the money, some cannot. Secondly price signals very quickly turn into a price for everything and a value for nothing. if it’s worth it to your business you can open on a public holiday and pay the price, if it’s worth it to your business you can stick to the dangerous work practice and just pay the price of the deaths you cause.

So, paying 15% on a public holiday. It probably succeeds as a disincentive to some, but for many people all it does it prove that public holidays of the poor can be bought by the wealthy.

Principled or Pragmatic?

datePosted on 14:23, February 7th, 2009 by Pablo

New Zealand is said to have a “principled and pragmatic” foreign policy. In fact, it is considered a model for small state participation in world affairs. Its support for UN peacekeeping, its role in the non-proliferation regime, its pursuit of open trade, its championing of international human rights and its advocacy of environmental protection are considered exemplary forms of small state behaviour on the global scene. But is New Zealand really following principles when it engages the world?

In spite of its human rights rhetoric, New Zealand actively trades with a host of authoritarian regimes without preconditions or qualifiers. Such trade partners include Iran, Kuwait, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Brunei, Singapore and of course the PRC. Its FTAs with the PRC and the authoritarian partners of the P4 trade bloc have no “after entry” provisions regarding labour rights, working conditions, child labor restrictions etc. That is the general rule. Rather than upholding international labor standards and other human rights baselines when promoting trade relationships, it appears that New Zealand abandons them entirely because it is seen as “bad for business.”

A similar situation holds true in the security field. Although New Zealand publicly trumpets its “blue-helmet” deployments in conflicts zones such as South Lebanon, the Sinai and Bosnia,  it quietly operates with a range of foreign security agencies whose records are less than clean. That includes close cooperation with French intelligence, the perpetrators of the Rainbow Warrior bombing and manufacturers of  false intelligence against Ahmed Zaoui; close military-to-military contact with Singapore; development of military-to-military contacts with the PRC, and ongoing intelligence cooperation on and service with US, Australian and UK military units in conflict zones in which NZ has publicly opposed the stance of its larger partners.

As for the NPT, climate change regime and international peacekeeping, perhaps the reasons for participation are less due to principle than to self-interest. Reducing the amount of WMD in the world reduces the potential for catastrophic confrontations and incidental fall-out, contamination and the like. From a self-interested perspective, the less the possibility of adversaries resorting to WMD, the more the possibility of conflict resolution short of total war. Likewise, if one subscribes to the view that climate change is dangerous to humanity, and that humans are major contributors to climate change, that is, climate change is a universal bad caused by people, then it is in New Zealand’s interest to help lead the charge against global warming, CFCs, rising sea levels etc.  In parallel, participation in international peacekeeping can be seen as a form of insurance policy should NZ ever come under attack and its traditional allies are either involved or unwilling to come to its defence. Small states have a vested interest in multinational peacekeeping and defense simply because they are unilaterally vulnerable to the depredations of larger states. In the fluid international environment that is the post-Cold War era, where new powers are emerging, old powers are in decline, and pre-modern ideological conflicts have re-surfaced with a post-modern vengeance (and high tech weaponry), deploying on UN or regional multinational security missions is a self-interested hedge against the uncertainties of the moment. This includes participation in peacekeeping and policing within the southwestern Pacific, as instability and the threat of state failure in places like the Solomons and New Guinea (and further afield, Samoa and Tonga) are believed to invite the unwanted attention of outside powers and criminal organisations as well as spark refugee flows, cross-border tensions and increased levels of violence region-wide. Rather than principle, it could be that pragmatic assessments of longer-term consequences are what drives New Zealand’s approach to these issue-areas.

Labour is believed to be more idealist-principled in its foreign policy approach, whereas National is believed to be more realist-pragmatic. The irony is that other than the (now resolved) disputes over the antinuclear policy, Iraq invasion and dismantling of the tactical air wing, both major parties have, since the late 1990s, tacitly agreed on the overall thrust of New Zealand’s foreign affairs. The bottom line is that pragmatism governs approaches to self-perceived “core” interests, while principle is left to “peripheral” (rhetorical?)interests not essential to national survival and prosperity. Put anther way, the tacit bargain between Labour and National on foreign policy is to never let principle get in the way of pragmatic opportunity or necessity when it comes to international relations.

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