Does New Zealand have Political Prisoners?

datePosted on 23:26, January 16th, 2009 by Pablo

Anita’s thread on the failures of the 5th Labour government got me to thinking about the criminalisation of political dissent during its tenure. That in turn got me to wonder about whether there have been politically-motivated incarcerations in recent (since 1995) times. I can think of three, but since I am a relatively new immigrant (currently in economic exile of sorts) and new to the intimacies of New Zealand political life, I am not sure if there have been others.

Ahmed Zaoui was clearly a political prisoner. He posed no threat to anyone, much less the security of NZ. Yet he was incarcerated for over two years, including one year in solitary, because of what he represented–the face of political Islam that was not a lapdog of Western (read in this case French) interests. Right wing troglodytes and bigots may not like it, but he committed no crime in NZ and he never committed an act of violence against anyone, anywhere. Yet the Labour government saw fit to violate his civil rights in order to curry favour with the French and look good in the war on terror (at least in the eyes of the US, Australia and the UK). Shame on Richard Woods (SIS director general at the time), Lianne Dalziel (Immigration Minister at the time), and Helen Clark for orchestrating this farce–remember “lie in unision?” Praise Allah for Deborah Manning, Rodney Harrison and Richard McLeod for speaking truth to that abuse of power.(Note to retrogrades: Allah means God so chill on the pro-terrorist accusations).

Tim Selwyn spent more than year in stir having been found guilty of sedition. Read the rest of this entry »

Who took down Winston?

datePosted on 06:00, January 16th, 2009 by Anita

Winston Peters did not fall, he wasn’t even just pushed, he was dragged down by an effective tactical campaign. Some political operative got everything they needed – the evidence, the source, a couple of journos, a couple of commentators and a couple of politicians – and they went for it, and they won. 

It’s tempting to see it as a joint National-Act campaign with a disgruntled ex NZ First staffer feeding them information, but the idea that National and Act managed to work that closely together and completely shared everything seems really far fetched. Also the main source will have needed a single main contact.

So maybe it was a National campaign, carefully orchestrated, inviting Act in when needed. National had the biggest benefit from the end of NZF, so that counts for it. But… National ran a very low risk campaign and this was not a low risk strategy: imagine the fallout if the media had covered the strategy orchestration by the Nats, or if Peters really did have the material on the Nats he’d always claimed.

Ok, possibly an Act campaign which occasionally invited in National? Much more plausible from a risk perspective: Act could’ve withstood this going bad without any real difficulty. But… if you were a disgrunted ex-NZFer, would you go to Act? And how much did Act really get from the death of NZF? And does Act have the internal political infrastructure to pull this off?

Final option, someone on the right but outside both parties – relationships and trust with both parties, but not beholden to either. So no political risk to either party, more plausible deniability for journos (it’s not coming straight from a party operative) and the ability to co-ordinate across and beyond party lines. But… there are only a few right operatives that skillful who aren’t in parties and surely someone’s checked them out.

So, who did it? Who had the skill, ability and connections to take down Winston Peters?

Hillary Reinvents the Wheel

datePosted on 01:53, January 16th, 2009 by Pablo

The Senate confirmation hearings on Hillary Clinton’s nomination as Secretary of State went remarkably well for her. She showed all of her moxie, knowledge and intuition to great advantage. She is a shoo-in as the next Secretary of State, the third female in the job and the first ex-Senator in ages. But it is what she said about the conduct of US foreign policy in the Obama administration that was most interesting.

Clinton talked of the need to use “smart power,” as opposed to hard or soft power. She made it seem that “smart power” was the judicious mix of soft and hard power in the approach to foreign policy. One would have thought that when using the coercive disincentives of the threat and use of force embodied in “hard” power concepts, or the economic, diplomatic and cultural incentives of the “soft” power construct, the US would be “smart,” to say nothing of judicious and nuanced, in their application. It goes without saying that under the Bush 43 administration it did not. But is the notion of “smart power” really a new conceptualisation of how to conduct foreign policy, or is it merely rebranding something tried and true (and perhaps found wanting in the past).

I argue the case for the latter. “Smart” power is no more than the 21st century recycled, renamed approach know as Wilsonian pragmatism. Wilsonian pragmatism is the (uneasy) meshing of principled idealism and realism in the conduct of US foreign policy. The idea is to push democratic capitalist ideals as a moral imperative, but deal with thorny foreign policy issues from a realist baseline. Realist baselines are based upon pragmatic self-interest, which is value neutral and power-oriented. When idealism and pragmatism clash, pragmatism always wins. When ideology meets realism, realism holds sway. Realism, a term derived from the German realpolitik and first enunciated by Metternich, simply posits the thesis that nations have interests, some of which are essential to national survival and some which are not. Nation-states use all aspects of national power (political, economic, diplomatic, cultural) to advance core interests, and leave non-essential interest pursuit to times of plenty or peace. Otherwise, there is no room for idealism in international politics or foreign policy. Now is not a time of peace or plenty. Read the rest of this entry »

Freedom?

datePosted on 10:52, January 15th, 2009 by Jafapete

The right-wing fringe think-tank, the Heritage Foundation, has scored NZ slightly higher on its yearly Index of Economic Freedom. NZ comes in at number 5. Rankings here.

This despite a Labour-led government being in charge at the time the data were collected.

According to the Heritage Foundation, the increase–from 80.6% to 82%–was due to improvements in trade, investment and property rights. The Herald notes that, “Freedom from corruption declined but remained high at 94 per cent, and labour freedom fell but was also high at 89.65 per cent”, but doesn’t tell us that the “labour freedom” score declines with higher minimum wages, protections against arbitrary dismissals, etc. It doesn’t mean freedom for workers. Still, with December’s stripping of low-end workers’ protections against arbitrary dismissal (barring provable discrimination), NZ should score even higher on this “freedom” next year.

Interestingly, NZ came in just behind Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia and Ireland, and just ahead of the United States and Canada. What do all these countries have in common? A clue… Britain came in at number 10. Yep, the English-speaking, common law countries–all ruled by Britain at some point– share a predilection for light regulation of business. (This is borne out in the rankings of the right-wing Fraser Institute as well.)

It will be interesting to see how the Anglo-American economies and their Asian cousins fare compared to the rest of the world over the next couple of years.

Yesterday morning I read Maia’s excellent post about the “women and children” rhetoric being used about Gaza in which she reminds us it’s not just the innocent who deserve protection. Later I walked past a pro-Israel rally outside Parliament in which someone held a banner saying “Hamas uses women and children for terror!”

The point about the phrase “women and children” is that they’re implicitly helpless. Women and children are people things happen to, bombs fall on them, soldiers shoot them, men rape them – they are powerless in the face of others.

In reality there are many women in the world who choose to engage in political or military struggle. There are women fighting for both Palestine and Israel, then there’s RwandaEritrea and Iraq. There are women politically involved in determining their own destiny in every corner of the world. 

I take no pleasure, no pride, no secret feminist joy in reading those articles or watching those videos. But my horror is not because they are women, it is because they are human. When I see stories of women killed in bombings, women raped in ethnic cleansing and women forced to be soldiers my horror is because they are human – nobody of any gender or age should have those lives. 

Women, like men, can be victims of violence, and women, like men, can be be agents of their own destiny: they can fight for armies and they can struggle for peace. We are not the epitome of helpless, powerless vulnerability.

Quoting: better or worse?

datePosted on 19:01, January 14th, 2009 by Anita

In response to some questions about quoting, and some pretty hard to read comments, I’ve just installed the clickquote plugin and would like some feedback about whether it’s made things better or worse.

Now if you click on a paragraph in a post or comment it will magically appear in your comment box all wrapped up in a blockquote. You will still need to type in who you’re quoting and add some of your own words too :)

So, is that better or worse? Anything else you’d like?

Act says: solve everything by privatising everything

datePosted on 09:38, January 14th, 2009 by Anita

Roger Douglas was on Morning Report this morning, once again banging on about how we should privatise more stuff to save ourselves. I was interested to hear him complaining that National led government isn’t doing what he said they should, given that they clearly are. They have plans for

  • privatising more health provision
  • private prisons
  • increased funding to private schools
  • private competition in work accident insurance
  • privatisation of many local government services
  • private provision of social welfare services

Exactly what is Douglas concerned National is unwilling to privatise?

“You don’t throw a cup at your brother!”

datePosted on 06:00, January 14th, 2009 by Anita

Last week I was standing in a cafe queue in front of some mums talking about their children, one said “I told him ‘I don’t care who started it, you don’t throw a cup at your brother!'”

With that rather heavy-handed allegory I start another post about Gaza: I don’t care who started it; it’s not ok to bomb civilians, fire missiles into towns, or invade and start killing innocents.

Every time someone criticises Israel’s actions they get slammed for being anti-Semitic, pro-Palestinian and/or for standing up for terrorists. When someone criticises Hamas’ actions they get attacked for being blindly pro-Israel, a lapdog of the US and/or for standing up for terrorists.

I don’t know whose fault the current situation is, I don’t know the ins and outs of all the wars, the politics, the negotiations, the ceasefires and truces and the breaches, the overt ties, the covert ties and the financial ties.

But I know that I don’t care who started it and that it’s not ok to use the lives of innocents as leverage in a political power game.

P.S. Maia has and interesting post about why innocence should not be required for us to care.

The case for increasing NZDF presence in Afghanistan

datePosted on 16:22, January 13th, 2009 by Pablo

If not already, within the next few weeks NZ will be asked by the US and NATO to increase its NZDF contribution to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission in Afghanistan. NZDF are currently serving in their 13th rotation as a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Bamyan Province in Central Afghanistan (under US regional command). They also have officers deployed as liaison elements at Bagram Air Force Base, bringing the total to approximately 150. In its contribution to the ISAF mission NZ is comparable with other small states such as Estonia (130), Latvia (70), Albania (120) and Slovakia (130) and Macedonia (140), but falls short of most of the other members of the 41 nation ISAF coalition (Australia, for example, has. 1100 soldiers deployed in that theater). The questions are whether NZ should contribute more troops, in what role, and can it afford to do so both politically and economically? Most progressives would say no to all three. I beg to differ.

The answers should be yes, combat and combat support as well as PRT and yes. The reason is that rather than a (neo) imperialist intervention, the mission in Afghanistan is a multinational nation-building effort in the wake of state failure. That state failure was brought about by the medieval theocratic Taliban regime, whose record on human rights and support for external terrorism made it arguably the most oppressive regime of the late 20th century.  Under the “responsibility to protect” doctrine elaborated by the UN in the wake of Rwandan and Serbian ethnic cleansing in the 1990s, the international community has a duty to protect populations from the depredations of their rulers as well as from others. As a supporter of the UN mandate, NZ subscribes to this philosophy. It is thus obligated to be involved in Afghanistan and the NZ progressive community should welcome its involvement. Read the rest of this entry »

I do not mourn the passing of the 5th Labour government

datePosted on 06:00, January 13th, 2009 by Anita

The fifth Labour government was a disappointment, an embarrassment, and a litany of opportunities lost. Many good things were done, even the occasional great thing – but right now I can only look back with disappointment.

For nine years with had a “left wing” government, a Labour government, which:

  • put a refugee in solitary confinement for 10 months, despite never telling him what he was accused of
  • employed a senior police officer for nearly four years despite him admitting to the sexual exploitation of vulnerable teenagers and publicly supporting convicted rapists
  • put in place financial support for the children of workers, but ignored the plight of our poorest and most vulnerable children
  • drove a 50% increase in the prison population
  • failed to bring stability to our abortion rules; leaving our bodies to the whim of the next government
  • did not give workers back the right to strike
  • drafted and passed amendments to the Immigration Act removing rights of appeal and allowing the use of secret evidence
  • drafted and passed the Terrorism Suppression Act, a piece of legislation which cuts deeply into our fundamental rights
  • condoned and supported the October 15 raids in which the Police invaded and harassed innocent communities
  • passed legislation preventing courts deciding who should own the seabed and foreshore
  • put NZ troops into Afghanistan and Iraq
  • released an wonderful disability strategy, and completely failed to implement it
  • failed to address climate change in any meaningful way

Don’t misunderstand me, that Labour government was hugely better than its predecessor (and has every sign of being better than its successor) but it could have been so much more; we deserved so much better.

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