Sunday, November 09, 2008

Reflections on Helen Clark

I hadn't said anything about the 2008 electoral campaign because I regarded the result as a foregone conclusion and couldn't wait for it to be over. Labour had contracted a terminal case of Howard's disease (i.e. it had run dry of ideas) and the numerous sagas since then (the Owen Glenn affair, the secret taping of the Nats, Mike Williams desperate dash to Oz to find dirt on John Key etc.) only reinforced my conviction that this was a government in need of humane slaughter. The election was always going to be the end of an era and I think Helen Clark had foreseen this given her decision to step down as Party Leader during her concession speech. Her announcement was dramatic but really unsurprising. There's no way after nine years in power that she could seriously expected the public to reconsider re-electing her in the future.

While Clark has been a very capable prime minister (in terms of effectiveness, she's well ahead of Jim Bolger and leaves David Lange on the starting line), I didn't like many of her policies and I never liked her style. Her problems with the truth (e.g. leaking false information in the Peter Doone affair, signing paintings she hadn't painted and then passing them off as hers, claiming she hadn't noticed how fast she was going in the speeding convoy) were bad enough but coupled with repellant rhetoric (describing Don Brash as "cancerous", saying that Fiji would become a "leper" and most recently claiming that John Key was on the verge of crying during the first leader's debate) she needlessly created division during her administration.

Clark was noted for keeping a large number of useless ministers on in cabinet well after most managers would have cut them loose. However her one error, I believe, in the recent parliamentary term was her inability to deal with Michael Cullen, a titan in her cabinet who was content to consider that being in a minority of one about his policies was "a comfortable working majority" (originally applied by Gerald Hensley to Robert Muldoon). His attitude towards tax cuts had almost cost Labour the 2005 election and she would have well-advised to kick him upstairs during the last term. But for some reason, she didn't remove Cullen from the financial portfolio whereas Jim Bolger could remove Ruth Richardson after the 1993 election. By the time Cullen was made to offer something substantial this year, the phone was off the hook and Clark's tumble from power was inevitable.

Monday, November 03, 2008

The US Elections: the Polls

In recent weeks virtually every single poll has put Barack Obama in the lead (there was a poll that said otherwise but that turned out to be Zogby playing with himself the numbers). Yet somehow I can't help feeling that there's something seriously wrong about the opinion poll results. I'm not doing this out of a deluded hope that John McCain will win the election - to prepare myself for his loss I've engaged in certain exercises (fetal crouches and thumb suckings).

The source of my discontent is that in 1992, Bill Clinton rode as high as a 20% poll lead over the Elder Bush before falling back to a respectable 6%. He did this by running on a platform of "It's the economy, stupid" in a recession. Barack Obama has been the beneficiary of a meltdown on Wall Street. Things are so bad that if a lynch mob were given the choice between Barack and a Wall Street Banker, they would hang the Banker without hesitation. Yet Barack has never gotten anything like Clinton's lead in the opinion polls. Coupled with other factoids such as the Vice-Presidential debate between Sarah Palin and Joe Biden pulled 75 million viewers whereas Barack Obama could only pull a third of that for his informercial and my feeling is that the pollsters are getting a distorted impression of the mood due to the recent Wall Street calamity.

I'm not going to engage in an detailed analysis of the polls as it will quickly degenerate into something less informative than a gaggle of Haruspices arguing about the state of a liver. Nor can I plausibly argue that all the polling companies are shilling for Barack because even the Republican polls is saying pretty much the same thing.

If I were to hazard a guess, I would say that the polling is capturing Barack's support accurately but underreporting McCain's support in the countryside. This is because polling companies in order to cut costs produce a representative sample by conducting polls in the easy-to-reach big cities and adjust the results using the smaller sample of the harder-to-reach areas such as the countryside to arrive at a reasonable approximation of the sampling population as a whole. This corner cutting is legitimate and it works and the polling companies would go out of business if they didn't.

However this corner cutting can produce misleading results from time to time. For example Tom Bradley failed to become Governor of California not because moderate democrats were lying to the pollsters about their willingness to vote for a black but because there was an anti-gun proposition on the ballot. The NRA sounded the duelling banjos to defeat it and the unanticipated extra voters voted against Bradley for good measure because he had supported the proposition.

Does this effect significantly distort the poll results? I don't know. If it did, will it be large enough for McCain to win the election? I really don't know. All I can do is wait...

Monday, October 27, 2008

The US Elections: Barack Obama

Firstly let's get the good points out of the way. Barack Obama is one of the more likeable presidential candidates I've seen. He's miles ahead of Kerry and he lacks Clinton's odour of corruption. In addition I quite like the idea of a Hussein running America. But there are a number of issues about him that I find troublesome.

Experience and ability When he initially declared his candidacy, I didn't think he had a chance as he hadn't even completed a term in Senate. But in winning the Democratic nomination against overwhelming odds (ie running against the presumptive nominee), he's shown he has the ability. Thus he will be capable of getting things done but his lack of experience means that he will likely make more than a few mistakes along the way.

Pallin' around with Ayers, Rezko and Wright: I am not concerned that Barack had associated with an unrepentant (albeit incompetent) terrorist, a corrupt bagman and a hellfire preacher. What does concern me is that he has been unable to provide a convincing narrative to create distance between himself and the unattractive aspects of the unholy trio. Simply saying about Ayers something like "We all regarded him as a nut for what he did and avoided speaking to him about it for fear of receiving yet another lengthy tedious monologue but when it came to education he had some very good ideas" would have done much to quell any concerns. Likewise Rezko could be explained away with "You needed to know such people in order to get anything done in Chicago, sad but true" and Wright with "I generally tuned out during his sermons". The fact that he has not yet done so makes me wonder whether he is psychologically able to do so.

Joe the Plumber: What strikes me most about the Joe the Plumber incident is how unnecessary it was. Joe simply asked about how Obama's tax plans would affect his intentions of owning a small company. It wasn't as if he was indicating a desire to become the chairman of a large multinational. All Barack had to do to say that his tax plans wouldn't be affecting small businesses amongst other political fluff and nobody would have been any wiser. But in giving the answer that he did, Barack needlessly created a potential opening which still rumbles on.

Joe the Gasbag: In my opinion the worst decision that Barack has made was the choice of his vice-president. I believe his decision not to choose Hillary Clinton was the right one as after bungling the healthcare reform and the 2008 democratic primary, no sane person could dispassionately want her in a position of power and responsibility. Yet choosing Joe Biden was an uninspired choice that it seemed to show a lack of imagination (and made the choice of Sarah Palin even more dramatic). If he had chosen somebody with a slightest bit of colour, like say Governor Bill Richardson (executive experience, hispanic, former ambassador to the UN) I would feel a lot more comfortable.

The lack of a killer instinct: Sometimes in politics, you have to be unpleasant to people. John McCain had this beaten into him by North Vietnamese Torturers. Hillary Clinton has learned this the hard way through her marriage. But with Barack, I don't see anything in his political career or personal history that indicates that he can do this or even knows this. He singularly failed to put Hillary out of contention for the Democratic Primary for example.

So if he does become president, I fear that we are going to see a fair amount of missteps during his term.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Politics in New Zealand...

At Waitangi yesterday:

"I was rather touched that your guys thought I would be the next Prime Minister..."

Friday, January 11, 2008

Old Bastard finally knocks off


Thursday, November 08, 2007

Making sense of the Terrorism Suppression Act

I haven't blogged at all about the recent Te Qaeda fuss because as soon as I heard Tame Iti was involved, I figured the people involved were clowns who ought to be beaten with cluebats rather than anything serious. The defendants still face charges under the Arms Act, which specifies sentences of up to five years. What's more interesting to me is that the Solicitor-General has decided that there won't be prosecutions under the Terrorism Suppression Act of 2002 (ordinarily this would be the Attorney-General's decision but since Michael Cullen is not a lawyer or a wise minister of finance for that matter, he has delegated the decision to the Solicitor-General) because the act is "extremely complex, very, very tortuous in the way in which it is put together and almost impossible to apply in a coherent manner". Strong words. But for people familiar with the legal thinking of the then Minister of Justice when the legislation was drafted, one Margaret Wilson, they should not be surprising ones.

So this led me to think what exactly did the Solicitor-General have problems with? The act is here. To give a flavour of what must have caused the Solicitor-General to start beating himself senseless against a brick wall, Terrorism Acts are defined in s5(1) as:
1) An act is a terrorist act for the purposes of this Act if—

(a) the act falls within subsection (2); or
Subsection 2) states that the act is terrorism if it is intended to cause certain outcomes that are listed in subsection 3) and that these acts are carried out with a purpose and also with certain intentions. So in order to assess whether my plans to blow up the Beehive (for the sake of an example I assure you) is terrorism, the police must not only ascertain the likely outcome but also my intentions as well as my purpose. Why my intentions and purposes should be considered separately, I have no idea. Moving on:
(b)the act is an act against a specified terrorism convention (as defined in section 4(1)); or
The specified terrorism conventions are defined in section 4(1) as being specific treaties listed in Schedule 2. So why did the act not say instead "as listed in Schedule 3"? Looking at the next subsection:
(c)the act is a terrorist act in armed conflict (as defined in section 4(1)).
The definition in s4(1) for some reason fails to describe what an armed conflict is or what the acceptable means of armed conflict is. Have a look at s13:
(1)A person commits an offence who participates in a group or organisation for the purpose stated in subsection (2), knowing that the group or organisation is—

(a) an entity that is for the time being designated under this Act as a terrorist entity; or

(b) an entity that carries out, or participates in the carrying out of, 1 or more terrorist acts.

(2)The purpose referred to in subsection (1) is to enhance the ability of any entity (being an entity of the kind referred to in subsection (1)(a) or (b)) to carry out, or to participate in the carrying out of, 1 or more terrorist acts.
Two subsections both of which refer to each other. It would have been much simpler to define "terrorist group" in s4 so that s13 can be rewritten as:
A person commits an offence by knowingly participating in a terrorist group to either enhance its capability to carry out terrorist acts or to carry out one or more terrorist acts or both.
See the difference? Why couldn't Margaret Wilson?

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Royal Blackmail

I really don't see what the fuss is about. After all, he wasn't dropping his h's on tape.