Sunday, November 28, 2004

The spy scandal that won't die...

The spy scandal unleashed by the Sunday Star Times has continued to rumble on. The developments over the past week are:
1. NZ Herald has managed to unmask one of the three informants for Operation Leaf. Given what is known of him, the government could dismiss him as a loon except that he stood as a Labour Candidate in 1990. He is not an SIS agent which makes it likely that none of the other sources are actually agents. I thought I saw some remarkable statement that an Australian Journalist had warned the Herald against publishing his background but that seems to have disappeared down the memory hole.

2. The Inspector General of the SIS, Paul Neazor, has launched an inquiry following a complaint by Tariana Turia about the bugging claims. This actually is a seperate issue involving the reported discovery that Tariana's telephone has been interfered with and is not part of the allegations that have been made by the Sunday Star Times informants. Given that the bugging was said not to be of SIS calibre and that the sweep for bugs was carried out after conversations between Turia and her cleaner were reported in the paper, there is a slight possibility that the Labour Party could have a black bag ops team.

3. Most unusual is the statement that there is no "Operation Leaf" within the SIS. The source is probably the SIS briefing on deep background. Who then were the informants working for?

4. The Sunday Star Times has again devoted large amounts of column space to the SIS imbroglio but they don't say anything much.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Sunday Star Times Spy Scandal

The Sunday Star Times has on its front page an expose about what it thinks to be a spy scandal. The stories, by Nicky Hager and Anthony Hubbard, are here, here and here.

In my opinion, the allegations about probably illegal operations can be quashed right away. The article claims six agents (although it's never actually made clear wherther they were actual officers of the SIS or not) in an operation that was ongoing in 2000. If the six agents were paid at a rate of $30,000 a year, that suggests a operation that has cost $720,000 since 2000. The annual operating budget of the SIS was only on the order of $20 million and so an ongoing operation like that would stick out like a sore thumb on the spook's budgets, which would have to be justified not only to the management but also to the government.

Moreover safety is built into the system by having the SIS brief leading politicians. For example, when Helen Clark was the leader of the opposition, she was briefed about David Small's tackling of an SIS agent at his friend Aziz's house. We know this because she inavertedly revealed the purpose of the agent's mission to Divd McLoughlin, a journalist then working at North and South, who promptly printed what was supposed to be secret in his column.

Furthermore Nicky Hager's fingerprints can be detected all over the story:
The spies have also revealed division within the service over its stance in the Zaoui affair. One says the service leadership made a bad call when the Algerian politician first arrived in New Zealand. It had also wanted to impress the Americans, and had foolishly painted itself into a corner over the affair.

There is also division about the orientation and leadership of the SIS, which he says is far too deferential to the larger western intelligence agencies, especially the Americans and the British. New Zealand, he says, needs to develop its own intelligence and security network abroad, instead of passively accepting what the other services told it.
The first paragraph is just the agent parroting some rubbish that Nicky Hager had duckquacked from Paul Buchanan. The second betrays remarkable ignorance of financial realities. We simply do not have enough money to set up our own foreign intelligence service on a budget of $20 million and are forced to rely on fellow agencies. If we are to make alliances with non-western intelligence agencies, above and beyond the normal intercourse that already happens, who should we ally with?

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Mallard and the Supremes

Trevor Mallard, the Governmental Bruiser, has attacked the Supreme Court by saying that it was a pity they had not been appointed on merit. Factually Trevor is correct in his observation about the appointment process (the Chief Justice and the then Appeal Court were simply promoted) but politically he shouldn't be doing this. The previous disputes were caused by ill-considered comments by the Chief Justice but neither she nor anybody else has done anything to upset the government within the past two weeks. So why the attack?

Margaret Wilson has rushed in to heal the breach saying that the Judges were appointed on merit because Judges did not become Senior Appeal Judges without ability. That's certainly true for the Court of Appeal Justices but it doesn't explain the Chief Justice who has never sat on the Court of Appeal. So Margaret has once again managed to pour petrol on troubled waters but so far she hasn't lit a match (as she did when well-intentionally comparing the Chief Justice to a union steward). But we are still no closer to understanding what the cause of the attack was. Is the Chief Justice still making trouble? If so, she is to be commended for keeping it out of the papers and so should be repaid for not having public attacks made upon her.

Incidentally Trevor made the comments under the Chatham House rules (although he was said to have waived it) but he can't be contacted for comment because he is now in the Chatham Islands. Coincidence?

Justice is Done and Donna is Done for

The Supreme Court handed down its first ever decision in the case of Prebble et al. vs Huata. This reverses the idiotic Court of Appeal decision and allows Rodney to invoke the Electoral Integrity Act to dismiss Donna Awatere-Huata from Parliament.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The next Secretary of State

One News devoted one of today's top news slots to a story about Colin Powell's resignation and the choice of Condoleezza Rice as his replacement. They also had an interview with an American journalist to discuss the story. However, for all their attention to the story, they failed to mention one particular incident which is directly relevant to us.

It occured during the invasion of Iraq. After an alleged impasse caused by a sandstorm, Helen Clark pontificated knowingly that the war was not going to plan. This was an exceptionally silly thing to say as numerous "experts" had declared a far worse impasse in Afghanistan in the previous year only to witness the Taliban lose control of the country within the week. Normally this silliness would have disappeared from the news within twenty four hours except that the Arabic media, looking for any criticism of the Americans, picked it up and played it again and again. When the Americans heard about this, a furious Condi chewed out the NZ Ambassador. When the Ambassador was finally discharged from hospital, he got on the phone to Helen to tell her how furious the Americans were. Helen then wrote a grovelling letter of apology to George Bush (which she won't release) and since then she has refrained from pontificating about far away countries about which she knows nothing.

CDHB elections: an analysis

The full STV results for the Canterbury District Health Board Elections is available here as a PDF document. A short summary of the results:
Name1st PrefFinalResult
David Morrell16,53116,531Elected 1st
Robin Booth9,65314,052Elected 27th
Olive Webb8,75314,068Elected 29th
Jo Kane7,30313,146Elected 33rd
Alister James6,93213,171Elected 30th
Laurence Malcolm5,56112,552Elected 35th
Neville Bennett5,1367,135Excluded 26th
Alison Wilke4,8637,787Excluded 28th
Felicity Price4,33810,776Excluded 35th
Heather Carter4,16613,452Elected 33rd
Winston McKean4,1576,032Excluded 24th
Eleanor Carter4,0898,846Excluded 32th
Rod Cameron3,5625,104Excluded 23rd
Sandi Evans2,8324,466Excluded 22nd
Ray Kirk2,8673,538Excluded 20th
Andrew John McKenzie2,5053,856Excluded 21th
Paul Telfer2,4233,052Excluded 18th
Stephanie Jane Waterfield2,2592,767Excluded 17th
John Dean1,8332,217Excluded 15th
Tahu Stirling1,5831,895Excluded 14th
Kathryn McIlraith1,1241,326Excluded 13th
Mark Webster1,1001,263Excluded 12th
Kevin Patrick O'Connell9691,072Excluded 10th
Tom Dowie861913Excluded 8th
Peter van Hout844927Excluded 9th
Mary King823876Excluded 6th
Peter Stocks717760Excluded 4th
Robert H McKeown596613Excluded 3rd
Michael Hansen486496Excluded 2nd

Friday, November 12, 2004

The road to Christchurch is paved with good intentions.

In July, a police investigation was launched to investigate reports that the Prime Minister's motorcade travelled the 195km between Waimate and Christchurch in eighty minutes so that the PM could attend a rugby match. The scandal was that this driving feat could only be performed at a mean speed of 145 km/h when the de facto speed limit was only 110 km/h. The investigation has now been completed and six people are facing dangerous driving charges.

This is not good news for the Prime Minister. Even though she claims that she had her head buried in the papers and was oblivious to the speed of her motorcade, she still bears some vicarious responsibility for their actions. What's worse is the temptation of the people charged to testify to some unflattering anecdote about the Prime Minister in order to obtain sympathy at their trial.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

The Great War: Just or Unjust?

In a post on Remembrance Day, No Right Turn claims that the Great War was not a Just War. He is wrong.

The Great War did not begin with two shots in Sarajevo but by deliberate German policy decisions to use that crisis to provoke a European war in which they hoped to win. During the July Crisis, the Germans incited Austria-Hungary to go to war with Serbia with promises of their full support even though Russia would be bound to intervene. When Russia mobilized, the Germans again made the decision to implement the Schliffen plan, which entailed not just mobilization but the invasion of only France and neutral Belgium as well. The Great War was not caused by a "network of alliances" that "ensured that a minor scuffle would turn into a Europe-wide conflagration".

Furthermore the German occupation of Belgium was marked by numerous atrocities, such as the shooting of hostages in reprisal. Their ultimate goals can be seen too clearly in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk which was far harsher and more rapacious than the Treaty of Versailles. Hence to go to war with the Germans was morally justified.

Arafat is no longer "pining for the fjords"

Yassir Arafat, the failed Palestinian statesman and sometime vegetable, has finally passed on. He is no more. He has ceased to be. He has expired and gone to meet his maker. He is a stiff. Bereft of life, he rests in peace. If the French hadn't hooked him up to a life-support machine before, he'd be pushing up the daisies by now. His metabolic processes are now history. He's off the twig. He's kicked the bucket, he's shuffled off this mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleeding choir invisible. Yassir is an ex-human.

Hopefully the Palestinians will now be able to make the most of their newfound opportunity and make real progress in setting up a Palestinian State.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Arafat is almost dead

After a day of conflicting rumours about whether Yassir Arafat is alive or dead, the consensus seems to be that he's brain dead and his doctors are just waiting to pull the plug. Why are they waiting? Because where Arafat will be buried hasn't been settled yet and they don't want to aggravate matters by having his corpse left unburied for more than a day. As for the nature of Arafat's condition, the continued silence is making me take seriously the allegation that he has AIDs.

One News is taking the prospect of his death as a big deal with Arafat's condition occupying the top news spot. However they are being clueless as usual in describing his imminent death as a blow to the peace process. As any fule kno, Arafat was an impediment rather than an assistant to the establishment of the Palestinian State.

John Tamihere has left Cabinet

John Tamihere has resigned his portfolios. He had the luck to do it on the day of the US elections but his resignation was forced by the announcement that the Serious Fraud Office were investigating the Trust over dodgy invoices that he signed. He may have been unaware that the invoices were dodgy but nevertheless it's not a good look. In addition, it's just come to light that Chen and Palmer have issued a legal opinion stating that some of John's manuveurs against the Waipareria Trust leadership breached the Trust's constitution and also the law on trusts. Although John has said that he intends to return to cabinet, I don't see how considering that his hands are so dirty.

District Health Board results

After the elections of Australia, Afghanistan and America have taken place and the results known, we finally get to know the Canterbury District Health Board election results. The full results aren't up but I've been informed that they will be put online over the weekend. So I'll just confine myself to comments on the victors:
David MORRELL (Health 2021): A worthy choice and one that I voted for.
Robin BOOTH (Re-elect Robin Booth): Bugger!
Olive WEBB (Independent) A doctor that does some work for the CHDB. I believe it to be a bad choice as I explained here.
Alister JAMES (Labour for Health 2021) Another candidate that I voted for. Not out of any impression of competence, mind you, but because of the selection critera that I used.
Heather CARTER (Health Cuts Hurt): A problem member for the Council.
Jo KANE (Health 2021): Another person that I voted for due to my selection method.
Laurence MALCOLM (Health 2021): One that I didn't vote for because I saw that he was a medical professional and assumed that he would have conflicts of interests. Looking at his bio, I see that is not the case and so I would have voted for him.
How good will these Board members be? I have no idea whatsoever and without the relaxation of the Gag rule and consequent public examination of their actions, I fail to see how Annette King, the Minister of Health, expects us to believe that electing board members will do any good. Perhaps she's taken something from her daughter's handbag?

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

US Presidential Results

As of writing, it's clear that Bush has won a second term. The Kerry campaign is refusing to concede defeat yet due to all the provisional ballots that are to be counted in Ohio. Since Bush's margin in the ordinary votes is so large, for Kerry to win the provisionals will have to break his way by a ridiculous 3-1 margin. Kerry's delusion is kept alive by large sections of the media refusing to call Ohio because they are haunted by the ghost of 2000.

As for my predictions, I called the popular vote almost correctly (Bush 51%, Kerry 48% and Nader 1%) by overstating Kerry's vote by 1% and not noticing that my total added to 101% (how embarrassing!). As for the battleground state predictions, I was wrong on Ohio. Although Wisconsin is yet to be decided, it is unlikely as of writing that Bush will get it. New Mexico and Iowa are almost certainly in Bush's hands and I do not know the media are refusing to call them for Bush.

As for the prospect of weeks of litigation, we can forget it. The litigation in 2002 was driven by Al Gore's knowledge that he won the popular vote and the belief that he had a moral mandate. Kerry does not have the popular vote and has lost it by a greater margin than Carter won over Ford. Hence He has no arguable mandate to litigate the results.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Paul Holmes quits...

Paul Holmes has suddenly quit TVNZ. The stated cause was that he wanted a longer contract than the annual contract that TVNZ has offered him and that another TV station offered him an exciting proposal. The name of this station? Prime! This is about as shocking as the news that he was leaving as Prime was just a minor Ozzie channel until now.

His current affairs show which has been called Holmes has now had a rapid name change - it's now Close Up at 7. I suspect that a contingency plan was activated. I haven't watched it yet but Sue Wood did an admirable job in the ads of saying "Tonight on Close-up at 7" instead of the "Tonight on Holmes" that she's been doing for the past fifteen years.

US Election Prediction

Having spent so much effort on describing the candidates, I might as well turn to the campaign. Kerry has run a poor campaign. He criticizes Bush for the Iraq War yet is unclear about what he would have done. Being long-winded and unable to concisely articulate any positive message at gunpoint, the poor campaign is only a reflection of his own personal inadequacies. Kerry did a great favour to himself in performing well on style in the debates but he still has a major credibility gap.

A number of media outlets here and overseas report that the two candidates are tied in the opinion polls. This is nonsense. If Bush and Kerry were actually tied, we should be seeing a number of tied polls with the rest being split an equal amount of Bush and Kerry. What is being reported is that Bush leads in most of the polls with a minority of ties and even smaller Kerry leads. But because Bush's lead in the polls is estimated at 2% which is within the normal marginal error of 3%, too many journalists have reported the race as too close to call. If it was only one poll and no other, then their caution is warranted but when many polls report the same thing, the actual conclusion is that Bush's lead is small but real. The 2% margin is the same margin as Carter beat Ford with in 1976.

I went over the state polls for the battleground states last night, trying to see who would win. However the picture is confused by the Gallup poll which reports many states as being the opposite of what other polls has been reporting. An accurate prediction is impossible and so I present my best guesses using Slate as a baseline and apportioning what they call the iffy votes.

Bush: Florida, Wisconsin, Iowa, New Mexico
Kerry: Ohio, Minnesota, New Hampshire.

Based on what Slate was calling the states last night, Bush would win with 276 Electoral Votes and 51% of the popular vote (49% Kerry, 1% Nader). However Slate has reinterpreted its own guesses since then and I lack the time and patience to recalculate the guesses according to the RealClear baseline. I will instead point out that I expect these to be a minimum of what Bush is likely to get. Given that Kerry only has a slight lead in Pennsylvania and Ohio, either of those could fall into Bush's hands due to the weakness of support for Kerry.

Thoughts on the US Presidential Candidates

Earlier this year, I took earlier this year at presidentmatch to see which presidential
candidate was best suited to me. The results were:
100% Kerry
99% Lieberman
96% Edwards
92% Sharpton
91% Bush
89% Dean
87% Clark
75% Kucinich
So why do I believe that Bush is the better candidate?

The short answer is that Kerry changed his positions.

The long answer? There are several reasons why I feel Kerry would be a bad president. To provide balance, I will answer many of the common criticisms of Bush and why I do not find them convincing.

His record as a Dove: Throughout his political career, John Kerry opposed the use of military force. He felt Vietnam was a bad war, that Reagan was wrong in his policy towards the Soviets, and that force should not have been used to expel the Iraqis from Kuwait. All three of these positions are now known to have been wrong while I felt that the Kuwaiti war was right at the time. His position on the War in Iraq is, as he would say, "nuanced". At first, he favoured action against Saddam Hussein (as little as two months after 9/11 when the US was still focused on Afghanistan), voted to give George Bush the authority to use force and criticized Howard Dean for opposing the war. Now as the Democratic candidate, he has said that Iraq is the wrong war at the wrong place at the wrong time. Either he was posturing before or he is posturing now. What is his true position? His record indicates that he still is a Dove. In my opinion, electing a Dove tomorrow would be as big a mistake as electing an Isolationist after Pearl Harbor.

His Senate Record: For a president to be successful, it's a big help to have the ability to persuade Congress to pass contentious legislation. George Bush has a record of doing this but what about John Kerry? If Lyndon Johnson was a arm-twister second to none and if Carol Mosely-Braun was able to thwart Jesse Helms in her first (and only) term, then surely John Kerry with twenty years in the Senate must have some legislative accomplishments that he can be proud of? Unfortunately, no. He's only passed something like eleven bills and resolutions, mostly for trivial things like solidarity with the Sakharov Family and designating a World Population Awareness week. Given that the Republicans are likely to retain control over the Senate and they are definately going to control the House of Representatives after tomorrow, his presidency will be weak.

His problems with the Truth: Whether John Kerry truly deserved all his medals that he was awarded in Vietnam is unknowable. It's also largely irrelevant. What concerns me more is that for one who pledges to always level with the American People and tell the truth, John Kerry has a proven record of doing the opposite. He has embelished his record. His now notorious claim to have spent Christmas in Cambodia of 1968 (which he has repeated several times during his career and once during a Senate Speech) is a good example of this. A lesser known example is his claim of having met with the entire UN Security Council before they passed UNSCR 1441 - no such meeting took place and he only meet with a third of the delegations at most.

Equally concerning to me is his record of hiding events that he finds uncomfortable . For example while he was a member of the Vietnam Veterans against War (VVAW), John Kerry attended a meeting in Kansas in which the assassination of pro-war politicians was debated. John Kerry was opposed and reportedly had a heated argument with the proponent of assassinations and later quit the VVAW. So far, so good. But he did not tell the authorities about the proposal (as an officer in the US Naval Reserve might be expected to do) and for a long time afterwards claimed that he had quit the VVAW before the Kansas meeting. Only this year did he concede that he was there and that only was because the FBI had released reports from informers showing that he had been there. Even now, he states he cannot remember.

Another possible example is his hiding of his other than honorable discharge. Given that it is well known that Chuck Colson at Nixon's behest was sent out to do something nasty to Kerry that he wouldn't later talk about, it should have been simple to admit to this over twenty years ago and portray it as one of Nixon's dirty tricks. But if John Kerry can't level with people and tell the truth about the skeletons in his closet then I have no confidence that he will do so about any difficult subject that his administration has to deal with.

Thus Kerry, what about George Bush?

His lies to the American People: For George Bush to have lied, he must not only have said something that was untrue but also either a) either known that it was untrue or b) known that it was highly unlikely to be true. In the case of the War with Iraq, he has not lied. Should George Bush apologize for being wrong about what his intelligence services have told him? There is a good case to be made for that. But strangely many of the people making it do not seem to be applying the standards they demand of George Bush to themselves. For instance, Joe Wilson's accusations that George Bush lied about the Iraqis seeking yellowcake from Niger was widely reported in the media. When the Senate Intelligence Report came out and found that it was Joe Wilson who was lying, no apology was tendered by the media to their consumers for having misled them. Moreover I don't see an apology forthcoming from the Germans for having misled the Americans and the British about the biological trailers.

His inability to admit to mistakes: This means different things to different people. For people opposed to the war, they consider the Iraq War to have been a mistake because no stockpiles of WMDs have been found. They are wrong because the War was not just about WMDs. For Kerry supporters who supported the War, Bush's mistakes relate to the rebuilding of Iraq, namely the lack of a plan, the sending of too few troops to Baghdad to prevent looting, the disbanding of the Iraqi military and the abandonment of the Siege of Fallujah back in April. Each of these is not a mistake. It was impossible to plan for the Occupation of Iraq because nobody could knew how Iraq would turn out. Too few troops were sent because the Turks refused permission for the Fourth Infantry Division to invade Iraq from its territory. The Iraqi military was dissolved because it was an arm of a brutal totalitarian state and its elements were either brutal incompetents (like some Russian Army Units in Chechnya) or evil bastards (like the Waffen S.S.). If they hadn't been dissolved then the news would be full of the latest atrocity committed by the Iraqi army in peacekeeping operations or that an Iraqi general has set himself up as a Warlord. As for abandoning Fallujah back in April, the choice was either a pacified Fallujah or an Iraqi interim government. The better decision was made.

His contempt for human rights: Basically this comes down to two things - the Patriot Act and the detention of Terrorists at Guantanamo Bay. Abu Ghraib, while revolting, was not a product of US policy towards its captives and hence not applicable. So much rubbish has been written about the Patriot Act setting up a police state while there are real reasons for detaining people at Guantanamo Bay. Some of the people released have gone on to commit terrorist offences so there is a case for detention. What the Bush Adminstration has problems with is finding an acceptable legal method for keeping them detained. While legitimate criticism may be leveled against them for not having sorted it out after three years, I have yet to see an reasonable alternative for dealing with the Guantanamo detainees.

His domestic policy: After seeing people rant and rave about how evil Bush is for invading Iraq etc., I find great difficulty in summoning any emotion in dealing with Bush's policies that I disagree with. I support abortion, stem cell research and civil unions. But I also know that when John Ashcroft went to the Senate for the confirmation hearings, he accepted that Roe versus Wade couldn't be thrown out unless the Constitution was changed. Stem Cell Research? George Bush has federally funded research into pre-existing stem cell lines. If people want funds to research brand-new stem cell lines, they could probably ask the State of California after tomorrow. In any case, it's not a magic bullet that is going to cure paralysis within four years as John Edwards claimed. Civil Unions? George Bush is in favour that being decided on a state by state basis.

His economic policy: The four main topics are job losses, huge deficits, tax cuts and outsourcing. As for job losses, this is hardly Bush's fault. The economy was starting to recess as soon as he entered office and 9/11 exacerbated that trend. There is a case to answer for huge deficits but I fail to see how John Kerry can do better if he sticks to his promise of a $5 trillion plan to extend Senator-level to everyone and not raising taxes on anybody earning less than $200,000/year. Considering that his wife finds it easy to pay a tax of 12.5 cents to the dollar, he's either going to have to break his promises or to make his wife very unhappy. Tax cuts? There is ample argument for too much tax cuts being given to the rich as opposed to the middle class but strangely it does not seem to be given much publicity. Lastly outsourcing is good as even Paul Krugman once wrote although that was in the days before Bush was elected and Paul became a Bush-hater.

As a result of this, I have no hesitation thinking Bush the better candidate.