Sunday, June 26, 2005

Israel 'apologizes' over passport row.

Israel has finally apologized over the passport row (which I've blogged about here, here and here). The thing that struck me as curious was that Helen was holding a press conference about the affair yet we never saw any comment from any Israeli official. With my suspicions aroused, I went hunting for the Israeli letter of apology which can be found here (but you'll have to scroll down an unnecessary letter from Phil Goff included, I suppose, to show that he who obtained the apology to be given and not Helen's).

Looking at it, you can see the Israelis haven't really apologized for much:
[...] [W]e wish to express our regret for the activities which resulted in the arrest and conviction of two Israeli citizens in New Zealand on criminal charges and apologize for the involvement of Israeli citizens in such activities
In other words, they haven't apologized for the attempt to procure NZ passports but merely regretted the incident and apologized for the fact that Israeli citizens were involved. Presumably if the Israelis had hired non-citizens (like say Lebanese) for the operation, they wouldn't have anything to apologize for.

In light of the weak nature of the apology, I'm left wondering why it has supposedly taken the Israelis so long to apologize. The government could have obtained this semi-apology well over six months ago when Uri and Eli were released and deported. My guess is that our government was holding out for a much stronger apology (like apologizing for the actual activity rather than merely regretting it or admitting that the operation was on the behalf of the Israeli security services) and caved in when it was under pressure to obtain some good news. If only we could see the letter that the Israeli Foreign Minister was responding to...

Monday, June 20, 2005

Predicting the changing seats...

David Farrar, when making predictions about the forthcoming election makes the dodgy assumption that "no electorate seats change hands". The only reason why David would make this is due to the 2002 elections. Then National's share of the party vote was significantly well below the votes it gained in the list seats so that the party vote cannot credibily used as a measure of assessing the swing towards national in the upcoming election. So what can?

There is the total votes cast in the electorate seats themselves. One may reasonably raise the argument that this cannot be used as a popular candidate may gain more votes than a party entity may expect to gain. To counter this, I will make the (IMO reasonable) assumption that the electoral candidates are likely to be an equal mixture of strong and weak candidates. Hence any excess votes gained by a popular candidate will be negated by a drain created by a weak candidate.

Totalling the electorate votes cast in the general seats, I calculate that Labour won 43% (which accords fairly with its actual party vote share of 41%) and that National's party vote share would have been (if it actually campaigned properly) 31% instead of the 21% that it had actually received. On the current polls, Labour's share of the elctorate vote will remain static while there will be a 12% swing towards National.

So what seats will change hands? On my calculations, eight general electorate seats will fall from Labour to National on the assumption of a uniform swing. The seats are:
Banks Pennisula: Ruth Dyson gets ousted and David Carter gets in. Both are well-known in the area and either can expect to be returned through the party vote if they lose the electorate.

Hamilton West: Dianne Yates gets replaced by Tim Mcindoe. I'm dubious about this as the National Vote in the last election was based on the strong candidate of Tony Steel, who isn't standing again.

Invercargill: Eric Roy, who has experiece as an MP, re-enters Parliament. Mark Peck, the current Labour MP, is retiring while I don't known anything about Wayne Harpur as his biography on the Labour site is empty.

Napier: Chris Tremain ousts Russell Fairbrother. While Chris is new, Russell is a one-term MP who only became PPS because the Attorney-General, Michael Cullen, didn't have a law degree. Much depends on how well Russell did as an MP.

Northcote: Ann Hartley is replaced by Jonathon Coleman. Ann Hartley appears strong as she has been mayor for many years although there is a curious gap in her biography as to what she did between 1992 and 1999.

Otago: Jacqui Dean ousts David Parker. Jacqui is new but has local government experience while David is a one-termer who took the long-time National seat with a slim majority.

Wellington Central: Mark Blumsky ousts Marion Hobbs which will make DPF cheer and Jordan sad. Mark is a strong candidate having been a popular Mayor of Wellington while my memory of Marion's bumbling performance during her first term leaves me incapable of making an objective assessment about her. She has learned how to keep her head down since then, which is good, but how well this will serve her electorally remains to be seen.

Whanganui: Chester Borrows ousts the paintstripper Jill Pettris. Presumably her caucus colleagues will have their fingers crossed.
While I've put much emphasis on candidate strength in assessing the soundness of my predictions, I should note that this may not count for much on polling day. For example in 1990, Phil Goff lost Mt Roskill to the execrable Gilbert Myles.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Where to now for the Government?

I haven't been blogging on the latest scandals to afflict the government - the billion dollar Kyoto kyok-up and Graeme Kelly's indelicate remarks about Maori delicacies - for one simple reason: the obvious things to say have already been said by other bloggers. Given Helen's high tolerance of incompetence among her colleagues, no heads will be rolling over these scandals. However the net effect is to further erode the government's public image to the extent that it's now running neck and neck in the polls with National and will, if an election was held tomorrow, have to make a deal with Winston First in order to retain power.

But the election won't be held tomorrow and Helen appears to intent on soldiering on until the end of the term in September. Her re-election strategy seems to have two tactics; first, a quiet scandal-free period during which the government's image and polling will benefit and secondly, the realization that the government could lose the election will provide a much-needed shock to the Labour activists to motivate them to get out there and motivate the masses. I don't have see either tactic succeeding while any opportunity to use a third - campaigning as a popular and competent government - has vanished with the Budget.

The quiet free period is unlikely to succeed because the opposition is carefully co-ordinating its attacks. A good example is the Graeme Kelly furore which occurred two months ago but became news last week because of a newsletter by Murray McCully. If the scandal had become public shortly after it happened then it would have clashed with the Doonegate scandal and the Government could have earned much-needed popularity in the Maori seats by recalling Graeme Kelly. But because the opposition kept quiet, the government thought it had contained the scandal and hence was content with Kelly's secret apology. By revealing the story now, the government looks bad on a week that it might have hoped for peace and quiet and worse still, looks bad in the Maori seats because it can't recall Graeme Kelly because it accepted his apology two months ago! Even worse for the government is the number of unresolved scandals that can flare back into life in the next three months. The Waipareira trust scandal has just shown new signs of life that could yet consume John Tamihere's political career, the police still have to report back on whether there is a prima facie case that David Benson-Pope criminally assaulted students and the Doonegate scandal is still unresolved.

A variation on the quiet-free period is for Helen to look good on the international stage by meeting and greeting lots of foreign dignitaries (such as the President of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, who was visiting last week). The only trouble is that Jenny Shipley tried the same trick in 1999 (with the APEC conference and the follow-up visits of Bill Clinton and Jiang Zemin) and it didn't work then.

The second tactic, to energize the party into getting out the vote, suffers from two flaws. Firstly the opposition is now well-motivated and well-organized (as opposed to the previous election in which National bungled its campaigning), which will cancel out any hoped-for impetus. Secondly the fear of losing the election was the same strategy that Labour used in the 1990 election and it failed them then. All this tactic will do is make Labour's core support more fearful about the outcome of the election but the energy will be wasted because Labour's core support will be voting for them anyway.

So my belief is that the government will continue to see a slow decline in its support. I don't expect any radical leadership changes before the election as that didn't work for Labour in 1990 (which Helen being deputy PM at the time must remember) but even if Labour does retain power, there will be some long overdue shake-ups within the caucus.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Doonegate: a development

The Press makes a correction in the In Brief section on page three (not online). It reads:

On May 13 and May 17 The Press published stories about a record of conversation between a reporter and Prime Minister Helen Clark in 2000. The stories quoted a confidential source who said that, in the transcript, Clark urged a reporter "to go back to your source" to confirm what former Police Commissioner Peter Doone said when he was stopped by a police patrol in central Wellington in 1999. The Press now accepts that the transcript does not say "go back to your source". The paper regrets the error.

--Press reporters and agencies
That means that the original story (referenced here as the original is no longer freely accessible) which placed a kibosh on the scandal was false. Although I had expressed my doubts on the story at the time in response to a comment by Jordan Carter, I never imagined that the story would turn out to be just plain wrong. I expect some new rumblings on the affair in the House when it next meets.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Watergate: Deep Throat steps out

In the last echo of a long dead scandal, Mark Feld has outed himself as Deep Throat. As he was number two in the FBI, his motivations for leaking can be assessed as a mixture of altruism and vindictiveness - he had hopes of being made FBI director after J. Edgar Hoover's but Nixon passed him over in favour of Patrick Gray. His subsequent shame at the spiteful nature of his actions was the real reason that his identity remained secret for so long.

For me, the interesting story is not about how two intrepid reporters uncovered a scandal that brought down a president (in reality, the legal authorities did muost of the investigative work and the White House leaked like a sieve). Rather it's how Nixon found himself in the hole of his own making.

The origins go back to Franklin Roosevelt's presidency when J.E. Hoover explained to the President and his secretary of state, Cordell Hull, that he needed a request from Hull before the FBI could investigate the American Communist Party. According to Secrecy and Power, after Hoover finished his request, Roosevelt looked at Hull, who said:
Go ahead and investigate the cocksuckers.
For the next four decades, Hoover used the above statement as legal authority for the FBI to carry out domestic intelligence operations against not only the ACP but also the Ku Klux Klan and the Civil Rights Movement. In the late 60s, a canny Hoover realized that the tide of political opinion was turning against domestic intelligence activities conducted on such flimsy authority. As a result, he brought to an end these activities and extinguished the FBI's capacity to embark on them without lawful authority.

It was at this time, Nixon became President. Having been in Washington since the end of the Second World War, Nixon knew what the FBI was capable of doing but he had realized that the tide had turned. When Nixon made what he thought were reasonable requests for FBI action, he was surprised and hurt to find out that Hoover would not do what he had done for Kennedy and Johnson. Consequently in an effort to battle Nixon's enemies, the White House created the Plumbers to carry out what the FBI had previously done. Unfortunately the Plumbers acted out of zealous loyalty to Nixon rather than sober professionalism. Although they had one or two successes (they uncovered Yeoman Radford who spied on the White House for the Joint Chiefs of Staff), their lack of caution was such that if Watergate had not happened, the Plumbers would have eventually become enmeshed in a scandal that could have brought down Nixon.