16 October 2021

Emissions Reduction Plan on transport isn't really about cutting emissions

With the NZ Government releasing its draft Emissions Reduction Plan that it intends to present at the COP26 conference in Glasgow, it's worth reviewing what the Government wants to do to us so it can proclaim bountiful levels of virtue signalling, although New Zealand's significance at this is vastly exaggerated by its politicians. This is all about the USA, China, India, the EU, Russia and Brazil after all

I'll leave aside for now whether the target of "net zero" will actually generate any net benefits or not, for now take it as given that the Government wants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). I'll also just focus on the transport policy proposals.

There has been much wailing from radical environmentalists about how weak it is, which you might think means you should be relaxed about it. However, you should not, at least in terms of transport policy.

You see it was some years ago that the only economically rational intervention needed to reduce emissions in transport was introduced – the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). The ETS effectively puts a cap on emissions across around 50% of NZ’s emissions, including all domestic transport emissions. 

If you fill your car with petrol or diesel, part of the price includes the cost for fuel distributors of buying emission units that you effectively use when you burn fossil fuels.  There is a fixed supply of these units, and Government policy is to reduce this supply over time (although there was a blip lately), so the price will go up. 

As the price goes up, businesses and consumers respond, which for transport means they might change the vehicle the own or use, drive less, drive differently, change modes of transport, or just pay up and save money elsewhere.  

These changes would mean the vehicle fleet would change, or there would be more use of public transport (putting fare revenue up), or more walking and cycling (increasingly the economic merits of improving those facilities), or there will less demand for more road capacity or carparks, or people will make savings elsewhere. As demand evolves, then so will how existing infrastructure and services evolve, as they always have.

However, nobody joins the Green Party trusting individuals and businesses to simply make the best choices and to be free. You join the Green Party because you believe it is ethical and necessary to use the power of the state to compel people to do what you think is best for them. Banning and taxing what is “bad”, subsidising and making compulsory what is “good”, the Greens are fundamentally illiberal, and this Labour Government has outsourced climate change policy to that ideology. After all, the Nnew Labour Party of Jim Anderton Jacinda Ardern is a party of the big mother state.

The proposals here represent the most radical shift in transport policy and regulation of the transport sector in over forty years, taking it away from the current model, which seeks to reflect user decisions and choice, to one that regulates, taxes and subsidises planners' choices.

So let me start by reminding you throughout all of this, NOTHING the CCC proposes here will reduce emissions without using the ETS to reduce the emissions units available (which would put up the price of petrol and diesel). ALL of these proposals below reflect an ideology of central command and control, all for ZERO net impact. 

You might think the Climate Change Commission (CCC) would be focused primarily on reducing emissions, but its strategy for transport is much more than that (p.54):

Decarbonising transport also offers opportunities to improve the wellbeing of New Zealanders. Air pollution, crashes and congestion from traffic impose a large cost on our health, environment and economy. For many people and communities, transport is not affordable or accessible. The transition could make transport more inclusive, safe, healthy and resilient, and better support economic activity. 

Now if reducing emissions was seen as generating other benefits that may be all well and good, but this rather glib statement is used to justify a level of intervention in transport policy that has been unheard of in New Zealand for over forty years.  

You might see the link between lower GHG and lower air pollution, but fewer crashes?  For example, reducing the number of road crashes by reducing the amount of driving is like reducing the number of workplace accidents by reducing the number of jobs. Less congestion could ONLY come if there were a significant drop in motorised road traffic, which starts to give you a hint about what this is really all about.

The claim that for “many people and communities” transport is not affordable or accessible is equally glib and nonsensical.  Where's the evidence? Are there chronic problems in people accessing work, school or other facilities? If so you'd think they'd be mass unemployment and businesses struggling to access labour. New Zealand per capita car ownership is amongst the highest in the world.  However, I doubt the CCC thinks owning, let alone using a car is “inclusive” or “safe” or “healthy”.

The CCC's plan focuses on three main strategies to reduce emissions:

1. Reducing reliance on cars and supporting people to walk, cycle and use public transport. 
2. Rapidly adopting low-emission vehicles and fuels. 
3. Beginning work now to decarbonise heavy transport and freight. 

SO let's start...

13 October 2021

Mandatory vaccines?

First let me be clear, I'm in favour of Covid 19 vaccines.  Sure, a tiny minority have severe side effects and a small number of people can't take the Pfizer vaccine (and that's important, because government should not act in ways that are harmful to such individuals), but by and large it is highly beneficial for there to be widespread vaccines to reduce deaths, hospitalisation and illness from Covid 19.

The bigger philosophical and political question is whether they should be compulsory or whether the state and private businesses and citizens have the right to require vaccination status to be demonstrated to access their services or property.  This is where individual rights collide, and the role of the state SHOULD be to ensure the proper delineation between those rights.

For any owners of private property it should be very simple, it should be up to the owner as to whether or not to require vaccination status to enter that property, whether as a customer or not. It is your property after all.  The basis for your decision should be up to you and the public will decide whether or not to go there. Assuming New Zealand achieves vaccination rates in at least the high 80s%, then many will decide that it isn't safe to enter some premises that are laissez-faire about vaccinations, other may be relaxed about doing so. So be it.  It is private property.

What about employment? Any private employer that wants to only hire people who are vaccinated, should feel free to do so, as long as it is explicit in the employment contract that vaccination is required or that the employer may, from time to time, require employees to take preventive steps to protect other employees or the public. This should be clear for any new hires or any existing hires with such a term in their contracts. For existing hires with no such terms, it is problematic to require vaccination, but it is not problematic to take other health and safety measures voluntarily if there is concern about a non-vaccinated employee, or indeed if there is a risk to the business because customers do not want service from a non-vaccinated employee.  Ultimately, a business should not be able to force an existing employee to get vaccinated, but that employee also cannot force the business to act in ways that undermine it.

So what about the state sector?  If it is treated like the private sector, then the same rules should apply to employment. New employees can be required to be vaccinated and existing ones cannot, unless there is provision in their contract to enable it. However, given the state imposes lockdowns on the entire population and businesses because it treats Covid 19 as a national emergency, it seems only reasonable that those that work on the frontline, for the state, in enforcing this, are required to take steps to minimise transmission of Covid 19.

Those working at the border, Police and other emergency services, managed isolation and quarantine all should be vaccinated, as they are at the frontline of the state's strategy to contain Covid.  Beyond that, it is rational for all working in the public health system to also be required to be vaccinated (although it should be possible for private medical professionals to operate, without taxpayer funding, without vaccinations if they so choose).  Taxpayer funded private facilities should be little different, except that a private facility should be able to opt out of receiving taxpayer funds if it wants to operate sans-Covid vaccines.  That's private property rights.

What about everything else? Teachers and school staff should be a matter for the owner of the schools. The state can mandate vaccines for state schools and require those who want to continue receiving taxpayer funding to have such a mandate, but it should not mandate it for fully independent schools (or anyone providing private tuition).

Why does this matter? Because private property rights, contract law and personal sovereignty matter. You should absolutely be able to prohibit anyone from accessing your property, including business, without being vaccinated (or if you so wish, if they are vaccinated), but you reap the consequences if nobody wants to go there.  You should absolutely be able to choose only to hire people who are vaccinated or who are not, but existing employees should not be forced to be vaccinated, unless there is provision in their employment contracts enabling this.  Employers might change the duties of the unvaccinated, and take steps to protect other staff or customers if need be, and if the business loses customers because it doesn't have a fully-vaccinated staff, it might also decide if it needs to make staff redundant as a result, but it shouldn't come to compulsion.  

Further to that, whilst it is entirely consistent with the defence of a country that entry into it can be made dependent on both Covid tests and proof of vaccination, it should not be necessary for citizens or permanent residents (but other options, such as managed isolation, can be used to protect the country from infection). It should also not be necessary to have a "vaccine passport" within the country's borders, except for businesses that choose to use it to enter their property (that includes airlines and bus companies).

So no, there should be no mandatory vaccines for private citizens not employed by the state, nor mandatory vaccine passports to travel internally, but property owners and individuals have every right to impose their own rules on who they allow onto their property, who they hire, trade with and interact with.

You don't have a right to force someone to get vaccinated, but you also don't have the right to force someone to employ or trade with you if you choose not to.

06 October 2021

Taiwan looks like being the critical test of the USA's resolve

Since the death of Chairman Mao, beyond a few moments of tension, the governments of the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (Taiwan) (ROC) have, until recently, by and large, accepted the status quo with some degree of comfort.  I'll use their official names because it matters, and because the efforts to control the language emanate from Beijing, and I'd rather treat the two governments the way competing governments for territory have been treated elsewhere - as two sovereign states.
You see the Korean Peninsula has two governments on it, both claim de-jure legitimacy over the entire territory of Korea. The Republic of Korea (ROK) in Seoul and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) in Pyongyang, both being rivals who have fought to the death to conquer and destroy the other. The DPRK to this day displays its maps including the whole peninsula, as it claims the south is illegally occupied by the United States which governs the south under its "fascist puppet-clique".

China has the same, albeit on a much less balanced scale. The ROK and DPRK both govern roughly similar sizes of territory, if not populations and not remotely economies. The PRC on the other hand is a giant against the minnow of the ROC. Like its ideological comrades in Pyongyang, the PRC has never treated the territory of the ROC (Taiwan) as anything other than renegades that need reunification into the motherland.  The ROC on the other hand is barely the ROC at all. Brave but unrealistic rhetoric of "retaking the mainland" faded away after the semi-fascist President Chiang Kai-Shek died in 1975, given the US stopped seriously thinking about assisting in that endeavour after the early 1950s.  Very few in Taiwan now think that the ROC will once again fly its flag over Nanjing and replace the PRC, what they really want is to be left in peace, which is only reasonable.

ROC (Taiwan) today is a sovereign state that is in so many ways unlike the stultifying military state of Chiang Kai-Shek, being a vibrant liberal democracy, open economy and basic freedoms that are absent under the PRC.  Whether or not people in Taiwan want to declare formal independence and unshackle themselves from the legacy of the ROC wouldn't change how they manage their own affairs, except for one shadow overhanging them - the PRC's demand that they succumb to its control.

Xi Jinping has clearly made a play, far beyond the rhetoric of previous PRC leaders, to take military steps to take (not retake, as the communists never had it) Taiwan and the islets under its control.  Let's be clear, the PRC never revoked its "right" to do so, but that had largely been rhetorical.  Note also that from the late 1990s through the 2000s relations between the PRC and the ROC improved significantly, with direct trade and investment allowed, along with direct mail, flights and travel permitted. The pre-Xi strategy regarding Taiwan was to treat it like "just another Chinese province" in the hope that this would make people of Taiwan feel more relaxed about a future with the PRC, but also interlink their economies so the economic dependency of Taiwan would shift from exporting to the world, to trading with the mainland.

Xi has now blown all of this up in his quest to take a more aggressive stance.  What is Xi's motivation? Is it to distract from problems at home? Is it to claim glory that even Mao could not succeed?  Is it to demonstrate that the PRC of the 21st century can be the leading power in the Western Pacific and show its neighbours that the USA is no longer in charge?  Probably all of this, and given this it is absolutely essential that the USA, with its allies, make it clear to Xi that none of this will be accepted.

It should be crystal clear to Beijing that any military aggression towards ROC forces, or territory, will be met with a military response in support of the government in Taipei. Why? Because the international order depends on it, and because the consequences of the alternative are likely to be much more destructive to international peace and security, than taking on Beijing on a limited scale.

What matters?

1.  International rule of law and the value of peace: The PRC can proclaim endlessly that Taiwan is an "internal affair", and there is no shortage of proclamations from Beijing about the principle of "non-interference in each others' internal affairs" (a principle Beijing has broken more than once in many countries), but fundamentally ROC (Taiwan) is de-facto and de-jure an independent sovereign state. It has all of the characteristics of a sovereign state, and only lack extensive international formal diplomatic recognition SOLELY because the PRC prohibits it. The Cold War saw most countries recognise the PRC when the PRC and ROC were in diplomatic competition, because the PRC was more useful as a bulwark against the USSR.  Since the end of the Cold War, the growth in the PRC economy has meant this has continued to be more important than ROC (Taiwan).  The ROC dropped the insistence of choosing between Beijing and Taipei for diplomatic relations, but the PRC continues to bully the international community into the legal fiction that the ROC (Taiwan) isn't a sovereign state and has no rights that Beijing does not "let" it have.   So from that, the idea that any government can use military force to address its dispute with another government is unacceptable under international law and the UN Charter.  

Furthermore, it doesn't even matter if the PRC treats the ROC (Taiwan) as its own, it does not justify military force to win an internal dispute. The reality that Beijing knows is that the ROC (Taiwan) is independent, because it acts independently.  Countries cannot be allowed to just declare that they have the right to inflict force on another sovereign entity to take its territory.  It's a norm of international law, and if the PRC wants to be a respected member of the international community, the latter must make it clear than attacking ROC  (Taiwan) territory is an unacceptable risk to international peace and security (even though Beijing would veto any action in the UN Security Council.  The message must be loud and clear that no power can just exercise force to take territory and try to overthrow government that it doesn't like. Russia did the former with barely a blink internationally, under the Obama era, Biden cannot let this happen to Taiwan.

2. Dissuading further aggression:  If the PRC can "get away" with taking parts of the territory under the control of ROC (Taiwan) or go further, then it will embolden it to go further. It has territorial claims of India and Pakistan, and of course its ongoing active claims in the South China Sea.  There is little sense that Beijing is expansionist in the way the USSR was, but the willingness to use military force (and the likely casualties from that) if not resisted by forces outside Taiwan will generate new interest in settling scores or supporting those that may want to settle scores.  As crazy as it is, this might include the DPRK seeing Beijing as willing to back it, once more, in an attack on the ROK.  Intervention is about deterring more military force. If Beijing takes Taiwan, there are the Senkaku (Diaoyu) Islands just to its north-east, controlled by Japan, that are claimed by Beijing (and in fact Taipei too). Expect them to be under pressure, and if the US wouldn't defend Taiwan, would it really defend the Senkaku Islands? If not, how vulnerable would Japan feel and how abandoned by the US?

3. Pax Americana remains intact:  Since 1945 the Pacific has been dominated by the peace established by US victory in WW2. The USSR had limited impact on that, but the PRC wants to remould the international order to suit its needs, one of those is to expand its sphere of influence and to demonstrate that it is the leading naval and air power in East Asia.  If the US demonstrates that its commitment to Taiwan's defence is toothless, then it will be a transformative end to Pax Americana.  The implications of that aren't just in the US feeling shame and impotent, but the reaction of other governments in Asia.  The ROK, Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Vietnam will all wonder if they are safe in a Pax Sinica (Marxist-Leninist). Given the PRC has WMDs, there would be some fear in Seoul, Tokyo and Delhi that the US's nuclear umbrella has just folded up somewhat, and more disconcertingly they should all develop or expand their own.  ANY of this will aggravate the international order in Asia, as a nuclear armed ROK and expanded nuclear India will raise temperatures and risk.  Japan will be unlikely to embrace nuclear weapons, but it will want to expand militarily to deter the risk the PRC will take islands near Taiwan that are under dispute, next.  

So if you worry less about Taiwan, worry more about what is next, Asian powers seeking to contain the PRC with WMDs.  Beyond that must be the effects this has on US power elsewhere, such as in Europe. 

4. Liberal democracies must be protected from tyrannies: It is almost least important, but morally it is easily the point that pulls the hardest at emotions. ROC (Taiwan) is a vibrant, liberal democratic capitalist country of free people. It demonstrates that China can be a liberal democracy, and that Beijing's long held excuse that China "cannot become a democracy" because it would be "ungovernable".  ROC (Taiwan) has, like the ROK, transformed itself from essentially a dictatorship into a free and thriving liberal democracy. It should not be able to have that destroyed by the world's deadliest dictatorship (60 million Chinese killed through famine and executions in the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution).  ROC (Taiwan) has been a model international citizen, it has been peaceful, productive and constructive internationally, it represents values that the US should hold dear, and which promote peace and development globally.  If Beijing has snuff that out with only some stern words from Washington, then Washington will have abandoned any pretence about leading by some moral imperative.

So there should be clear solidarity with ROC (Taiwan).  It should be no doubt at all that if the PRC attacks military forces in Taiwan or any territory, that there will be intervention to counter this, and that unilateral sanctions will be imposed on the PRC by liberal democracies. The UN is toothless on this, not least because the PRC has a veto in the UN Security Council.

There are lots of reasons to be critical, historically, of Pax Americana after 1945, with a good list of mistakes made, and behaviour that is not becoming of a country that proclaims itself to be in favour of freedom.  However, there is little doubt that a world led by a flawed semi-free liberal democracy is better than one led by a Marxist-Leninist one-party state.  

(Oh and don't doubt that the Socialist Republic of Vietnam is much more on the side of the USA than the PRC)

05 October 2021

So what's an alternative to the Three Waters Reform?

I’ve already written critically of the Three Waters reforms in a polemical way.  It's rather curious that Nanaia Mahuta is so committed to these reforms given she has no record in her political career of ever having passionate views about structural reforms of any sectors of the economy.  You wouldn't know what she thinks about energy, transport or communications sectors, so why water? Surely it can't be because of the transfer of some power to Iwi under the new mega-water "entities"? 

Regardless of her motivations, I think the problem definition is largely correct.  The status quo has failed appallingly, and that status quo is combination of leftwing ideology about the "power of general competence" of local government (and it being committed to "economic, social, environmental and cultural wellbeing") and rightwing ideology about supporting localisation of power (although that power still lies with politicians, apparently local politicians that fewer people vote for are more accountable than MPs).  

Yet it is abundantly clear that the options assessed (at least from the public documents) were remarkably narrow minded, apparently only considering:

Sector-led reform: This would be returning to the philosophy of the “power of general competence” that local government is capable of reforming itself to address the problems listed. This seems unlikely and is in effect a “status quo” option.

National Three Waters Fund:  This option is frankly bizarre. It is touted as being similar to the National Land Transport Fund (NLTF), yet there are so few useful parallels. The NLTF is funded mostly from user fees on motorised road users, through fuel tax and road user charges.  There are NO centrally collected user fees on water users, and many local authorities don’t even impose user fees at all. Furthermore, the NLTF fully funds the State Highway Network, which is central-government owned and operated, there is no equivalent in water.  This looks like a brain fart from some politician.

Regulatory reform only: This has its merits, if only because there is poor oversight of what territorial authorities do with water already, but existing governance structures range widely from being promising (Watercare Services) to being very poor. This is unlikely to be enough.  

It might be too much for me to expect a Labour Government to have assessed privatisation, even if it dismissed it on grounds of being contrary to the policies and principles of the Labour Party, but it should have been included to see what the benefits and risks would be.

So assuming privatisation per se would fall on deaf ears, here’s my quick and dirty alternative. Quite simply it is to commercialise and transfer control of water assets to ratepayer or consumer owned companies, those entities would carry the local authority debt associated with those assets. My proposal is:

1. A water sector regulator would be set up, which in association with the Commerce Commission, would oversee the water entities, particularly the transition of the reform, but also ensure that these monopolies don’t abuse their position, and are accountable for the effects of failure on consumers and property owners.  Yes yes, I would MUCH prefer some consumer association that would test water quality and seek transparency in these entities, but that's too much to hope for.  A regulator is likely to be necessary at least for the first five years, particularly to enforce some basic standards of drinking water.

2. All territorial authorities would be required to transfer fresh, waste and stormwater assets into water companies.  This would also include debt associated with those assets (which would have to be agreed with the Commerce Commission, to stop local authorities transferring unreasonable levels of debt to the new entities). These companies would be at arms-length control from territorial authorities, with independent boards prohibited from taking direction from councillors as to specific capital spending decisions. The companies would be required to make a return on capital and pay taxes. This would help avoid both over and underspending on infrastructure and remove politics from decisions around water infrastructure. The companies would be required to provide services to end users and to make a profit. They would be allowed to merge and consolidate as they see fit, and if the efficiencies claimed are real (and some no doubt are), this will become abundantly clear as being the right choice. Those that lag and perform 

3. The water companies would have all shares initially owned by the territorial authorities, but within twelve months shares would be transferred either to ratepayers with property serviced by their networks (with some proportionality by those served to different degrees by the three networks) or to consumers (which in some cases is ratepayers at least for stormwater). These shares would be tradeable, although there could be limits on foreign ownership if desired. However, the companies would essentially by owned directly by the public, rather than by local authorities. It would leave accountability at the lowest possible level, those who have paid for it and who own it. It’s actual people power.  I am ambivalent about whether ratepayers or consumers gain shares, and tend to prefer consumers (i.e. those who will be responsible for water bills) take fresh/waste water shares and ratepayers stormwater shares.

4. Water companies would be required to move towards full user pays and rates would be regulated downward. This will include but may not require water metering. Metering is appropriate for fresh and wastewater, but not stormwater, so the water companies would levy consumers for fresh and wastewater (not necessarily property owners), but property owners for stormwater. The charges would be subject to oversight from the Commerce Commission initially to ensure water companies weren’t seeking to gouge consumers. However, EQUALLY important is that territorial authority rates that have been used to pay for any of the three waters are regulated down. That regulation should not be for a one-off reduction, but the Commerce Commission should be required to authorise any territorial authority rates increases above inflation to ensure that territorial authorities are not using the reduction in rates as an opportunity to increase rates to grow other functions.  The net burden on property owners and consumers in each district (adding rates and water charges) will be taken into account.  

5.    Water companies should borrow to fund upgraded infrastructure and recover this from user fees.  Ultimately consumers should pay and as with electricity lines companies, and airports, the Commerce Commission should have oversight over the financial performance 

Opposition to the Three Waters is well justified, but taking power away from local authorities is a good thing. Yet proposed opaque governance structure, which inexplicably adds the Iwi element, is not a recipe for significant efficiencies going beyond some economies of scale and bargaining power in procurement. The forced amalgamation is unlikely to be the best outcome, because neither the Minister nor DIA officials are likely to know what's best.

So Three Waters reforms should stop, but the need for reform remains.  However, even ACT has taken a very pathetic, limp approach to this issue. 

30 September 2021

Covid testing and quarantine : Is it causing people to NOT get tested?

I have had three Covid19 tests all up, I had two when coming through managed isolation in 2020 and a third in Australia when departing earlier this year, and they were qualitatively different in terms of experience.  The standard New Zealand PCR test is akin to "nasal violation" with a swab taken through the nostril to the back of the throat. It is invasive, painful and highly unpleasant. However, the PCR test in Australia was a throat swab followed by a nostril swab which was only around a centimetre or so inside.  Heaven help those who get the nasal violation swabbing regularly because of their jobs, but is there a good reason why the former and not the latter is used in NZ? Certainly saliva testing is less reliable, but can be done more frequently.  

So are people who have had one nasal violation test LESS likely to have more? Is NZ's unwillingness to adopt more patient friendly tests reducing the rate of testing? I'd be very reluctant to get tested (in NZ) unless I was clearly symptomatic, are others like this?

Then there is what happens if you are found to HAVE Covid. There is a fair chance you get shipped off to a quarantine facility rather than being able to isolate at home.  What does the fear of THAT do to people to cause them to hesitate being tested?  If you had rent to pay, and a job, would you want the state taking you away from your home and family for several weeks?  Wouldn't you be MORE likely to get tested if you knew you could self-isolate at home (bearing in mind you may have already passed it onto those you live with, if you haven't then it is another story)?

Does the unwillingness to take a more patient centred approach risk more people having Covid, not being tested and not isolating?

21 September 2021

AUKUS - best news in some time

So much to cheer in the new AUKUS alliance. 

Why?

1. It enhances Australia's and the region's defence. It enables Australia, New Zealand's most important ally, to acquire nuclear-powered submarines, which will much better serve the defence of Australia and its allies, than the diesel-powered retrofitted French ones, that the Malcolm Turnbull government ordered.  

2. It cancels the previous disgracefully wasteful defence contract, which was a A$90 billion pork-barrel deal to win votes in South Australia, driven by former Minister Christopher Pyne. It was a disgrace, and economically destructive whilst delivering little strategic benefit.

3. It annoys the Communist Party of China, which, given it is the political party responsible for the greatest famines and slaughters in human history, is entirely moral.

4. The mouthpieces of the Communist Party of China took nearly 12 hours to respond to the announcement, indicating that Beijing doesn't have quite the effective spook or snooping network that it might want, otherwise it would have promptly issued a line of comment in response.  AUKUS took Beijing by surprise.

5. So-called "peace" activists are unhappy, as is the Australian Green Party, whilst all fail to protest Beijing's military exercises against Taiwan, imperialist occupation of rocks in the South China Sea and skirmishes with India. It just shows them up for what they are, supporters for any tyrannies that confront liberal democracies.  

6. It has annoyed the Government of France the most, and even the supine European Union has shown sympathy to the gallic sooks.  France was not remotely this concerned about China's occupation of the South China Sea, undermining of rule of law and freedom in Hong Kong, authoritarian racism in its Xinjiang Province or indeed just about any other international incident in recent years. The French response is totemically beautiful, by confirming and reinforcing every stereotype about French hyper-arrogance and emotional incontinence about their entirely onanistic-pneumatic honour.  It's particularly delicious that France withdrew ambassadors from Washington DC and Canberra but not London, demonstrating, once again, France's unbounded Anglo-phobic arrogance, of a kind that it is claimed too many British people use as a stereotype. France EXCEEDED stereotypes about itself, proving that you cannot make up how absurd they can be.

7. The European Union has demonstrated its virtual irrelevance in international strategic defence circles. With France its only serious defence member, and almost all of its members pathetically irrelevant in their funding of defence (and some being neutral), it has been sidelined.  

8. For all of the self-serving puffery of the New Zealand Labour Party about the supposed importance of the Fourth Labour Government's nuclear free policy in the 1980s, New Zealand was, once again, proven to be utterly irrelevant in serious strategic international defence circles. New Zealand was sidelined (as was Canada), because it not only has little to add, but its adolescent nuclear-free policy is an inhibitor, not an enabler, of more robust defence of the region. Jacinda Ardern can claim "New Zealand wouldn't want to join", but it demonstrates that the "nuclear free moment" is more a display of performative virtue signalling, than anything of substance or impact on anyone, except those claiming how wonderful they are for the act of keeping nuclear powered submarines just over 12 miles off the coast of New Zealand.  What New Zealand does is of little importance to those who are committed to the international peace and security, and is of equally little importance in climate change, no matter the egos in Parliament who wish you believe otherwise.

So good for Scott Morrison, Boris Johnson and Joe Biden (even if Joe isn't necessarily fully aware), this was a great leap forward in dealing to a whole host of issues at once.

oh and don't anyone think for a moment that the EU was going to offer Australia a useful free trade agreement, neither France nor the EU really care about free trade.

11 September 2021

Remembering 9/11

I woke up at around 5.40am on 12 September 2001, in Wellington and switched on National Radio (as it was then) to hear a broadcast, with American voices, describing some disaster. At the time I was living alone, having broken up with my wife the previous year.

I didn't think much of it for the first few minutes, thinking it was some recorded show syndicated by RNZ, until it became clear it was a live feed, from CNN.  It took around 10 or so minutes before I started piecing together what had happened, one, two, three planes flying into buildings, it seemed surreal. So I got out of bed, switched on the TV and watched for about 20 minutes, the largest terrorist attack on the United States. It was all too much, I was 31 years old, and the scenes of the World Trade Center towers were dramatic and devastating. I thought for a moment that perhaps had my life been only a little different, I might have been working in an office in one of those towers, and the people trapped above the flames with no way out, and those below, streaming down stairwells for their lives, in horror. For so many it was too late. Barely over four years later I would be working for a large multinational American consultancy, in London, months after the 7/7 tube attacks, all inspired by the same ideology of misanthropic theocratic death worship.

I showered, got dressed for work and left for the office, at just after 6.30am, because it was too much to watch. I was at my local bus stop in 3 minutes standing, when the only other person standing there, a women in her 30s took a phone call, and it was clear she hadn't heard the news beforehand, as she spoke in utter disbelief. The bus came and after the usual 20 minute ride I arrived stunned at work, much earlier than normal, and nobody else was there yet. Of course I got more of the news on the internet, and as others trickled in, there was only one topic to discuss.  How many people had died? Were other attacks on the way? Who was responsible? How would the US respond?  US airspace was shut down, and so much would never be the same again. Whether it was New York, the Pentagon or indeed the hapless brave victims of UA 93 who fought back, it was a series of events far more profound than fiction.  People born in 90 countries died in 9/11, it was an attack on humanity.

We'll never know the true cost of 9/11, the cost of the lost of the thousands of lives, what they might have created, what their children might have created, and how much richer humanity would have been for it.  It was an attack not just on them, but on an idea.  The idea that free people can choose how they live, to work, to trade, to enjoy life, and to not have their lives owned by others, by self-serving authority bowing to an ideology that shackles them to the literal interpretation of some aged religious tracts. The idea that Government should be to subordinate people to the will of theocratic bigots, rather than exist to protect their rights and established by the people to protect them from those who wish to take away those rights.  Yes, the United States in 2001 (let alone 2021) has many many flaws, and has never met that ideal consistently, let alone for all Americans, but the idea of the United States was and is revolutionary - and Al Qaeda hates that.  The Taliban hates that, ISIS hates that, indeed autocrats of many different stripes hate the United States, because it is antithetical to what they want for humanity. 

The US response to 9/11 should have been a rallying call for freedom, for civilisation, for modernity and to seek to confront not the religion of Islam in some sort of new crusade, (for as with all religions, people can follow religion in their private lives and not seek to attack a free, pluralistic society), but to confront Islamist fascism - the application of fundamentalist Islamic sects, such as Salafism and Wahhabism, to impose Islam and Islamic theocratic rule.  This was, sort of, what George W. Bush was looking to target in his "war on terror", but he couldn't really confront it, because one of the great protagonists of Islamist fascism is a US ally, and one of Bush's great enemies was not really an Islamist fascist, but just a fascist - Saddam Hussein.

Attacking and seeking to destroy Al Qaeda was right and moral, as was overthrowing the Taliban.  There was no way the USA could let Afghanistan be. However, the US was never willing to take over Afghanistan and mould it into a tolerant liberal democracy, like it did with Japan, and West Germany.  It allied itself with the then Northern Alliance, who were a bunch of warlords united more by tribal and economic interests than a grand belief in Islamist fascism. Perhaps if the US had sought to occupy with the brute force, sheer numbers and cost it once had done in the 1940s and 1950s, it could have not only defeated the Taliban, but understood Afghanistan enough to convert hearts and minds, and the events of the past few weeks may never have occurred.  However, Americans were unwilling to sacrifice the blood and treasure needed to achieve that, so instead they spent 20 years treading water and keeping the Taliban at bay, just.  So Jo Biden could leave them millions of dollars of military equipment.

However, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, as moral as it was, also suffered from a lack of US willingness to follow through, to establish government that could prevent the deadly insurrection, fuelled by Iran, that killed hundreds of thousands in Iraq. That ultimately spawned ISIS.  Saddam Hussein was not remotely behind 9/11, but Bush had a score to settle, and although it was credible to believe that Saddam Hussein still had weapons of mass destruction (since he demonstrably did use them before), it was proven not to be.  The US spilt much blood and treasure mismanaging Iraq, again because it was unwilling to impose a liberal democracy on a population that wasn't liberal.

In all of this remained Saudi Arabia, the great funder and fuel of Wahhabism, and the Gulf states which themselves kept free from Islamist fascism because of their own wealth and ad-hoc ruthlessness.  Saudi is a US ally, because they have needed each other. Saudi needed protection from the USSR and more latterly Iran.  The US wanted the dominant oil producer on its side (although fracking has completely undermined the importance of that). Furthermore, the chance that the House of Saud would be replaced by a worse regime if it were overthrown. So Saudi Arabia, which spawned those who committed the 9/11 attacked, became the great ally in the "war on terror" as the war on the Taliban and Saddam Hussein.

Al Qaeda, and indeed no other Islamist terrorist has been able to come remotely close to inflicting a similar scale attack on the US, but 9/11 inspired the multiple Islamist fascist attacks in Europe.  It remains the great watershed of the 21st century, almost the point when the optimism of the end of the Cold War was smashed, as it was followed by a new age. An age not only of sporadic Islamist terrorism, but Putin's Russia turning the clock back to a Cold War era hysterical nationalism, and irredentism. A few years later the Global Financial Crisis knocked economic optimism and more recently Xi Xinping reawoke China's past remoulding it into an increasingly monstrous Mk. 2 Maoism of authoritarian-corporatist Marxism-Leninism, willing and wanting to become the world's number one economic and ultimately military and political power.  

For me this date has another significance. My Mum died five years ago today. She had been ill, and had had a successful colostomy operation the previous day, but was too weak and passed away in the early hours of 12 September NZST.  I was and am profoundly sad I didn't get to see her or be with her that night, as I had already booked flights to come see her days later.  She died weeks out from her 78th birthday.  I miss her greatly, and indeed am reminded of her daily as we spruce up her (and Dad's) house to sell in due course.  She was a great source of resilience, strength, warmth and courage for me, as someone who had many trials in life, from emigrating with next to nothing in the 1950s, to looking after her terminally ill mother in her 20s, to her first marriage ending in divorce due to discovering her husband was, in fact, gay when it was a crime, to not being able to have children with my Dad (and then adopting me).  So on 12 September, we'll be having dinner and raising a glass to my Mum, and to the memory of those who were killed so tragically on 9/11.


06 September 2021

Terrorist attack raises questions

Ahamed Aathill Mohamed Samsudeen, is the name Jacinda Ardern doesn't want repeated by anyone, which is silly, because if nobody supports him, nobody should fear his name. Samsudeen wanted to kill people in New Zealand because he had become a jihadist fascist, and we can all feel very lucky he does not appear to have succeeded. What he has done though is awful enough, to take advantage of people under Level 4 lockdown, already under considerable stress, to attack the community that gave him a place to live and gave him more freedoms than the country he came from, or that he would grant to others.

Terrorism is, after all, an act of war. It is a political act to of violence to spread fear and incite change. It is incompatible with a free society which offers ample opportunities for people to express their views, and have them judged in the marketplace of ideas. Of course those with totalitarian ideologies are uninterested in having such freedom, although they will happily exploit it to spread their ideas and to do harm to others.

There are important questions to answer, that can't be answered quickly:

  1. Did the Police follow all of the reasonable steps they could in surveillance of the terrorist? I've no reason to think otherwise, but it matters as the whole point of the exercise is to protect the public, and if there is any opportunity to not observe what the subject is doing, it is a risk to the public. If it isn't optimal, it should be revised.
  2. Should the assessment of refugee status be tightened up, and more scrutiny given to such applications? Particularly noting that the psychiatric assessment appeared to be an exercise in tricking the psychiatrist (let's not start to think how much of psychiatry is snakeoil)
  3. What should be the threshold for deportation for committing a serious offence? Should defrauding immigration about your status enable deportation?
  4. The terrorist was granted "protected status" presumably out of concern he may be tortured or subjected to cruel treatment if returned, but if the person presents a real, present danger to the public should this be able to be overturned if the "protection" obtained was on false grounds? Does the right to be protected from another state get overriden when his intention is proven to be to wage terrorist attacks against NZers?
  5. How long did he study under his student visa? Is there any indication that he breached its terms and if so, what sanctions were imposed, if any?
  6. Is "protected status" being generally applied to Tamils from Sri Lanka, or did specific conditions of his case indicate he was likely to be tortured or subjected to cruel treatment? Were these verified better than his original false claims for refugee status?
  7. Should terrorist protection orders be possible, so that someone who has expressed interest in waging terrorist attacks on NZ can be subjected to preventive detention?
  8. On what grounds was he denied GPS monitoring? 
  9. He was sentence one year with supervision, at a local mosque. How well did it supervise him?  Does anyone who interacted with him at the mosque share sympathies with ISIS or jihadist views generally? Was his supervision inclusive of a deradicalisation strategy?
  10. Who paid for his defence lawyers and his immigration appeal? Was it him or supporters of his, taxpayers or a charity? Have his sources of finance, or any charitable support be investigated?

Should the law be amended? Quite possibly, and sure care needs to be taken with reform.  However, it is important to recognise that the core role of the state is to protect the public. Terrorism goes beyond criminal law and into defence, and the state should not act against people simply because of concern about what they think or what they are interested in, if they haven't expressed intent or taken action to support or engage in violent acts.  The threshold for that is very difficult to define, but in this case the patterns of behaviour are multiple.  Besides lying to obtain refugee status, he broke censorship laws about possessing content depicting murders and violence, and he demonstrably aligned himself with jihadism.  Jihadism isn't just Islamist theocratic totalitarianism, but a belief in using violence to wage war.

So what now?

First and foremost, hopefully all of the victims will recover fully. Their ages are vast, and there is no sense yet of them being targeted for any reason other than being peaceful people going about their business. However that is what terrorism is all about.  The victims deserve to be the priority, because the state has failed them.

Secondly, there should be a full investigation of procedures, from Police, through Immigration and the SIS. I'm not assuming anything was done wrong, but this could well have been much much worse. What if he had had a bomb?  We can't take the assurance of any politician or official that everything that could have been done was done, on face value. It needs to be demonstrated that there weren't further actions that could have been taken and that needs an independent investigation.

Thirdly, if the law permits a dangerous individual who clearly presents an imminent threat to wander the streets, albeit with intensive surveillance, then this must be changed. NZ is fortunate that the number subject to this is so few, because this situation would be unsustainable with ten times this number of budding terrorists.  It is important to preserve a right to a fair trial, but when someone has entered into the realm of supporting and promoting terrorism, it is not just a crime, it is an act of war and the state must act to protect people when the threshold is crossed in demonstrating intent to do violence.  The line between simply expressing support for a theocratic Islamic state and actively supporting and expressing interest in engaging in terrorism is a careful one to define, and whether intervention to deradicalise is useful in some cases, vs. preventive detention in others needs to be considered.

Finally, the ideology behind the terrorist must be called out for what it is and is not. ISIS comes from Salafist jihadism, and it is a cancerous, toxic and murderous ideology incompatible with any civilised modern liberal democracy. Absolutely this is NOT what most Muslims in NZ belief, which is very important, but it is simply wishful tihnking to continue the fiction that it is "nothing to do with Islam". It is something to do with Islam. It's disingenuous and absurd to pretend it isn't primarily to deter Muslim hatred.

Those who tout Muslim hatred aren't fooled by pretending that ISIS isn't from a branch of Islam, just like pretending the IRA had nothing to do with Catholicism, even though in both cases it is clear that most adherents of both religious utterly repudiated terrorism in the name of their faith. The blatantly anti-Muslim attacks of the Burmese government have roots in radical Buddhism, but to taint Buddhists everywhere with that is wrong, but it is also wrong to pretend that the link is not there.

It is enormously positive that the Al Noor Mosque has spoken against the attack, and completely unsurprising that the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has utterly condemned it. The GiveALittle page from the Al Noor Mosque is particularly generous and positive. Ahmadiyya Muslims are known for being possibly the most open, tolerant and generous sect of Islam, indeed it was five years ago that an Ahmadiyya Muslim in Glasgow was murdered by an Islamist who thought he was an infidel. Ahmaddiya Muslims have a special risk of being attacked by jihadists.  Long may all of this continue, and long may NZ remain immune to the rise of jihadism seen in the past two decades in Europe.

As a footnote, it's also notable the somewhat different response by some to this attack, compared to the Christchurch mosque attack. Maybe it's because nobody has been killed, but the actions of Tarrant, the Muslim-hater (who happened to have an incoherent ideology which included respect for the Chinese Communist Party and environmentalism) saw an outpouring of calls to confront white-supremacy, "division" and hatred towards Muslims, which is fair enough. Yet the calls to confront Salafist and Wahhabist jihadism have not come, the calls to confront jihadism are muted.

After all this call by Green MP Golriz Ghahraman is right, in that white supremacy should be dismantled:

So have any Green MPs called to dismantle jihadism? All racial eliminationists ought to be confronted, but religious eliminationists too. Is it that white supremacy particularly agitates the hard-left, but Islamic jihad is seen as, somehow, not quite as distressing? We shouldn't forget the use by Green MPs of the long-standing slogan "From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free" used by Hamas to promote the destruction of Israel (as it means to clear Israel away from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean). Now by no means are they supporters of jihadists, but do the Greens think white-supremacy is widespread in NZ, but jihadism isn't? Why not confront both with equal vigour?

The Greens are loud on supporting Palestinian rights, as they are entitled to be, but hand in hand should be absolute clarity that jihadism is as morally repugnant as eliminationist white supremacism/neo-Nazism, and there should be no tolerance of either.  This message should be clear across all political parties.

There is reasonable concern of some sort of moronic backlash against Sri Lankans and Muslims more generally. Only a moron would think this is anything to do with Sri Lankans (most aren't Muslims), and it's immoral and absurd to think innocent people deserve to be abused for actions they have nothing to do with.  It is natural for people to fear the sorts of reprisals seen in some societies, but this concern has been expressed in a curious way by the Executive Director of Amnesty NZ:

Why just white people? Are white people known to be particularly antagonistic towards Muslims?  Is Muslim hatred not seen in people of Chinese, Indian or Maori descent, or is it just the "ruling" "dominant culture" "racist" white people (who in the critical race theory hierarchy are the most privileged, powerful, depraved and guilty)? This will be news to the Rohingya facing oppression from Buddhist Burmese, or Muslims in India facing Hinduist bigotry, Uighur facing Han Chinese acts of genocide, or indeed Sri Lankan Muslims who in their homeland fear the Buddhist Sinhalese.

What "counter narratives" does she want put out? That Muslims don't support this? Reports so far demonstrate this, and it is far more credible promoting what Al Noor Mosque has done, than to have a self-righteous left "liberal" try to convince you (from the class of people deemed to be bad in character) to not abuse of people who share the same broad faith of Samsudeen.  Indeed unless you circulate in circles of people who tend to think like knuckle draggers, this is at best pointless, and at worst going to generate antagonism. The terrorist was responsible for his actions, others are responsible for theirs. Would she ask Muslim people to put out counter narratives against ISIS and other Islamist jihadist groups, condemning them? Perish the thought. That alone demonstrates how absurd this really is. 

People who engage in moronic counter-attacks against Muslims or Sri Lankans apply the same ideology as the dominant critical theorists do in believing white people are to blame for the jihadist, or indeed for Tarrant himself. They all share the philosophical view that individuals can only be understood by categorising them in identity groups. That what people are born as is determinative of their lives much more than their own actions, and that life and society is about battles of power, privilege and identity.  

One of the clear ways to combat jihadism and white supremacy, and every other ideology branded lazily as "extremist" is to confront it with the focus on the rights of the individual, to respect the right of each other to live in peace and to pursue their own lives in peace, and for individuals to associate and interact voluntarily, and to find solutions to life and the universe under the non-aggression principle, and for the state to have as its number one priority, protecting us from those who reject this absolutely.