Joe Hendren

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Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Blair's Attorney General warned war was illegal

Ever since the leadup to the Iraq war in 2003 there have been persistent rumors the UK Attorney General first advised Tony Blair such a war would be illegal under international law. While a 'summary' of AG Lord Goldsmith's legal opinion was made public and appeared to give the war a green light, the Blair government have consistently refused to release the full 13-page document given to Cabinet ministers on the 7th of March. It is now clear why.

According to the Mail on Sunday, Goldsmith's original advice included six grounds in which the proposed war with Iraq could be challenged under international law. These caveats were excised from the summary when it was published 10 days later.
  • In law, there was a strong argument that it was the job of the United Nations - not Mr Blair - to rule whether Iraq had defied the UN's order to disarm;
  • Goldsmith stated UN resolution 1441 ("serious consequences") might not be enough to justify war because it did not include the phrase "all necessary", the UN's usual wording for war;
  • It would be much 'safer' and desirable to go to war armed with a second specific UN resolution.
  • He warned Mr Blair it could be difficult to revive UN Resolution 678 to justify war, as this resolution focused on removing Saddam from Kuwait and did not permit an invasion of Iraq itself.
  • Goldsmith drew attention to the continuing work of UN weapons inspector Hans Blix and his team. On the same day the advice was written Blix said Iraq was being more helpful generally and no weapons of mass destruction had been found.
  • The Attorney General explained that US President George Bush faced fewer legal constraints, as Congress had voted Bush special war-making powers. The US government's opinion on the legality of the war did not apply to Britain.
When Blair claimed that the advice was identical to the 'summary' which declared the war legal it is now clear he was not telling the truth. The AG changed his views, a suggestion given further credence by the uncensored resignation letter of Elizabeth Wilmshurt, who resigned her post as deputy chief legal adviser at the Foreign Office over the Iraq war. US National Security Council legal chief John Bellinger even went as far as to boast "We had a problem with your Attorney General who was telling us it was legally doubtful under international law. We straightened him out."

Demonstrating the folly of attempting to keep such potentially explosive advice under wraps, serving only fuel speculation of its contents, it has now come out a mere 11 days before a general election. Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy is right when he says the issue will "not go away" until Lord Goldsmith's legal advice is published in full. At the very least, this would allow an accurate assessment of Goldsmith's concerns over legality in their proper context of the entire 13-page opinion.

In response, Tony Blair is warning that attempts to "send me a message" at the ballot box may cause Labour to lose marginal constituencies and lead to a Tory Government by the back door. Perhaps Blair should have thought of that before he adopted a Thatcherite economic policy, involved Britain in a war of dubious legality, and then told porkies to cover his tracks. While I regard the Liberal Democrats as a right wing party with some left wing policies (such as on education), their presence in a balance of power type arrangement could be a positive influence on Labour in the next term.

PS: I attempted to post this yesterday, only to have blogger clear the post before I could upload it :(

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Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The Phony Free Trade Debate

Despite the fact a good deal of media attention is devoted to trade issues, New Zealanders are very poorly served by the so called debate over 'free trade'. The vast majority of politicians and the media appear to live in a pollyanna idealised land where there are only benefits to be had from trade liberalisation deals, whether they be bilaterals or through the WTO. But every government action has costs as well as benefits, and to suggest otherwise is ridiculous.

The Minister of Trade Negotiations consistently tells New Zealanders to 'debate the benefits' of free trade. What sort of Orwellian nonsense is that? Only debating the benefits can never be a genuine debate. In April 2004 MFAT released a document called "A Joint Study Investigating the Benefits of a Closer Economic Partnership (CEP) Agreement between Thailand and New Zealand". Only potential benefits of the deal are considered - there is no discussion of any costs or risks to either New Zealand or Thailand.

Just think of the uproar if any other Government department attempted to pull a similar politically motivated swifty. What would happen if the Ministry of Education put out a document that only stated the benefits of removing all public funding from independent schools. Right wingers would scream bias and would understandably have no faith in the results. Why do we put up with pollyanna nonsense from MFAT and the Minister for Trade Negotiations?

This does not allow an informed public debate, as Christine Dann points out.

It is particularly galling for citizens who contest the free trade hype to be told that we should produce evidence to prove our case, when our taxes are going towards paying "experts" who have skills to do economic Cost Benefit Analyses but who are not directed to do so, or who are told to look only at the private commercial benefits and not at the public economic costs.

Sure enough, the minimal discussion of the "Disadvantages of entering into a CEP with Thailand" included in MFAT's National Interest Analysis (NIA) is shallow and politically loaded. While it acknowledges the negative impact of the removal of tariffs for the clothing, textile, carpet and footwear (CTCF) industries, MFAT says NZ was going to remove these tariffs anyway, which completely begs the point. While Thailand may currently account for around 1% of NZ CTCF imports, surely a competent NIA would include an estimation of the expected increase of such imports, and the real likelihood of jobs being lost in some of New Zealand's poorest communities (such as Porirua). Its simply not enough to tell these workers to get other jobs, as their skills may not be transferable to other industries, meaning that they will be forced into even lower paid employment.

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Sunday, April 10, 2005

Book meme

This meme was passed to me by Kakariki

1) You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451 (explanation; plot) which book do you want to be?
George Orwell - 1984. I would imagine that a number of people would be anxious at the end of a period of totalitarian rule, even if they did not necessarily support the repressive government. The themes in Orwell's book may be familiar to people, and at the same time promote discussion on the nature of repression and why it should be challenged.

2) Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?
No. If I was asked if I ever had a crush on a celebrity I would probably give the same answer, as I don't see a great deal of difference between how celebrities are presented in the media and fictional characters. Often human beings ability to idealise real things acts as the starting point for fiction.

3) The last book you bought is:
Karl Marx - Capital. Have read bits of Marx without reading one of his complete works, so I was really happy to find a complete three volume set of Capital in a second hand bookshop for $30. So much has been written about Marx I admit I am a little wary of relying on secondary sources that may have an agenda of their own - I want to read the man himself, particularly his exposition and critique of capitalism.

4) The last book you finished is?
Elsie Locke - Peace People
Peter Enderwich (ed) foreign Investment: The New Zealand Experience

5) What are you currently reading?
Eric Hobsbawn - Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century. A thoughtful trail though the 20C from a leftie historian. I take ages to read a book, often putting one book down while I start to read another.

6) Five Books you would take to a deserted island:
Bertrand Russell - History of Western Philosophy
J. R. Tolkien - The Lord of the Rings

Various - Gothic Treasury of the Supernatural - A collection of classic gothic horror novels including Frankenstein, Dracula and the Castle of Ontranto
Michael King - The Penguin History of New Zealand - just in case I got homesick.

Assuming I came to the deserted island with a few friends - the D & D Players guide - if you were stuck there for a long time, imagining yourself to be somewhere else would be reassuring as well as a good way to pass the time (just to prove I have no shame!). Any ideas on how to make dice from local materials? The 20 sided die could be a little tricky.

7) Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?
Hmmm...Quite a few people have done this already....Resistant Soy - someone I just added to my links list; Rich at Observationz ; and my mate Victor Billot - something to post in your original blog Victor!

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Friday, April 08, 2005

Blog now over 2000 hits old

Big day for this blog on Tuesday. Over 100 hits in 24 hours, as the counter registered over 2000 hits since May 2 2004, for my website and blog. Over 250 hits for April already, making it likely this month will be a record.

Number of Hits Month by Month (2 May 2004 - 7th April 2005)

In October I moved from a Livejournal engine to using Blogspot. A very worthwhile move as you can see.


Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Should the Beeb resurrect Blackadder?

With a tip of the hat to new blog Sir Humphrey's I read that the BBC are considering resurrecting the classic comedy Blackadder.

As it remains one of my favorite comedies of all time, I am in two minds about this. A few years ago I eagerly awaited the last reunion in 1999, Back and Forth, only to find few genuine laughs watching the result. Although I have not seen Back and Forth for a few years, it appeared to me to depend on cheap gags (such as the Roman skirts) at the expense of a witty script. And to my mind, a key essence of Blackadder was a well written witty script, given depth by historical allusions and cheap takeoffs of the Bard (ie Shakespeare). The cast are the other essential element.

In sixth form I convinced my English teacher to let me do a language study on the 'Humour of Ben Elton'. I thought I was being exceptionally cunning - I could spend weeks watching Blackadder and do my homework at the same time. Whaa ha ha! I got a good mark for the project too, proving the many hours watching Blackadder were far from wasted.
"Now, according to senior BBC sources, Blackadder is set to survive the first world war and appear in a new story with a strong anti-war message. The character may make his comeback as early as this autumn."
I see many disadvantages in resuscitating Blackadder in this way, the most important problem being the difficulty in creating new material - there have already been six episodes of a WWI era Edmund, so why not choose another era? A second problem is that the man who plays Blackadder, Rowan Atkinson, is now 15 years older. In any case the death of the Blackadder character in series one, two, and four did not prevent his descendants from staring in a new series (it is unclear whether he died in series three).

If they are to resuscitate Blackadder, why not set it in a different era? About 10 years ago I heard a rumour about a new Blackadder set in the late 1970s - early 1980s, where the cast were members of a punk band.

Can anyone guess the name of the drummer....?
Bald Rick of course :)

This still strikes me as an idea with promise, especially as it would allow Ben Elton, Richard Curtis and Rowan to relive their anti-establishment punk comic days, and potentially take off their own old shows, such as Not the Nine O'Clock News and the Young Ones. Writers are often at their best when they are taking off something they know well.

What do people think? Should Blackadder be resuscitated, and if so, in what era would you put him in?


Thoughts on Tamihere's terrible tirade

John Tamihere is in trouble once again for shooting his mouth off, this time in an interview with Ian Wishart of 'Investigate' magazine. In a sheer act of political hari-kari Tamihere lays into the Prime Minister, calls one cabinet minister a "tosser", and another "smarmy".

Tamihere's excuse that he thought the interview was off the record simply does not have any credibility. Especially when the journalist reports "I put the tape recorder down on the table and away we went". I find it very hard to believe an experienced MP and former cabinet minister would talk to a journalist in this way, unless it was part of a deliberate political strategy.

My guess? While he intended to undermine a few select colleagues, once he got going he just got carried away.

In the interview, Tamihere claims 10 MPs out of the Labour caucus of 51 back him "to the hilt". This gives a pretty good indication of the size of the right wing 'backbone club' within the Labour party. When John Tamihere resigned from cabinet in November, I predicted George Hawkins was likely to lose his place in cabinet in Clark's Christmas reshuffle. Ok, I might have been a little premature, but only by a few months. Apparently Tamihere and other members of the backbone club kicked up a stink when rumors started to fly that Clark was about to drop him. With Tamihere gone, Clark has been more able to act.

Tamihere's outburst appears to be partly motivated by the recently announced party list, suggesting he is rankled by the rankings given to his mates.
"When you look at the (party) list, the union movement have got four new members coming in, end of story... They don't deserve to have that level of influence. I'm going to lead a charge against that, very shortly.."
It may be significant that Tamihere chose to talk to a journalist who he thought might be sympathetic to his views. In January Xavier of About Town wrote a good piece on the conversion of Ian Wishart from a respected investigative journalist to a dogmatic Christian fundamentalist who no longer lets truth get in the way, especially if helps a story preach moral conservatism. Given that an article titled 'Helen's a Dyke' appeared in Wishart's 'Investigate' magazine it is possible that it was Wishart who drew out Tamihere's offensive paranoia about butch lesbians and the "wimmim's" division of the Labour party.

Ironically, JT's upfront moral conservatism places him closer to the views of a centrist, morally conservative Maori Party. Had he not been so quick to bag them so publicly, he could have hinted to Helen he was considering jumping waka, thereby creating a combination that would have done the most damage to Labour. Instead, he now desperately attempts a similar trick by promoting the future of the National party, a stance highly unlikely to help his re-election chances in a Maori electorate.

Come the election, could we see Labour leftists supporting Pita Sharples* in Tamaki Makaurau, in a campaign reminiscent of the successful attempt to oust Richard Prebble from Auckland Central in 1993? Perhaps that comparison is a little harsh, but you get the point. Roger Douglas appointed Hawkins to be his successor after all....

* From what I have heard from Pita he seems decidely less keen on a coalition with National than other Maori party candidates, and from what I can make out seems to be more of a lefty.

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