Monday, January 31, 2005

An open letter to critics of the U.N. and the "Food for Oil" programme in Iraq...

Every time the subject of Iraq and the UN comes up in the same breath, there are many who immediately point up the "graft and corruption" of the UN in relation to the "Iraq Oil for Food Programme."

Now I am not a believer in "two wrongs making a right", except in political standing. The only thing that "two wrongs" can make in the real world is a bigger mess than just one wrong.

For all that, this article at Reuters did catch my eye this evening.

U.S Did Not Safeguard $8.8 Bln of Iraq Money -Audit
Sun Jan 30, 2005 04:36 PM ET

By Sue Pleming

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S.-led authority that governed Iraq after the 2003 invasion did not properly safeguard $8.8 billion of Iraq's own money and this lack of oversight opened up these funds to corruption, said a U.S. audit released on Sunday.

The U.S. Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction was scathing in criticism of how the Coalition Provisional Authority handled Iraqi money until it handed over power last June to Iraq's interim government.

"The CPA provided less-than-adequate controls for approximately $8.8 billion in DFI (Development Fund for Iraq) funds provided to Iraqi ministries through the national budget process," said the report, released on the same day Iraqis voted in elections.

"We believe the CPA management of Iraq's national budget process and oversight of Iraqi funds was burdened by severe inefficiencies and poor management," it said.

DFI is made up of proceeds from Iraqi oil sales, frozen assets from foreign governments and surplus from the U.N. Oil for Food Program. Its handling has already come under fire by several U.N.-mandated audits.

The report said the CPA failed to ensure funds were not used to pay "ghost" employees and cited one example where CPA officials authorized payment for about 74,000 guards but only a fraction of these could later be validated.

The audit said there was no assurance that the funds were used for purposes mandated by United Nations resolutions. U.N auditors have also accused the CPA of sloppily managing billions of dollars of Iraqi oil money.

So, there are the charges.


Former CPA chief Paul Bremer, who received a Presidential Medal of Freedom last month for his work in Iraq, rejected the U.S. audit's findings and said it did not "meet the standards that Americans have come to expect of the Inspector General."

"The draft report assumes that Western-style budgeting and accounting procedures could be immediately and fully implemented in the midst of war," said Bremer in a written reply to auditors when he received the first draft.

Bremer said any delays in paying Iraqi public servants' salaries would have raised the security threat to Iraqis and Americans and cost more lives.

In addition, Bremer said the Iraqi ministries had no regular payroll systems and the "system had been corrupted beyond repair by decades of cronyism and ad hoc fixes."

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman also disagreed with the audit's findings and said the CPA had instituted a series of reforms, including actions to fight corruption.

"The CPA was operating under extraordinary conditions from its inception until mission completion. Throughout, the CPA strived earnestly for sound management, transparency, and oversight," said Whitman in E-mailed comments to Reuters.

The auditors said they understood the CPA was working in a dangerous environment but it had a responsibility to ensure Iraqi ministries had basic financial controls before they were entrusted with handling such large amounts of money.

"The fact that the Iraqi ministries ceased to or had never functioned, lacked basic tools and operated in a cash economy was precisely why the CPA should have provided oversight of the financial management of the funds."

A review of 10 payments made by the CPA Comptrollers Office between October 2003 and June 2004 found none of these -- ranging between $120 million and $900 million -- included documentation such as budget spending plans.

Well, that seems to wrap up for the defence.

I can understand Bremer's response from the point of view of both pure accounting and the specific difficulties being encountered in Iraq.

But the point I want to address directly to the critics of the UN is this -

How come such difficulties can "justify" the situation faced by Bremer and the US administration (No it was NOT Iraqi) in Iraq?

Why is it that the UN administration is called "corrupt" when the UN was facing very similar problems with corrupt and unscrupulous locals - not the least of whom was the armed thug in charge at the time?

The report concludes...

In another example, about $1.5 billion in cash allocations was made to Iraqi banks between January and April 2004 for operating expenses, yet spending plans supported only about $498 million in these expenses.

One of the main benefactors of Iraq funds was Texas-based firm Halliburton, which was paid about $1.7 billion dollars out of those funds to bring in fuel for Iraqi civilians. U.N. auditors have asked for a full accounting of these funds.

Halliburton has been paid USD1.7B to import fuel (not wood I will guarantee...) into Iraq?

Explain that for me please?

Friday, January 28, 2005

Is this a sign?

The God of Small Things posts what I think is one of the most sane pieces of commentary that it has been my fortune to see in recent times.

Given that it extracts from another page that discusses "how to improve religion coverage", the little commentary he adds and the extracts he has pulled make for a mind-set that should be considered far more widely - perhaps even to a little Catholic Church somewheres in Texas?

Scott Libin starts out with the premise -
I don't believe there are two sides to every story.

In fact, it's hard to think of a single important issue journalists cover that has only two sides. We just tend to stop looking after that. It's harder still to imagine a challenge facing newsroom leaders to which there are only two possible solutions. Sometimes the best alternative is the third or fourth or fourteenth -- if we bother to find it. That's why, as journalists and as leaders, we need to get over bipolar thinking. It leaves too many important ideas unexplored.

I think that he is being just a little too critical of journalists here, but he is right.

Where I think the fault lies, and believe me it is common to NZ politicians as well, is in the idea that people (that's us folks) are too stupid to effectively hold more than a "yes/no" idea.

A first rate illustration of this is coming up in NZ in the next couple of years or so. There is a petition out for a binding referendum to be held at the next elections come October. The question sought is "I am in favour of changing NZ's flag" followed "Yes/no".

Well now, that is fair enough I suppose. I will probably say "No" just for the fish but that is not what I am talking about.

The point here is that this will be followed at some point in the future by another referendum giving voters the choice between the current NZ Ensign and "the new flag" which will probably be chosen by some learned and politically correct committee whose primary aim in life is to spread the blame for their decision as far and wide as they are possibly able.

So, at this final referendum we will again face a "yes/no" question, put rather as "new/old", but again reduced to the simplistic "only one idea at a time" principle.

So, to return to the criticism of the journalists, it must be extremely frustrating for a journalist who has researched a subject well, has a good line in logic, and a real point to his story. He (or she, we must be pc :D ) askes the first couple of questions and then the interviewee wakes up to where things are headed. From that point onward the communication stops. Every question is bent toward "what the politician wants to discuss" rather than the line of the question.

Before the last election there was an excellent example of this when one of our "leading news readers" John Campbell was interviewing Helen Clark live on prime news. His third question was right out of the blue and centred on the coming publication of a book on genetically modified crops and experiments in NZ. The book made accusations of government complicity and error in the growing of GM crops in circumstances that broke the law.

Could he have done it any other way? I doubt it. Did Clark accept the "unscripted questions? Not after the first. IT is the one and only time I have ever seen her lose her temper. NOT a pretty sight.

So, I think that journalists - the good ones anyway - do their best with what they got,...

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The Artist's Challenge...

This following exchange came out of my post on the Court solution to the problem if two Muslim women giving evidence. It will be recalled that the Court did come up with a solution acceptable to most…

J at TAotB put the challenge, I responded. I have pulled it out here because he does not seem to recall the challenge, nor acknowledge my reply.

And what is your culturally sensitive solution to letting Muslim women have their gov't id photo taken with their veils on?
# posted by TAotB : 4:56 PM

BTW - I agree with you that this was an acceptable compromise in this situation. the one I posed, however, is a bit trickier. I am interested to see what the probligo will say. . . . .
# posted by TAotB : 5:07 PM

And my response -
Fortunately, the decision is not mine to make.

However, let us take drivers licence as an example. NZ has photo-d/l. There are no "papers" that we are required to carry other than that and firearms license if you are carrying a weapon (it licenses the carrier not the weapon). If you are stopped in the street by Police and asked for ID the d/l is the first resort. If you do not drive, they ask for address and the name of another person living there. From that point the intelligence of the polisman takes over - and believe me they are pretty good at it...

For the drivers license example -

I would not issue the license - if the person applying for it insisted on wearing burqah. It would have nothing whatever to do with photos. It would be on the grounds that the drivers vision would be severely limited by the veil.

I suspect though that a woman whose beliefs were so strong would not be looking to drive - it would be "outside the brief" so to speak. She could not go anywhere without male company, and a male would not permit a woman to take precedence [by driving the car].

So the problem will probably not arise.

On the "national ID" bit - I would be objecting to "having to carry papers". Too much like Nazi Germany for my taste.
# posted by The probligo : 10:40 AM

Monday, January 24, 2005

How unimaginably stupid can some people be...

From NZ Herald Saturday 22 Jan


Louis Ng and his wife, Anna Ye, were soulmates. They lived together, worked together and even shared the same Chinese birthday.

Now Mr Ng is mourning the loss of his wife, one of a party who set out to rescue someone in trouble, and ended up losing her own life after being trapped under an upturned boat.

Her family say she died after the boatie they were trying to rescue, whose name they still don't know, refused to leave his own craft and climb on board theirs to safety.

Instead, the rescue unravelled in a horrific way.

Anna Ye, 41, was part of a family group who went out on Raglan Harbour for a day's fishing on Sunday. She could not swim and was wearing a lifejacket.

"My wife loved fishing," Mr Ng said.

By about 10.30am the Pakuranga couple were on the water with Mr Ng's cousin Gun Lai and three other passengers.

It was low tide and Mr Lai decided it was not safe to try to cross the bar with so many on board, Mr Ng said.

The family then noticed a 5m boat with a young couple attempting to cross the bar several times, twice stalling the motor.

Mr Lai and his friends started waving and calling out, trying to warn the couple it was dangerous, but they circled around and tried again.

"A boat came up past us like a sports car," Mr Ng said. "I was saying to Gun, 'Those stupid people are trying to kill themselves' ... The boat went up vertical, twice, right out of the water."

Mr Lai piloted the 6.5m fishing boat to the stricken vessel, which by then had let off a flare.

After calling the police, Mr Lai decided to try to help the couple.

They managed to get the woman on board.

"I grabbed her myself," Mr Ng said. "Gun was saying, 'Abandon the boat', because it was too risky ... The man refused to. He tried to save his boat."

Mr Lai said he was reluctant to tow the boat but eventually agreed when the boatie insisted. After a nylon towrope broke, the two boats were tied together with an anchor chain.

Mr Lai said yesterday that he felt uncomfortable towing the boat because it was too heavy and not worth risking his passengers' safety.

Just as he was calling the police to ask if it was all right to leave the man in his boat because he refused to come on board, someone called that a big wave was coming.

Mr Lai called for the rope to be cut, not knowing that it was the anchor chain, which meant the boats could not be separated.

The wave hit, and both boats capsized.

When Mr Ng surfaced, the first thing he did was try to count the people in the water.

All of a sudden I thought, 'Where's my wife?' I could not see her."

He tried twice to get back under the boat.

"It was dark and I was terrified, but not worried about my safety ... My wife was the priority."

As the boat drifted closer to shore it started to turn. As it did, Mrs Ng's unconscious body was revealed in the far corner.

Thw Westpac rescue helicopter flew her to Waikato Hospital, where she died on Wednesday night.

Back in his Ti Rakau Drive home, Mr Ng broke down as he said he did not even know the name of the man they had saved.

He looked around and said how his wife had loved the "dream house" they had bought just a week before Christmas after two years of searching.


Mr Lai, a former commercial fisherman, said he was angry about the way his cousin's wife lost her life.

"You can't replace a life but you can replace a boat," he said.

"If that guy had come on board we wouldn't have had a problem."

Mr Lai has not heard from the couple he tried to help.

The Maritime Safety Authority is investigating the incident.

To those who might no know, NZ is very much a maritime nation. There is no part of the country more than some 100km from the sea by road, and no part of the country more than 50km from navigable water (includes lakes and rivers).

But, there is just a little more to this tragedy that really makes my blood boil.

In martitime law - and that covers EVERY vessel at sea - a vessel is required to go to the aid of another in distress to the extent that the crew of the vessel are not put in peril. This is something that would be forefront in the mind of any man with extensive marine experience, which Mr Lai had as a commercial fisherman.

I respect his judgement that the bar on Raglan Harbour was too dangerous to cross. My holiday home is in good sight of a very similar bar at Hokianga. On an outgoing tide, the rip on that bar can easily exceed 3m breaking when the surf onto the beach a little further down the coast is less than 1.5m.

No, I believe that he did nothing wrong. In fact the only mistake on his boat was one that is so blindinly obvious that it could only occur if he were unaware of it - using chain to tow another, half sunken, boat. Sho'nuf!! have chain in the tow, but you ALWAYS have at least 4m of rope either end of the chain onto the towing and towed boats.

But that is not the point that makes me spit tacks. I only feel sorry for Mr Lai, and Mr Ng for the loss of his wife.

The thing that makes my blood boil is that the stupid arsehole who was the cause of the tragedy is probably never going to front to the debt that he owes. It is unlikely that he will appear at any formal inquiry, as he probably will get legal advice and will find out what an absolute twat he has been.

No, the worst thing of all is that there is a good chance he spent the evening in the bar in Raglan, or over the BBq at his bach, telling everyone how this stupid f***ing Chinaman wrecked his boat because he didn't know what he was doing.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Is this how "news" re-writes "history"?

It is very infrequently I that get sufficiently irate with someone that I take the step of calling them out in public. This, I regret, is one. To make matters worse, it comes from a blog - The Art of the Blog - that has some reputation and regard as a site of good analysis and comment.

To be fair, the Artist has relied (I suspect) upon the analysis of a "reporter" whose name is unknown to me, and who - on the basis of the article quoted - deserves to stay that way for a long time.

So, to the Artist... for the post in question.

Your first link is where the problem really starts, but as you will see in the comments the Artist is prepared to stand by the accuracy of the article and his own conclusions. It comes from ""...

Friday, June 11, 2004

The United Nations has determined that Saddam Hussein shipped weapons of mass destruction components as well as medium-range ballistic missiles before, during and after the U.S.-led war against Iraq in 2003.

The UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission briefed the Security Council on new findings that could help trace the whereabouts of Saddam's missile and WMD program.

The briefing contained satellite photographs that demonstrated the speed with which Saddam dismantled his missile and WMD sites before and during the war. Council members were shown photographs of a ballistic missile site outside Baghdad in May 2003, and then saw a satellite image of the same location in February 2004, in which facilities had disappeared.

Now go read the UNSC report, tell me where the word "Syria" is mentioned - the para number would suffice. Certainly the "find" function in Acrobat can not.

While there, you might like to look on the context in which the "photos" were presented. It was not under the heading of "Evidence". Those photographs the "journalist" interpreted in that manner were in fact showing the capability of satellite photography as used by both UNMOVIC and the US team. That is a far cry from "proving" anything.

In fact, the photos show a "storage facility" that had been subject to "close monitoring". Yes, it does show its removal. The report says nothing else, only how the satellite photography and associated software can be used.

Let us take what I see as the critical paras from that report… UNMOVIC

2. During the period under review, the Acting Executive Chairman has continued the practice of briefing the respective Presidents of the Security Council, representatives of Member States and officials of the Secretariat on the activities of UNMOVIC.

3. During the period, no official information was made available to UNMOVIC
on either the work or the results of the investigations carried out in Iraq by the Iraq Survey Group, led by the United States of America, nor did the Survey Group
request any information from UNMOVIC
. While the Commission has examined the publicly released portion of the testimony given by Charles Duelfer, the head of the Survey Group, on 30 March before the United States Senate's Armed Services Committee, it has not had access to the full text. The provision of detailed supporting information relating to the public testimony would assist UNMOVIC and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in discharging their mandate to continue to assess Iraq's weapons of mass destruction activities.

4. In his testimony, the head of the Iraq Survey Group noted that the Group
continued to look for weapons of mass destruction. He also said he did not believe
that the Survey Group had sufficient information and insight at that time to make
final judgements with confidence as to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction
programmes and to determine the truth of their existence. He said that more work
had to be done to gather critical information about the regime, its intentions and its capabilities. He also pointed to a number of practical difficulties facing his team, including security, delays in translating documentation and the continued reluctance of Iraqi personnel to speak freely.

5. Mr. Duelfer's publicly released testimony mentions, as an example of
uncertain Iraqi intent, that the Tuwaitha Agricultural and Biological Research Centre had equipment suitable for the production of biological agents and that research work there on the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis would be important to a
biological weapon programme. UNMOVIC and its predecessor, the United Nations
Special Commission, inspected that site on numerous occasions for similar reasons
and had categorized it as being subject to intensive monitoring. The site was also
inspected regularly by IAEA. The testimony also refers to new information on
unmanned aerial vehicles being developed and on long-range ballistic missile
development. While the Commission has considerable knowledge of Iraq's
unmanned aerial vehicle programmes and long-range missiles, the testimony is not
sufficiently detailed for the Commission's experts to determine the extent to which
such information was known to UNMOVIC.

The emphasis in that extract is unashamedly my own.

Now, please note, who is "Mr. Duelfer"? All of this section of the UN report is commentary on testimony that this mysterious "Mr Duelfer" gave on 30 March before the United States Senate's Armed Services Committee. The report bemoans the fact that while the UN "has examined the
publicly released portion of the testimony given by Charles Duelfer, the head of the
Survey Group, on 30 March before the United States Senate's Armed Services
Committee, it has not had access to the full text."

There follows a discussion on the "discovery" of missile engine parts in a Rotterdam junk yard. Yes, and I also remember the video showing UN inspectors watching as Iraqi tanks were driven over SCUD missiles lying on the ground. Yes, there are many transactions of material into and out of Iraq which UNMOVIC was able to track.

The second report that you quote has the following…

The administration acknowledged last week that the search for banned weapons is largely over. The Iraq Survey Group's chief, Charles Duelfer, is expected to submit the final installments of his report in February. A small number of the organization's experts will remain on the job in case new intelligence on Iraqi WMD is unearthed.

But the officials familiar with the search say U.S. authorities have found no evidence that former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein transferred WMD or related equipment out of Iraq.

A special adviser to the CIA director, Duelfer declined an interview request through an agency spokesman. In his last public statements, he told a Senate panel last October that it remained unclear whether banned weapons could have been moved from Iraq.

''What I can tell you is that I believe we know a lot of materials left Iraq and went to Syria. There was certainly a lot of traffic across the border points,'' he said. ''But whether in fact in any of these trucks there was WMD-related materials, I cannot say.''

Last week, a congressional official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said suggestions that weapons or components were sent from Iraq were based on speculation stemming from uncorroborated information.

But what is this? Is this the same "Mr Duelfer" that was quoted at length in the UN report?

To make matters worse, the Artist is convinced and satisfied that the US Report - that of Mr Duelfer - states that this second report categorically states that the WMD did NOT go to Syria. Well, after due reconsideration, the Artist says again that his analysis is right.

Oh, what a difference a day makes… I beg to differ. He has, in fact, gotten his propaganda so confused that he knows not which is sauce and which the goosefat.

If I had the time and the inclination I could probably debunk most of the other incorrect and misleading statements in the page. But, how about as an exercise in objectivity you try it for yourself?

Perhaps if I take as a quick example that of the SCUD missiles. A little time spent with a google search turns up the following...

Report from the CIA

Now please, take the opportunity and the time to read right through this report. There is debate about whether all of the SCUD missiles and derivatives were destroyed. The conclusion of the report is in a Table right toward the end. Best analysis of the information to hand indicates the possibility that one SCUD was unaccounted for.

How does this fit with the article and the UNMOVIC report? Read it again. There is reference to, and a photo of, a SCUD missile engine found in a Rotterdam scrapyard. The CIA report draws the conclusion that this may well be the missing engine from the missing SCUD. My reading of the UNMOVIC report says that is also what the serial number says.

I could go on, but it gets so tiresome correcting the badly disguised attempts of so-called journalists - a more correct name would be "propaganda distributors" - to rewrite both the truth and history and more specifically the people who blindly accept their "word" as Gospel truth and pedal it to the rest of the world.

As a personal note to "the Artist", I enjoy some of your writing, even if I disagree with the politics behind the thoughts you set down.

Please, PLEASE, try and be a little more careful with your sources and even more careful about how you analyse them. You do yourself no justice at all with stupidities such as this posting...

I don't blame you for your misunderstanding or being misled. I do suggest that you be somewhat more careful in selecting your sources.

UPDATE - 20 Jan 05

Give credit where due, the Artist has amended the post that was getting my goat. Can I just say that this is exactly one reason why I try to obtain independant or direct verification of the more crucial or contentious posts that appear here from time to time.

I have been known to make the same mistake - fear not. There is nothing better for a swollen head than a healthy portion of crow pie.

Artist, I salute you.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Congrats to "Riverbend"

I note that "Baghdad Burning" has been elevated to the status of "Blog of Note". It is one which has been on my goodies list since October or so.

Very recommended.

An example of the standard of writing over there -

Terror isn't just worrying about a plane hitting a skyscraper…terrorism is being caught in traffic and hearing the crack of an AK-47 a few meters away because the National Guard want to let an American humvee or Iraqi official through. Terror is watching your house being raided and knowing that the silliest thing might get you dragged away to Abu Ghraib where soldiers can torture, beat and kill. Terror is that first moment after a series of machine-gun shots, when you lift your head frantically to make sure your loved ones are still in one piece. Terror is trying to pick the shards of glass resulting from a nearby explosion out of the living-room couch and trying not to imagine what would have happened if a person had been sitting there

and from earlier...

Samarra Burning...
The last few days have been tense and stressful. Watching the military attacks on Samarra and hearing the stories from displaced families or people from around the area is like reliving the frustration and anger of the war. It's like a nightmare within a nightmare, seeing the corpses pile up and watching people drag their loved ones from under the bricks and steel of what was once a home.

To top it off, we have to watch American military spokespersons and our new Iraqi politicians justify the attacks and talk about 'insurgents' and 'terrorists' like they actually believe what they are saying... like hundreds of civilians aren't being massacred on a daily basis by the worlds most advanced military technology.

As if Allawi's gloating and Bush's inane debates aren't enough, we have to listen to people like Powell and Rumsfeld talk about "precision attacks". What exactly are precision attacks?! How can you be precise in a city like Samarra or in the slums of Sadir City on the outskirts of Baghdad? Many of the areas under attack are small, heavily populated, with shabby homes several decades old. In Sadir City, many of the houses are close together and the streets are narrow. Just how precise can you be with missiles and tanks? We got a first-hand view of America's "smart weapons". They were smart enough to kill over 10,000 Iraqis in the first few months of the occupation.

Cultural (In)sensitivities

I have just spent a futile half hour trolling back through the posts and my archives to find an item I thought I had posted some while back before Christmas.

It was in passing and related to news items from Britain and the States concerning the right of Islamic women to wear burkha (or is it burqah?) in western society.

I should have, on reflection, left my thoughts on this but now is too late.

Today, the Court here in Auckland has ruled that two women due to give evidence must so do without their faces veiled.

In a measure of appeasement, the witnesses will be given privacy behind a screen that will shield them from the view of the Court except for the judge, the (female) Court staff, and the lawyers.

The women have agreed, the Islamic community leaders agree that it is a just solution, and even the defence lawyer is happy (as happy as a defence lawyer can be...).

Full story here.

Not difficult to do, now, was it?

What has been happening?

Not a lot really.

This past week has seen the true onset of summer... clear skies, light winds, temps up to the mid twenties. Really truly gloriously fine!! Since October there have been a succession, unbroken succession of storms and depressions interspersed with showery cold southwester. Just after New Year there were reports of icebergs off the Campbell Islands, something not seen in recent times IN WINTER.

A weekend in Whangamata with very good friends - how can you beat a $2 million beachfront mansion? - with good food, good wine. Resurrected an old and long forgotten skill after a half pissed boast - how to make mint juleps. Not bad seeing the last ones would be over thirty years old by now - if they had survived the gent from Little Rock who thought that my initial "experiments" (I had read the recipe from a book a few days before) were "pretty darned good".

Yes, the return of the "Golden Weather" and the accompanying hiatus of political dormancy is truly a time of joy and celebration.

It will end in a week or so when Brash Donny gives his "annual state of the nation" speech to the Orewa branch of Rotary, go back to this time last year for comment on his first attempt.

Rumour has it that this year's speech will see a call for major legislative measures to be "put to the nation" as a referendum.

Well, at first sight I would have no difficulty with that proposal BUT there is a very fundamental flaw in the idea.

It was shown at first hand and most vividly with the last referendum - that was some five years back and was the apex of political debate on crime, justice and punishment. As I recollect, the question asked was along the lines of "I am in favour of law and order - Yes / No". Not the actual words but that was essentially what it meant. For a starter it effectively killed the electoral referendum as a means of determining the mood of the nation on important matters of social policy. Oh, there have been rumours of a few since including one to banish speed limits on the road (how far did that get before it was hit by a truck?), one to revoke the Treaty of Waitangi (that followed fervent public sentiment for Brash Donny's last speech), yet another attempt to resurrect the abortion debate, and the one that got closest was the Civil Union Bill.

To explain briefly, the law that this process follows requires a petition - not binding on the government - of 250,000 electors calling for the referendum. The petition must state the question to be balloted, hence the ludicrous question that was asked in the last one devised by well meaning lay people with an axe to grind.

What the speculation is, and there are very good grounds for it, that Brash Donny this year is going to call for a referendum on the MMP (Mixed Member Proportional) electoral system that we have at present. The next elections will be the fourth(?) under this system, and the original legislation DID provide for such a question after the third MMP election after ten years (the third election). The government (it might even have been at the end of Bill English's National government) removed the requirement from the law with a minimum of fuss and debate.

The problem behind this is in two parts.

There is a popular feeling that MMP gives far too much power to fringe and minority groups such as the Greens who are part of the support mechanisms for the present Labour government (auntie Helen's mob). As last year, it is Brash Donny's hope to tap this well of public feeling and support especially seeing that it is election year.

The second "problem" is just that - it is election year. Any changes that might arise from a public referendum are not going to apply to the next election. They might to the following one, if the referendum supports a change to the electoral system.

The real problem is that the National Party has languished with public poll support of around 38%, compared with Helen's lot at around 45%. Even more difficult for Donny is the report in yesterday's paper that about 65% of the country think that we are generally "heading in the right direction".

So, it is "brand distinction time".

Watch for Brash Donny to thump the tub with such classic throw-aways as "rule by minority", "erosion of rights", "bad decision making" when the real problem he faces is - NOBODY REALLY WANTS YA, DONNY!!!

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

A tsunami of opinion...

I have extracted this from two sources...

The population, GDP, and Income per head figures come from CIA (as reliable as they are...)

The casualties and aid numbers are from NZ Herald earlier this week.

It is my understanding that the aid grants are governmental only and do NOT include private donations.

It is also an experiment to see if this blog system will support a table of this size...

Nation.........CasualtiesPopulationGDP USD...Inc/Pop...Aid....AID/Pop...Aidx10^5/GDP
Indonesia94,800123 mill758 b$3,200- -
Sri Lanka30,00074 mill73.7 b$3,700- -
India15,1601,065 mill3,033 b$2,900- -
Thailand5,00064 mill477 b$7,400- -
USA3,000 (9/11)293 mill10990 b$37,800350 m$1.1953.185
Japan-127 mill3,582 b$28,200500 m$3.931.396
UK-60 mill1666b$27,70096 m$1.60 5.760
Australia-20 mill571 b$28,55046.5 m$2.3258.144
Canada-32.5 mill959 b$29,80033 m$1.0153.441
Qatar-0.8 mill17 b$21,50025 m$31.25147.058
New Zealand-4 mill85 b$21,6007 m$1.758.236
Italy-58 mill1,550 b$26,70095 m$1.6386.129
Sweden-9 mill238 b$26,80080 m$8.8893.361
Denmark-5.4 mill167 b$31,10054.9 m$10.1673.287
Saudi Arabia-25.8 mill288 b$11,80010 m$0.3873.472
Libya-5.6 mill35 b$6,4002 m0.3575.714

The idea for the comparison was prompted by a post to another forum altogether, by a gent with whom I have crossed swords on a number of occasions in the past but that is another story.

What is interesting are the different opinions one finds - just on this one topic - wandering through blogland. One which I am trying to confirm through OldWhig has the Libertarians through the auspices of the Ayn Rand Institute reportedly threatening legal action against the President for making Federal grants that are unconstitutional. I hope that these reports prove false, for no other reason than the impact that success would have upon the international efforts in Asia.

In other instances there are misguided people (in my opinion that is, and one is the gent I mentioned above) who believe that Muslims should look after their own, without help from the US.

There were also three local comments, nothing unique I suspect...

First was the castigation meted out to the US administration for its initial reported Federal Grants to the cause. Here I have a measure of sympathy for Bush, given the meagre knowledge I have of governmental machinations. He must have been in a real bind between the extreme right of the neo-cons and the obvious generaosity of the US people to others in time of need.

The second drew attention to the toll in Sri Lanka, some 10 times that of 9/11, in a country with a population of about 1/3rd of the US. That has to hurt, and hurt hard.

The third related the size of the US Federal grants to the cost to date of the war in Iraq. I confess, I was strongly tempted to make a great noise on this myself. Reflection led to the realisation that US aid will probably continue in this area for many more years to come.