Joe Hendren

[ Home ] [ Articles ] [ Blog Home ] [ Travel ] [ Links] [About Me]

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Everyone is making a buck off her

The New York Times reports that the parents of Terry Schiavo have sold a list of their supporters to a conservative direct mailing firm, Response Unlimited, making it likely that thousands of strangers moved by her plight will receive a steady stream of solicitations from anti-abortion, evangelical and conservative groups.

Pamela Hennessy, an unpaid spokeswoman for the Schindlers, said she was initially appalled when she learned of the list's existence.

"It is possibly the most distasteful thing I have ever seen," Ms. Hennessy said. "Everybody is making a buck off of her."

Response Unlimited, who decline to comment, are asking $150 a month for 6,000 names and $500 a month for 4,000 e-mail addresses of people who responded last month to an e-mail plea from Ms. Schiavo's father.

It has seemed pretty obvious to me that the fundumentalist American Right have been using the sad case of Terry Schiavo to stir up shit on so called 'moral issues', like they did during the last presidential campaign. This convieniently removes the political focus away from the many faults of the Bush Administration.

One thing I did not expect however, is that Terry Schiavo parents would allow themselves to be so clearly aligned with the opportunistic political campaign surrounding their daughter's case. If anyone had any sympathy for the Schindlers, now they have sold it.

(with a tip of the hat to Empire Notes where I found the link to the NYT story)

Labels: , ,

Did an Indian seismologist predict the latest Indonesian earthquake?

Nias island in Indonesia faced a series of large aftershocks today following the devastating 8.7 magnitude earthquake that hit the region on Monday. One of the aftershocks reached 6.3 on the Richter scale.

Last week I blogged on the findings of an Indian
seismologist, Dr Vineet Gahlart who predicted on March 17 there could be another large quake in the region, as the January 26 earthquake had increased stress on the fault system separating India and Indonesia. Sadly, it appears Gahlart's prediction came true, and far sooner than most people expected.

The latest earthquakes are feared to have cost 2,000 lives, with the UN predicting this number will rise. The most disturbing thing about such predictions is that we heard similar things in the days following the boxing day disaster, as the number of dead rose from the tens of thousands to the hundreds of thousands.

Labels: , ,

Friday, March 25, 2005

Wilmshurt letter on Iraq war further evidence of increasing politicisation of British civil service

The UK Guardian has obtained the uncensored resignation letter of Elizabeth Wilmshurt, deputy chief legal adviser at the foreign Office until she resigned over the Iraq war. In her resignation letter Wilmshurst dammed the invasion as a "crime of aggression" and "so detrimental to the international order and the rule of law."

When the Blair Government first released the letter under the new Freedom of Information Act, they left out a key passage, a passage suggesting that the attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, believed war against Iraq was illegal - a view he expressed less than two weeks before the Tommies went to Uncle Sam's aid. Wilmshurst says the Foreign Office gave consistent advice that a war would be illegal, before and after UN security council resolution 1441.

She says that was also Lord Goldsmith's view until March 7, when he sent a 13-page written legal opinion to Tony Blair. Ms Wilmshurst does not reveal the content of this advice. However, reports that the attorney warned Mr Blair that British participation in the invasion could be ruled unlawful by an international court have not been denied by the government.

The failure of Blair to obtain a second UN resolution caused both Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and Goldsmith to change their view again. How can legality be so elastic...

In the censored passage of her letter, Ms Wilmshurst points out that the attorney's view changed yet again into a new "official line". That is a reference to a parliamentary answer released by Lord Goldsmith on March 17, the eve of a crucial Commons vote on military action. In this, the attorney said - on the basis of advice from Mr Blair - that it was "plain" Iraq was in breach of its disarmament obligations.

The Freedom of Information Act forced the release of the censored piece of the letter, even though the Foreign Office claimed it was not in the "public interest" - yeah right - on reading the previously deleted passage its pretty clear it is not the interests of the public that are being protected.
My views accord with the advice that has been given consistently in this office before and after the adoption of SCR [UN security council resolution] 1441, and with what the attorney general gave us to understand was his view prior to his letter of 7 March.
Whether or not it could be said that a certain dossier was 'sexed up', the Wilmshurst letter makes it pretty clear heavy political pressure was applied on the public service to provide the conclusions Blair wanted.

It is unfortunate that the debate within the civil service over the Iraq war will encourage greater politicisation of the service. The tradition of British public servants providing 'free and frank' advice is under threat, as is the notion of a professional career service. Such principles have guided the British civil service since the mid 19th century (following the Northcote-Trevelyan reforms), and were the basis for the reform of New Zealand's public service in 1912. The cost of Tony's arrogance over the Iraq war could be a public service littered with cronies (or mini Tonys).

Nevertheless, I should congratulate the UK Labour Government for passing the Freedom of Information Act, even if it was long overdue.

Labels: , , , , ,

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Mental health legacy of Asian tsunami

I suspect the long term impacts of the January 26 Asian tsunami are only just starting to be recognised.

BBC News has a good report on the mental health legacy of the Asian tsunami. Mental health workers in the region say parts of the area are in a "state of mental emergency", and will need ongoing help for up to a year, if not longer.

Kaz de Jong, head of mental health services for Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF), who spent eight days on the ground looking at services in Aceh, says the recovery process is just beginning. According to de Jong, at least 20% of the population will have longer term mental health problems and 5% of these will be severe, with people needing counseling for post traumatic stress disorder and anxiety.

Laetitia de Schoutheete, co-ordinator of the mental health care projects for MSF in Aceh, said guilt was a big problem for many of the survivors.

I am really pleased to see some focus on the mental health impact of the disaster, as the mental health legacy of January 26 will continue to be an issue long after the 'reconstruction' has completed.

Lets hope the aid continues long after the photo-ops and hammers - the people of the region will need help over many years to recover from the events of January 26th 2004.

Labels: , ,

If you are looking for India - it has moved

It is now nearly 3 months since the tragic wave stuck Asia, a Tsunami caused by a massive earthquake in the Indian ocean.

An Indian seismologist, Dr Vineet Gahlart says India is now up to 5 metres closer to Indonesia than it was before the December 26 earthquake. The earthquake moved the entire country to the east, apart from a few smaller islands that sit on top of a different Tectonic plate. In terms of land area, India is the seventh largest country in the world, excluding Antarctica and the EU as a block. Of course this should be no a great surprise given the theory of plate tectonics, but it does not hurt to keep a sense of wonder.

Following a one month geological survey, Dr Gahlart said the geographic distance between India and Indonesia has been reduced by between 15mm and 5 metres, depending on the closeness of different areas to the epicentre of the quake.

More worryingly, Dr Gahlart also said the earthquake increased the chances of another big quake in the region, as the Jan 26 earthquake had increased stress on the fault system separating India and Indonesia. While I do not wish another earthquake on Asia by any stretch of the imagination, I hope that the pressure between the plates can be released by a series of small insignificant earthquakes, instead of another huge quake in a few years. Another big quake in the region, so soon after the last, would only pile catastrophe on top of disaster.

PS: Tectonic is a word I usually confuse with Teutonic - I need to keep reminding myself that Teutonic plate was worn by eastern European knights long ago, and a tectonic plate is something quite different!

Labels: , ,

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Peace Researcher Article 'The Fog of Iraq' now online

My article 'The Fog of Iraq' from the March 2005 edition of "Peace Researcher" is now online. I examine some of the frank conclusions contained in the November 2004 report of the Defence Science Advisory Board (DSB - Strategic Communication'), a report highly critical of the Bush Administration's efforts in the war on terror and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Muslims do not hate our freedom, but rather they hate our policies. The overwhelming majority [of Muslims] voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the long-standing, even increasing, support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan and the Gulf states. Thus, when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy."
I also look at the work of Boston Globe journalist, Molly Bingham, who spent months in Iraq researching the makeup of the Iraqi resistance. She concludes:
The composition of the Iraqi resistance is not what the US administration has been calling it, and the more it is oversimplified the harder it is to explain its complexity....My objective is not to romanticize the fighters or their fight, but merely to better understand what our realistic choices are in Iraq and the Middle East.
Read the article

Labels: , , , , , ,

Sunday, March 13, 2005

UN-CERD finds against Seabed and Foreshore Legislation

The United Nations has dammed the controversial Foreshore and Seabed Act as being discriminatory against Maori. The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination released its decision this weekend, as part of its sixty sixth session, with comment on issues in other countries. I include all comments relevant to New Zealand below (not sure if its the full text of the decision, but its a full text of what they gave the media). The committee found the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004 discriminated against Maori by extinguishing the possibility of establishing Maori customary title, and by the failure of the legislation to provide a guaranteed right of redress.

Decision on the Situation in New Zealand

In a decision on New Zealand, the Committee noted its review of the compatibility of the New Zealand Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004 with the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in the light of information received both from the Government of New Zealand and a number of Māori non-governmental organizations and taking into account its General Recommendation No. XXIII on indigenous peoples. The Committee expressed its appreciation at having had the opportunity to engage in a constructive dialogue with the State party and the State party’s written and oral responses to its requests for information related to the legislation, including those submitted on 17 February and 9 March 2005. Bearing in mind the complexity of the issues involved, the legislation appeared to the Committee, on balance, to contain discriminatory aspects against the Māori, in particular in its extinguishment of the possibility of establishing Māori customary title over the foreshore and seabed and its failure to provide a guaranteed right of redress, notwithstanding the State party’s obligations under articles 5 and 6 of the Convention.

The Committee acknowledged with appreciation the State party’s tradition of negotiation with the Māori on all matters concerning them and urged the State party, in a spirit of goodwill and in accordance with the ideals of the Waitangi Treaty, to resume a dialogue with the Māori community with regard to the legislation in order to seek ways of lessening its discriminatory effects, including where necessary through legislative amendment. Moreover, the Committee requested the State party to monitor closely the implementation of the Foreshore and Seabed Act, its impact on the Māori population and the developing state of race relations in New Zealand and to take steps to minimize any negative effects, especially by way of a flexible application of the legislation and by broadening the scope of redress available to the Māori.

On hearing Tariana Turia's comments on the decision on 3 News tonight, I note her call for dialogue closely followed the wording of the decision above.

The sheer rush of the Government to get the bill passed was one of greatest tragedies of the whole debate. Discussion and negotiations between Maori and the Crown could have continued while the issue worked its way through the courts, with the hope a solution could be found by consensus prior to judges having make a further ruling. Instead, Labour overestimated public fears Maori would restrict access to the foreshore, and when it found these fears were politically convenient to getting the bill passed, it fueled those fears when it claimed to have fixed the non-problem.

The deliberations of the UN committee follow a submission by the country's third-largest iwi organisation, Te Runanga a Ngai Tahu to the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues last year. It is interesting this action has been led by a South Island iwi organisation, as it has been my impression that support for the Maori party is currently concentrated in the North. If I could indulge in some pure speculation, does this indicate tactical differences in Maoridom on the best way to fight the legislation?

That said, the action was supported by the Treaty Tribes Coalition
which includes Ngati Kahungunu, Ngai Tamanuhiri and Hauraki iwi. Also, Rawiri Taonui of the School of Maori and Indigenous Studies at Canterbury University was very positive about the potential of the Maori party to wrestle the Maori seats off Labour, as she crowned Tariana Turia her Maori politician of the year in February. Taonui's article 'Ups and Downs of the Maori Year' is well worth a read.

As Rawiri Taonui says,
the requirement to prove uninterrupted connection since 1840 is one of the worst features of the Seabed and Foreshore Act, especially as the majority of Maori have lost this connection through colonisation.

I was discussing the F&S issue with some fellow Alliance types at the conference in November. In attempting to explain to someone what was wrong with the S&F bill, and the 'uninterrupted connection' issue in particular, I felt a flash of inspiration as I asked them to imagine a grandfather clock that had been in their family for generations. You identified the clock with the history of your family, yet you lacked a very old receipt or any other proof of ownership. If you were suddenly asked to prove 'uninterrupted connection' or 'uninterrupted possession' of the grandfather clock since 1840, this would be a very difficult thing to do.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, March 12, 2005

US locks up kids in Abu Ghraib

Documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union reveal the US is locking up children inside Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. A prison now infamous for the mistreatment and abuse of inmates. (Washington Post / AP article)

Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, who was in charge of Abu Ghraib from July to November 2003, said she often visited the prison's youngest inmates. One boy "looked like he was 8-years-old...He told me he was almost 12," Karpinski said. "He told me his brother was there with him, but he really wanted to see his mother, could he please call his mother. He was crying."

In an interview with Maj. Gen. George Fay, Karpinski said the Army began holding women and children in a high-security cellblock at Abu Ghraib in the summer of 2003 because the facility was better than lockups in Baghdad where the youths had been held.

While one desperately hopes no 11 year olds were subjected to the highly degrading abuse, often with sexual themes, inflicted on adult prisoners, the released articles suggest well documented abuse of children did occur. Six witnesses report three interrogators and a civilian interrogator (in various states of drunkenness), forced a 17 year old girl to expose her breasts and kissed her. According to the documents, the perportrators went unpunished. Imagine the outcry if an American girl of a similar age was subject to such harassment?

In another case troops poured cold water and mud over the 17 year old son of an Iraqi General, in an attempt to break the General by letting him watch his son shiver in the cold. If there is some chilling consequentialist reasoning behind involving an inmate's children in an interrogation, it can only give simplistic consequentialism a very bad name.

Links and more background on this are available at Empire Notes

The United Nations and the world community needs to denounce these US crimes, committed by and/or overseeing, by the American military. Imagine the response of the US if any other country was responsible for such abuses? 'A few bad apples', remarkably timely attempts to discredit the UN and claims of 'anti-americanism' should be seen for what they are - the excuses of quislings* who out of conviction believe 'anything goes' in the War on Terror, the phony war that it is.

* 'Quisling' is based on the name of a Norwegian Nazi, and is used to describe the political forces within states attacked by Hitler who chose out of conviction rather than expediency to join their country's enemy.

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, March 07, 2005

Internet banking and security issues

The Sunday Star Times and DPF report that a hacker accessed internet banking accounts by using keystroke spyware installed at an internet cafe.

While I do not doubt there are security issues with internet banking, I suspect a great deal of the anxiety is due to internet banking being an unfamiliar technology.

I do not believe that people, even those who are particularly security conscious, choose to use a form of payment on the basis of a rational assessment of the risks. I came to this conclusion while working behind a checkout counter during my student years. Many customers, especially those of the older generations, preferred writing cheques to using EFTPOS, and some even claimed that cheques were more secure. From witnessing over 100 transactions in a week it was obvious to me that EFTPOS was far more secure. Faking a signature on a check is relatively easy with preparation, especially if the forger can sign the check in front of the teller with apparent confidence.

Unlike DPF I do not think the two-part identification adopted by ASB and BankDirect is a great improvement in security. With this system a customer is sent a text message containing a specific second password to enter before money can be transferred. IMHO this just creates a greater incentive for people to take off with my cellphone. If they have taken the time to keylog my other password - nicking the cellphone is a cinch. Especially in an internet cafe, where spodders have their attention elsewhere (note I am not a thief, but a victim of this in London).

Whether it be conducted by cheque, EFTPOS, or handing over wads of cash, no method of banking is ever going to be 100% secure. Its always going to be a tradeoff between greater security and usability. If intenet banking is twisted up in security knots, people will stop using it, especially those who are less confident with computers.

For a few months my bank insisted that I change my password for access to internet banking every month. I was unable to recycle a set of passwords, I constantly had to think of new ones. This immediately stuck me as being counterproductive, as it increased the chances that people would write their passwords down. To make matters worse, I happened to be overseas one time my password expired, and the only way I could regain access was to ring the bank in New Zealand. Suffice to say I did not bother making a toll call from Europe, but it was highly inconvenient as it left me with no way of knowing how much money I had in my account before it was spent on German beer (yummy!) etc.

On the couple of occasions I was a victim of card fraud while in the UK, the ability to access a live statement of my account by internet banking allowed me to catch and identify the fraud within hours. IMHO it would be terrifying to find loads of fraud on the statement at the end of the month!

I personally like the system adopted by HSBC in the UK, whereby your pass number stays the same, but you are asked for three different letters of the passcode each day. For example if your password was 123456, on one day the system may ask you for the 3rd letter of your passcode(3), the 1st letter of your passcode(1) and the 6th letter of your passcode(6). While not entirely foolproof against keylogging (nothing is), a significant advantage with HSBCs system is that the full password is never revealed.

Perhaps restricting access to internet banking to a certain range of IP addresses could cut down the chances of fraud, especially as it would minimise the chances of overseas based crims accessing NZ internet banking accounts. If you were going overseas you could tell your bank to remove this restriction (like global roaming on cellphones) perhaps replacing this with an alternative type of verification for the time you were overseas.

Ultimately, the best solution may be an additional piece of hardware, such as a thumbprint reader or card swipe and pin. But I bet Bonny and Clyde already know how to make the heist on that one.

Labels: ,

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Young Jon Hunt retires from Parliament

As a way of marking the retirement of Jonathon Hunt from the house I thought I would share a speech Young Jon Hunt made as a first term MP in 1968. I came across this speech quite by accident, while researching some background for a submission on the Overseas Investment Bill.

On the 20th of November 1968, Young Jon Hunt made a fiery contribution to parliamentary debate on the Land and Income Tax Bill (No. 3). With the passing of nearly 40 years, this speech now contains some lovely ironies!

“"I thought I that I might, as the youngest member [he is now the oldest], reflect for a couple of minutes on this system of social security tax which tonight is going out after 30 years of existence".” The Land and Income Tax Amendment Bill (No. 3) removed the social security tax implemented by the first Labour Government in 1938.

Hunt defended the need for an equitable tax system and criticised National for giving greater tax cuts to the wealthy.
“"Why did the Labour Government in 1938 initiate the legislation which this bill is removing? It was initiated to provide a more equitable basis for taxation in New Zealand…...more importantly it was to offer that great levelling point, that equity of opportunity which is the basis of the Labour party’s philosophy.”"
Hunt criticised the bill for imposing “"extra indirect taxation on the young people, who marry when they are 21 or 22, without giving them an equivalent reduction elsewhere is merely to discourage them, to force them overseas, and to force them into unfair debt.”"

Later in his career Hunt was a minister in a Government that bought in student fees and planned to bring in a student loans scheme.

In the same speech Hunt also warned about the dangers of Government by Executive, yet later in his career was a minister in the Forth Labour Government, which probably still remains as the most infamous recent example of a Government dominated by the agenda of the cabinet.

The speech also included this gem.
"Presumably the member for Waipara would not know how to speak to a young person if he met one. He would be jealous if he was twice my age."
I doubt Jon Hunt continues to claim others are jealous of his age, as anyone twice his current age would be dead :)

While our former speaker is now widely respected for his encyclopaedic knowledge of parliamentary protocols, during his fiery speech in 1968 the Young Jon Hunt was pulled up by the Speaker more than once for breaching standing orders -– once for making a reference to past debates, and secondly for suggesting that other members of the house were trying to mislead. For the later parliamentary ‘crime’ Jon Hunt was forced to withdraw. But even in his first term Jon Hunt was not adverse to ‘helping the speaker’ 'interpret standing orders', so perhaps this impertinence lead to the day Hunt sat in the Speakers chair.

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Helen: Insist on Sharon and his Spooks saying a Serious Sorry

Great to see Helen Clark sticking to her guns and demanding Israel make a formal apology for sending its spooks to New Zealand in an attempt to fraudulently gain New Zealand passports. While it was good she noted today's apology by Israel's head of state, as being 'encouraging' she should continue to demand a full apology and explanation from the man who is really running Mossard, Ariel Sharon.

Just think of what nearly happened. Mossad, Israel's foreign intelligence service have a long history of using foreign passports to mask their identities, and using this cover to carry out murders in third countries.
  • Amman, September 1997: Mossad agents attempt to assassinate Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal and are found with Canadian passports.
  • Limassoi, Cyprus 1987: The killers of three PLO colonels carried Canadian passports.
  • Beirut, April 13, 1973: 3/6 Mossad operatives used British passports to enter Lebanon to set up the assassination of senior PLO figures by Israeli commandos.
These examples are contained in an excellent article by Murray Horton in the latest version of Peace Researcher - 'Mossad Spies - Imprisioned in New Zealand' (not available on line yet).

What use could Israel's state sponsored terrorists have made of their New Zealand passports, gained under false pretences, in the name of a cerebral palsy sufferer who has never left the country? Horton speculates that Israel provided a possible example on February 21, with the assassination of Hizbullah official Ghaleb Awali in Beirut, a hit allegedly carried out by Israeli run agents.

Had this murderer being caught with a New Zealand passport, red handed so to speak, this could have had serious consequences for Kiwis, especially in the Middle East. Doors may have closed on visa-free access to many countries, and New Zealanders in Afghanistan and Iraq could have become targets (if they are not already given Helen's backpedalling on her initial principled stance on war on Iraq). Even if the passport was later found to be fake, the damage to New Zealand's reputation could already have been done.

Stick it out for a full diplomatic apology Helen, and make sure you get a decent explanation to go with it - from Sharon himself. If Israel continue to drag the chain, seek an international censure motion (like the ones Israel have ignored before) to ensure international law is upheld. Friendly countries have an interest in helping you. You never know, placing greater international pressure on Israel to comply with international law may lead to progress on the Palestine issue. Its only the West's blind eye to Israel that has allowed it to get away with so much for so long.

Make it clear New Zealand has no issue with the Israeli people, but the illegal and immoral actions of their Government. While the Israeli people may be subject to daily propaganda about 'terrorists', I doubt very much they are comfortable with the murderous and duplicious actions of Sharon and his spooky cronies.

Labels: , , ,