Friday, March 24, 2017



Places to go, people to be

Nothing from me today - I'm off to Hydra, Wellington's annual larp convention.

Normal bloggage should resume on Monday, unless I am eaten by Shoggoths.

Thursday, March 23, 2017



Drawn

A ballot for three member's bills was held today, and the following bills were drawn:

  • Ombudsmen (Cost Recovery) Amendment Bill (David Parker)
  • Equal Pay Amendment Bill (Jan Logie)
  • Crown Minerals (Protecting World Heritage Sites) Amendment Bill (Ruth Dyson)
That's a pretty good lineup, and all three of them deserve to pass. And hopefully we'll see National forced to support at least two of them by public opinion. A full list of the bills is here.

New Fisk

It is President Erdogan's Turkey, not humane Germany, that is guilty of 'Nazi practices'

We need an inquiry

I read Hit & Run last night. And having read it, I'm deeply disturbed. Several of Hager and Stephenson's SAS sources openly admit perpetrating war crimes - specifically, the destruction of civilian property for no military purpose. No-one admits to being responsible for the murder of civilians, but there's serious questions about who ordered the US helicopters to fire on the village and villagers, who fired the shots that killed Islamuddin and Abdul Qayoom, and why the SAS troops refused to provided medical care to obviously injured civilians. And while people can claim that all that happened "in the heat of battle" (as if that justifies anything), there's no such excuse for the subsequent raid ten days later which seemed to have the sole purpose of demolishing the houses of those the SAS believed to be insurgents. This was planned, pre-meditated, and had no military purpose. Again, Hager and Stephenson's SAS sources admit it was done purely for revenge.

And then there's the torture. Not just turning over a man to the Afghan NDS, but beating him first. The SAS need to answer questions about that too.

And the coverup. The SAS and NZDF appear to have lied systematicly about the raids, both to the New Zealand public and seemingly their Minister. They knew within 48 hours that civilians, including a child, had been killed. But Wayne Mapp, who was Defence Minister at the time, is saying that he only found out about it when he saw Stephenson's Collateral Damage documentary in 2014. There are real questions about who bullshat who here - did NZDF bullshit the Minister, or did SAS bullshit their superiors? - which only an inquiry can get to the bottom of.

Finally, there's the matter of the SAS itself. A secret military organisation which effectively runs its own foreign policy, lobbying foreign governments to get involved in other people's wars so they can prove how important and vital they are, is not acceptable in a democracy. Neither, obviously, is one that systematically lies to the public and to its superiors. The SAS needs to be inquired into and tamed, and its disproportionate influence on the wider NZDF tamed.

We can not trust NZDF to do any of this. They've proven repeatedly that they're a closed shop, hostile to civilian oversight. We need a truly independent inquiry to get to the bottom of things. And if the government refuses to provide such an inquiry, we should elect one that will.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017



Member's Day

Unless the government calls urgency, today is a Member's Day. First up is Gareth Hughes' Student Loan Scheme (First Home Repayment Diversion) Amendment Bill. After a short break in which former Prime Minister John Key will pretend he had nothing to do with SAS war crimes, the House will move on to Scott Simpson's Employment Relations (Allowing Higher Earners to Contract Out of Personal Grievance Provisions) Amendment Bill and James Shaw's Public Finance (Sustainable Development Indicators) Amendment Bill, before making a start on Clayton Mitchell's Broadcasting (Games of National Significance) Amendment Bill. If all goes well, there should be a ballot for three bills tomorrow.

Ashley Peacock to be freed?

Ashley Peacock has been tortured by Capital Coast District Health Board for the past five years. Now, finally, they're going to stop:

Ashley Peacock's family say he is set to be released back into the community after a decade controversially locked up in a mental health facility - but there's plenty of work yet to be done to make it happen.

The autistic, severely mentally ill, intellectually disabled man has been in a secure psychiatric unit in Porirua for about a decade. His care costs about $1 million a year.

His treatment has been widely criticised by the Ombudsman calling the use of seclusion in his case degrading.

Ashley's parents, Dave and Marlena Peacock, told a parliamentary health select committee the news on Wednesday in an emotional hearing, as they presented a petition to them calling for the Health Minister to intervene in his case.

Ashley has not been told of his impending freedom yet, the committee was told - as it would take about six months and they wanted to fully prepare him.


CCDHB has lied about plans for Peacock's release before, so I don't think this can be believed until he's actually released. Still, its potentially a positive sign.

Unfortunately, there's no word yet on whether those responsible for his torture will be prosecuted yet.

A conspiracy against democracy

That's the only way to describe the latest revelations about the UK police's campaign of spying on peaceful protestors:

The police watchdog is investigating allegations that a secretive Scotland Yard unit used hackers to illegally access the private emails of hundreds of political campaigners and journalists.

The allegations were made by an anonymous individual who says the unit worked with Indian police, who in turn used hackers to illegally obtain the passwords of the email accounts of the campaigners, and some reporters and press photographers.

The person, who says he or she previously worked for the intelligence unit that monitors the activities of political campaigners, detailed their concerns in a letter to the Green party peer Jenny Jones. The peer passed on the allegations to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), which is investigating.

Hacked passwords were passed to the Metropolitan police unit, according to the writer of the letter, which then regularly checked the emails of the campaigners and the media to gather information. The letter to Jones listed the passwords of environmental campaigners, four of whom were from Greenpeace. Several confirmed they matched the ones they had used to open their emails.


The UK has laws against computer hacking and unauthorised account access, and it appears that the police have been colluding with foreign counterparts to systematiclaly violate them for anti-democratic purposes. This isn't acceptable, and those responsible for this crime need to be exposed and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

Of course, this is Britain, so they won't be.

A bad idea

While news of SAS war crimes is brekaing at home, Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee has been in Iraq, and is signalling yet more involvement for NZ troops and spies there:

Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee has just left Iraq after a secret visit to hold high-level defence meetings in Baghdad and to meet New Zealand trainers at Camp Taji north of the capital.

While there, he hinted there was a role for New Zealand in the reconstruction of Iraq.

And he suggested there could be a move to extend the mandate of the Kiwis at Taji to work on intelligence beyond any immediate threats to the camp.

[...]

Brownlee hinted that intelligence work, although still done at Taji, could extend to a wider area.

"What we are going to need to know is, as cities like Mosul fall, as pressure on some of the smaller towns that may harbour the last of the [Isis] fighters grows then they will run somewhere," Brownlee said.

"We need to be in the loop in an intelligence sense, knowing where they are going because we don't want them coming our way.


The obvious problem is that in Iraq "intelligence" inevitably means a) torture and b) drone strikes. And these are things we don't want NZDF to have anything to do with. The use of intelligence obtained by torture is prohibited under international law, and both the SIS and GCSB are now prohibited by law from handling such material (and from helping with drone strikes). With NZDF already tainted by torture and war crimes, we don't want them further tainted by torture and murder in Iraq. Instead, they should just come home.

New Fisk

Martin McGuinness dies: The 'super-terrorist who became a super-statesman – like so many others

Doubling down on war crimes

Last night, investigative reporters Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson revealed that NZ SAS troops may have committed war crimes in Afghanistan, and that the NZDF covered them up. There is an obvious natural response to such serious and well-supported allegations: announce an independent inquiry. Instead, the government has doubled down on denial:

Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett says there's nothing she's seen that "disturbs" her in a book claiming elite New Zealand troops in Afghanistan may have been guilty of war crimes, including the death of a 3-year-old girl.

[...]


"I've seen the statement from Defence and I think they have our best interests at heart and have huge integrity and I'm backing them," Bennett said.

Asked whether anything in the statements and reports she'd read about the book disturbed her, she said, "not at this stage, no".

[...]

Bennett said she hadn't read the book and described Hager as a "left-wing conspiracist" who was "very good at putting his views through".

"You're asking me to pick a left-wing conspiracist, someone who's written a book, puts it out at 5pm at night, gives no one a chance to read it and put their views so it's reported the next morning like it is now without us having a chance to go through it and make sure we're able to respond in the right way," she said.


Its the usual stuff we see from governments about Hager's work, and its worth remembering: nothing substantive he has published has ever been proven wrong. Its also worth remembering that Jon Stephenson won a substantial defamation suit from NZDF after they attacked his integrity like this over his previous work on Afghanistan. These are people of unimpeached credibility, and I would believe them over NZDF any day.

Meanwhile, by responding in this way, Bennett has essentially joined the coverup. And when war crimes and the murder of civilians (including a child) are at stake, that is... not a good look. And by tying themselves so closely to the NZDF's cover-up, they're implicitly asking to be judged by voters when it is inevitably proven to be false.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017



War criminals must be punished

Tonight, Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson launched Hit & Run: The New Zealand SAS in Afghanistan and the meaning of honour, about the SAS's "revenge" raid in Afghanistan. At the time, the NZDF said that the raid killed only "insurgents". They lied. In fact, the raid killed and injured only civilians; the insurgents they were targeting were nowhere near the area.

It gets worse. The SAS deliberately demolished civilian houses as revenge for the death of one of their comrades. That's a war crime. They refused to provide medical care to the wounded, resulting in some of them dying a slow, lingering, and completely unnecessary death. That's a war crime too. And when they finally captured one of the people they were looking for, they turned him over to the Afghans to be tortured. That's a war crime as well, not to mention straight out conspiracy to torture.

So who's responsible for these crimes? According to Hager and Stephenson's Q&A:

Most of all, people in the SAS. They gathered the intelligence, planned the raid and commanded and led the operation. The authors believe that the deaths and injuries of 21 civilians, the destruction of homes, and the beating and torture of a detainee were due in large part to their actions and inactions, and that they led the efforts to keep it quiet afterwards. Next there are officers in the defence force who were responsible for overseeing the SAS and who should have investigated more responsibly when news of civilian casualties emerged. This includes the then-chief of defence force Lieutenant-General Jerry Mateparae, who was in Afghanistan at the time, and who watched on the screens at the SAS operations room in Kabul as the operation unfolded. Then there are the political leaders. Most government decisions are made by individual ministers or by Cabinet as a whole. However in this case, as Chapter 2 describes, the prime minister John Key was briefed by phone from the SAS compound in Kabul and personally gave his approval for the raid.

Yes, John Key is a fucking war criminal. And he made one of his co-conspirators in those war crimes Governor-General.

These people need to go to jail. All of them. We should not tolerate war crimes by our defence forces, and we should not tolerate the authorisation of war crimes by our politicians. And the solution to it is to charge them, try them, and if convicted, jail them for a very long time, so that there will be some justice for the dead and so that all future soldiers and politicians will know that we will not tolerate that. Anything less - resignations, excuses - is just bullshit. We need prosecutions, and (if the evidence supports them), convictions.

And as a general comment: this is what happens when we involve ourselves in American wars. If we don't wage war, our soldiers don't commit war crimes. So don't wage war, except in immediate self-defence. Duh.

Liar!

When allegations emerged that National MP Todd Barclay had illegally bugged his electorate office staff, he assured the New Zealand public that he would cooperate fully. But he lied:

National MP Todd Barclay refused to co-operate with detectives carrying out an investigation into allegations he had secretly recorded staff in his electorate office, according to documents released from the official police investigation.

Instead, Barclay did not return phone messages left for him by lead detective on the inquiry and had a lawyer contact police to say he would not be making a statement.


Obviously Barclay has a right to silence. At the same time, the public are fully entitled to judge him and his party at the ballot box on his deceit - and they should.

Climate change: Uncharted territory

That's where the World Meterological Organisation thinks we are due to climate change:

The record-breaking heat that made 2016 the hottest year ever recorded has continued into 2017, pushing the world into “truly uncharted territory”, according to the World Meteorological Organisation.

The WMO’s assessment of the climate in 2016, published on Tuesday, reports unprecedented heat across the globe, exceptionally low ice at both poles and surging sea-level rise.

Global warming is largely being driven by emissions from human activities, but a strong El Niño – a natural climate cycle – added to the heat in 2016. The El Niño is now waning, but the extremes continue to be seen, with temperature records tumbling in the US in February and polar heatwaves pushing ice cover to new lows.

“Even without a strong El Niño in 2017, we are seeing other remarkable changes across the planet that are challenging the limits of our understanding of the climate system. We are now in truly uncharted territory,” said David Carlson, director of the WMO’s world climate research programme.


Those who still deny climate change are simply denying reality. It's here, its a threat to human civilization, and we need to deal with it or face some serious consequences (like flood, famine, and war).

A bold move

In the past Maori and Mana Party candidates have argued that giving them electorate votes gets voters "two for one": a Maori Party or Mana MP in the electorate, and a Labour MP on the list. Now the Labour Party is countering that by announcing that all its candidates in Maori seats will be electorate only and will not be on the party list:

In a surprise move Labour's Maori seat MPs have opted to stand as electorate MPs only, and not go on the party list.

Labour Leader Andrew Little said the party was backing a request from its Maori electorate MPs in a move that was "a direct challenge by the Maori MPs to the Maori Party".

"We're confident our outstanding Maori electorate MPs will win their seats.

"We take nothing for granted and our MPs will be working hard to win the trust of voters. But we're very confident they'll make the case this coming election given the strength of our plans and Labour's record of delivering for Maori in government," he said in a statement.


Its a bold move, and it will be interesting to see whether it pays off. If it doesn't, it could be a disaster for Maori representation in Labour, and play directly into the Maori and Mana Party's hands.

Climate change: Getting there from here

If we're to meet the challenge of climate change, we need to radically decarbonise our economy and significantly reduce our emissions - quite possibly, to zero in order to allow the atmosphere to recover. But how can we get there, and what would a zero-emissions New Zealand look like? GLOBE-NZ, a cross-party group of MPs, has produced a report giving us a glimpse:

Slashing pastoral stock numbers by up to 35 per cent has been suggested among ways to push New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions down to zero by 2100.

[...]

Under the first scenario, the country would further slash the emissions intensity of its economic activity through technological advances, such as cost reductions in electric vehicles for freight, electric heating technologies for high temperature applications and a vaccine to reduce methane emissions from pastoral agriculture.

This would be accompanied by a structural shift away from pastoral agriculture - with animal numbers around 20 to 35 per cent lower than today - to less emissions-intensive activity.

The country would instead support a diverse range of land uses, including horticulture and crops, alongside extensive planting of forests, covering an extra million hectares of land by 2050.

This scenario could result in a 70 to 80 per cent reduction in net emissions compared with current levels, however the authors said this option still relied upon breakthroughs like high-grade heat and non-passenger transport, along with extra tech in the agriculture sector.

Under a second scenario, an extra 1.6 million hectares of forest planted by 2050 would "substantially reduce emissions" - a 65 to 75 per cent reduction - and provide opportunities in a significantly enhanced forest products industry.

There's a lot that has to go right for the first strategy to happen, including that methane vaccine. But there's a common feature of both that is going to have to happen regardless: rural New Zealand will have to change. If we want to beat climate change, the dirty economic strategy of destroying our rivers to make bulk milk powder for export is going to have to end, in favour of other uses and higher-value products. And that's entirely reasonable: agriculture produces 50% of our emissions. If we're to reduce overall emissions, the 15% of the population in rural New Zealand which produces and profits from those emissions needs to do their share, rather than leaving it to the rest of us to carry the costs of their pollution.

Interestingly, this report is backed by 35 MP's from across the political spectrum, representing all parties other than United Future (because no-one cares about them) and ACT (because they don't care about the climate). Which suggests that the ground is shifting away from the current foot-dragging and towards a recognition of the radical action we need to take. It's a hopeful sign, and one which suggests that we might finally see some progress. Hopefully it won't be too late.

The full report can be read here.

Not too hard after all

Bill English thinks charging for water is "too hard". Fortunately Andrew Little is up for the challenge:

Labour wants to introduce a charge on water exports and says the Government is "kicking the can down the road" by not addressing it before the election.

[...]

Labour leader Andrew Little said the issue of putting a price on the country's water was a "real issue now", and Kiwis were concerned about it.

"This is just another example of this government kicking the can down the road. We've seen it with superannuation - coming up with an idea but nothing's going to happen until after the election," he told Radio NZ.

Little said Labour would put an "appropriate levy" on water use, but couldn't say what that might be.

"I'm not an expert and specialist in this area but most people would say if you're coming here taking this water untreated, untouched ... then fairness dictates you should give something back."


And that's the key point here. When companies extract our gold, silver, oil and gas, they have to pay a royalty on it. The same should be true of water. Of course, that immediately introduces a Treaty issue, because like the oil and gold, ultimately that water belongs to Maori. But that's not insurmountable. Its simply a question of government priorities and will.

Little doesn't want to charge farmers, our biggest water profiteers. But even a charge levelled only on water bottlers is a start, and establishes the principle that those who profiteer from public resources should pay for it.

Monday, March 20, 2017



UKanians support higher taxes

For decades, UK governments have cut taxes on the rich in order to "encourage growth" (of rich people's bank balances). But it turns out that that is completely the opposite of what voters want:

Increased taxes on wealthy individuals and businesses in order to balance the country’s books have the overwhelming support of the British public, a new poll reveals.

According to a survey by ComRes for The Independent, restoring the income tax rate for those earning more than £150,000 a year from 45p to 50p has the support of 77 per cent of the public, including 76 per cent of Conservative respondents.

[...]

Increased rates of corporation tax on the profits of firms from the current rate of 20 per cent to 25 per cent are also supported by 60 per cent of those surveyed. Just 26 per cent disagreed while 16 per cent registered “don’t know”.

Despite this, from 2020, Britain will have one of the lowest rates of corporation taxes in the G20 as the Government intends to cut the tax rate to 17 per cent.


So how do they do get away with this? A political establishment tightly connected to the wealthy, coupled with an unfair electoral system to prevent anyone actually representing the people from gaining power. And so the UK is governed by and for the interests of the ultra-rich, and the views of the majority are ignored.

Meanwhile I'm wondering whether there's any similar polling in New Zealand. And if not, surely the labour Party shoudl be doing some?

Fined

The UK Conservative party has been fined £70,000 for lying about its election expenses:

The Electoral Commission has fined the Conservative Party £70,000 over campaign spending.

The independent watchdog said the party had made “numerous failures” in reporting its expenses for the 2015 general election and three by-elections in 2014.

[...]

The investigation found the party’s spending return for the 2015 general election was missing payments worth at least £104,765.

Separately, payments worth up to £118,124 were either not reported to the commission or were incorrectly reported.

In addition, the Tories did not include invoices or receipts for 81 payments worth £52,924 and failed to maintain records explaining the amounts it invoiced to candidates in three 2014 by-elections for work on their campaigns, meaning the accuracy of the sums could not be verified.


In addition, there's been a referral to police, and at least a dozen more from electorate-level investigations. The Conservative Party is looking less like a democratic party and more like a criminal conspiracy.

But while its nice to see them fined, £70,000 is nothing to them. And that's the real problem here: clearly, the sanctions in place in the UK are insufficient to discourage this kind of electoral fraud. And that will remain the case until party officials and MPs face a real prospect of ending up in jail if they try to cheat the system.

Apple: Tax cheats

More stellar work from the Herald's Matt Nippert has shown us that Apple hasn't paid a cent of tax in New Zealand for the past decade:

Consumer electronics giant Apple paid no income tax to Inland Revenue over the past decade despite selling billions of dollars worth of iPhones and iPads to New Zealanders.

[...]

According to figures compiled by industry analysts IDC, Apple sold 221,000 phones here in the three months to December.

Over the past decade, mostly thanks to the iPhone revolutionising the mobile phone, Apple grew to become the world's largest and most profitable company. According to financial statements for the company's local subsidiary, Apple Sales New Zealand, record total sales here since 2007 were $4.2 billion.

The accounts also show apparent income tax payments of $37 million - but a close reading shows this sum was paid to Inland Revenue but was actually sent abroad to the Australian Tax Office, an arrangement that has been in place since at least 2007.

Had Apple reported the same healthy profit margin in New Zealand as it did for its operations globally it would have paid $356m in taxes over the period.


As the article points out, this is perfectly legal: the law enables massive multinational slike Apple to welch on their obligations to society. But its also very clearly immoral. And its a perfect example of why we need a diverted profits tax: to make leeches like Apple pay their fair share.

New Fisk

On the 40th anniversary of Kamal Jumblatt's death, is trouble brewing again in Lebanon?