Thursday, April 18, 2019

Our environment is in trouble

Statistics New Zealand has released their latest Environment Aotearoa report, and it shows that our environment is in trouble:

New Zealand's environment is in a precarious state and facing an overwhelming number of threats, according to a sweeping government stocktake.

The major issues include thousands of species threatened or at risk of extinction, rivers unsafe for swimming, the loss of productive land due to urban expansion, and a warming climate likely to destabilise many parts of the environment.

The findings were detailed in Environment Aotearoa 2019, undertaken by the Ministry for the Environment (MfE) and Stats NZ. The agencies are required by law to produce such a report every three years.

The big cause? Farmers. They suck our rivers dry, then fill them with cowshit, while destroying native habitats and the global climate. And they do this not to provide us with food, but to enrich themselves by selling overseas. Limiting their activity and reverting some of their land to native forest would fix a huge amount of our problems. As for how to do it, imposing stocking limits, reducing irrigation takes, and limiting nitrogen-based fertiliser all seem like good starts. But the chances of this chickenshit government doing any of these things is about zero.

The cost of cowardice

How big a mistake was Jacinda Ardern's cowardly act of rejecting fairer taxes, not just now but for the rest of her political career? Not only has it poisoned her own base against her and created a strong incentive to end that career, it also fatally undermines the other policies she pretends to care about:

Consider the Prime Minister's pledge to halve child poverty within a decade, possibly the political priority closest to her heart. It is very difficult to see how that can be achieved without the $3.4 billion a year that the capital gains tax was, according to the most recent estimate, going to raise.

Lifting tens of thousands of children out of poverty will take money, and lots of it. And the government can't just rely on the economy delivering solid growth. A decent amount of that growth will go to middle-income earners - but meeting (at least one of) the child poverty targets requires lifting the incomes of poor families relative to those in the middle. In other words, it requires a redistribution, a shifting-around, of the proceeds of growth, not just growth itself.


Many of the government's other priorities - building more state homes, eliminating introduced predators, and repairing mental health services, among others - also require significant funds, again well above what will be generated under existing tax settings. Some of the government's goals can be achieved by regulation and putting costs onto businesses, but not many.

Effective policy costs money, and this government has just robbed itself of that vital tool. Remember this next time they plead "poverty" as an excuse for not doing something: they chose to be poor. They chose to be a government which could not afford things. They chose to not be able to do the things they promised. Or, to put it another way, they chose to be shit. And we should hold them accountable for that choice.

Who owns England?

Why do we need to tax land and wealth? Because otherwise we'll end up like England, where 1% of the population own half the country:

Half of England is owned by less than 1% of its population, according to new data shared with the Guardian that seeks to penetrate the secrecy that has traditionally surrounded land ownership.

The findings, described as “astonishingly unequal”, suggest that about 25,000 landowners – typically members of the aristocracy and corporations – have control of half of the country.

The figures show that if the land were distributed evenly across the entire population, each person would have almost an acre – an area roughly the size of Parliament Square in central London.

And this is almost certainly an underestimate: the ownership of 17% of England's land is undeclared, because it hasn't been sold for centuries. Meaning that it is probably also owned by aristocrats. many of the major corporations are also owned by them, being a corporate front for their land interests. Meanwhile, "oligarchs and city bankers" own another 17%. Ordinary homeowners own 5%.

This concentration of ownership and wealth corrupts everything. As in Scotland, it gives local landowners monopoly powers to dictate to communities. The Scottish solution is to forcibly break up those estates. England should do that too.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Don't get fooled again

Remember how in 2017 Labour campaigned on change? They were going to fix things, introduce a capital gains tax, make the rich pay their fair share for once.

Yeah, fooled us all, didn't they? And they'll no doubt try and do it again in the elections next year. But if you're angry about their betrayal, make yourself a promise now: don't get fooled again. If you want change, don't vote Labour, don't donate to Labour, don't volunteer for Labour. Give your vote, your money, your time and effort to another party, any other party that promises change, than the one who betrayed you. Because if you don't, Labour will continue to treat you like a fool, and continue to promise change while delivering none.

This government does not deserve re-election

Back in February, Green co-leader James Shaw asked a good question: does the government deserve to be re-elected if they failed to implement a capital gains tax? Today, the government gave its answer: it does not. The government has ruled out any capital gains tax, and Jacinda Ardern has ruled out campaigning on or implementing it in future.

And that's Labour for you: chickenshits as usual, promising change but when push comes to shove, preserving an unequal, unjust status quo. They do not deserve re-election in 2020.

A start on odious debt

Last year, when the government finally admitted that the meth-testing industry was a scam and that they had wrongfully evicted hundreds of state housing tenants on the basis of bullshit "meth tests", it moved swiftly to compensate its victims. But that's not enough - some of those it evicted ended up in emergency housing, which heartless bastards WINZ charged them for. But now, the government is wiping and repaying that odious "debt":

The Government is cancelling up to $3.2 million of debt racked up by hundreds of people who were wrongfully kicked out of their Housing NZ homes over a flawed methamphetamine test.

But the debt write-off won't cover social welfare payments for medical or dental costs, nor is compensation being offered for any private debt that followed the evictions.

Last year Housing NZ apologised after admitting to using a methamphetamine test that had little merit and led to about 800 tenancies being shut down. The test was 10 times lower than what it should have been, and based on guidelines not meant for anything but former labs.

Its a start, and a good one - but its also obvious that it doesn't go far enough. These people incurred significant costs due to a wrongful decision by the government. And the government should pay every last cent of those costs, in addition to compensation for the wrong they did.

But even that isn't enough. Because WINZ's "debt" for emergency housing - essentially incurred because either HousingNZ or WINZ failed to do their job by providing a house - is inherently odious. Its not enough for WINZ to stop charging people for its failures - they need to wipe these "debts", and repay every dollar that was "repaid" to them. Our government agencies should not act like slumlord loansharks. it is that simple.

Spies are just murderous scum

From 1975 to 1989, the spy agencies of South America's right-wing military dictatorships cooperated in Operation Condor, a joint campaign of extermination against the continent's left. Roughly 400,000 people were imprisoned, 30,000 disappeared, and 60,000 murdered - kidnapped, tortured, executed, assassinated, or thrown out of flying aircraft. The scheme was a massive human rights violation,and many of its surviving architects are now in prison for their crimes. So its a little shocking to learn that in the late 1970's, the spy agencies of supposedly human-rights-respecting European nations were trying to learn from their South American counterparts so they could plan similar murders:

British, West German and French intelligence agencies sought advice from South America’s bloody 1970s dictatorships on how to combat leftwing “subversion”, according to a newly declassified CIA document.

The European intelligence services wanted to learn about “Operation Condor”, a secret programme in which the dictatorships of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador conspired to kidnap and assassinate members of leftwing guerrilla groups in each other’s territories.


“Representatives of West German, French and British intelligence services had visited the Condor organization secretariat in Buenos Aires during the month of September 1977 in order to discuss methods for establishment of an anti-subversion organization similar to Condor,” states the document.

“The terrorist/subversive threat had reached such dangerous levels in Europe that they believed it best if they pooled their intelligence resources in a cooperative organization such as Condor,” the Europeans told the Condor secretariat in Buenos Aires, according to the CIA document.

Which immediately raises questions about whether they moved forward on this. But even if they didn't, the fact that they were even asking is deeply troubling. European nations are bound by the European Convention on Human Rights, which forbids torture, arbitrary detention, and execution. These spies basicly planned to violate it in the most egregious way possible. Which tells us that intelligence agencies are both fundamentally lawless, and deeply institutionally opposed to basic human rights. And this is why their existence is incompatible with democratic society.

Meanwhile, now I'm curious as to whether there was ever any contact between the SIS and these murderous regimes. But they'll never tell us, because of "national security".

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Climate Change: No future for farming

Over at The Spinoff, energy analyst Briony Bennett has an article about our pathway to net-zero emissions by 2050. Its going to be a difficult path, given the weather-dependence of our renewables and need for more electricity generation to power the required transport switch. But its going to be even worse for farmers:

Changing land-use from dairy, sheep and cattle farming to new forests or low-emissions crops and horticulture (growing fruit, vegetables and flowers) is key to achieving carbon neutrality in New Zealand by 2050. This implies that fewer sheep and cattle will be farmed in the future.

And given the scale of agricultural emissions and limited land for offsetting, its not just "fewer", but a lot fewer. Basicly, today's export-focused industrial dairy industry will have to cease to exist if we are to survive, and be scaled down to one focused on local needs. Assuming we even continue to eat animal-derived protein at all...

Like fossil fuels, there is simply no future for farming. Farmers had better get used to it.

A step forward

One of the big problems with local government is gerontocracy: only 6% of local authority members are under 40, while 83% of them are over 50. This doesn't just mean that local government is unrepresentative, it distorts policy outcomes - most notably giving a short term focus on "keeping rates low" (AKA skimping on maintenance and investment and subsidising existing citizens by dumping costs on future ones).

So why is local government so dominated by such a narrow slice of the community, when institutions like Parliament aren't nearly so bad? One of the problems is low wages: small local authorities mean low pay, which is fine for a mortgage-free pensioner as a top-up to their universal superannuation, but impossible for a younger person with commitments. And part of it is that astoundingly, there's no allowance for childcare. Now, the Remuneration Commission is moving to fix the latter:

More young people may put their hands up for spots on local councils this year after the Remuneration Authority announced a proposed childcare allowance policy for local government representatives.


The draft policy offers an allowance of up to $15 per hour for the care of children under the age of 14, while elected representatives are engaged in local authority business. The allowance cannot be paid to family members or anyone who normally resides with the child and is only available for up to eight hours in any 24-hour period.

[Hurunui District councillor Julia] McLean and [Nelson City councillor Matt] Lawrey said they were "ecstatic and relieved" their calls for support had been heard.

"This is a bold step forward from the Remuneration Authority in addressing an issue that will send a strong message to young elected members and others considering standing, you are valued," McLean said.

This obviously won't solve the whole problem of local government gerontocracy, but its a welcome step forward. And hopefully it will enable more representative local government in future.

Monday, April 15, 2019

New Fisk

No more excuses – Israeli voters have chosen a country that will mirror the brutal regimes of its Arab neighbours

99% renewable is probably good enough for now

Radio New Zealand reports that getting from 99% to 100% renewable electricity is likely to be very expensive:

A government body is poised to announce that a core of the country's energy policy will be prohibitively expensive to implement.


[The 100 percent renewable by 2035 target] was agreed in the confidence and supply agreement between the Labour Party and the Greens after the 2017 election.

But the chairperson of the ICCC, David Prentice, told the Palmerston North conference the cost of the final stages of that proposal would be exorbitant.

"(Prices would rise) 14 percent for residential electricity, 29 percent for commercial, and 39 percent for industrial electricity.

"The emissions abatement cost of getting the last one percent of renewable electricity is prohibitively expensive ... at a cost of over $1200 per tonne of Co2 or equivalent."

Which is prohibitively expensive now, when carbon prices are held artificially low by a government cap, a glut of laundered fraudulent "credits", and weak policy. That may change in the future. But on the flip side, it suggests that getting to 99% isn't going to be that hard, and given the caveats around the target anyway (its 100% renewable in an average hydrological year), that might be good enough anyway for the time being. In the longer run, the switch to electric cars is going to mean both massively increasing our electricity generation, and installing a bunch of networked storage (in the form of cars), which will change the dynamics again. Plus of course all the existing non-renewable generation will age out and have to be replaced anyway - and when that happens, we just need to make sure that its carbon free rather than a pollution source.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Places to go, people to see

While there's news today, I'm off to Wellington to attend Armageddon on the weekend. Normal bloggage will resume on Monday.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

New Fisk

Ivanka Trump has already told us everything we need to know about The Donald’s meeting with el-Sisi
What can past civil wars tell us about Syria and its road to recovery?

How the SIS can protect NZ elections

The SIS has been appearing before the Justice Select Committee to discuss concerns about foreign interference in New Zealand elections. In the process, they suggested that something dubious has been going on around donations:

"We do see foreign interference activity from a range of actors, and that is through a range of vectors, including some concerns we have had about political donations being made by state actors where the origin of those donations has been unclear."

Kitteridge said the best way to combat this was with a donation system that was as transparent as possible.

while they have a strong point about transparency, it is worth pointing out that concealing the identity of a donor is a crime. Laundering a foreign donation to hide its origin is also a crime. The SIS has both the power, and arguably the obligation, to turn intelligence regarding such crimes over to police. And if they have seen anything like this, that is exactly what they should be doing.

Climate Change: The latest inventory

The annual inventory report[PDF] of New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions has been released, showing a slight increase in emissions:

Its small, and the government is blaming the weather (2017 was not a good hydro year), but it is still not good news. We are going in the wrong direction. The ETS has done nothing: since its passage in 2008, we have made no progress whatsoever (and in fact our net emissions - pollution minus trees - have risen, because carbon prices are not yet high enough to stop people cutting down trees for dairy conversions). And since National set the "50% by 2050" target in 2011, we've gone backwards.

The gun control bill passed yesterday shows how quickly our government can act when it recognises we have a crisis. Well, we have a fucking climate crisis, and it is only going to get worse. It is time the government gave it similar attention, and began a crash policy of decarbonisation, before it is too late. Unfortunately, with its carefully chosen international comparisons designed to minimise just how shit we really are, and its apparent commitment to continue using fraudulent CP1 "credits" to "meet" our 2020 commitments (not to mention its business-as-usual approach to oil drilling), it is apparent that all the government is interested in is spin. And they'll keep on spinning while your kids drown.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Cheap at twice the price

In Parliament to day, opportunistic hologram David Seymour attacked the government's proposed gun buyback scheme, claiming that it would be costly and unsuccessful. Its success is obviously up to gun owners and police - and I would hope that they take a hard line on criminals hoarding prohibited weapons. But as for cost, the buyback would be cheap at twice the price.

Just do the maths. There are 300,000 gun owners in New Zealand. Not all of them will own illegal semi-automatic weapons, but a large proportion will. After today, those who do not turn over their weapons will be criminals, subject to five years imprisonment. That's a high enough penalty to require a jury trial, which costs over $1,000 a day in jury costs alone. A judge costs another $1,000 a day, the prosecutor twice that, plus there are court staff. So, the cost of simply bringing these people to trial is ~$5,000 a head. Prosecuting all of them would cost ~$1.5 billion, and that's without even getting into the astronomical cost of punishment ($300 / day, plus building thirty times as many prison cells as we have at present).

Or, we can just buy their now-illegal guns. Its cheaper. Its unquestionably easier. Its more humane than throwing people in jail. And it would let police focus their resources on the gun owners who refuse to turn over or account for their weapons, meaning much better enforcement. But I guess ACT isn't interested in any of those things.

No wonder she didn't want to answer

Last week, Parliament threatened the Chief Statistician with contempt to force her to produce basic statistics on last year's census. This morning, she finally produced them. And its become clear why she wanted to keep them secret: because the census was a disaster:

The government's chief statistician Liz MacPherson has finally revealed how many New Zealanders did not complete last year's census.

Ms MacPherson had been threatened with being held in contempt of Parliament, prompting her to write to MPs yesterday to confirm almost one in seven Kiwis didn't complete the census.

Partial responses at the 2014 census were two percent. That number more than doubled to five percent last year.

That's a hell of a data hole, and it means the information we use to plan our schools, hospitals, and election boundaries may not be reliable. As for who is responsible, it was National who pushed for the all-online census, a method which deliberately excluded anyone without an internet connection. And they did this not because the technology would work, but to save money. Instead, it looks like it is going to be a very expensive decision. So naturally, they're all pretending that it is someone else's fault...

Hopefully StatsNZ has learned the lesson: online is a supplement, not a replacement. Things like the census are too important to do on the cheap. Hopefully they'll remember that next time, and demand the money to do it properly.

Climate Change: Business as usual

Remember when Jacinda Ardern called climate change "my generation's nuclear free moment"? From that tough talk, you'd expect urgent and real action to stop fossil fuels and reduce emissions. But when they banned offshore oil exploration, existing permits were left unchanged. And now foreign oil giant OMV is planning to drill a series of offshore wells in some of the roughest seas in New Zealand, risking not just a discovery and burning more unsustainable carbon, but also an environmental disaster:

Austrian oil giant OMV has unveiled one of the most ambitious oil and gas drilling programmes proposed in New Zealand.

It plans possibly three exploration and seven follow-up appraisal wells off Otago's coast in the Great South Basin (GSB).

The 10 oil and gas prospects are within a 100km-150km arc, southeast of Dunedin.

OMV has applied to the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) for a marine discharge consent to release contaminants to sea, the application being made public today.

And meanwhile, Oil Minister Megan Woods is merrily extending the permits of other polluters, so they can do the same. So much for urgent action to stop fossil fuels. Instead, its business as usual - that business being destroying the future for the private profit of a few.

This government is not going to save us. Its not even going to try. If we want that to happen, we need to vote for a party which will take action: one which will end oil, end coal, and do it properly, rather than trying to protect incumbent profits. Labour will not do that. If we want a future, we need to vote for someone else.

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Will the SIS double down on Islamophobia?

Yesterday the government announced the terms of reference for a royal commission of inquiry into the Christchurch terrorist attack. Among other things, the inquiry will be examining the failure of intelligence agencies in allowing a violent Nazi to buy weapons and murder fifty people, and whether there was "any inappropriate concentration or priority setting of counter terrorism resources by relevant state sector agencies" - in other words, whether the SIS was Islamophobic and focused on spying on the victims rather than protecting them. But as Scoop's Gordon Campbell points out, their likely defence strategy will be to double down on Islamophobia and smear the Muslim community some more:

What will happen is that the SIS (and presumably the GCSB) will attempt to defend and rationalise their actions in the light of the “Muslim threat” priorities set out in the string of SIS annual reports for the past decade or more. Again and again, those reports cite the over-riding threat to New Zealand from local and foreign jihadi agents, influences and social media recruitment efforts. That’s the dilemma. This Commission of Inquiry has been established in the wake of a horrific attack, amid a groundswell of public compassion for the victimised Muslim community in our midst.

If, however, the SIS is going to conduct a high profile defence of its concentration of time and resources on Muslim surveillance, there is an obvious risk that this process will result in the re-stigmatising of the Muslim community all over again.

A "blame the victims" strategy by the SIS would be absolutely indecent. A government agency engaging in hate speech against the people it failed to protect, echoing Nazi propaganda in an effort to cover their own arses and protect their jobs would be utterly vile. But I doubt it would go down well with the public, not least because it would effectively be an admission of guilt, a confirmation of what everyone suspects. The question is whether anyone in the national security deep state can recognise this, or whether they are that far down their own rabbithole...

New Zealand landlords have it easy

Landlords and house-hoarders are whining about the prospect of a capital gains tax forcing them to pay their fair share. But in Berlin, they have a different solution to controlling rising rents: forced expropriation:

Thousands of Berlin residents took to the streets on Saturday to vent anger over surging rents and demand the expropriation of more than 200,000 apartments sold off to big private landlords, which they blame for changing the character of the city.

Activists have started collecting signatures for a ballot proposal that would require the city to take back properties from any landlord that owns more than 3,000 apartments. Polls suggest such a measure could pass, forcing the city to consider spending billions of euros buying privatized housing back.

Demonstrators marched through the city center under a giant model shark. Banners read "against rent sharks and speculators".

"We have had very bad experiences with these property companies for years, and we know that they answer to their shareholders and not to tenants. We don't want them in our city any more," organizer Rouzbeh Taheri told Reuters television.

Unmentioned in that article: the expropriation would be at less than current market value, depriving corporate landleeches of windfall profits and capturing that value for the people.

The campaign needs only 200,000 signatures to force a referendum, which the polls say they'll win. I'm hoping they succeed. Because nobody likes a tax-cheating absentee landlord, no matter where they are, and the precedent on how to deal with them will be useful.