Thursday, January 22, 2015



Not the end of the world

In 2012 Colorado legalised marijuana. In 2014, after hashing out the details around quality control and taxation, they opened the first pot stores to the public. From the way conservatives talked about it, you'd think the world would end. So did it?

No:

It's been a year since Colorado became the first state in the US to legalise marijuana, and its impact on health, crime, employment and other factors can now be more empirically measured.

So, did it bring about an apocalypse leaving the streets strewn with out-of-work addicts as some Republicans feared?

"We found there hasn't been much of a change of anything," a Denver police officer told CBC this week.

"Basically, officers aren't seeing much of a change in how they do police work."

[...]

Impaired driving, property crime and violent crime were all dropping in Denver prior to legalisation, and the trend has only continued. Even drug use among young people is down, the report claims.


In short, legalisation works, if done properly. And if the Americans can do it, so can we - and in the process free up our police to target real crime.

New Fisk

Yemen conflict: An old hand at work in the country's bloody civil war

No press freedom in Australia

One of the distinguishing features of dictatorships is their conflation of "national security" and "treason" with "embarrassing the government" or "showing them to be liars". This has unpleasant consequences for journalism and freedom of the press. Unfortunately, on this scale, Australia seems to be behaving like a dictatorship:

Journalists reporting on the federal government’s asylum-seeker policies have been repeatedly referred to the police in attempts to uncover confidential sources and whistleblowers, a Guardian Australia investigation can reveal.

Over the past 12 months federal government agencies have referred stories by journalists from Guardian Australia, news.com.au and the West Australian to the Australian federal police (AFP) for their reporting on the government’s asylum seeker operations during the time Scott Morrison was immigration minister.

Almost every referral made to the AFP by federal government agencies “for unauthorised disclosure of commonwealth information” since the Coalition took office in September 2013 has been directly related to immigration reporting by journalists.


And all of it has been information which embarrasses the government and shows that they have systematically sought to deceive the public about what they are doing. Invading Indonesia. Committing kidnapping and piracy on the high seas. Sinking refugee boats after evacuating them. None of these revelations threaten Australia's "national security". Instead, it exposes government deceit and wrongdoing. And it speaks volumes that a supposed democracy would investigate journalists and seek to put them in jail for that.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015



Not worth the price

John Key's justification for sending kiwi troops to die in Iraq for America? It's "the price of the club":

Prime Minister John Key says New Zealand's likely military contribution to the fight against Islamic State "is the price of the club" that New Zealand belongs to with the likes of the United States, Australia, Britain and Canada in the intelligence alliance known as Five Eyes.

In his strongest hint yet that the Cabinet will approve a deployment of troops to train Iraqis alongside Australians, Mr Key in an interview with the BBC drew heavily on New Zealand pulling its weight as part of "a club".

"Ultimately are we going to say we are going to be part of a club like [we] are with Five Eyes intelligence?

"Are we ultimately going to be able to rely on members of those clubs to support us in our moment of need?" he said in an interview with Taranaki-born BBC journalist Lucy Hockings in London.

[...]

"Even if the contribution is small - of course it will be proportional - there has to be some contribution," he said.

"It is the price of the club."


So what do we get for that price? Other than ten dead soldiers in Afghanistan? Nothing. The "security" benefits are illusory because no-one wants to invade us. Instead, all it does is expose us to risk as an identifiable US suck-up, while our quisling intelligence services pressure our politicians into turning us into a police state. Oh, and John Key gets to play golf with Barack Obama and feel like he's part of the global "in" crowd.

Fuck that shit. This "club" isn't worth belonging to. And it is not worth placing a single kiwi life at risk to stay in it. Rather than sending our soldiers off to die in another pointless American war, we should keep them at home - and throw the Americans out.

The struggle against terrorism is not a war

Today's must-read: Paul Buchanan on how Fighting terrorism is a matter of law enforcement. Which makes the simple point that regardless of their political objectives, acts of terror are crimes (murder, kidnapping, criminal damage), and should be approached as such. The current approach of waging a "war" on terror doesn't just undermine our freedoms and risk turning us into the sort of society we should rightfully rebel against - it plays right into the hands of terrorists by turning the state into their biggest recruiter. In other words, its not just wrong, its also stupid.

New Fisk

Israel's attack on Hezbollah is a case of shoot first, ask questions later

Gagging Chilcot

What a surprise - the Chilcot Report into how Tony Blair lied the UK into Iraq will be suppressed until after the UK election:

The six-year long British inquiry into the 2003 Iraq invasion and its aftermath will not be published before the general election, prompting an outcry from those demanding that the long overdue reckoning should be put before the voters.

Sir John Chilcot, the chairman of the inquiry, will set out his reasons for the further postponement in an exchange of letters with David Cameron on Wednesday. The inquiry was set up in 2009 and took public evidence from its last witness in 2011.

[...]

Tony Blair, the prime minister at the time of the war, has insisted he is not the culprit behind the delay in publication; his allies have suggested the blame lies with the civil service and sensitivities about the relations between the UK and US intelligence agencies.


Blair is a self-serving little weasel and could be lying - but the alternative explanation is plausible. And so accountability is delayed and the public kept in the dark (not to mention denied the opportunity to hold involved politicians responsible at the ballot box), all in the name of a "special relationship" which looks increasingly subservient and boot-licking.

And the British Establishment wonders who no-one has any faith in their inquiries: its because their manipulation and whitewashing is so obvious.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015



More harassment of Dotcom

Not content with harassing Kim Dotcom at US behest, our government is now harassing anyone who says they're visiting him:

Welcome to New Zealand - unless you're here to see Kim Dotcom.

That seems to be the message for those arriving in the country after yet another guest visiting the businessman was detained by the Customs Service for hours.

A connection to the accused copyright pirate has been linked on another occasion with a long stay in a detention room - and a lot of strange questions.

Graphic designer Sarah Torrent, 22, spent seven hours being quizzed by officials after landing in New Zealand yesterday and telling border officials she was staying at Dotcom's house.

She had met Dotcom online and he invited her to travel to New Zealand for a holiday.

Dotcom said more than a dozen visitors have been isolated by the Customs Service after declaring his home address for their stay in New Zealand.


A particularly creepy feature: they demanded the passwords to her laptop and phone, allowing them to poke through the most private aspects of her life (and copy and store them for the future amusement of themselves and any partner organisations). Right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure? It doesn't exist if you're an enemy of the (United) State(s).

But this is what happens if you have a government body obsessed with getting "brownie points" with the FBI: people's rights get stomped on, all so some petty manager can big-note. And our international reputation and basic decency get to be collateral damage for US bureaucratic bribery.

Our financial laws mean nothing

Some NZ foreign exchange broker went bust last week, leaving assorted suckers out of pocket. Ordinarily I wouldn't care: the market is a scam, and you play at your own risk. But it turns out that we had a very sleepy watchdog:

The Financial Markets Authority knew bust forex broker Global Brokers NZ was in breach of financial regulations, but appears to have taken no action.

Information provided to Fairfax under the Official Information Act lists Global Brokers NZ among 3892 companies that failed to comply with the Financial Reporting Act as of March 2013.

The act required all subsidiaries of foreign companies to file audited financial statements to the Companies Office or face potential criminal sanction by the Companies Registrar.

[...]

Global Brokers NZ has never filed financial statements. Its current owners - Epicus Corporation and XT International Holdings, both registered in the British Virgin Islands – have been shareholders since October 2011.

Under the act, directors failing to file accounts faced infringement fees of $7000 each, as well as fines of up to $100,000 each if prosecuted and convicted.


Or, to put this in English: the Financial Markets Authority knew about almost 4,000 crimes and never bothered to prosecute any of them. Which, regardless of what you think of the market they regulate and the level of protection owed its participants, is a basic case of a government organisation failing to do the job we pay it to do, and in a way which seems designed to enable corporate crime and fraud. Someone really needs to be held accountable for that.

New Fisk

The Gallipoli centenary is a shameful attempt to hide the Armenian Holocaust
Saudi Arabia's history of hypocrisy we choose to ignore
With so many people tweeting before they think, the telegraph can teach us some valuable lessons

GCHQ spies on journalists

According to the spies, their job is protectign the public from "terrorism". Which obviously is why Britain's GCHQ has been capturing email traffic to and from journalists:

GCHQ’s bulk surveillance of electronic communications has scooped up emails to and from journalists working for some of the US and UK’s largest media organisations, analysis of documents released by whistleblower Edward Snowden reveals.

Emails from the BBC, Reuters, the Guardian, the New York Times, Le Monde, the Sun, NBC and the Washington Post were saved by GCHQ and shared on the agency’s intranet as part of a test exercise by the signals intelligence agency.

The disclosure comes as the British government faces intense pressure to protect the confidential communications of reporters, MPs and lawyers from snooping.

The journalists’ communications were among 70,000 emails harvested in the space of less than 10 minutes on one day in November 2008 by one of GCHQ’s numerous taps on the fibre-optic cables that make up the backbone of the internet.

The communications, which were sometimes simple mass-PR emails sent to dozens of journalists but also included correspondence between reporters and editors discussing stories, were retained by GCHQ and were available to all cleared staff on the agency intranet. There is nothing to indicate whether or not the journalists were intentionally targeted.


Even if uninetentional, the threat to press freedom and their ability to do their job of holding those in power to account is obvious. And given that this was a test six years ago, that threat is now almost certainly fully operational.

At this stage its worth remembering that GCHQ considers investigative journalists a "security threat" alongside hackers and terrorists. Two of those groups are really about controlling information released to the public, which really makes you wonder who they're really protecting: us, or themselves?

Friday, January 16, 2015



Places to go, people to be

Nothing from me today - I'm off to Wellington's annual rpg convention. Normal bloggage will resume Tuesday.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015



Waihopaiology

We all got a bit of a shock yesterday when the government announced that GCSB Director Ian Fletcher was stepping down for "family reasons". Becuse we all know that "family reasons" is code for "we don't want to tell you what the real reason is", there's naturally been speculation about the real reason for his departure. Yesterday, Labour led this by suggesting that Fletcher didn't like something proposed for the upcoming review. Today this has been expanded into a supposed objection to a proposal to merge the GCSB and SIS.

The problem? Fletcher has never come across as particularly principled or committed to privacy and human rights (lets face it: if he was, he would never have taken the job). And as an outsider, he's unlikely to be so committed to the future of the organisation he heads that he'd fall on his sword rather than be part of a merger. And while pride - not wanting to work for SIS Director Rebecca Kitteridge, who would presumably head a merged agency - is potentially a reason, six months before the review has even taken place is a little early to be resigning for that.

Which brings us back to the other possible reason: another GCSB stuffup. Which of course someone has to fall on their sword for, but which must be kept secret for "security reasons" (aka "if the victims knew, they'd sue us and complain to the police").

As for the merits of a speculated merger between SIS and GCSB, it's a nightmare. The two agencies have completely different purposes. The SIS's focus has always been domestic, hunting for reds under the bed (and because there aren't any, focusing on greens, browns, basically anyone who isn't "properly" blue instead). The GCSB's focus is international, to Spy On All The Things (which through their "alliance" with the NSA and the nature of the modern internet, means collecting all our internet and phone traffic). The two are kept separate to ensure they stay on task, and to ensure that there's a strong bureaucratic barrier between the SIS and the GCSB's backdoor access to all our communications. Merging the two would destroy that barrier, and no matter how many internal "Chinese walls" they say they have, would inevitably result in leakage. In short, you'd have a highly politicised domestic spy agency looking for "enemies" to spy on (because it doesn't have any real ones) with access to all our communications. The Stasi, in other words. It would be a disaster for our privacy and for our democracy. And any government which does it needs to be promptly de-elected, because they are a danger to us all.

Monday, January 12, 2015



New Fisk

The only point of 'terror lists' is to get those named a palace invitation

Stupidity

One of the maxims of guerilla warfare, laid down by Mao back in the 30's, is that "the guerilla must move amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea" (yes, I know its a misquote, but I'm sure Mao also said something about pedants being dicks). Guerillas need the support of the local population to operate. They need people to if not covertly feed and shelter them, but at least to keep their secrets and look the other way, to not talk when the police and army come calling. And the same applies to modern terrorists.

The corollary is that if states want to defeat guerillas or terrorists, they too need the support of the population. They need people to refuse to look the other way and to inform the police when someone is planning something. Unfortunately, the Australian police have just ensured that their Muslim community won't cooperate with them again:

About 2pm on Monday, December 15, Rebecca Kay took a phone call from NSW Police Counter-Terrorism.

The officer wondered if she could help police find an Islamic State flag. This was one of the demands of Man Haron Monis, the gunman holding 18 hostages at the Lindt cafe in Martin Place.

"And if they give him a flag he was going to exchange it for a hostage," says Ms Kay, a convert to Islam who has become a prominent community member in western Sydney.


Being a decent person, she was eager to help. But the Australian police abused that goodwill. They tapped all her phone calls (it would be fascinating to see what legal authority they had for that), then started raiding the people she called. The upshot? Further distrust, and an unwillingness to cooperate in future. The beneficiaries? The terrorists. Which really makes you wonder whose side the AFP are on...

Australia holds 34 Ahmed Zaouis

When the New Zealand government imprisoned Ahmed Zaoui for two years without trial on the sole word of the SIS (who refused to give reasons), it was a national scandal. Eventually, after two years of imprisonment without trial he was granted bail. Three years after that the SIS withdrew their security risk certificate on the eve of its judicial review - effectively admitting they were wrong. The process was so shoddy, and the SIS so obviously jumping at shadows, that they have AFAIK never issued another risk certificate.

Not so in Australia. Over there they've just freed 10 people they were holding under a similar law, after the ASIO changed their minds about whether they were a threat. But they continue to hold 34 people without trial and without letting them see the "evidence" against them:

A group of 10 refugees assessed by ASIO as threats to national security have been freed to live in the Australian community after the agency quietly reversed its decision.

Some of the group had been held in immigration detention more than five years without having been charged with a crime under a system civil liberty advocates have slammed as "completely unsatisfactory".

Most of the men have been released since August from a detention centre in Melbourne's north, where the majority of the remaining 34 refugees given a negative assessment by ASIO are still being held.


The same principle which applied to Ahmed Zaoui applies here: freedom or a fair trial. The claims against these people must be heard in open court, so we can see whether they are supportable or whether they are a tissue of spy-fantasies. And if the spies are unwilling to do that, then they must be released.

Friday, January 09, 2015



Our business community really are scum

The economy is apparently picking up. But according to Recruitment and Consulting Services Association, there are "pitfalls":

The strong level of economic confidence New Zealand is currently experiencing is likely to continue for several more years, but there are significant potential pitfalls of which employers and employees need to be aware.

For employers, the risk comes in the form of a buoyant economy giving workers the confidence to look for change.

Just two years ago, most New Zealand workers were more concerned about the financial stability of their employer than how much they were being paid. With the passing of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), personal remuneration is now a main driver again.

For workers who have been "ridden" hard by their employer during and since the GFC, the prospect of a fresh start somewhere else is likely to be high, particularly if it comes with more pay.


Yes, workers might demand higher wages and better work-life balance, and switch jobs to get it. And the RCSA thinks this is a Bad Thing. Why? They don't say, but the reason is obvious: because it implicitly leads to lower profits for the top 1%. Their solution, of course, is to bring in foreign workers to reduce bargaining power.

Our business community really are scum, aren't they?

But consider this: if workers are not allowed to benefit from economic growth, then they have no reason to support it. Its just a distant, abstract statistic - like champagne sales, or the Finance Minister's penis size. The only growth worth supporting is growth that delivers concrete benefits to ordinary people. And that's exactly the sort that the business community doesn't want.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015



New Fisk

A new frontier in Syria's civil war, but what does future hold for refugees in Lebanon?

How it works in Queensland

You're a big businessman. For years you've been illegally mining a public riverbed, and the government has threatened to prosecute you. What do you do about it?

In Queensland, you get a Minister to change the law:

Queensland Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney caught government officials off guard when he ordered a last-minute law change that prevented the possible prosecution of a major LNP donor for what senior bureaucrats deemed illegal river quarrying.

Emails, briefing notes and other correspondence between senior officials and Department of Natural Resources and Mines Minister Andrew Cripps show no discussion about a change to the law before Mr Seeney ordered the amendment to the Water Act in early April.

The retrospective law change allowed Karreman Quarries to continue to extract millions of dollars worth of sand and gravel from the bed of the Upper Brisbane River at Harlin, north-west of Brisbane.

Karreman Quarries gave $50,000 to the Queensland LNP in 2011-12, putting it among the party's top dozen donors. It gave $25,000 to the LNP the previous year.


There is a name for Ministers changing laws for donors: its called "bribery". And this seems to be a clear example of it, and how donations corrupt the political system. its also a clear example of just how different Australian politics is from our own, and how they need to clean their act up.

Monday, January 05, 2015



Rotten to the core

In case you needed any more evidence that the British establishment is rotten to the core: British police actively covered up sex abuse by a close friend of Margaret Thatcher:

One of Margaret Thatcher’s closest confidantes raped a teenage boy 30 years ago but escaped justice when Scotland Yard covered up the crime, it has been alleged.

Police are investigating claims that Sir Peter Morrison lured the 14-year-old to London and sexually abused him in a guesthouse reportedly used by a Westminster paedophile ring.

A former Conservative minister, Morrison was first exposed as a serial child abuser in 1998, three years after he died from a heart attack. But the MP for Chester was never charged with any crime during his lifetime.

Speaking to The Telegraph, the alleged victim, now aged 46, said he and his family reported Morrison to Scotland Yard in 1982, hours after the teenager had escaped the MP’s clutches.

Yet after he gave a statement and was examined by doctors, the family say they heard nothing for months.

Finally, the boy’s father says he was informed by Scotland Yard that the abuser had been sent to prison for assaulting his son, and that no further action was needed.

However it was only years later, the family claim, that they discovered the culprit's true identity. They then discovered Morrison had never in fact been jailed for any crime, and that police had apparently duped them into dropping the allegation.


How does this happen? When you have a police force whose core duty is to protect the powerful rather than bring criminals to justice. And that attitude seems to be so ingrained that the only solution seems to be to burn down the whole thing and start again.

(Meanwhile, I suspect Andrew Windsor is wishing he had the services of such loyal little lickspittles ATM...)