Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The problem with Christchurch

Writing in The Press, Will Harvie puts his finger on the problem with Christchurch:

Voting rights of Cantabrians have been trampled in recent years.

In 2010, the elected leaders of Environment Canterbury were overthrown by Parliament.

In 2011, the elected leaders of Christchurch City Council lost control of our central business district, first to satan [sic], then to Civil Defence and now to the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority.

Something has to control the rebuilding of Christchurch, but that doesn't mean Cantabrians must quietly accept decisions made by these temporary masters.

And that's it in a nutshell: the people of Christchurch want a say in the future of their city. And that is being denied to them, both by CERA and by an increasingly authoritarian Mayor and council CEO (AKA the "Bob and Tony show"). The answer, as always, is more democracy: a mayor that listens, a council that responds, a CERA which serves the people of Christchurch, rather than politicians in Wellington. And if they don't get that, people will - and should - protest until they do.

High stakes

And right on cue, the Māori Party are threatening to walk away from National over the exclusion of Treaty clauses in National's privatisation programme:

The Maori Party says it may quit its support of John Key's government over its asset sale plan.

Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples say plans by the government to have no treaty clause in the SOE sale legislation is a deal breaker.

The pair say maori are already contemplating a hikoi over the issue - and Mrs Turia has raised concerns that the issue may flare up at Waitangi celebrations this weekend.

There will be a deal over this. National needs the Māori Party to protect it from mid-term departures and disgruntled backbenchers. And the Māori Party need to be seen to stand up for their people. So there will be Treaty protections in the sale legislation.

But its a bad way to start the relationship for the term, and it shows how vulnerable National is if the Māori Party wants to throw its weight around. ACT and Dunne have much less leverage by comparison, at least if the Māori Party stays in the picture. If they walk, then John Banks will have a veto on all policy - a position National will not want to end up in.

What is it about local government?

Whanganui District Council has rejected a switch to an attendance-component to their salary. Because making sure that councillors actually do the job we are paying them to do would be a Bad Thing, apparently.

The arrogance on display here is appalling. Here we have a local body basically saying that they should be paid whether or not they actually do their jobs. They wouldn't accept that logic as employers, and neither should we.

One of the opponents did have a point in saying that not all work takes place around the council table, but that's why its an attendance component. They'd get paid for their representative role, and they'd get paid for their formal, legislative one. The problem here is that some councillors are shirking on the latter - and shortchanging voters in the process.

Privatising away Treaty rights

The government has revealed that its plans for asset sales do not include carrying over existing protection of rights guaranteed under the Treaty of Waitangi. The State-Owned Enterprises Act has a Treaty clause, which has been decisive in major cases protecting Treaty rights. In the interpretation of the courts, it requires the government to be mindful of outstanding Treaty claims (or potential claims) when selling those assets, and to protect the rights of potential claimants. In the case of land, this has meant permanent caveats on SOE land, making it subject to return to its original owners on order of the Waitangi Tribunal (though IIRC this power has never been exercised). But its not just about land. There are outstanding claims or potential claims over control of water and subsurface minerals. Failing to include the Treaty clause in sale legislation would prejudice those claims, and prevent just settlements.

Which makes this an explosive issue for the Māori Party - and for the government as well. The Māori Party's support agreement with National [PDF] does not commit them to supporting privatisation, but its a bigger problem than that. It is simply politically untenable for the party to prop up a government which undermines the Treaty in this manner. If National proceeds with this plan (and they have the votes to do it regardless of what the Māori Party think), then they will be putting the Māori Party in a position where it must either renounce its confidence and supply deal, or be crucified by its own supporters.

(As an aside, I wonder if National told them about this when they were negotiating that agreement? If not, then it would seem that they have been less than full and frank, and negotiated under false pretences).

National does not need the Māori Party's support; it has a bare majority with ACT and Peter Dunne. But it needs them as cover to protect against any mid-term departure. The Māori Party should use this leverage. They've been betrayed, so they're entitled to threaten confidence and supply, and they should do so to protect the rights of their people.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Time to change the Overseas Investment Act

John Key's excuse for the Crafar farms sale? His hands were tied. But he's promising to change the law if we make enough noise about it:

''Obviously that's a sovereign right that we have.

''We can change the law but at this point I would have thought it would be a bit of a knee-jerk reaction.

''We should look at it, if the flow of sales starts to accelerate and people really become very concerned.''

I think we should take Key at his word, and start expressing that concern. Either he'll be forced to keep his promise, or he'll be exposed as a two-faced liar who will say anything to try and get an issue to go away. Either way, we help create the conditions for a law-change to restrict these sorts of damaging asset-sales, which can only be a Good Thing in the long term.

Another good reason for the Scots to vote for independence

Scotland looks set to have a referendum on independence in 2014, to coincide with the 700th anniversary of the battle of Bannockburn. There are many good reasons for the Scots to vote for independence - being able to run their own country as they wish, rather than being dictated to by Tory toffs in London being the best - but the Guardian today points out another: they'd get to kick out English nukes:

Asked during the referendum debate in the Scottish parliament last week whether the government of an independent Scotland would do a deal to keep Trident, the first minister Alex Salmond replied: "It is inconceivable that an independent nation of 5.25m people would tolerate the continued presence of weapons of mass destruction on its soil."

His comments seemed to be directed at senior British defence officials figures who have suggested that they could negotiate a treaty allowing the Trident missiles, warheads, and submarines, to remain in Scotland.

While this won't matter to the Scots, once kicked out, said nukes would have nowhere else to go - there are no viable alternative bases. England would have to give up its ruinously expensive and utterly pointless nuclear deterrent, whose only purpose is to preserve defence policymaker's ego against the US and the French. They'd be doing England - and the world - a tremendous service.

New Fisk

The present stands no chance against the past


When Christchurch City Council CEO Tony Marryatt received a $68,000 pay rise in December, he was quick to claim that it was recognition for his performance. It turns out that he lied:

Documents released by the council under the Official Information Act show that Marryatt's performance reviews have gone gradually downhill since 2009.

His overall performance, excluding self-assessment, decreased from 4.3 out of 5 in 2009 to 3.9 in 2011.

Marryatt's ratings declined in six out of seven categories over his three performance reviews, based on anonymous reviews from councillors and senior management.

I think this confirms what we already knew: Marryatt's pay rise was utterly undeserved, an exercise in cronyism by Bob Parker and his faction of the council. And now that its been exposed, his position is utterly untenable. He has lied to us. He has tried to blackmail the council, making return of that undeserved money contingent on their obeying him (a complete reversal of the democratic relationship). He needs to go. There is no place for greedy narcissistic psychopaths in our public service.

Friday, January 27, 2012

There's no need to be religious about it

Alain de Botton wants to build an "atheist temple" in London. All I can ask is why? The whole point about atheism is not caring about religion, not wasting your time believing in imaginary gods. But if you don't believe in imaginary gods, why would you want to waste your time not believing in them either? If the idea is irrelevant, a sad delusion resulting from flaws in our neural architecture, then why waste any time on it at all?

Which makes the idea of building a special building where people can congregate and contemplate their mutual lack of faith extremely puzzling. Its caring far too much, being almost... religious about it. Which seems to really be missing the point entirely.


So, the government has announced that it may not be able to reach its fiscal target of returning to surplus by 2015. On the one hand, this isn't really surprising: the global economic crisis has got worse, and you'd expect us to be affected by it. On the other hand, Treasury was forecasting a 2015 surplus just three months ago, and dismissed any suggestion that its forecasts were too optimistic. For them to reverse themselves so suddenly suggests that they got it seriously wrong, in the process making both our major parties (who made campaign policy on the basis of those projections) into liars. The question now is whether anyone will be held to account for that. Sadly, I think the answer will be "no".

But this also raises a bigger problem. Back in the 90's, we amended the Public Finance Act to require pre-election disclosure to protect us from governments who shuffled big economic problems under the carpet and left them for their replacements to deal with. But while that may protect us from lying politicians, it doesn't protect us from Treasury - who in the past have demonstrated a definite political agenda, and may not be above stacking their projections to advance it (in particular by crying "crisis!" so as to apply the shock doctrine). Which makes it all the more important that this "error" is investigated and those responsible held to account.

Selling out New Zealand

As expected, the government has agreed to sell Crafar Farms to the Chinese. Reading through the Overseas Investment Office Advice [PDF], the case for this is extraordinarily weak: the sale may create five to seven jobs; the "new investment" is small compared to the value of the asset (and reading other sections, largely deferred maintenance); the "environmental benefits" are all things they should have been doing anyway (such as excluding stock from waterways), and no account is taken of the significant environmental costs of their plans to ramp up production. Meanwhile, the supposed "benefit" of increased export earnings will be offset by the fact that the profits will be taken offshore. So what we're left with is a farm school, which is really just a way of them getting cheap, government subsidised labour for their workforce, and which doesn't require the purchase of ten farms to operate.

This is not a strong case. But the OIO is a rubberstamp, and the government wants to "send the right signals", both to China and to farmers (who would see any restriction as an attack on their property values, and hence their business model), so we end up with a strategic asset and a significant chunk of our dairy production falling into foreign hands. What this shows is that we need a significant tightening of our overseas investment regime, along with a change in mindset at OIO so we have people willing to actually enforce it, rather than just rubberstamping every decision with "approved". As for National, they've sold out New Zealand - again. And they'll do the same with our power companies too.

An overreaction

That's the only way to describe yesterday's extraordinary extraction of Australian Prime Minsiter Julia Gillard from an Australian Invasion Day protest yesterday. Protestors yelling and waving placards and banging on things? Better treat it like an assassination attempt! And so now we have a lovely photo sequence of Gillard being dragged away like a sack of potatoes by her security detail, lest she have to actually face her people and listen to their concerns. Because obviously, a leader in a democracy can't possibly do that, can they?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Fallow on privatization

Writing in the Herald, Brian Fallow calls National's privatization programme "a solution in search of a problem". Treasury analysis of our state-owned energy companies shows that they are well-run and profitable. The dividends are about the same as the interest on money the government would have to otherwise borrow (and certainly "within the margin of error" given the uncertainties involved). Which makes the entire exercise pointless:

True, the policy would reduce the Government's gross debt compared with what it would otherwise be, releasing capital for higher priority spending while avoiding the need to approach skittish offshore funding markets.

But there is an opportunity cost to that. The private sector money has to come from somewhere.

If "Mum and Dad" investors reduce their bank deposits, for example, to invest in the SOEs then, all else being equal, the banks will have to increase their offshore borrowing.

Alternatively there may be switch out of other forms of saving, including Government stock.

It is only if the privatisation process increases national savings that it will lessen the country's, as distinct from the Government's, reliance on offshore lenders.

Fallow calls this "a lot of trouble just to ensure some New Zealanders own more of these enterprises, while the rest own less". And it is. But for National, that is the point. This was never about "improving efficiency", "reducing debt" or (and this one is truly awful) "giving (rich) kiwis something to invest in". It is about wealth transfer: about taking those assets away from us, and giving them (and their monopoly dividend-streams) to their rich mates, while letting other rich mates clip the ticket on the way through. It is about looting the state for their own profit. Everything else is just excuses and spin.

This shouldn't be surprising. It is, after all, what National exists as a party to do. But at the same time, its not acceptable. Those companies are ours. And we should not let them be stolen by a new generation of elite thieves in the style of Fay and Richwhite.

New Fisk

We've been here before – and it suits Israel that we never forget 'Nuclear Iran'

The enemy of my enemy is not my friend

During the election campaign, Labour came out heavily against foreign asset sales. So its entirely natural that they'd oppose the Chinese bid for Crafar Farms. Unfortunately, they're supporting its competitor, Michael Fay, instead.

Think about that. Fay - a former tax exile - is one of the worst villains of the 90's. Here's what Wikipedia has to say about him:

Michael Fay and David Richwhite are best known for gaining wealth in a series of loosely regulated privatization and asset swapping transactions that occurred between 1986 and 1993 - involving their companies European Pacific, Capital Markets and Fay Richwhite and the former state owned operations Bank of New Zealand, Tranz Rail and Telecom New Zealand, and the pension accounts associated to them.

Deals were done in which Fay and Richwhite personally gained over half a billion dollars (2.2% of NZ's 1985 GDP) from a country on the verge of bankruptcy, while their minority shareholders lost $277 million, by in part imitating the offshore financial practices outlawed in Europe and America 30 years prior.

One notable transaction among these actions was their role as advisors to the government on the sale of New Zealand Rail Limited to overseas interests; a deal in which Fay and Richwhite later brought 31.8 per cent of the shares, and were subsequently investigated for insider trading by NZ authorities.

This is a man who specialises in using political influence to gain strategic assets, then loads them with debt, pays himself an enormous "special dividend", and flicks them off. And he is likely to do exactly the same thing to Crafar Farms. The net result is that we'll be having this same debate about Chinese ownership in a year or two, while Fay laughs all the way to Switzerland. Supporting any business deal by such a man is a mistake. The only thing any Labour politician should be talking about with Fay is how we can get our money back from him.


The infamous "teapot tape" has been leaked online. I'm currently seeking legal advice on whether I can link to it here; in the meantime the link is going around Twitter and other social media.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Dotcom bail decision

Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom has been denied bail. The NBR has the full decision (in four parts) here. Reading through it, it basically came down to perceived flight risk: the US talked this up, the police told the judge horror stories of people absconding, and how they could abscond if they set their mind to it, and the latter especially seems to have been decisive. Troublingly, that evidence was heard in closed court, and the affidavit returned to the prosecutor to prevent it from being accessed from the court file, so the core evidence here is effectively secret. While able to be contested by the defence, we are not allowed to view it and decide whether it stacks up (and hence whether the judge's decision was correct, or whether he was misled). Also troublingly, all conditions (including 24 hour curfew, electronic monitoring, and a ban on using or communicating by computer, internet, or even telephone - basically an electronic death sentence) were refused. So much for the BORA requirement that those charged

shall be released on reasonable terms and conditions unless there is just cause for continued detention.
So, we're going to lock a guy in jail for a month or two, in the process undermining his defence in a serious criminal case, on the basis of secret evidence which may be no more than a police fantasy. Which is beginning to sound like Ahmed Zaoui territory again.

There is ample grounds for appeal here, and I expect Dotcom will take it.

No justice for Haditha II

So, what's the penalty in the US Marine Corps for ordering your soldiers to massacre 24 Iraqi civilians, including seven children?


A US marine who admitted charges linked to the killing of 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians in 2005 should face no time in detention, a judge has recommended.
Again, the message is clear: "we matter. You don't. You can be killed with impunity, because you are not American". Justice for all? Only if you're American, it seems. And this is why Iraq is longer willing to play host to American soldiers: because the US will not hold those soldiers to account, even when they commit war crimes. It is time for the international courts to step in, and provide the justice America is clearly unwilling to.

Pure greed

Another day, another excessive local body payrise, this time for Kapiti Coast District Council CEO Pat Dougherty, who scores himself an extra $44,000 a year, an increase of 18%. As with the business sector, this excessive payrise isn't driven by any improvement in performance; under Dogherty KCDC has faced large blowouts on major projects, and is looking at a 12% rate rise to fund those shortfalls. Instead, its just pure greed, a way of keeping score. And at a time when ordinary people are looking at nil or sub-inflation wage rises, and so falling behind, it is simply unacceptable.

This greed on the part of local body management, this belief that their salaries should be compared to the private sector, has to stop. They are public servants, not corporate warlords. More generally, the culture of high executive pay needs to end. The total disconnect between pay and performance makes it clear that these people don't earn their inflated salaries. Neither are they "compensation" for higher risk; its not CEOs who are on 90-day trial periods, subjected to random restructurings, and sacked because their boss comes in hung-over in the morning. Instead, its just pure greed, a way of keeping score. In the process, they boost inequality, distort perceptions of worth and value, and fleece their shareholders of returns. Over in the Guardian, George Monbiot proposes a maximum wage, which can be trivially enforced by setting a 100% marginal tax rate above a certain level. And that is beginning to look like a very good idea.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Part of the democratic process

What is it with the right and democracy? In response to tensions in the Christchurch City Council, which have seen councillors criticise the Chief Executive's lavish pay increase and autocratic style, DPF demands that "some or all" of them "must go". Because obviously, the last thing you can possibly have in an elected body is disagreement. No, we should shut it down, sack them all, appoint a dictator.

The fact of the matter is that these councillors are elected. They are there to represent their constituents, some of whom are not exactly happy with their council or its CEO. In other words, they are doing exactly the job we expect elected representatives in a democracy to do. The idea that this justifies the imposition of another dictatorship is as obscene as it is laughable.

What next? DPF will advocate the unseating of MPs who disagree with the government and criticise the public service? Because that is essentially the "problem" here. But in Parliament, we recognise that is part of the democratic process, part of how government is kept responsible to us and held to account. It would be nice if he (and Christchurch’s autocratic primadonna mayor) understood that that applies to local government too.

Shorter National MP

"Children must starve to teach parents responsibility". Yes, really:

Northland National MP Mike Sabin, who chaired the meeting, warned that if schools provided lunches then mothers and fathers would never have to do it.

"But they are not doing that anyway," Mr Reid responded. "You can walk around every pub in Kaitaia and mums and dads are investing in the poker machines."

Mr Sabin retorted: "We have to investigate that, otherwise we'll have 50,000 more parents who are not feeding their children."

What a wanker. But oh so typical of the National Party's mindset that poverty is an individual failing rather than a structural problem in our society. And their "solution" - cut school lunches and make kids starve - effectively sacrifices children's life-chances to that cruel ideology.

But hey, they're just poor kids - no-one National cares about.

No justice for Haditha

On November 19, 2005, US Marines massacred 24 Iraqi civilians in the town of Haditha. The killings were initially covered up as "collateral damage" from a roadside bomb, and many of the victims - who included seven children - were labelled "insurgents". But media investigations revealed what had really happened: after one of their number had been killed by a bomb, the US soldiers went house to house, with guns and grenades, murdering indiscriminately.

Eventually, in the face of public pressure, the US charged eight marines with a variety of crimes, including murder, manslaughter, and obstruction of justice. And then, one by one, those charges were quietly dropped. Today, the last of the accused, Sgt Frank Wuterich, who had been facing murder charges, plead guilty to dereliction of duty as part of a plea bargain:

He faces a maximum of three months confinement, two-thirds forfeiture of pay and a demotion to the rank of private.
Given the prior record of US military courts in these sorts of cases, the bus ticket he will be slapped with won't even be soggy.

And this is what the US calls "justice". But there's no justice here - just a military refusing to hold its own to account, and in the process sending a message to the world: we can murder you with impunity, because your lives count for nothing. And then they wonder why people support or join terrorist groups...

New Fisk

Fragments of history rescued from oblivion
In the line of fire: Tom Hurndall

Friday, January 20, 2012

Places to go, people to be

There are things I'd like to be blogging about today: the final death of Project Hayes (not heartbroken; it was environmentally marginal, and there are plenty of other large wind projects in the pipeline); Auckland's efforts to leverage its local prostitution ban into a nationwide one; the arrest and expected extradition of Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom in Auckland (which, because our own media are so obsessed with themselves, we had to read about on BBC) and its parallels with the UK TVShack case; or the fact that our extradition agreement with the USA not only includes abortion, but also sodomy, which hasn't been a crime here since 1986. But sadly, I'm busy. I'm off to attend New Zealand's largest roleplaying convention, and my brain is full of other Things (some of them squamous, formless and shifting, and waiting to eat you).

Normal bloggage will resume on Tuesday.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Ending the whitewash

Shortly after being elected, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced the establishment of a formal inquiry into his intelligence services' collusion in torture and rendition. It was a whitewash from the start. Run by the Intelligence Services Commissioner, hearing evidence in secret, and boycoted by human rights groups, it was never going to be the independent investigation the public (and the law) demanded. And even the revelation of a smoking gun - MI6's "policy on liason with overseas security and intelligence services in relation to detainees who may be subject to mistreatment", which explicitly told spies to balance the value of the information obtained against the amount of pain that would be inflicted - did not alter that fact. Rather than naming names and holding those responsible to account, the Gibson inquiry was always simply going to shuffle crimes under the carpet, "restore" the image of the intelligence services, and "draw a line under events", so the spies could right on back to torturing, without this messy clamouring for accountability and prosecutions.

Which is why I'm glad its finally over. A whitewash inquiry is worse than no inquiry at all. As we've seen with the numerous inquiries into Blair's lies before the Iraq war, it just gives those responsible something to hide behind, while doing nothing to get to the truth. It undermines both accountability and the truth itself.

...which is of course why the British government loves them so much. Hold a whitewash, "draw a line" - then claim that the issue is settled and that the public is being unreasonable in continuing to demand accountability. But until there is accountability, until there is justice, until those responsible are sacked, prosecuted, and driven from public life, it will never be "over".

More corporate psychopathy

A Greek default is widely viewed as a potential trigger for a global economic meltdown, as it exposes banks to massive writedowns, and in turn governments to massive bailouts, creating a further liquidity crash. So naturally, hedge funds are trying to engineer one in order to profit from their Credit Default Swap contracts:

A group of hedge funds is threatening to block a last-ditch attempt to save Greece from defaulting on its huge debt pile, unless they are guaranteed a significant payout.

There will be a final attempt today – when a group representing Greece's private sector bondholders meets senior ministers in Athens – to negotiate a writedown of the value of the country's debt ahead of a crucial bond repayment deadline next month.

Sources familiar with the talks, which collapsed at the end of last week, have said that a number of hedge funds are holding up the restructuring deal to ensure that they make a fat profit, after snapping up Greek bonds at distressed prices.


This is because these funds are believed to have purchased insurance policies on their holdings of Greek bonds, known as Credit Default Swaps (CDS). If Athens fails to pay its maturing debts in March, that would trigger large CDS payouts to these funds from the large financial firms that sold them the insurance.

The hedge fund's position is simple: pay them a big bonus, or they destroy the global economy - and either way, they profit. And its a perfect example of how psychopathic our financial industry has become.

Blackmail should not be a business. Threatening to impoverish and immiserate billions should not be a business plan. Our psychopathic corporations need to be reined in, and made to behave ethically. If they cannot, they need to be broken up, so they will no longer be such a threat to society. It is that simple.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Still useless

This morning, Labour industrial relations spokesperson told the New Zealand Herald that "it's not helpful for politicians to get involved" in the Ports of Auckland dispute. This afternoon, she's on Red Alert trying to reassure Labour supporters that her party really does care about workers' rights. The upshot? They care - but not enough to actually take a stand or do anything.

Like I said, useless.

New Fisk

Poverty is main culprit as 19 die in slum tragedy


So its come to this: after a week of silence on the Ports of Auckland dispute, the Labour Party has come out and confirmed that it is in fact a useless waste of space:

Yesterday Labour industrial relations spokeswoman Darien Fenton, who has been spotted on the picket line at the port, said her party was not taking sides in the dispute.

"We've been hoping that the parties will settle this, that they'll find a way through this."

Ms Fenton said Mr Shearer had been in regular touch with both sides, "and he's in contact with me and we're all discussing it regularly".

"Our strong view at this point is it's not helpful for politicians to get involved."

Its not quite Walter Nash's "neither for nor against", but it amounts to the same thing. Faced with a test of its core values, Labour flunked, preferring to sit on the fence rather than speak up. And as a result, their party's name is now an exercise in false advertising. What does Labour stand for now? It's certainly not labour. Instead, all they offer is an alternative set of political managers, a different set of bums on seats. And this is supposed to inspire people to turn out and vote for them? The only thing it inspires me to do is look for a party that actually appears to believe in something.

But its not just a case of undermining their brand. Labour has just sent a clear message to its supporters that that support is a one-way street. You can support them, but they won't support you. No self-respecting person should accept such a one-sided relationship.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Speaking out on Ports of Auckland

While Auckland's "Labour" Mayor, Len Brown, seems happy for Ports of Auckland to force pay cuts and casualisation on its workforce, others in Auckland’s local government aren't. Yesterday, 28 board members stretching across 10 local boards issued a joint statement calling on Ports of Auckland to abandon its plans and return to the negotiating table:

In an unprecedented move, 28 Auckland Local Board members from 10 different Boards are uniting to call for Ports of Auckland to return to good faith bargaining and drop plans to outsource jobs at the port (a full list of Board Members is below).

“Ports of Auckland Ltd is a Council-owned company. We support its operational independence, but the current dispute has escalated to a strategic level. We are particularly concerned that actions being taken by Port management, including what appears to be a pre-determined strategy to contract out port jobs, are inflaming matters”, say the Board members.

Its good to see that someone, at least, thinks that politicians should get involved in politics.

These are mostly Labour people, so parts of the party obviously care. But its Parliamentary wing and leadership are still remaining conspicuously silent. David Shearer has apparently just wrapped up his holiday, so maybe we'll hear something from him soon. If not, and Labour stays silent on what should be a core issue, then I think we'll have to lower our (already low) expectations of the party even further.

National tries to control the media

Just before the election, TV3 screened Inside Child Poverty: A Special Report. The documentary was funded by NZ on Air, and its aim was to expose child poverty in New Zealand and get people thinking about it. It succeeded. Unfortunately, that success was at the expense of the National Party, which really, really didn't want to talk about the issue. And so post-election, its hacks on the NZ on Air board are trying to ensure that it never happens again:

A move to censor television programmes likely to embarrass the government during election campaigns is being considered by the broadcasting funding agency, NZ on Air.

The minutes of the NZ on Air board’s December meeting reveals a decision "to seek legal advice on whether NZ on Air could require an additional clause in the broadcast covenant requiring broadcasters not to screen programmes likely to be an election issue within the Election Period as defined in the Broadcasting Act".

Because obviously, the last thing we want during an election campaign is for voters to be thinking about the issues...

This move to control the media for the convenience of political parties is Fiji-style stuff, the very opposite of what we expect in a democratic country like New Zealand. It is being pushed by board member Stephen McElrea, who just happens to be John Key's electorate chairperson, aided by a board afraid of "embarrassing" the government. Which tells us that NZ on Air needs more independence, including the freedom from political crony appointments. Their job is to fund television, not ensure the smooth re-election of the powers that be. And if some of that television makes the government-of-the-day look bad, by reminding people of facts and issues they would rather we were ignorant of, then that’s just something the politicians have to wear.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Greens on Ports of Auckland

Over on FrogBlog, the Greens' industrial relations spokesperson Denise Roche speaks up about the Ports of Auckland dispute:

Ports of Auckland have consistently said that they want to increase productivity. However the hardline approach and lack of flexibility from the CEO, Tony Gibson, has resulted in days lost to strikes, and now the threat of a lock out doesn’t create a productive workforce. I wonder what the management’s real aims are, given that the company had previously drawn up a strategy to contract out the workforce, and Tony Gibson is threatening to call for expressions of interest while the contract talks were stalled. This is hardly ‘good faith bargaining’ – and it quite likely breaches the existing industrial relations laws.

If the Board and management of POA were so concerned about increasing productivity and increasing the profit margins, how could they possibly consider a spend of $5million on redundancies – and potentially much higher costs resulting from legal action from the Maritime Union?

This is good to see. As for Labour, they're still missing in action, probably waiting for a focus group to tell them what their principles are. And they wonder why people don't turn out to vote for them...

New Fisk

The 'invented people' stand little chance

Royal parasitism

The UK is currently in the grip of a banker-induced, austerity-worsened recession, and cutting spending everywhere. So naturally, in the midst of all this belt-tightening, the government wants to spend £60m on a new yacht for the Queen.

This is simply obscene. The Queen is one of the world's richest women, perfectly capable of buying her own yacht. Meanwhile, UK citizens are looking at a decade of cuts, austerity, and economic stagnation. Last week, the government tried (and fortunately failed) to cut benefits to disabled people to save money. Apparently they can no longer afford even basic dignity for their weakest citizens. Against that backdrop, expecting people to cough up for a luxury toy for their rulers shows the same level of complete and utter disconnection from the lives of ordinary people as the infamous "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche".

This is feudal parasitism at its worst. And its time it was ended. The only thing the citizens of the UK should be giving their monarch for her birthday is a one-way ticket into exile.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Fiji: A fragile ego

An example of how fragile the ego of Fiji's dictator is: having failed to win a TXT-poll for "personality of the year", Voreqe Bainimarama forced the offending media organisation to change the result and declare him the winner. And now, he's using his cronies in the Commerce Commission and Media Development Authority to punish them for giving offence.

I just hope no-one has been dragged to camp and tortured over this. But its an example of the sheer pettiness and narcissism of Fiji's dictator. What next? He'll be entering the Olympics, and threatening to beat people if they don't let him win?

New Fisk

This is not about 'bad apples'. This is the horror of war

And while we're on the subject of silences

The Greens haven't said a word on Ports of Auckland either. No press releases, and nothing on Frogblog. While they don't have the history of Labour in this area, they have a progressive industrial relations policy (arguably more progressive than Labour's). Which makes their silence just as odd.

Again, I expect parties to stand up for their purported values and those of their supporters. If they don't, then their basic bargain of offering representation in exchange for votes is simply a fraud.

Growth and distribution

Labour's failed Rangitikei candidate Josie Pagani has a piece in the Herald this morning, in which she gives her views of what went wrong for Labour, and talks of the need to "[increase] the size of the pie so everyone can get their piece". In response, the Dim-Post asks:

why are Labour still using ACT Party rhetoric about the panacea of economic growth, when all our economic statistics, social indicators and lived experience over the past thirty years tell us that the benefits of ‘growing the pie’ now aggregate to a small number of high-net worth individuals? The rest of us stay where we are, or go backwards.
Because while that was certainly the experience during the 80's and 90's, it wasn't what happened last time Labour was in power. Compare the following two graphs from MSD's Household incomes in New Zealand: trends in indicators of inequality and hardship 1982 to 2007. The first shows decile changes in real equivalised household income (that's household income normalised for family size) from 1988 - 2001 - basically, the Revolution):

The second shows the same change between 2004 and 2007:

Quite a difference, isn't it? Instead of the poor being impoverished for the benefit of the rich, we have a much more equal distribution, with most of the benefits of growth being directed to those with greater need. While the exclusion of beneficiaries from Working For Families meant that it didn't do enough for those at the very bottom (an exclusion Pagani supports, I should note - which makes me glad she is not in Parliament), its undoubtedly a fairer distribution.

There are basically two types of economy in New Zealand: The National economy is marked by high unemployment, regressive tax changes, and attacks on workers' rights. The Labour one by low unemployment / an engineered labour shortage, large increases in the minimum wage, and a more progressive and redistributive tax system. And the two produce very different distributional outcomes.

The problem is that the more we live in a National economy, the more we believe that that rhetoric is at best empty, and at worst a direct threat to make you worse off for the benefit of some suited Auckland fat-cat. If Labour wants to use growth-rhetoric, it needs to be clear that it is offering a different sort of growth. And I think that being explicit about that, about how it is achieved and about National's distributional record, is the best way to do that.

(Of course, we also need that growth to be sustainable, and not based on the mining of our environment. But that's a different kettle of fish altogether...)

The usual whitewash

British police have decided that they will not investigate the complicity of their intelligence services in the rendition and torture of British residents by America. The reason? "Insufficient evidence". They asked the spies, the spies denied it, and that apparently is good enough for them. So much for justice - it takes a back seat to not embarrassing those in power.

The good news is that at the moment they can't perform the same sort of tawdry whitewash over more recent renditions to Libya. There, thanks to the Libyan government, we have documentary evidence that the UK provided information on Libyans in the UK, and "took credit" for the rendition of Sami al-Saadi, who was detained for six years and tortured with beatings and electric shocks. So, there will be an "investigation". But that doesn't mean there will be justice. Instead, they'll just wait for public anger over the case to die down, then make exactly the same claim of "insufficient evidence" in a year or two's time. The government will then "draw a line under the matter" and try and pretend it never happened. Question ex-Ministers? Dig through the paper trail? Do their jobs? All of that will take a back seat to the British establishment's highest priority: protecting themselves and ensuring that their abuses go unpunished. And then they wonder why people turn to terrorism...

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A deafening silence

Over on Idle Thoughts Of An Idle Fellow, Robert Winter asks where is Labour on the Ports of Auckland dispute. Its a good question. Labour is supposed to be the leading party on the left. It proudly proclaims that it

started its life as... a voice for the working classes who believed that a fairer future was possible.
So you'd expect them to have something to say on an unpleasant industrial dispute in which management is clearly seeking to crush a union and erode both workplace safety and living standards in the name of greater profits - but there hasn't been a peep out of them. Not an interview, not a press release, not even a post on Red Alert. Their silence is deafening.

It would be nice if we had a Labout party which stood up for its purported values, stood up for its supporters rather than simply taking them for granted. Sadly, that seems to be too much to expect from the modern NZLP.

New Fisk

Assad faces his people's hatred – but as their anger grows, his excuses are still just the same

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Guantanamo: A petition

Amnesty International is using the tenth anniversary of Guantanamo bay to highlight the issue, with a petition to US president Barack Obama calling on him to close the gulag, release its prisoners or give them fair trials in proper courts, and investigate and prosecute US officials responsible for torture and disappearance. You can sign it here.

Guantanamo: A decade too long

Ten years ago today, on January 11 2002, the US transferred its first load of prisoners to its gulag at Guantanamo Bay. A decade on, 171 prisoners - including twelve of that first shipment - are still there. They have been imprisoned for up to ten years, without charge, and without trial. Many of them have been tortured.

Their continued detention, and the continued existence of Guantanamo, is a stain on the record of the United States. The right not to be imprisoned without trial is fundamental. Those accused of crimes must be charged, and the evidence heard in open court before an impartial tribunal. Those who cannot be charged, or who are not accused of crimes at all, must be released. Those are the rules of civilised society, entrenched in international law. By refusing to obey that law, the US marks itself as a rogue state, its leaders criminals who themselves should be put on trial.

A decade of this abuse is a decade too long. its time for it to end. Guantanamo delenda est: Guantanamo must be closed.

Climate change: Good news and frustration

Some good news on the climate change front: scientists have found a cheap and easy way of filtering CO2 from smokestacks, or even just from the atmosphere:

Their tests showed that these inexpensive materials achieved some of the highest carbon dioxide removal rates ever reported for humid air, under conditions that stymie other related materials. After capturing carbon dioxide, the materials give it up easily so that the CO2 can be used in making other substances, or permanently isolated from the environment. The capture material then can be recycled and reused many times over without losing efficiency. The researchers suggest the materials may be useful on submarines, in smokestacks or out in the open atmosphere, where they could clean up carbon dioxide pollution that comes from small point sources like cars or home heaters, representing about half of the total CO2 emissions related to human activity.
Of course, we still need somewhere safe to store it - but that's half the problem solved.

At the same time, it also highlights the frustration of climate change policy: we have the technology, we can beat this problem, decarbonise the economy, and live sustainably as a technological society - but our politicians (old, rich, and invested in the destructive status quo) are not making the policy changes necessary to push us down that path, and instead seem set to do nothing and just let it happen. And so we're on track for a disaster, one which will ruin my future, your future, and the future of your children and grandchildren and generations to come - and that disaster is completely avoidable.

"The national interest"

So, having failed to smear Ports of Auckland's workers as greedy, lazy, and overpaid, the right have turned to a different argument: apparently it's "in the national interest" to casualise them and cut their pay:

If the Maritime Union didn't see this one coming, then they haven't been paying much attention to the Ministry of Transport report on container productivity at New Zealand ports. Nor has the union been paying attention to the Productivity Commission which estimates exporters and importers spend upwards of $5 billion a year on freight and has forecasted annual trade could be boosted by $1.25 billion if transport costs were shaved by 10 per cent. There is a national interest issue at stake here.
As usual, "the national interest" is just code for the interests of the rich. Who will benefit from that supposed $1.25 billion boost in trade? Not ordinary people. In a National economy, with high unemployment, low wages and tax cuts for the rich, only people at the very top benefit from growth. (Don't believe me? Take it from Statistics New Zealand). Meanwhile, ordinary people, in the form of wharfies and their families, will bear the costs. What O'Sullivan is hiding behind her grand talk of the "national interest" is the usual story of impoverishing the many for the enrichment of the few. Which isn't in our interests at all.

(This applies generally, BTW. Where economic growth results in costs (e.g. environmental destruction, lower wages, reduced government services, greater inequality) but no benefits for most people, then we have no reason to support it. If the rich want us to buy their rhetoric of "growing the cake", they need to actually share it with us).

But besides the distributional argument, there's an inconsistency here. If the shoe were on the other foot, and we were talking about taking half a billion a year off the ultra-rich in order to produce a larger social benefit (say, by applying their own logic to them and cutting their outrageous CEO salaries to make them work harder so that our business sector would be more efficient), O'Sullivan would be squealing about private property rights, theft, and the need for compensation. But what's good for the goose is good for the gander. If you believe rich people shouldn't be made worse off for the benefit of others (or be compensated if they are), then you must believe it for poor people too. Anything less is simply rank hypocrisy.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Tony Blair: Tax cheat?

Back when he was campaigning to be British Prime Minister, Tony Blair was harsh about tax cheats, saying:

For those who can employ the right accountants, the tax system is a haven of scams, perks, City deals and profits.

"We should reward people who work hard and do well. We should not make our tax rules a playground for revenue avoiders and tax abusers who pay little or nothing while others pay more than their share."

Now that he's a former Prime Minister paid millions of pounds a year as a "consultant" for bankers and autocrats, its a different story:
When you have already spent half a million pounds on rent, £300,000 on furniture and £2.3m paying your staff, an extra £8m on unexplained “administrative expenses” might seem to be stretching credulity, but that is what Tony Blair has told Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, which as a consequence has received a rather smaller cheque from the former Prime Minister than it might have expected.

Records sent to Companies House reveal a substantial leap in Tony Blair's income in the year ending March 2011, but such a rise has not been passed on to the taxman. One of his many companies and partnerships, Windrush Ventures, declared a turnover of £12m, up from £8.5m the year before. But Mr Blair's accounts claim that just over £1m of this is profit, the rest written off as "administrative expenses", with no further explanation given for some £7.74m of the total. With the corporate tax rate at 28 per cent, this left Mr Blair with a tax liability of only £315,000.

It seems that Blair is now engaging in exactly the sort of dishonest cheating he once criticised - all of course while receiving a massive state pension and armed bodyguards for life courtesy of the UK taxpayer. Sadly, given Blair's past displays of hypocrisy and insincerity, its not exactly surprising.

What the Ports of Auckland dispute is about

Ports of Auckland Chief Executive Tony Gibson has responded to the port worker's latest offer of a modest wage rise coupled with productivity improvements by threatening to casualise the entire workforce. Which shows despite the port's public rhetoric, this dispute isn't really about increasing the efficiency of the port. Instead, its about control and casualisation - and therefore ultimately about cuts to wages and conditions, about ruining people's lives and livelihoods in order to increase profits (and gain fat bonuses for "improved performance", of course). And Len Brown supports this. Its nice to know which side he's on.

As for Gibson, his behaviour - his refusal to negotiate, his swanning about on holiday rather than trying to solve the dispute, his reaction of rage to anything less than complete surrender, and now his threats - call to mind a certain personality type. And the consequence of that insistence on complete and utter control has been a loss of business for the company he manages, and a loss of value for its shareholders, the people of Auckland. They should hold him accountable for that. Sadly, given the way modern corporate governance insulates management from any real control, that seems unlikely.

Who benefits from National's charter schools?

Destiny Church. They've announced plans to move their existing private school to South Auckland and re-establish it as a charter school in order to receive public funding.

This is what charter schools mean: giving taxpayer's money to cults to peddle their wackiness, without being subject to the normal curriculum or normal educational standards. Its about paying for indoctrination, rather than education. But that is no business of the education system, and not something that government money should be spent on.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Part of the problem

Via Dim Post, John Key puts New Zealand writers in their place:

I have always believed we should enhance the literary skills of our young people and while our literary heroes may never challenge the glory and respect given to our All Blacks, we still need role models to inspire us.
The clear message? Literacy doesn't matter as much as sport.

Perhaps if our Prime Minister wasn't sending such messages, we wouldn't have such a problem with poor literacy in our society.

New Fisk

The shocking truth that killing can be so casual

Len Brown shows his true colours

So, Auckland Mayor Len Brown has intervened in the Port of Auckland’s dispute, appealing to the workers' patriotism as "loyal Aucklanders" and demanding that they accept casualisation "to make the port more productive and profitable for the council".

Right. So, in Len Brown's world, port workers are expected to sacrifice their livelihoods and job security so that Aucklanders - which in practice means rich pricks in Epsom - can enjoy lower rates. Fuck that shit. If the price of being a "loyal Aucklander" is accepting the sort of employment casualisation prelevant in the fast food industry, then his Auckland isn't worth any sort of loyalty. Len Brown wouldn't work under those conditions, and he shouldn't expect anyone else to.

And as for Brown, its nice to know where he really stands on workers' rights. All those people on the left who worked tirelessly to get him elected in 2010 should be reconsidering whether they'll give the same assistance next year. With attitudes like these, Brown isn't worth your vote, and he's certainly not worth your time. Time to find someone else to support.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Natural consequences

Executive psycopaths, Gardiner Morse, Harvard Business Review October 2004:

Chances are good there’s a psychopath on your management team. Seriously. I’m not talking about the “psycho” boss that employees like to carp about—the hard-driving supervisor who sometimes loses it. He’s just difficult. Nor am I referring to the sort of homicidal “psychopath” Hollywood likes to serve up—Freddy Krueger, say, or Brando’s Colonel Kurtz. Neither is, clinically speaking, a psychopath.

I’m talking about the real thing, the roughly 1% of the population that is certifiably psychopathic. True psychopaths are diagnosed according to very specific clinical criteria, and they’re nothing like the popular conception. What stands out about bona fide psychopaths is that they’re so hard to spot. They’re chameleons. They have a cunning ability to act perfectly normally and indeed to be utterly charming, as they wreak havoc on the lives of the people around them and the companies they inhabit.

Many of psychopaths’ defining characteristics—their polish, charm, cool decisiveness, and fondness for the fast lane—are easily, and often, mistaken for leadership qualities...

Beware corporate psychopaths – they are still occupying positions of power, Brian Basham, Independent, 29 December 2011:
My companion, a senior UK investment banker and I, are discussing the most successful banking types we know and what makes them tick. I argue that they often conform to the characteristics displayed by social psychopaths. To my surprise, my friend agrees.

He then makes an astonishing confession: "At one major investment bank for which I worked, we used psychometric testing to recruit social psychopaths because their characteristics exactly suited them to senior corporate finance roles."

Here was one of the biggest investment banks in the world seeking psychopaths as recruits.

Clive Boddy (2011) "The Corporate Psychopaths Theory of the Global Financial Crisis", Journal of Business Ethics 102:255-259:
The knowledge that Corporate Psychopaths are to be found at the top of organisations and seem to favour working with other people’s money in large financial organisations has in turn, led to the development of the Corporate Psychopaths Theory of the Global Financial Crisis. The Corporate Psychopaths Theory of the Global Financial Crisis is that Corporate Psychopaths, rising to key senior positions within modern financial corporations, where they are able to influence the moral climate of the whole organisation and yield [sic] considerable power, have largely caused the crisis. In these senior corporate positions, the Corporate Psychopath’s single-minded pursuit of their own self-enrichment and self aggrandizement to the exclusion of all other considerations has led to an abandonment of the old fashioned concept of noblesse oblige, equality, fairness, or of any real notion of corporate social responsibility.


senior level remuneration and reward started to increase more and more rapidly and beyond all proportion to shop floor incomes and a culture of greed unfettered by conscience developed. Corporate Psychopaths are ideally situated to prey on such an environment and corporate fraud, financial misrepresentation, greed and misbehaviour went through the roof, bringing down huge companies and culminating in the Global Financial Crisis that we are now in.

Writing in 2005, this author commentating on Corporate Psychopaths predicted that the rise of Corporate Psychopaths was a recipe for corporate and societal disaster. This disaster has now happened and is still happening. Across the western world the symptoms of the financial crisis are now being treated. However, if the Corporate Psychopaths Theory of the Global Financial Crisis is correct, then this treatment of the symptoms will have little effect because the root cause is not being addressed. The very same Corporate Psychopaths, who probably caused the crisis by their self-seeking greed and avarice, are now advising governments on how to get out of the crisis. That this involves paying themselves vast bonuses in the midst of financial hardship for many millions of others, is symptomatic of the problem.

New Fisk

Bonfire of the dictators
France's shamefully forgotten allies