Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Farmers are poisoning Canterbury

Thanks to intensive farming, a quarter of Canterbury's wells are close to exceeding safe nitrate limits:

Increased irrigation in Canterbury is putting newborn babies at increased risk from water contamination, a medical officer of health says.

Canterbury Regional Council figures show that for the ten years to the end of 2016, nitrate levels increased in 23 percent of monitored wells.

So far, high nitrate levels in Canterbury were confined to private wells and none of those serving communities had been found to have dangerously high readings.

However, a quarter of council-monitored wells are coming close to exceeding safe limits.

Babies can die from nitrate poisoning, and at least one has (others may have, but had the deaths misclassified as sudden infant deaths). And that's simply not an acceptable risk. Farming is a clear risk to public health, and its the job of the regional council and the government to regulate it so that it is not. And if this regulation means farmers make less money, then so be it - because it is not acceptable for people to profit by murdering children.

New Fisk

Isis has lost Raqqa with the fighting taking much of the city's history too – where will their fighters head to next?

Spain has political prisoners again

Under Franco's dictatorship, Spain had political prisoners. And now, under the Francoist People's party, it has them again, with two Catalans jailed for sedition for organising peaceful protests for independence:

The leaders of two of the main pro-independence civil society organizations have been sent to prison without bail on sedition charges. A Spanish judge decided to imprison Jordi Sànchez, president of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), and Jordi Cuixart, president of Òmnium Cultural, for their role in the October 1 referendum. Both of them will already sleep in jail tonight. The same judge also decided to release without passport the chief of the Catalan police, Josep-Lluís Trapero, accused of not having done enough to stop voters from participating in the independence referendum.

The initial investigation against Trapero, Sánchez and Cuixart focused on demonstrations on September 20 and 21, when fourteen high-ranking officials of the Catalan government were arrested and people protested massively, and peacefully, in the streets. But the case was extended to also include events during the October 1 referendum and the alleged “flagrant inaction” of Catalonia’s police corps, the Mossos d’Esquadra, to stop the vote.

Sánchez and Cuixart lead two of the biggest pro-independence organizations in Catalonia, responsible for organizing the massive pro-Yes demonstrations of the last few years. The prosecutor argues that they mobilized people on referendum day, asking citizens to protest in front of polling stations, thus impeding police officers from closing them down.

They could be facing between 4 and 15 years in jail for peacefully advocating for their political views. In a supposed "democracy". But then, democracies don't blockade polling places and beat people for voting either. If this is the sort of state Spain is, then Catalans are entirely sensible to want to leave it.

Monday, October 16, 2017

We should not be involved in this

In 2015, the National government sent New Zealand troops to Iraq. Their role there was to train the Iraqi army so it could be used to fight "terrorists". Now, the army we helped train is being used to invade Kurdistan:

Iraqi forces were reported to be advancing on Kirkuk after prime minister of Iraq, Haidar al-Abadi, ordered his army to “impose security” on the oil-rich Kurdish city.

Kurdish and Iraqi officials reported that forces began moving at midnight on Sunday towards oil fields and an important air base held by Kurdish forces near the city.

The governor of Kirkuk, Najmaldin Karim, urged the public to come out onto the streets and voiced his confidence that Peshmerga forces would be able to protect the city. “We saw some of the young people who expressed their readiness to help their Peshmerga brothers to defend the land,” he told Rudaw, a Kurdish media network.

The Kurds voted democraticly for independence last month. But rather than negotiate a peaceful divorce, it looks like rump Iraq is going to suppress them with military force - just like Saddam did. And that suppression (the smashing of cities, the murder of civilians) is going to be done by troops trained by kiwis.

This is not something we should be supporting. New Zealand should withdraw its troops from Iraq immediately.

Did Britain manipulate Australia's dismissal?

The British government and its monarch have always denied any responsibility for the 1975 dismissal of an elected government by an unelected governor-general. But it appears they were lying:

Representatives of the British government flew to Australia in the lead-up to the 1975 dismissal of the Whitlam government to meet with the then governor-general, casting further doubt on the accepted narrative that London officials did not play an active role in Australia's most significant constitutional crisis.

Historian Jenny Hocking discovered files in the British archives showing Sir Michael Palliser, the newly appointed permanent under-secretary of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, arrived in Canberra a month before the dismissal and held a joint meeting with Sir John Kerr and the British High Commissioner, Sir Morrice James, just as the Senate was blocking supply.

Sir Michael later reported back to London that Sir John "could be relied upon".

There's an extremely strong suggestion that the British government were interfering in Australian politics and the 1975 election. And combined with their continued secrecy over Kerr's communications with the queen - which are absurdly considered to be private, rather than official communications - it makes them look guilty as hell.

Of course, the easiest way to prevent a foreign monarch from interfering in Australian politics ever again is for Australia to become a republic. Fortunately, that is now looking likely. The question is whether New Zealand will do the same.

Friday, October 13, 2017

New Fisk

We will soon find out what 'unity' really means for the Palestinians
Can Christians stay in the Middle East now that they are being persecuted for their ancient religion?
Clare Hollingworth: Our last interview with the woman who broke WW2

Even the IMF thinks we should tax the rich more

The International Monetary Fund is not what you'd call a left-wing organisation. Instead, they've been one of the major forces pushing NeoLiberalism on the world for the past 40 years. But even they have been forced to admit that we need higher taxes on the rich:

Higher income tax rates for the rich would help reduce inequality without having an adverse impact on growth, the International Monetary Fund has said.

The Washington-based IMF used its influential half-yearly fiscal monitor to demolish the argument that economic growth would suffer if governments in advanced Western countries forced the top 1% of earners to pay more tax.

The IMF said tax theory suggested there should be “significantly higher” tax rates for those on higher incomes but the argument against doing so was that hitting the rich would be bad for growth.

But the influential global institution said: “Empirical results do not support this argument, at least for levels of progressivity that are not excessive.” The IMF added that different types of wealth taxes might also be considered.

...such as land taxes and capital gains taxes. Both things chickenshit Labour has ruled out.

With this coming from the IMF, you'd think the right would be forced to accept reality. They won't, of course; instead they'll just keep parroting the same zombie economics they always have. Because they're not interested in reality or in what's good for everyone, but in serving the interests of the greedy ultrarich who bankroll them.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The world we live in

How scary is the Trump presidency? Scary enough that his senior officials have actually discussed physicly restraining him if he tries to nuke anyone:

New York Magazine contributing editor Gabriel Sherman on Tuesday reported on a remarkable conversation he had with a senior Republican official, who described conversations Donald Trump’s chief of staff Gen. John Kelly and defense secretary James Mattis have had about “physically [restraining] the president” in the event he “[lunges] for the nuclear football.”

Sherman was discussing the growing concern in the West Wing over Trump’s temperament, particularly as the president continues to escalate feuds with prominent Republicans like Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) while simultaneously setting the United States “on the path to World War III.”

“A conversation I had with a very prominent Republican today, who literally was saying that they imagine Gen. Kelly and Secretary Mattis have had conversations that if Trump lunged for the nuclear football, what would they do?” Sherman told NBC’s Chris Hayes. “Would they tackle him? I mean literally, physically restrain him from putting the country at perilous risk.”

“That is the kind of situation we’re in,” Sherman added.

This is of course unconstitutional - as a (thinly-disguised) elected monarch, the president has the exclusive right to use nuclear weapons, just as the absolute monarchs the US rebelled against had the exclusive right to wage war. But when it comes to saving the lives of millions, perhaps hundreds of millions or even billions of people, I'll take unconstitutional any day.

Still, it does invite the question: if his Cabinet really think Trump is that dangerous, why haven't they lawfully removed him under the 25th amendment yet?

Signed and suspended

Last weekened Catalans chose democracy over fascism, marching to the ballot boxes to vote for independence in the face of Spanish truncheons and rubber bullets. While Spanish violence succeeded in keeping the turnout to only 43% (55% if the ballots they stole are considered), support for an independent republic was so overwhelming that it would have been a majority even at the turnout levels of a normal Catalan election.

Since then, Spain has upped its campaign of violence, threatening to suspend Catalonia's regional autonomy and torture and murder its president (just as they did to one of his predecessors). Meanwhile, actual fascists have been marching in Spain's streets demanding Catalonia be suppressed. Calls by the international community for the Spanish government to sit down and negotiate a peaceful and democratic way forward have been ignored.

Today, Catalan President Carles Puigdemont finally addressed the Catalan parliament. As expected, he declared independence - and also called for the declaration to be suspended for a few weeks to allow time for negotiations. Its a reasonable approach: the referendum (and previous elections) provide a clear mandate, but the situation needs to be de-escalated. The EU seems to finally be getting involved, and this gives them time to convince Spain to accept reality: that these issues must be resolved democraticly, as in Scotland, and that if Spanish law prevents that, it is Spanish law which needs to change. The question is whether the Spanish government will recognise that, or whether it thinks Catalans will love them if they are beaten harder.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

10/10: World Day Against the Death Penalty

Today, October 10, is the world day against the death penalty. Out of 195 UN member states, 85 still permit capital punishment. Today is the day we work to change that.

This year's theme is poverty. Unequal justice mans the death penalty is overwhelmingly applied to poor people, either because they cannot afford a proper legal defence or as a result of direct socioeconomic discrimination. This compounds the inherent injustice of state execution.

The good news is that we are slowly winning. Two more countries abolished the death penalty this year: Mongolia and Gambia. The civilised world is gradually growing. Sadly, the USA will probably be one of the last countries to join it.

A dismal failure

Back in 2013 the government and the Auckland Council signed the Auckland Housing Accord. The accord was supposed to fix the Auckland housing market by building an extra 40,000 houses. A huge chunk of those houses were supposed to be "affordable" (for Auckland, which is still insanely unaffordable for real people). So how did it do? It turns out that like everything else National does, it was a dismal failure:

New figures show 98 free-market affordable homes have been built under the government's Auckland Housing Accord.

The chair of Auckland Council planning committee, councillor Chris Darby, has called the Accord a "dismal failure" in addressing affordability.


An analysis by Auckland Council sets out a detailed picture of what the government's SHA legislation has delivered.

Council data shows 3157 homes were completed in SHAs by the end of June, when monitoring ended.

So, it built less than 10% of the houses promised, and only a handful of "affordable" ones - most of which were one-bedroom shoebox apartments. Meanwhile, developers exploited the special housing areas to build unaffordable palazzos, or just flicked the land on to another landbanker without building anything. But then, the policy was never about building houses, let alone "affordable" ones - it was about generating headlines saying that that would happen. And on that level, National probably considers it a success. As for people in Auckland who still can't find a house to live in, national does not and never has cared about them.

Monday, October 09, 2017

A weird way to do electoral reform

When New Zealanders voted for electoral reform in 1993, we knew exactly what we were voting for. A royal commission had looked at the alternatives. An initial referendum had narrowed the choice down to MMP. And Parliament had already passed the law enabling the new electoral system to come into force if people voted for change, so we knew exactly how many MP's we'd be getting and the rough shape of electoral boundaries.

They do things differently in Canada. In 2017, voters in British Colombia elected (under FPP) an NDP-Green coalition government. That government has just announced a referendum on proportional representation, the third in the province's history. But while they've decided everything about the referendum - a postal vote, with 50%-plus-one required for success, and no turnout requirement, they haven't actually decided what form of proportional representation they'll be voting on. The actual referendum question will be decided later, by regulation. And the referendum won't be binding - instead, if it passes, the legislation will have to be passed (and new electoral boundaries decided) before the next election.

This isn't the first time British Colombia has been here. In 2005 and 2009 they voted on adopting STV. In 2005 it won a majority, but the government had strapped the chicken by requiring 60% support, ensuring the continuation of first-past-the-post. In 2009, STV failed, largely because the lack of information of electoral boundaries allowed real fears about representation of rural areas (which would have required multi-member districts larger than some countries). While the current British Colombia government apparently favours MMP - they've been paying attention to how it works in New Zealand - failing to nail down the details of the system could leave them with the same result.

This stinks

In the wake of the Christchurch earthquakes, the government red-zoned a huge swathe of the city and used coercive buyouts to depopulate and demolish it on "safety" grounds. Now, having snapped up those properties cheaply due to the red-zoning, causing enormous losses to the victims, it now plans to re-offer them for residential development at a profit:

New housing has been confirmed as a possibility for Christchurch's red zoned river corridor, after close to 7000 households were cleared off it following the earthquakes.

Crown-council agency Regenerate Christchurch on Friday included residential development on five out of 10 land use options it announced for the 602 hectares.

Regenerate chief executive Ivan Iafeta said their goal was to find out how to make "the biggest contribution to Christchurch and New Zealand's future".

As one former red-zone resident points out, this is unfair. It looks like they've been cleared away for government profit. If the government had acquired this land under the Public Works Act, the former residents would have a right to buy it back. The same should apply to former red zone residents if their land has been deemed safe enough for people to live on.

New Fisk

Is there truth in the conspiracy theories about who killed Russian Lieutenant General Valery Asapov in Syria?

WINZ sucks

Anyone who has ever dealt with WINZ knows that they're a pack of incompetent muppets. But now, thanks to a coroner's ruling, it's official:

Investigators at the Ministry of Social Development had such a lack of understanding about the rules of prosecuting benefit cheats, that they were "not well equipped to make sound and appropriate decisions", a coroner has found.

Coroner Anna Tutton​ released her findings on Monday after the inquest into the 2011 death of Wendy Shoebridge in Lower Hutt, north of Wellington.


In the finding, the coroner stated that the ministry's management was not advised Shoebridge was at risk of suicide.

The ministry had developed training which was unhelpful to staff and "inconsistent with some of the content of the prosecution guidelines", the findings stated.

Inappropriate training and an aggressive attitude towards prosecutions (including prosecution targets for investigators) means people being inappropriately prosecuted. And in this case, it had fatal consequences. The coroner doesn't call it murder, but that's what it was: WINZ hounded this woman to her death. And they and the Minister who set their toxic culture need to be held accountable for it.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Fencing streams is just a PR stunt

Whenever they are criticised over the amount of shit and piss they pump into our rivers, dairy farmers whine about how much money they've spent on fencing streams. Except it turns out that this fencing is utterly ineffective, because the vast majority of pollution enters waterways through streams below the fencing threshold:

More than three quarters of pollution flowing into our freshwater catchments comes through small streams that currently aren't required to be fenced off, a just-published study has shown.

The study's authors say new measures should be investigated to slash the amount of contaminants entering waterways from these streams, while Fish and Game has called for an "urgent and radical rethink" of our current national riparian fencing strategy.


Streams less than a metre wide and 30cm deep, and lying in flat, pasture-dominated pasture, are currently exempt from fencing regulations.

Yet McDowell and his colleagues found it was these very bodies that accounted for an average of 77 per cent of the national contaminant load, varying from 73 per cent of total nitrogen to 84 per cent for dissolved reactive phosphorus.

Which makes perfect sense, because most of the water comes from such streams, before being gathered into larger ones. But it means that we need to look at other policies if we want to reduce pollution. And ultimately, we need to reduce cow numbers to sustainable levels.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Climate change: Australia burning

How badly will climate change affect Australia? They're now looking at regular 50 degree heatwaves in their major cities:

Even if the Paris agreement to limit the global temperature rise to below 2C is met, summer heatwaves in major Australian cities are likely to reach highs of 50C by 2040, a study published on Wednesday warns.

Researchers led by the Australian National University in Canberra used observational data and simulated climate models to assess future extreme weather events in New South Wales and Victoria. They examined what these weather extremes might look like even if the Paris agreement target of limiting climate change to a 2C increase is met.

The lead author of the study, the climate scientist Dr Sophie Lewis, said Sydney and Melbourne could expect unprecedented summer temperatures of 50C under two degrees of global warming.

Australia's climate is bad enough, but 50 degrees in Sydney's humidity is getting into the danger zone where human thermal regulation breaks down and people need air conditioned environments to survive. Its not as bad as the Persian Gulf, where average temperatures on this level combined with humidity means they will no longer be habitable - but Australia is going to see a huge increase in heat-related deaths, as well as heat-related economic disruption. I guess they can blame their coal industry for that.

Bigot nation

Last week, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution condemning the use of the death penalty for consensual same-sex acts. The usual suspects - Saudi Arabia, Iraq, China - opposed it. Appallingly, the United States joined them:

The U.S. on Sept. 29 voted against a U.N. Human Rights Council resolution that condemns the death penalty for those found guilty of committing consensual same-sex sexual acts.

The resolution — which Belgium, Benin, Costa Rica, France, Mexico, Moldova, Mongolia and Switzerland introduced — passed by a 27-13 vote margin.

Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Rwanda, South Africa, Togo, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Albania, Croatia, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Slovenia, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, El Salvador, Panama, Paraguay, Venezuela, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Switzerland and the U.K. supported the resolution. Botswana, Burundi, Egypt, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, China, India, Iraq, Japan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates joined the U.S. in opposing it.

Kenya, Nigeria, Tunisia, Indonesia, the Philippines, South Korea and Cuba abstained.

The resolution specifically condemns “the imposition of the death penalty as a sanction for specific forms of conduct, such as apostasy, blasphemy, adultery and consensual same-sex relations” and expresses “serious concern that the application of the death penalty for adultery is disproportionately imposed on women.” It also notes “poor and economically vulnerable persons and foreign nationals are disproportionately subjected to the death penalty, that laws carrying the death penalty are used against persons exercising their rights to freedom of expression, thought, conscience, religion, and peaceful assembly and association, and that persons belonging to religious or ethnic minorities are disproportionately represented among those sentenced to the death penalty.”

So its now official US foreign policy that gay people should be murdered. Isn't America great?

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

An impossible deal

Today, James Shaw went public and called the talk of a National-Green deal "speculation" and "noise", and ruled out talking to them unless there was no other option. In doing so, he's clearly articulating the views of his party and its voters, who have made it clear that they are not interested in propping up National. And yet, its unlikely to help, because the people spreading this shit - a mix of paid National shills like DPF and Matthew Hooton, and desperate National supporters unhappy with being forced to rely on Winston - have already shown that they're not interested in what the Green Party or its membership thinks. Which is yet another example of why such a deal simply isn't possible: there can be no partnership with such an attitude.

A deal is clearly off the table for this election cycle. So what about the future? Given the Green Party constitution, if National wants any chance of such a deal in future, they need to convince 75% of Green Party members that they're an acceptable partner. And this means ditching their anti-environment policies, their support for irrigation, dirty rivers, mining, drilling, gutting the RMA and destroying the climate, not just as part of a one-off deal because they've been forced into pretending to pay lip-service to the environment, but in the long term. And after a couple of terms of seeing National do that, Green members might just believe them.

Of course, that would require National to stop representing the people it represents: farmers, miners, polluters, developers. And to be honest, that's about as likely as the Green Party stopping representing greens. Given the support bases of the respective parties, such a deal is simply impossible.

Time to ditch the threshold

Over on Stuff, Michael Wright argues that its time to ditch MMP's 5% threshold. But not just for the obvious democratic reasons of making every vote count equally - they also think it would lead to more stable government and a better allocation of power:

The threshold exists to ensure the right mix of stability and proportionality in government. Right now it is providing neither of those things. After last month's election, Parliament is home to four political parties and the rump of a fifth – the lowest-ever total under MMP – and one of those parties is wielding a decidedly disproportionate amount of power.


Which brings us to the second advantage. More smaller parties in Parliament means less chance of one of them holding all the cards after election day, which is exactly what has just happened to New Zealand First. The only reason Winston Peters was able to so cantankerously grandstand at a press conference last week was because National and Labour need him a lot more than he needs them. He is their only realistic option to form the next Government. Greater plurality would help avoid this.

And they're right. More parties means more possible ways of reaching 61 votes, which reduces the necessity and power of any one group. We had a perfect example of this during the 2002-2005 term of Parliament, where the Labour-Progressive government had three possible majorities available to it: with United Future, with New Zealand First, or with the Greens. The three parties effectively acted as a check and balance on each other, preventing either from making excessive demands. And its been a similar situation during National's term, with National being able to turn to either ACT and United Future, or the Maori Party. If you're upset about Winston Peters having "all" the power (or rather, as much as the other parties give him), then the answer is to eliminate the threshold.

Monday, October 02, 2017


How shit is Housing New Zealand? They're wasting a huge proportion of their maintenance budget on testing for P:

Figures released under the Official Information Act by Housing NZ show it spent $51.9 million on testing and remediation of meth on its properties in the last financial year, up from $21 million the previous year. Last year’s spending represented 10 percent of its entire annual maintenance and improvement budget, or the equivalent of an average of $8,000 per property. However, in the 2016 financial year, it spent only $433,623 on the testing and remediation of mould and $639,873 on asbestos.

Housing health and drug experts say a mania about meth has created a scam industry for testing and repairing houses with just trace elements that are less harmful than fly spray. Meanwhile, landlords spend hardly any money to deal with the mould and asbestos that regularly cause bronchiolitis, pneumonia and mesothelioma that can lead to death.

That last paragraph is a damning indictment of Housing New Zealand's priorities. Mouldy houses kill. Mouldy Housing New Zealand properties have killed. But rather than addressing that problem, they're wasting money on a fantasy promoted by a scam industry. And its difficult to avoid the suspicion that they're doing it because it allows them to evict tenants and sell the houses they used to live in.

This isn't good enough. Housing New Zealand should be spending its money on real problems, not fantasies. And they should be building houses, not emptying and selling them.

Catalonia chooses democracy over fascism

I've spent last night and this morning watching the amazing scenes from Catalonia, as Spanish police in full riot gear have beaten and shot voters and seized ballot boxes in an effort to prevent an independence referendum, injuring more than 800 people. And despite all that, the referendum happened, with 90% of the 2.3 million votes counted supporting independence. A further 700,000 votes were seized and were unable to be counted.

Catalans saw graphicly what their choices were today: voting, or fascism. Resolve things democraticly, or by violence. And those of them who were able to vote emphatically chose democracy.

What happens next? The Catalan Parliament will declare independence. And based on today, there will likely be another outrageous spasm of violence from Franco's heirs in Madrid (they've been shipping tanks in). So we're likely to have a European "democracy" and party to the CHR behaving like the Uzbeks or the Chinese (or indeed their fascist forbears) in suppressing dissent. That's not acceptable, and the European Union needs to get involved to stop it.