Tuesday, September 17, 2019



Contempt

Back in June, the UK Court of Appeal ruled that that country's continued arms sales to Saudi Arabia were unlawful. So you'd expect that the UK government stopped approving them, right?

Of course not:

The government has apologised for breaching a court ruling against the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia that could be used in the Yemen conflict.

International trade secretary Liz Truss admitted the government approved two licences for military equipment which could be used in Yemen.

This is despite the government freezing new arms licences for Saudi Arabia in June after the Court of Appeal ruled that it was “unlawful” for the government to license weapons exports without assessing whether there was an “historic pattern of breaches of international humanitarian law” by the Saudi-led coalition.


An apology isn't enough. The Minister has clearly acted in breach of the court ruling, and they should be prosecuted for contempt, just like anyone else would be.

Covering up the cover-up

Yesterday NZDF officials were put on the stand about the lies they had told over Operation Burnham, making implausible claims that it was all a big mistake. But along the way, we learned they had already been put on the spot about it by a previous Defence Minister, who had effectively accused them of a cover up. And outrageously, they attempted to hide this from the public:

A note made as the Defence Minister raked senior military officials over the coals shows concern the SAS were being shielded of allegations of civilian deaths.

The Defence Force attempted to suppress public discussion of the note, written by the military's chief of staff, at a public hearing for the Operation Burnham inquiry.

The note, from the 2014 meeting with Jonathan Coleman, defence minister at the time, read: "SF [special forces] are not fallible ... No question of their core skills, but political judgment, lack of insight and confused desirability of their actions having a certain shielding ... SAS credibility at risk".

[...]

Lawyer for the Defence Force, Paul Radich QC, argued the note should be suppressed due to it revealing "free and frank" advice from the Government minister.


Which is both a perfect example of how the "free and frank advice" clause of the OIA is abused, and of NZDF's attitude to this whole affair. Their first response to bad news is to cover it up, not because there is any "national security" or other public interest at stake, but merely because it is embarrassing to them and damaging to their reputation. But if the Defence Minister has criticised the military for attempting a coverup, that seems like the sort of thing the public has an absolute right to know.

NZDF should be ashamed. But more than that, they need to be held responsible for their coverups.

Not as important as they think they are

Farmers have been whining a lot lately, about the methane targets in the Zero Carbon Bill, about Canterbury's proposed nitrogen limits, and about the government's new proposals to stop them from shitting in our lakes and rivers. These policies are "throwing farmers under the tractor", they will force farmers off the land and "end farming as we know it" (something which needs to happen, as its clear to everyone but farmers that "farming as we (or rather, they) know it" is simply not ecologically sustainable). And of course that will be Bad For New Zealand, because farmers are the "backbone of the economy".

Except it turns out they're not:

New Zealand's new fresh water regulation rules will have no major impacts on the national economy, according to an independent report just out.

The report by independent economic consultancy New Zealand Institute of Economic Research shows that dairying represents about 3% of national GDP and is behind tourism in export earnings.

The study, commissioned by Forest & Bird, Greenpeace, and Fish and Game, found the impact on national GDP of the proposed reforms were unlikely to be major, stating that: “Due to the relatively small size of the dairy industry, the impacts of the government reforms are unlikely to be major at the national level, and not felt for many years due to the long lead in times proposed.”


Farmer whining assumes that they can not or will not do anything to improve their environmental performance. However, as the report points out, they have plenty of time, plenty of options and the regulations will force them to innovate and adopt better practices. Which means that if they choose not to and are forced out of business, that's really on them.

Monday, September 16, 2019



Climate Change: Trees, aviation, and offsets

With crunch time for new Zealand climate policy approaching, most of the New Zealand media have got on board with a global reporting effort to cover the issue. There's one strand of stories today about polling and what it shows about changing public attitudes to the crisis, but the strand I'm most interested in is the one about trees.

First in that is an excellent in-depth piece by Charlie Mitchell in Stuff about what trees can and can't do to address the climate change crisis. It looks at the different carbon uptake of pine vs native forest, and in passing mentions how much carbon we've got locked up in our existing native forests: 6.5 billion tons of CO2-equivalent, or about 80 years of emissions. That's on one-third of our total land area, but it give an idea of what serious native reforestation can do, and how important its going to be for eventual drawdown: sucking the carbon out of the atmosphere and undoing the damage we've done. But the downside is that its going to take a thousand years to do it. Pine is less efficient in the long-run - 800 tons stored per hectare on good land, rather than 1300 to 1700 - and its a monoculture, with all the problems that entails, but it can do it in thirty years rather than a thousand. And because we only have thirty years, or less, and certainly not a thousand, then if we're serious about solving this problem we're going to have to shoot some cows and plant trees in their place (or, less violently, remove the ETS price cap, let carbon price rise, and let the market do the equivalent - something that is already happening to sheep and beef farming even at current carbon prices).

(Its actually not an either / or choice. We can apparently use pine as a nursery crop for native forest in the same way we currently use gorse. So that might let us combine short and long-term solutions. But low-value, high emissions farming is doomed either way the moment we stop subsidising it through the ETS)

The second piece is from the ODT, about the problem with offsetting. Unfortunately there's an embarrassing problem with it, derived from this paper, which overestimates by a factor of 250 the area needed to soak up aviation emissions (short version: they calculated it using the 3 tons / hectare annually absorbed by regenerating native bush, rather than the 800 tons / hectare sequestered in total by pine. Alternatively, you could view it as a perpetual offset for aviation for the next few centuries, but neither the authors or the ODT piece talks about it like that). But mistakes aside, there is a good underlying point in there: international aviation emissions are large (7.89 megatons CO2-equivalent in 2005 for international tourists coming to New Zealand, and 3.95 megatons for kiwis travelling internationally), they are not counted in anyone's national accounts, and they are increasing. And if we're serious about climate change, we need to do something about them.

As for what that something needs to be, the article points out that international air travel is highly concentrated among the wealthy:

"The vast majority of the world population has never stepped on to an airplane. So, the growth in aviation is mainly among people who have a longstanding habit of flying.

"This huge environmental impact is basically arising from long-standing habits of the rich, or nouveau riche, who fly more and more."


And the most obvious answer to this, as with any other public bad, is to tax the living fuck out of it to change that dirty, destructive habit. Whether this is done at a flat-rate or an escalating "frequent flyer levy" depends on your taste for intrusiveness, but either way, we need to tax it and end the effective ~$200 million subsidy to the tourist industry of letting them have their pollution for free. As an added bonus, we can then spend some of those taxes on soaking up the carbon emitted, but the primary goal has to be behaviour change. The best offset is to not emit in the first place.

Something to go to in Wellington

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Make It 16, the youth-led campaign to lower New Zealand's voting age, is holding an official campaign launch at Parliament this Friday from 16:30. If you'd like to attend, you can register using EventBrite here.

"Mistakes and errors"

Current and former NZDF top brass are being publicly grilled this week by the hit and run inquiry over their public responses to allegations of civilian casualties. Previously, they've claimed there were no casualties, a position which led them to lie to Ministers and to the public. Now, they're saying that position was all due to a series of unfortunate mistakes:

A critical report detailing possible civilian casualties in a SAS-led raid was overlooked and left in a Defence Force safe in a claimed accident.

The Defence Force's explanation for repeated denials of possible civilian deaths, a story of repeated errors and mistakes by senior military officials, has come during the first day of a week-long Operation Burnham inquiry hearing.


Among those "mistakes": that ISAF report into civilian casualties they swear they never had? It turns out they had it all along. And the SAS officer who sent the initial report on its contents "misinterpreted" it as clearing the unit and operation he led. Convenient, neh?

But even if you believe all that, NZDF then doubled, tripled, and quadrupled down on those mistakes, apparently without ever checking the facts. At the very best, it makes them look like utter incompetents who shouldn't be trusted to run a children's birthday party, let alone an organisation which kills people. Less charitably, it just looks like yet another lie in an organised strategy of deceit. Whether they get away with it, well, I guess that's up to us.

Friday, September 13, 2019



New Fisk

John Bolton’s sacking delighted Iran – but the world is suffering under Trump and his fellow fragile tyrants

A sensible crackdown

The government has released its Arms Legislation Bill, containing the second tranche of changes to gun laws following the March 15 massacre. And it all looks quite sensible: a national gun register, higher penalties for illegal possession and dealing, tighter restrictions on arms dealers and shooting clubs, and a shorter licencing period. One interesting change is that all online sales will effectively need police approval, which will slow down the arms market on TradeMe.

The National party has indicated that they will oppose these changes, based on an earlier draft. Hopefully they'll change their mind on this. Otherwise, I guess they'll just be on the wrong side of history as usual.

California bans private prisons

Private prisons are a stain on humanity. Prison operators explicitly profit from human misery, then lobby for longer prisons terms so they can keep on profiting. And in the US, prison companies run not only local and state prisons, but also Donald Trump's immigration concentration camps. Faced with this moral outrage, California - once one of the heaviest users of private prisons - has banned them from operating within the state:

The private prison industry is set to be upended after California lawmakers passed a bill on Wednesday banning the facilities from operating in the state. The move will probably also close down four large immigration detention facilities that can hold up to 4,500 people at a time.

The legislation is being hailed as a major victory for criminal justice reform because it removes the profit motive from incarceration. It also marks a dramatic departure from California’s past, when private prisons were relied on to reduce crowding in state-run facilities.


Existing prisons get to keep running until their contracts expire, and then they will have to shut down. For state contractors, that means prisoners will be transferred back to state prisons. As for ICE, presumably they'll have to start running proper federal facilities again, rather than contracting them out to the lowest bidder.

(As for NZ, thanks to National we will have a private prison running in South Auckland until 2040, unless Parliament legislates to void their contract. The sooner that happens, the better).

Why PPPs are a bad idea

When National was in power, they were very keen on Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) - basicly, using private companies to finance public infrastructure as a way of hiding debt from the public. They were keen on using them for everything - roads, schools, hospitals. But as the UK shows, that "service" of keeping debt off the government books is very, very expensive:

NHS hospital trusts are being crippled by the private finance initiative and will have to make another £55bn in payments by the time the last contract ends in 2050, a report reveals.

An initial £13bn of private sector-funded investment in new hospitals will end up costing the NHS in England a staggering £80bn by the time all contracts come to an end, the IPPR thinktank has found.

Some trusts are having to spend as much as one-sixth of their entire budget on repaying debts due as a result of the PFI scheme... The findings raised concerns that the diversion of such large sums at a time when many trusts are in the red and coping with the fast-rising demand for care. There are fears it could damage the quality of care and risk patient safety because trusts do not have funds to hire enough staff.


And the reason why is obvious: firstly, it costs the private sector more to borrow than the government (especially at the moment). And second, they're going to want a hefty profit margin. And together, this means that the UK government is ending up paying over six times more for stuff than it needs to, if it had been honest about its spending and debt.

So when Labour talks of being "open for business" for transport PPPs, this is what they're open for: screwing the public with dishonest accounting and massively inflated costs, while big companies laugh all the way to the bank with guaranteed profits. And that is something we should simply reject.

Thursday, September 12, 2019



The obvious question

The media is reporting that the (alleged) Labour party sexual assaulter has resigned from their job at Parliament, which means hopefully he won't be turning up there making people feel unsafe in future. Good. But as with everything about this scandal, it just raises other questions. Most significantly: why the fuck didn't this happen earlier?

As someone with a memory longer than a goldfish's, I can't help but remember the Francis report into bullying and harassment at Parliament, which highlighted parliamentary staff's unusual employment arrangements:

[The] agreement contains a what staff often refer to as a ‘breakdown clause’, in which either the Member or the staff Member can invoke a relationship breakdown, based on ‘loss of trust and confidence’ as a reason for termination.

In the event of termination on this basis, the clause allows for the staff member to exit immediately or by agreement, on payment of notice and three months’ salary.


Maybe its just me, but I'd have thought that being the subject of a live sexual assault complaint which threatens to turn your (not-technically) employing party's reputation into a toxic firestorm would be exactly the sort of thing which would cause a "loss of trust and confidence". And if they'd exercised this clause when this was first brought to the party's attention, Labour wouldn't be in nearly the mess that its in now. It could honestly say that it had acted to keep its staff and volunteers safe, that it had tried to do the right thing.

Instead, they protected this man (apparently because of his close party connections). And they deserve to reap the consequences.

This is why people hate property developers

Property developers think there is an "oversupply" of houses in Auckland:

High turnover rates and falling prices may be a sign that there are too many new houses going in to some parts of Auckland, commentators say.

[...]

Property developer David Whitburn said there was a "bit of an oversupply" in some of the areas on the outskirts of Auckland.

Some of the sales being recorded were the final stages of large developments being finished, he said.

"Pokeno in particular, I do see an oversupply there and downward price pressure."


Good. Because downward price pressure is exactly what we need. But as for an "oversupply", we still have homeless people, and prices and rents are still out of reach of an increasing number of New Zealanders. But property developers and real estate agents, who drive the media narrative on housing policy, don't actually want to fix this. They're benefitting from the status quo, hoarding houses and profiteering from our misery. And they will panic and squawk at anything which even hints at threatening it.

We don't just need to threaten that status quo, we need to crush it. The government needs to build houses, and keep building houses, until house prices crash and houses stand empty unable to be sold because everyone who wants one has one. Until that happens, we have an undersupply, not an oversupply.

Australia to Pacific: "Fuck you, you can all drown"

World leaders are meeting in New York in two weeks for the 2019 Climate Action Summit, where they are expected to announce new and more ambitious targets to stop the world from burning. But the Australian Prime Minister won't be there, despite being in the USA at the time:

Scott Morrison will not attend the UN climate action summit despite him being in America to visit the Trump administration at the time – deploying the foreign minister, Marise Payne, and the Australian ambassador for the environment, Patrick Suckling, instead.

[...]

A draft program for the summit, and a list of member states intending to present at the event, seen by Guardian Australia, did not include any reference to Australian participation. Morrison was asked by the Greens in question time on Wednesday whether he would attend the UN summit, and he said Australia would be represented at the event.

Asked by Guardian Australia to confirm whether the prime minister would be the Australian representative, and whether the government would offer any new commitments, a spokesman for Morrison said: “Australia has already outlined our policies to tackle climate change including cutting our emissions by 26-28% and investing directly into climate resilience projects through our regional partners”.


Morrison has also said that Australia is only setting climate change targets to 2030, and will not make commitments after that. Their message to the Pacific is crystal clear: "fuck you, you can all drown".

Implausible ignorance

Labour Party president Nigel Haworth resigned yesterday over the party's sexual assault scandal. But while that's good news, its unlikely to take away the stench of a coverup. Because according to Paula Bennett in Parliament yesterday, pretty much everyone in the Prime Minister's office was involved as well:

I have been told by the complainants that Jacinda Ardern's former chief of staff Mike Munro knew about the allegations, her chief press secretary, Andrew Campbell, knew about the allegations, and the director of her leader's office, Rob Salmond, knew about the allegations. I have been told by two victims who work in Parliament that they went to Rob Salmond around Christmas time and made a complaint about the alleged perpetrator.

The Prime Minister has constantly said her office did not receive complaints and, in fact, encouraged the victims to speak to their line managers. They did. They have told me they went to Rob Salmond and nothing was done, and we are expected to believe that none of these men in her own office told the Prime Minister about the allegations...


(Bennett also details the witch hunt that Campbell ran to try and silence the victims, and the alleged perpetrator's "deep alliances" with Grant Robertson and involvement in Labour leadership campaigns. There's enough shit to cover everyone, it seems)

So, in order to believe the Prime Minister's claims of ignorance, we're required to believe that none of her key staff - whose job is literally to keep her informed of political risks like e.g. a case of sexual assault by a well-connected member of her party on a young volunteer - told her. Despite her supposed clear instructions in the wake of the last Labour sexual assault case that she was to be informed. And that she had no idea what was going on in her own office. And to be honest, I simply find that implausible. But if it is the case, then pretty obviously every single one of those named senior staff members has violated the Prime Minister's trust and failed in their jobs. So if its actually true, I'd expect them all to be being fired about now. And if they're not, then we can assume the PM's claims of ignorance are just another shoddy lie by just another lying politician.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019



Yes, the SIS is subject to the Public Records Act

I understand there's some stuff going round about how the SIS "was removed from the list of public offices covered by the Public Records Act in 2017". The context of course being their records derived from US torture, which will be disposed of or sealed.

The good news is that its wrong. Yes, a clause in consequential amendments schedule of the Intelligence and Security Act 2017 repealed the explicit reference to the SIS from the list of public offices in the Public Records Act 2005. But that was because another clause in the Act itself added it to schedule 1 of the State sector Act 1988, making it a department of the Public Service. Which of course are the very first thing in the list of types of bodies that are public offices covered by the Public Records Act. So, they're covered. It might be next-to-impossible to ever see anything they have ever held, but at least it will be kept so historians in a hundred years can look it.

Climate Change: Australia in denial

Australia is burning down again, and meanwhile its natural disaster minister is denying climate change:

Australia’s minister responsible for drought and natural disasters, David Littleproud, has said that he doesn’t “know if climate change is manmade”.

Clarifying earlier comments that the question is “irrelevant” when considering the Coalition government’s response to intensifying bushfires, he told Guardian Australia he was unsure about the causes of the climate crisis but wanted to give the country the tools to adapt.

[...]

Littleproud’s position was supported by the Nationals deputy leader, Bridget McKenzie, the minister for resources and northern Australia, Matt Canavan, and the environment minister, Sussan Ley, all of who denied knowledge of or downplayed the link.


Its difficult to deal with a problem effectively if you deny it exists, or refuse to acknowledge its causes. The rampant climate denial at the top of the Australian political system is dooming Australians to higher costs and worse impacts.

Disgust

I have no special insights to offer on the Labour sexual assault coverup. All I have is disgust. Disgust that an organisation could fail its people so badly. Disgust that they punished the victims rather than the perpetrator. Disgust that its party hacks are apparently blaming the victims for demanding justice.

Charitably, we're expected to believe that the people Labour appointed to investigate a complaint of sexual assault are so incompetent that they had no idea that that was what the complaint was about, despite being told repeatedly and at lenth. And that they're total muppets who can't run a proper complaints process (well, OK, most organisations can't. But this is the Labour Party, not amateur hour at the local bingo club. They have lawyers and so on who can tell them how to do it properly). Uncharitably, it just looks like an institution trying to protect itself and one of its insiders by the usual tactics of minimising the complaint and trying to shuffle the whole thing under the carpet. This is natural behaviour for institutions, we are told - except institutions are made of people, and doing this in a case of sexual assault requires that those people be either sociopaths, or absolute garbage. And either way, the whole lot of them need to go.

Member's Day: End of Life Choice, part 3

Today is a Member's day, and David Seymour's End of Life Choice Bill continues its slow crawl through its committee stage. They're spending the whole day on it today, though the first hour is likely to be spent on voting left over from last time. After that they'll move on to part 3 of the Bill, and then another round of long, boring personal votes. There's still a couple of weeks left of this, but the majority for change seems to be holding up, and the bill looks like it will get its third reading and become law in late October.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019



Will Horizons act on climate change?

Local body elections are coming up next month. And it looks like all Palmerston North candidates for Horizons (the Manawatu-Whanganui Regional Council) want to take action on climate change:

Climate change is set to be a key issue in Palmerston North for the next three years if those wanting to get on Horizons Regional Council have their way.

[...]

All seven [Palmerston North] candidates rated climate change as one of the top three issues the council would have to tackle.


Horizons also apparently has a new climate change strategy ready for the new council to consider. So will they act? Four councillors from Palmerston North plus one Green elected unopposed (!) in Whanganui only gives five, which isn't enough for a majority in a twelve-member council. We'd still need to see two more non-farmers elected in other parts of the region to have a majority for strong action. So, if you live in Horowhenua, Tararua, or Manawatū-Rangitikei, please vote for candidates who will act.

BORA reform is stalled

Eighteen months ago, the government promised to strengthen the Bill of Rights Act, by explicitly affirming the power of the courts to issue declarations of inconsistency and requiring Parliament to formally respond to them. So how's that going?

I was curious, so I asked for all advice about the proposal. You can read the response here. And the short version is that the proposal appears to be stalled. The documents leading to the announced in-principle decision suggested consultation with experts, with Cabinet approval by October 2018, and legislation in early 2019. But after that, everything stalled. There was a briefing on the outcome of Attorney-General v Taylor, in which the Supreme Court upheld its inherent jurisdiction to issue declarations of inconsistency, a briefing on options, and (in April) a draft Cabinet paper with the Attorney-General (both sadly withheld). But that paper does not appear to have been submitted to Cabinet.

As for why, who knows? Maybe Winston has vetoed an effective Bill of Rights Act, or maybe the government has just chickened out like they did over the capital gains tax. Alternatively, there's a screaming hint in the early briefing material, where they repeatedly push the idea that Crown law could mention an in-principle decision to allow declarations to the Supreme Court, and that "this could be viewed favourably by the Court... and could be relevant to the Court's deliberations". In other words, this was being pushed as a shoddy legal tactic, and now that that tactic has failed, the government sees no need to push it any further. Which is a pretty shitty way to do constitutional change.

Of course, that may not be the reason at all. But if the government insists on withholding information, then people are entitled to read between the lines and assume the worst. And if they don't want us to do that, they have an easy solution: front up and explain why an apparently serious proposal for real constitutional change has apparently been shitcanned.

A ditch for him to die in

Last week, English Prime Minister Boris Johnson boldly declared that he would rather die be dead in a ditch than delay Brexit. Unfortunately for him, the UK parliament accepted the challenge, and promptly dug one for him. The "rebellion bill" requires him to ask for and secure yet another temporary Brexit delay, and it has just received the royal assent. And if he refuses to lie down and shoot himself in it by obeying the law, then it will be the perfect thing to unite the UK's fractured opposition into voting no confidence and appointing a different Prime Minister to carry out parliament's will.

Monday, September 09, 2019



Climate Change: The wrong kind of trees?

Newsroom today has an excellent, in-depth article on pine trees as carbon sinks. The TL;DR is that pine is really good at soaking up carbon, but people prefer far-less efficient native forests instead. Which is understandable, but there's two problems: firstly, we've pissed about so long on this problem that we need to soak up carbon really fast; and secondly, that all our tree nurseries are geared for pine and other exotic forest species rather than natives, because that's what commercial forestry uses.

The proposed solution is hybrid forests - using pine as a nursery crop to provide shade and shelter for native seedlings underneath. When the pine dies, you have a native forest waiting to take over. People already do a similar thing with gorse (leave it be and rely on succession to do the rest), and it sounds viable in areas where you can already do that. Though apparently many landowners hate pine enough that they want nothing to do with it - in which case, we'll just see foreign forestry companies buying them out and planting it instead.

One point that needs to be made is that forest sinks aren't a way of avoiding emissions reductions. Yes, you can offset temporarily, but ultimately our emissions are going to have to be reduced to near-zero. Instead, forests are really a mechanism for drawdown: soaking up some of the carbon we've spewed into the atmosphere and locking it away in the biosphere instead. Given the amount we've emitted, we're going to need to plant an awful lot of trees, so we might as well start now.

No freedom of speech in Turkey

Canan Kaftancioglu is a Turkish politician and member of the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP). Like most modern politicians, she tweets, and uses the platform to criticise the Turkish government. She has criticised them over the death of a 14-year-old boy who was hit by a tear gas grenade during a protest, and over their nakedly oppressive response to the 2016 coup attempt. And as a result, she now faces almost ten years imprisonment after being convicted of insulting the government and "spreading terrorist propaganda":

A leading secular politician in Turkey has been sentenced to nearly 10 years in jail for "terror propaganda and insults" against the Turkish state.

Canan Kaftancioglu, 47, was convicted mainly over tweets which date back several years.

She has said the charges were politically motivated and remains free pending an appeal.


Just another example of how Turkey is not a free democracy, but an oppressive, authoritarian state.

Good little vassals

The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security has published their report on whether the SIS and GCSB had any complicity in American torture. And its damning. The pull quote is this:

The Inquiry found both agencies, but to a much greater degree, the NZSIS, received many intelligence reports obtained from detainees who, it was subsequently revealed, had been subject to torture. On one occasion the NZSIS provided questions to the CIA to be put to a detainee. While the NZSIS was not aware that detainee interrogations involved torture, it was known that the individual was being held by the CIA in an undisclosed location.

As the report notes, this should have been a red flag for human rights abuse, but it wasn't treated as such (which ought to raise serious questions about the types of people working at SIS). Neither were the widespread public reports that the US was engaged in torture and disappearance, or the fact that partner agencies were launching inquiries into it. Instead, the SIS seems to have culled all mention of those facts from its files of media reports - as if they were deliberately turning a blind eye. The report also notes that the directors of the SIS and GCSB did not inquire with the Americans about the allegations, or seek assurances from them. And it is said explicitly and repeatedly that the reason for that is that those directors did not want to upset the Americans:
...Directors also noted the risk of compromising intelligence flows of vital importance to New Zealanders... if they had challenged their US counterparts...

...there was an unspoken general rule that one did not ask direct questions about the operations of Five Eyes counterparts...

...[the directors] felt constrained not to do anything which would have risked or reduced New Zealand’s role as part of the alliance or to the flow of intelligence...

...they saw other risks, particularly the risk of compromising vital intelligence flows at a vital time, if they asked questions of their partner agencies...

...As one of the former Directors said, it was not realistic to think that New Zealand could have said “please explain” to the United States, the most powerful country in the world. Realistically the response would have been that New Zealand would again have been cut out of the recently resumed intelligence flow, at a time when it most needed it.


Its the same problem we've had all along: it turns out that the people at the top of "our" spy agencies are more loyal to America than they are to us. They're good little vassals to their foreign masters. And we were were paying them for that.

The inspector-General is very clear that the directors had a duty to assess the risks of torture and complicity and raise them with Ministers. They didn't. And that's a dereliction of duty right there. Not raised in the report, because it is outside the Inspector-General's jurisdiction: but equally important: where was the Minister? Because faced with those media reports in 2003, I'd have expected a popular and competent Minister to seek assurances from her agencies that everything was alright and that they were neither complicit in nor contaminated by criminal American behaviour. There's no evidence that she did. Even when interrogation reports of a "senior Al-Qa'ida detainee" were landing on her desk. So perhaps the spies weren't the only ones who were wilfully blind to this.

The report notes that it is "not possible to know" whether the SIS's questions resulted in the detainee - Khalid Sheikh Mohammed - being tortured to extract responses to their questions. But to me, it looks like complicity. The legal framework has changed since then, and you'd hope that this review has made them more aware of the issues and their legal and moral duties. OTOH, given that everything these agencies do is secret, how would we ever know?

Friday, September 06, 2019



New Fisk

Lebanon’s crisis is almost unstoppable. Drone warfare is on the horizon

Labour's failure

When National was in government and fucking over the poor for the benefit of the rich, foodbanks were a growth industry. And now Labour is in charge, nothing has changed:

A huge demand for emergency food parcels means the Auckland City Mission is struggling to prepare for the impending arrival of Christmas.

The social service provider has seen a 40 per cent increase in demand for food parcels this year, with a total of 23,020 flying out the door by June.

Missioner Chris Farrelly told the Herald the "cupboards are bare" and without an emergency food drive he is worried about how the charity will continue to provide for those in need.

"Literally we cannot do it at the moment. We are struggling just to get through what we need to do day by day, there is not much we can actually put aside for the pre-Christmas period," he said.


Labour ran on a kinder, gentler New Zealand, on ending extreme poverty. Implicitly, on putting foodbanks out of business. No-one expected them to fix the damage caused by decades of NeoLiberlaism overnight. But I at least expected them to stop things getting worse. But on this, as on so many other things, they're just a giant disappointment.

Thursday, September 05, 2019



Cleaning up the water

Today the government released its Action Plan for Healthy Waterways, aimed at cleaning up our lakes and rivers. Its actually quite good. There will be protection for wetlands, better standards for swimming spots, a requirement for continuous improvement, and better standards for wastewater and stormwater. But most importantly, there's a new National Environmental Standard for freshwater, which will impose controls on dairy conversions, intensification, and winter grazing unless they can prove they will not increase pollution. Farmers will also be required to have nutrient management plans and apply good agricultural practice. Federated Farmers are already whining that it will end pastoral farming in some parts of the country, so that's a definite sign that its headed in the right direction.

In the longer-term, councils are going to have to incorporate all of this stuff into their plans - so they won't just be able to turn a blind eye to nitrogen anymore. Which again highlights the importance of getting the right people on regional councils in this local body election and the next. Because if we let farmers continue to dominate regional councils, they will use their positions to sabotage implementation and enforcement, so they and their mates can keep on polluting for profit.

Fronting up

Today I appeared before the Environment Committee to give an oral submission on the Zero Carbon Bill. Over 1,500 people have asked to appear in person, so they've divided into subcommittees and are off touring the country, giving people a five minute slot each. The other submitters were a mixed bunch: three high school students, a bunch of angry farmers, a biochar advocate, a random greenie, a climate change denier, and a member of the IPCC (who wasted time to deny that the IPCC was telling newspapers in Whanganui what to print). Most submitters didn't explicitly address the bill, but instead just talked about climate change of peripheral issues.

My submission was a mess. Yes, I said what I needed to, but the nervousness at talking to people meant I was at least 50% "um". If you ask me to be a serial killer or a tortured prince or a Sci-Fi senator or a regency gentleman for an evening, I'm your guy. Plonk me in a chair and get me to talk about something I'm actually knowledgeable about, and I go to pieces. Clearly I should have written myself a character sheet.

I don't think there were any permanent members of the committee present (I had Kiritapu Allan, Adrian Rurawhe, and Ian McKelvie, along with someone else I didn't recognise). Which might be good news, because the committee seemed awfully taken in by those angry farmers complaining that their rural way of life was under threat from evil trees. Its kindof disconcerting that the fate of our environment (and the world) depends on these people. Still, there's one good thing: they didn't entertain the climate change denier for an instant.

Wednesday, September 04, 2019



Still juking the stats

The State Services Commission and Ombudsman have released another batch of OIA statistics, covering the last six months. Request volumes are up, and the core public service is generally handling them within the legal timeframe, though this may be because they've learned to extend rather than just ignore things. And the police - who are counted seperately - have learned how to report timeliness again (they also seem to have reported a whole year's worth of requests, twice as many as the rest of the public service put together. And its amazing how despite reporting 96.3% timeliness, they're almost always late with anything I ask them. But I guess that, like Mark Hanna, I'm just a statistical outlier, right? But I suspect what's happening here is that all of their court / legal process OIAs are handled in a timely fashion, while their political / policy ones are absolute shit. The only way to fix this is to report them separately so they can see where the problem lies).

The real problems seem to be in Crown Entities and DHBs. Some of these are small, and a single late request can make a big difference. But South Canterbury DHB stands out for its sheer shitness. They're not a low-volume agency; 60 requests a year is bigger than some ministries. But they manage only a 56.7% on-time rate. If these statistics are to mean anything, then SSC must respond to this appalling result and sort them out. Otherwise what good are they?

Meanwhile, the Ombudsman's statistics tell an interesting story. Complaints for full refusals are up again, reinforcing the idea that agencies are meeting their timeliness requirements by just issuing a blanket "no" (another example of why SSC needs to report outcomes rather than just timeliness: so we can identify such behaviour. But that's probably exactly why they don't want to). And the Ombudsman has moved even further towards informal resolution, with a massive 57% of complaints this half-year resulting in no investigation. The number was elevated by last half-year's massive number of complaints against school boards, and in a break with past-practice, they're claiming credit for remedies even when no investigation is undertaken. Which is both fair - getting a pre-investigation call from the Ombudsman is often all that is required - but also irritating, in that it destroys my time-series on the proportion of resolved complaints that resulted in a remedy (i.e. the proportion of noticed poor decision-making). While I could go through the data set and produce a back-compatible one, to be honest I can't be arsed dealing with it; I'll just wait to see if they produce compatible statistics next time, and start again.

Not impressed

KiwiBuild was one of the Ardern government's core policies. The government would end the housing crisis and make housing affordable again by building 100,000 new homes. Of course, it didn't work out like that: targets weren't met, the houses they did build were in the wrong place, and the whole thing turned into a steaming PR disaster.

So today they "reset" it. What does that mean? Nothing much. The government will apparently build houses - but won't bother with having targets by which it could be held accountable. They're loosening rules around KiwiBuild purchases, allowing them to effectively become speculative vehicles, while lowering deposit requires for HomeStart assistance (which makes no difference if you can't afford the mortgage payments anyway). Oh, and they're throwing $400 million at a poorly-defined "progressive ownership" scheme to benefit 4,000 families (which is probably nice if you're one of them, but with no detail, who knows?)

And meanwhile, rents are rising and people are living in garages. The above won't do anything to sovle this. In fact, if anything, it will make things worse, by pumping money into the housing market, preventing prices from dropping. But the latter, I suspect, is the point. Because while the obvious policy we need is a mass house-building programme of state and affordable homes, to crash both house prices and rents, the property owning class - which includes almost every MP - don't want that, because it would devalue their assets and their landleach income-streams. So instead we get this sort of bullshit, spending billions on producing the impression of action, while actually doing nothing much, because those selfish fucks want to preserve their and their friends' wealth, even if it means locking an entire generation out of home ownership for good and creating an English-style hereditary class structure.

I expected better from a Labour government. But like climate change, this is just another one of their broken promises.

Solar beats coal

As the climate crisis escalates, it is now obvious that we need to radically decarbonise our economy. The good news is that its looking easy and profitable for the energy sector. Wind is already cheaper than fossil fuels, and now solar is too:

The levellised cost of solar PV has fallen so far that all across Europe it is now beating spot wholesale electricity prices, and even with the addition of two hours’ storage it is still beating spot prices in some countries.

Those are two of the findings of a new report from Christian Breyer, professor of solar economy at Finland’s Lappeenranta University of Technology, who has wrapped up new data and forecasts and reinforced the view that solar PV is by far the cheapest form of bulk energy in many parts of the world, and is still competing with the addition of storage.


It gets better, because the price of solar is expected to halve in the next decade, and drop again by another third before 2050. Breyer notes that the changes are happening so rapidly that it is difficult to keep up, and policy decisions are being made based on years old information. Which isn't good when we are trying to decarbonise. OTOH, the market is good at finding profits, so it may get us there anyway. The question is whether it does it quick enough.

(And on that point, its worth noting that Marsden Point, an oil refinery, is going to host NZ's biggest solar farm. We're in early days yet, but our solar resource is comparable to Europe's, and there's no reason we shouldn't see the same cost structure. Its also worth noting that while they take up a lot of space, solar panels combine well with some forms of agriculture, particularly sheep. Which suggests an obvious thing for all those Canterbury farmers to farm instead of dirty cows: the sun).

Tuesday, September 03, 2019



Universities back the climate strike

On September 27, School Strike 4 Climate will be striking for a future to pressure the government for meaningful climate action. This time, they've asked adults to join them. And now, Lincoln University and Victoria University of Wellington have signed on:

Victoria University of Wellington has joined Lincoln University in endorsing a strike by students at the end of September.

[...]

Both are encouraging their staff and students to take part and neither will need to take annual leave nor explain their absence if they do so.


As VUW vice-chancellor Grant Guilford points out, the students are taking charge of their future, so the university needs to support them. And so do the rest of us. I look forward to other universities and employers following suit.

Monday, September 02, 2019



Another constitutional outrage

Another day, another constitutional outrage in the UK. This time, the government is saying that if parliament passes a law to stop Brexit before being prorogued, they may just ignore it:

A senior cabinet minister has suggested Boris Johnson could defy legislation to prevent a no-deal Brexit if it is forced through parliament by rebel MPs.

The prime minister was accused of presiding over an “elective dictatorship” after his ally Michael Gove refused to guarantee the government would obey a bill barring the government from pursuing a disorderly departure.

In an astonishing admission, Mr Gove said “let’s see what the legislation says” when asked repeatedly whether the government would accept rebel legislation.

Last I checked, the UK purported to be a democratic state, in which the government was subject to the law rather than above it. But Brexit seems to be pushing Britain further and further into dictatorship and tyranny. And unfortunately, a chunk of UK citizens seem to be perfectly happy with that. They're willing to toss democracy overboard to get there way. But by doing so, they invite everybody else to do the same.

Ending dairy in Canterbury

Environment Canterbury has finally proposed nitrogen limits to stop dairy farmers from poisoning Christchurch's water supply. And naturally, farmers are whining about it:

A proposed move by Environment Canterbury (ECan) to protect Christchurch's drinking water by setting tough – some would say, draconian – nitrate reductions in the decades ahead and stop the nasties creeping below the Waimakariri River has some dairy farmers in states of high anxiety.

There are about 1.3 million dairy cattle in the region, a doubling from 2003 made largely possible by the expansion of irrigation schemes.

[...]

Some farmers consider the schedule of reductions beyond 2030 as a disincentive to keep going or encourage the next generation into the business.


Good. Nitrate kills children and increases long-term risks for bowel cancer. If it gets into Christchurch's drinking water supply, it will be a public health catastrophe. And while farmers are following the climate change playbook and trying to pin the blame elsewhere (the canterbury foothills, mate), we simply didn't have this problem before their cows started shitting everywhere during the dairy boom.

On climate change, on freshwater quality, and now on nitrate toxicity, the message is clear: if we want to survive, we need to massively cut back on dairy farming. Farmers simply need to find something else to do with their land. And if they've loaded up on debt to bail in to peak dairy on some of the hottest and dryest land in the country, they made a poor business decision, and they deserve to pay the price for that (Seriously: Canterbury is a terrible place to grow cows. The only stupider places are the Mackenzie Country and Hawke's Bay, and anyone stupid enough to do that deserves to lose their money). As for what they can do instead, I hear trees are reliably profitable now. Or they can always move to a city and get a job in an industry that doesn't rely on destroying the planet for private profit.

New Fisk

As Trump flip-flops on Iran talks, the reality is that the ‘crazed’ rogue leader now sits in Washington not Tehran

Is National the party of climate arson?

The Zero Carbon Bill is currently before select committee. While its targets are weak, its a generally sensible bill that promises to establish a long-term framework to guide emissions reductions. But National hasn't made up its mind on whether it will support it - and according to Andrea Vance in Stuff, there's a real chance their internal squabbles will see them go full denier on it:

A raft of angry opinion articles, full of wild speculation, questionable numbers and dodgy science, have recently begun to surface as the extreme elements in the [farming] sector looks to exert pressure on Parliament over the Zero Carbon Bill and emissions trading scheme.

Collins, the daughter of a Waikato dairy farmer, was ahead of the curve in harnessing that anger. In late July, she told a rural radio show the Government had thrown farmers under a bus.

By taking such a public and decisive stance on climate change legislation, Collins is throwing down the gauntlet to Simon Bridges who has pussy-footed around his position.

The disgruntled rural rump would be a powerful force to harness heading into the election.


Parties should represent their supporters. But it turns out that some of National's most vocal supporters are climate arsonists, who want to destroy the planet for their own profit. National then needs to choose who it wants to represent: the arsonists, who are minuscule in number and don't have anyone else to vote for, or suburban New Zealand, which wants to see a solution and is where elections are actually won.

Sadly, I think we'll all know which one they'll choose. While National has occasionally pretended to care, its record shows they have always been the party of climate inaction and foot-dragging. Their natural instincts are to oppose action. Unfortunately, at this stage of the crisis, inaction is as bad as active denial. And suburban voters should punish them for that.