Wednesday, March 03, 2021

A sensible idea from National

Having spent most of the pandemic alternately calling for mass-death by relaxing lockdowns "for the economy", and for those who breach lockdowns to face harsher and harsher punishments, the National Party has finally made a useful contribution by calling for people told to self-isolate to be paid directly:

The National Party is calling on the Government to boost its Covid-19 leave scheme so that it covers 100 per cent of any lost wages for most workers and is paid directly to employees.

Currently, employees who cannot work and self-isolate at home are eligible for a maximum of $1176 for the entire two-week period, if they work full time.

The scheme would allow workers to claim up to twice the rate of ‘average ordinary time weekly earnings’, which was $1289 in the December quarter. That would mean the maximum amount that could be claimed would be $2578 per week, or $5156 for a fortnight in self-isolation.

It would bypass employers who currently have to apply for the money. National is pitching the policy as a small price to pay, compared to the significant costs of level 3 lockdowns.

Cutting employers completely out of the loop seems to be the obvious thing to do. It removes an immediate source of pressure to spread disease, and avoids all the stupidity of people not getting paid because their moron employer can't be bothered applying for them. Obviously, the administrative burden to the government of having to pay people directly is higher, but they are, in theory, already dealing with them, and this allows the admin to be built into the existing process. "OK, you need to stay home, please give me your bank account details so we can pay you".

Hopefully, this will be adopted by the government. Otherwise, we should all be asking very pointy questions why it hasn't been.

Time for a new Ombudsman

The Ombudsman is supposed to be our core watchdog on administrative decision-making. Their central job is to review decisions by public agencies to ensure they are fair and reasonable and followed a proper process. So its more than a little embarrassing that they've been called to account by the courts for violating exactly those principles:

The High Court has quashed a decision made by Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier on the grounds that emails he sent to Parliament Speaker Trevor Mallard showed he did not have an open mind on an issue he was considering.

And the court has strongly suggested that reconsideration of the matter – about the use of the name Ombudsman by a dispute resolution service – be delegated to a temporary Ombudsman.


Grice said it was not improper in principle for the Chief Ombudsman to ask the Speaker to consider a move to better protect the name "Ombudsman" or to discuss the legislation.

But the timing and content of the emails "provide evidence which weighs heavily toward the fact that the Chief Ombudsman had closed his mind and was not amenable to persuasion".

Given their role, and their past experience as a judge, you'd expect Boshier of all people to have a proper decision-making process, and to avoid any display of partiality or predetermination. The fact that he didn't immediately calls all his other decisions into question. After all, if he fucked it up so blatantly in this case, what other decisions has he predetermined or been unfair on? What similar procedural deficiencies has he overlooked because he does it too? He's failed to abide by the principles his office is supposed to embody and enforce, and I think there's really only one appropriate response: he should resign.

(As for the underlying dispute - whether a private company gets to pass itself off as an ombudsman - I happen to agree with Boshier, and think Parliament should legislate if necessary to protect the name. But that doesn't excuse his improper process, or make his position any more tenable).

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

A toxic organisation

Back in 2019, following media revelations that bullying was widespread within the police, the Independent Police Conduct Authority announced that it would be investigating the issue. Today, they reported back, and found the police to be a completely toxic organisation:

An independent report into police culture has described a “boy’s club” within the senior ranks that has presided over an “atmosphere of fear and acquiescence”, which “marginalised and ostracised” those who challenged the status quo.

The Independent Police Conduct Authority report, published on Tuesday, was based on interviews with about 220 current and former police staff, revealing a police culture in which staff, including senior staff, fear to speak up and a significant minority report abusive behaviour.

Reports include female staff being called “bitches”, physical intimidation, and officers refusing to respond to calls for backup when staff felt they were at risk in the field.

The latter basicly means police trying to kill one another. That's how toxic they are. The report also found "cliques, nepotism and cronyism" dictating promotions, and (if you read the RNZ version) HR not wanting to know about the problem, blaming the victim, and concealing or not keeping records of complaints (which sounds like a Public Records Act violation, and immediately invites the question of how widespread that culture is).

This obviously isn't good for the staff, but its probably not good for policing, or the public. Work doesn't get done efficiently in such environments, but also, this toxic environment will flow out to their interactions with the public. Which is basicly what we see every day.

(I'm also wondering where the hell the Police Association was in all of this. But I suspect the answer is "part of the problem"...)

Stunningly, the report makes no recommendations. So here's an obvious one: fire the bullies. Seriously. Just fire them. They're a toxic influence, clearly incorrigible, and things will not get better until they and their bullshit mindset are out of the organisation. Given the identified problems of "macho culture", a "boys club", and "alpha males" with "limited emotional intelligence", for bonus points fire them and replace them all with women. They make better managers anyway.

Monday, March 01, 2021

Climate Change: Even dodgier accounting

Last year, Beef and Lamb New Zealand produced a bought-and-paid-for report claiming that their industry was already carbon neutral, so didn't need to do anything to reduce emissions. The report was full of obviously dodgy accounting - basicly, it didn't bother to follow international carbon accounting rules, because they would have given the "wrong" result. But it turns out that accounting was even dodgier than I thought:

Government scientists have busted research claims that our meat farms are close to carbon-neutral.


The ministry report found several faults with the industry study, which was authored by AUT researchers and peer-reviewed. Firstly, it didn’t account for the trees being chopped down each year.

Since more than 11,000 hectares of farmland are deforested, harvested or cleared each year on average, the ministry report factored this into its calculations.

The Beef + Lamb-backed research also significantly overestimated how much carbon was absorbed by native and exotic shrubs and scrubland, the report concluded.

Basicly the entire thing was an exercise in intellectual dishonesty, which ought to be an embarrassment to its authors. And it really doesn't bode well for the farming industry's promise to develop methods to measure and price emissions themselves under the He Waka Eke Noa – Primary Sector Climate Action Partnership. Rather than engaging in good faith, it looks like they're clinging to the same old denier-industry tactics used previously. And if that's the case, the government should pull the plug on the partnership, bring farmers into the ETS without any subsidies, and force them to pay the full cost of their pollution like the rest of us do.

Why are we paying for MPI again?

Last year, the government chickened out on clean rivers, setting "water standards" that failed to properly control poisonous nitrates. So who was to blame? MPI:

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) opposed introducing a tough bottom line for nitrogen levels in rivers over concerns the economic impact would outweigh the environmental benefit, documents show.

MPI repeatedly clashed with the Ministry for the Environment (MfE), even though scientific experts said a Dissolved Organic Nitrogen (DIN) level of 1 mg/L was the best way to protect rivers.

Emails obtained under the Official Information Act show MPI staff wanted the economic cost of introducing a bottom line pushed more prominently in a cabinet paper about nitrogen level options put to ministers in May 2020.

It's the first time MPI's influence on the issue has been revealed.

Its another example of how MPI has been totally captured by the industries it is supposed to regulate, and works to undermine public interest regulation rather than for it. In this case, they were basicly just being a mouthpiece for polluter lobbyists DairyNZ, who opposed any form of nitrogen regulation "because it disagreed with the science" (which sounds a lot like their position on climate change not that many years ago). But if this is all MPI is going to do, then we might as well just fire them all, and let DairyNZ do its own lobbying, rather than spending tens of millions a year to pay public servants to do it for them.

Also worth noting: given recent information linking nitrates to bowel cancer, this decision will have a body count. This decision is more stochastic murder, and MPI and its staff need to be held accountable for it.

More tyranny in the UK

Since the pandemic began, the UK government has restricted protests in an effort to contain the plague. But of course, they're plotting to make these restrictions permanent:

Concern over the government’s limitation of the right to protest during lockdown continues to mount after it emerged that the home secretary, Priti Patel, is eager to grant police greater powers to control demonstrations once the Covid restrictions are lifted.

In a letter to HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) Patel wrote that although she appreciates protest is “a cornerstone of our democracy” she wanted to know how the Home Office could help police ensure protests in the future do not impact on “the rights of others to go about their daily business”.

The point of protest is to tell people something they don't want to hear. Naturally, the targets feel inconvenienced by this. But that is part of living in a free society. Unfortunately, it is now crystal clear that the British establishment (and the Tories in particular) do not want to live in such a society anymore. But if they'd like to live in a society like Hong Kong, maybe they should just move there instead?

Friday, February 26, 2021

The central problem with housing policy

We've had a housing crisis for the past decade, and successive governments have done nothing to solve it. Why not? Bernard Hickey gets it right when he says its all about protecting the rich:

The Government is reluctant to push down house prices fearing they'll loses the support of those who already own property, according to Bernard Hickey.

The economic and political commentator says the Government should tax capital and wealth and invest significantly in infrastructure in our major cities to combat the housing crisis, he told Breakfast.


Hickey said the economy would survive if there was a significant dip of 30 to 40 per cent in house prices to improve affordability, but it would mean a certain election defeat for Jacinda Ardern and Labour if they oversaw such a drop.


“If we saw a house price fall of 30 per cent, it’s not going to get me or anyone else elected but it wouldn’t kill the economy, we have to have a debate about what we really want, do we want affordable housing or do we want just a chunk of the population to be really, really rich?"

The Labour government has clearly opted for the latter. The sight of a Labour government protecting the rich while its own voters are consigned to lives of rent-slavery to make those people even richer ought to fill that party's supporters with fury. What is Labour for, if not to solve problems like this?

If Labour doesn't fix this, they deserve to get de-elected at the next election. It is that simple. The question is whether they'll rise to the challenge, or just try and terrorise their voters into supporting them out of fear again. Sadly, given their past practice, I expect it'll be the latter.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

A failure of enforcement

Yesterday, Silver Fern Farms was fined $337,000 over a potentially lethal ammonia leak. Today RNZ reports that they've subcontracted some of their waste business to Whanganui's Tasman Tanning, which has an appalling environmental record:

Tasman Tanning's plant in Whanganui was already the country's leader in breaching trade wastewater consents before it took on the new work, which is likely to increase the waste it produces.


An RNZ investigation revealed the Tasman Tanning plant in Whanganui clocked up 570 fat, sulphide and chromium breaches over the past year.

This meant the sludge from the city's wastewater treatment plant was so contaminated with chromium, a toxic heavy metal, it had to be stored instead of being sent to landfill.

Some of the Whanganui breaches resulted in faecal bacteria from the city's wastewater treatment plant entering the ocean.

Which invites the obvious question: how does a company which breaches its resources consents more than once a day even still have them? Why hasn't the Council done something to stop them? While they've complained about an inability to issue fines without going to court, there are mechanisms available: notably, they can issue an abatement notice for violating the consent. Then, when it is breached, prosecute (because breaching an abatement notice is a criminal offence), and start imposing fines that way (councils get to keep fines for RMA breaches if they prosecute). Seek enforcement orders to force mitigation, and when they are breached, seek an order cancelling the consent under s314(1)(e).

Alternatively, if they don't want to go the full way with prosecution, they can issue an abatement notice, then simply start issuing infringement notices. Breaching an abatement notice is an infringement offence, with a $750 fine per offence. And again, the Council gets to keep it. And at over $400,000 a year, you'd hope that would provide an incentive for this polluter to comply (and if not, it establishes a track record of violations to justify cancellation).

A council which doesn't do this when faced with persistent non-compliance are a) chickenshits; and b) ought to be voted out on their arses for not doing their jobs. Because enforcing the law is their job, and if they refuse to do it, they're as bad as the environmental criminals they're corruptly protecting.

Give the Rangitata back

Back in 2018, National's unelected Canterbury dictatorship issued a resource consent to take water from the Rangitata river for irrigation, in violation of its Water Conservation Order. Now, after two years of legal battles, the company has "voluntarily" surrendered it:

An irrigation company's decision to relinquish its consent to take extra water from the Rangitata River when in high flow has been hailed as a “gift to New Zealand” by anglers.

Rangitata Diversion Race Management Ltd (RDRML) was awarded the consent to take an extra 10 cumecs in water when the river was flowing 110 cumecs or higher by an Environment Canterbury-appointed independent panel in 2018.

However, appeals by Fish and Game, Ngāi Tahu and Te Rūnanga o Arowhenua to the Environment Court had delayed the consent's implementation.

RDRML chief executive Tony McCormick confirmed on Tuesday it had decided to relinquish the consent, describing it as "positive news" and adding they would make a further statement later.

Good. The consent would have undermined the river's ecosystem by lowering "flushing flows" and allowing excess sediment to build up, harming aquatic life. Surrendering it means at least things aren't going to get any worse. But it should only be the first stage. Currently, irrigators take over 70% of the river's total median annual flow: of the 74 m/s median annual flow at Klondyke, the Rangitata Diversion Race takes 30.7 m/s, Rangitata Water takes another 20 m/s, and a large dairy farm 1.5 m/s (figures from DoC). Which doesn't leave an awful lot of river left by the time it reaches the sea (though some of it is used for electricity generation and ends up in the Rakaia instead).

Worse, this water is used for dairy farms, which fundamentally change the nature of the Canterbury plains while spewing methane into the air and shit and poisonous nitrates into the river and the water table, destroying the climate, making rivers unswimmable, and endangering public health. If we want to protect our environment and ourselves, we need to scale this back. And the easiest way to do that is give the river back: remove or massively scale back those consents, and let the rivers flow.

The rich should pay their fair share

New Zealand is supposed to have a progressive tax system, which taxes people according to their ability to pay. But it turns out that the rich are cheating:

The wealthiest New Zealanders pay just 12 per cent of their total income in tax on average, according to research from Inland Revenue and Treasury, Stuff can reveal.

The same research found 42 per cent of the wealthiest New Zealanders were paying lower tax rates than the lowest tax rate paid by people who earn their money from an ordinary job or a benefit.

That compares with an effective tax rate of about 16-18 per cent on New Zealanders earning the median income from salaries and wages of $55,000-$60,000.


According to Treasury, a full 42 per cent of High Wealth Individuals (HWIs) pay less than 10 per cent of their total income in tax.

That is lower than the lowest income tax rate which is 10.5 per cent, which income earners pay on income up to $14,000.

How do they do it? Largely, because most of their income is from untaxed sources like capital gains, or pretaxed sources like corporate profits. The report highlights that the top 1% own an estimated 11% of all housing wealth, and 70% of New Zealand companies. Which highlights the need both to tax these untaxed capital gains, and to make sure that its not just housing, but corporate wealth which gets taxed. Otherwise, we'll continue to see a situation where us plebs pay tax, while the ultra-rich don't. And that is simply not socially sustainable any more.

(Its also absurd that information on how much the wealthy have hoarded is so lacking that the government needs to turn to the NBR rich list to estimate it. And now its been used for that, I wonder of the rich will cease their annual gloating?)

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

One way of fixing the OIA

I've just lodged my fourth complaint to the Ombudsman for deemed refusal of an OIA request by police this year. That brings their total to four for four - every request I have sent them has not been answered within the legal timeframe, even when they extend it to give themselves more time (when they do respond, these complaints usually expand to challenge their grounds for refusal as well). And this is not an unusual experience with this agency (you can also look at FYI to see the litany of delay there).

The Police are the worst of the worst, but there's a general problem with lateness in OIA requests, and a lack of incentive to obey timelines. So how can we fix this? One suggestion is to follow Mexico's example. Article 53 of its Federal Transparency Aand Access To Public Government Information Law provides that:

Lack of response to a request for access within the time limit indicated in Article 44 will be understood as an acceptance of the request, and the agency or entity is still required to provide access to the information within a time period no greater than ten working days, covering all costs generated by the reproduction of the responsive material, except when the Institute determines that the documents in question are classified or confidential.
Or, to put it another way, if they're late, they can't refuse, except on certain highly restricted grounds.

This seems entirely consistent with the OIA's purposes and the principle of availability, that information shall be made available unless there is good reason for withholding it. After all, if you can't find good reason to withhold within the statutory time limit, then it clearly doesn't exist and the information should be released. It would provide a strong incentive for timely decision-making, or for extending complicated requests. As for the danger of incentivising quick refusals, this would simply mean that complaints over lateness would be replaced with substantive ones (and insofar as rushed decisions tend to be bad ones, see them quickly overturned).

Unfortunately, with the government pushing back its OIA review, it doesn't seem like we'll get a chance to push for such a reform any time soon. Unless some MP wishes to put it in a member's bill...?

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

One state at a time

Virginia has voted to abolish the death penalty:

State lawmakers gave final approval on Monday to a bill that will end capital punishment in Virginia, a dramatic turnaround for a state that has executed more people than any other.

The legislation repealing the death penalty now heads to the Democratic governor, Ralph Northam, who has said he will sign the measure into law, making Virginia the 23rd state to stop executions.


Both the house and senate approved repeal bills earlier this month. On Monday, the senate approved the house bill, advancing it to Northam. The house was expected to vote on the senate version later in the day.

Hopefully the bill will be signed quickly, bringing an end to executions. And hopefully the federal government will follow soon.

A captive Minister

Yesterday a New Zealand Judge issued a formal finding that the Department of Corrections had treated prisoners in a cruel, degrading and inhumane manner, illegally detaining them, using excessive force, denying them basic necessities unless they performed degrading rituals of submission first. Some of the conduct appears to be criminal: offences of Ill-treatment or neglect of child or vulnerable adult, assault with a weapon, and arguably torture appear to have been committed. So what's the Minister's response? A full investigation? Sackings? Prosecutions? Of course not. Instead, he's chosen to deny the court ruling and undermine the judiciary:

Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis is not taking a judge's ruling that inmates at Auckland Women's Prison were treated in a "degrading" and "inhumane" way at face value, and wants more information.

Manukau District Court Judge David McNaughton made the stinging ruling when assessing whether inmate Mihi Bassett should have her sentence extended for arson at the prison in 2019.


[The Judge] said the women's evidence was "powerful and compelling" and he had no reason to doubt it.

But Kelvin Davis said these were still allegations and he had asked Corrections for their side of the story.

...which has already been presented in court, and found to be unreliable. But I guess Davis doesn't care about court rulings, or the rule of law in New Zealand. He has clearly been totally captured by his department, and is afraid to enforce even basic standards on them. Which is exactly how these abuses happen: cowardly Ministers unwilling to hold their lawless agencies to account.

Meanwhile, you also have to wonder where the Ombudsman was. They are officially responsible for monitoring New Zealand's prisons under the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture. And if they were doing their job properly, basic issues like unlawful detention, the illegal use of pepper spray, and ritual humiliation of prisoners would be detected and ended. But the Ombudsman apparently has never conducted a monitoring visit to Auckland Women's Prison. If they had, then maybe this woman wouldn't have been abused and tortured.

Update: The Ombudsman has in fact conducted an inspection of Auckland Women's Prison - back in 2013/14. Which seems like quite a while ago.

Climate sea-lioning

The Herald reports that there is a "storm brewing for the Climate Change Commission". The "problem"? Polluters are unhappy with its economic projections saying that action will not be as costly as they have previously claimed:

Last week a coalition of over a dozen New Zealand business and industry groups - including heavyweight exporters DairyNZ and the Meat Industry Association, Federated Farmers, mining group Straterra, the Motor Industry Association, the New Zealand Initiative, and BusinessNZ - penned a formal letter to Rod Carr, chair of the Climate Change Commission.

"We are pleased that the commission has, in response to requests, begun to release the models and underlying data that supports the commission's findings," it said.

"However, to constructively contribute submissions so that the commission is as well-informed as possible, we must be able to thoroughly review and comment on data and models which will influence major decisions about the future of our economy and society."

"Given the delay in the release of crucial modelling data (not all of which is out yet)," the letter asked for an extension of the March 14th deadline for submissions by at least two weeks.

The members of this "coalition" reads like a who's who of climate denial in New Zealand, and I'm shocked that they are being taken seriously by the Herald. These organisations long ago surrendered any pretence of good faith on this issue, and you'd expect that to be recognised by any professional journalists. As for their tactics, its basicly sea-lioning: "show us the models!", "show us the models under the models!", "Prove that 1+2=2!" We saw exactly this shit from the (now defunct) New Zealand Climate Science Coalition, and as in that case the purpose is purely doubt-mongering and delay, a naked attempt to undermine action and preserve their pollution-based profits.

As noted above, these organisations are not acting in good faith on this issue, and the Commission, the government, the media, and the public should treat them accordingly and ignore them.

Monday, February 22, 2021

The end of offshore exploration?

The Otago Daily Times reports that following Beech Energy's surrender of its South Island exploration permits, the end of offshore oil exploration in the South Island may be on the horizon:

The end of offshore exploration for gas and oil in the South Island is on the horizon.

A drill or drop deadline for the last active exploration permit in the South expires in March 2022.

New Zealand Oil and Gas (NZOG) chief executive Andrew Jefferies is not optimistic about the future of the Toroa permit in the Great South Basin, which the company is likely to surrender.

"I very much doubt that the folks of Southland will see a rig over the horizon in the current regulatory settings," Mr Jefferies said.

Good. Because its been clear for a decade that if we are to survive, the oil industry has to die. Killing development before it starts is the best way of doing this. It kills the emissions pipeline while ensuring that resources aren't waste don stranded assets.

But its not enough to end exploration of the South Island - there are also still permits off Taranaki. Some of those have "drill or drop" provisions in the next few years, and hopefully the government will actually enforce them, rather than see this toxic, destructive industry continue.

The first test of control orders

Over the weekend we learned that Turkey plans to deport a New Zealand woman and her children who had fled Syria after previously joing the Islamic State. Which means that Andrew Little's tyrannical Terrorism Suppression (Control Orders) Act 2019 - rammed through under all-stages urgency on the basis of an outright lie that we were about to be flooded with returning terrorists - will probably get its first test. So how will it work?

The woman is a "relevant person" in terms of the Act. Despite not being convicted of any crime, merely being deported on an allegation of terrorism means she qualifies. Which means a court will be able to make various orders restricting her rights. The sticking point for the government is likely to be that the court may only make these orders if she "poses a real risk of engaging in terrorism-related activities", and even then, only those orders which are "necessary and appropriate" to prevent such activities. As so far this person's "support for terrorism" seems to consist solely of being married to the wrong person and living in the wrong place, this may be a difficult bar for the government to meet.

(No doubt the SIS will talk up the threat she poses to justify their abuse of our democracy. But we only have to remember the Ahmed Zaoui case to see how appallingly low their standard of "evidence" is, and how unconvincing it was the moment it encountered the reality check of an actual judge, even with a one-sided procedure designed to prevent it from being challenged. They may find themselves in a similar situation this time, resulting in a similar outcome).

Finally, there's also the absurdity of a law which imposes mandatory name suppression on a person whose identity has already been widely reported and will continue to be available online even if an order is made. Hopefully the court will decide to permit publication rather than promote the absurd position that the entire country must pretend to not know what we already know.

An open door waiting to be pushed on

While it has made a lot of noise about inequality, Labour has resolutely avoided reversing the 1990 benefit cuts and improving living standards for the poorest in our society. Meanwhile, 70% of kiwis think they should:

A survey has found seven out of 10 New Zealanders believe the government should increase income support for those on low wages or not in paid work.

The UMR poll was commissioned by a group of more than 40 organisations, including unions, social service providers, and kaupapa Māori groups.

It found approval for increasing income support was largely consistent across salary groups, age ranges, renters and owners; and across the political spectrum.

There was a majority of support by voters for the four major parties, led by Greens' supporters at 89 percent in favour.

This is the sort of level of support that normally makes something non-controversial, except for the freaks (see also: strengthening gun laws after Christchurch, or keeping the borders closed during a pandemic). It represents a historic opportunity for Labour to reverse a huge injustice and make us a better society. But knowing Labour, they'll probably squander it, for fear of upsetting the 26% who disagree, who would never vote for them anyway.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Facebook vs Australia

The Australian government is currently working on a law requiring major internet platforms to pay media companies for the content they use. The threat of regulation has been at lest partially successful, with Google agreeing a deal with Seven West Media. Facebook, OTOH, has decided to play hardball:

Australians are being blocked from accessing news in their Facebook feeds, in a dramatic escalation of the social media giant's stand-off with the federal government.

Australians waking up this morning found they were blocked from receiving news from publishers' pages, including news organisations like the ABC.

The social media giant said it made the move in response to the government's proposed media bargaining laws, which would force major tech giants to pay Australian news outlets for their content.

Facebook's censorship goes much wider than the news organisations they would have to pay; they're also censoring unions, NGOs, politicians, and government agencies, including vital public health-related announcements in the middle of a pandemic. Its a naked display of market power, clearly intended to coerce Australia into renouncing its policy and deter other countries from adopting it: "do what we want, or we'll gag you".

This underlines all the concerns people had about the Twitter purge (which at least had justification as a long-belated enforcement of that platforms terms of service). These platforms now control our online lives, giving them an enormous amount of power. And that power clearly needs to be regulated to prevent exactly this sort of abuse. Given their reaction today, Facebook's response to such regulation is likely to be to threaten to withdraw service. Which means that any credible regulation is going to have to be a multilateral effort, backed by enough countries to ensure that they will be destroying a huge chunk of their market if they do so.

But it also shows that when Facebook said it was "too hard" for them to regulate Nazis and terrorists off their platform, they were lying. Facebook clearly can exercise an enormous degree of control over what can be posted, when they want to. And the fact that they're currently exercise such control for their own political purposes shows that they are effectively a publisher, which publishes by discretion. And the response to that should be obvious: repeal their common carrier defence, and make them liable for everything they choose to publish.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Climate Change: The quicker the better

The Marsden Point oil refinery lost $200 million last year, and its owners are saying it will speed their decision to shut it down and move to being an import business:

The country's only fuel refinery at Marsden Point could exit the refinery business as early as next year.

Refining NZ has been reviewing its future options which include quitting the refinery operations and converting to becoming an import terminal only.

Speaking on Wednesday after booking an annual loss of $198.2 million, chief executive Naomi James said the Government’s move towards greener transport gave the refinery’s review impetus.

‘’I think at a point in time you would always be looking at this ... but it takes a number of years on the Government's forecasts, on the Climate Change Commission forecasts, for current fuel demand to shift significantly.'’

Good. Currently Marsden Point emits roughly 580,000 tons of carbon dioxide every year (and gets subsidised to do so), so the sooner it shuts down the better. Imported petrol still has those emissions embodied in it, but importing fuel attracts ETS obligations, and emissions factors can always be updated to include that (if they don't already). As for Refining NZ, its good for them: with the sudden push for transport electrification, they're looking at having a huge stranded asset, so the quicker they dump it, the better.

An American solution

On Monday, the US Congress failed to hold former President Donald Trump accountable for inciting an attempted coup against the US constitution. So now someone is doing it privately, in the traditional American way: suing him:

Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani, the former president’s personal lawyer, have been accused of conspiring to incite the violent riot at the US Capitol, in a legal action filed under a historic law known as the Ku Klux Klan Act.

The lawsuit was brought on Tuesday by the Democratic congressman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi and the eminent civil rights organisation the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).


The suit alleges that Trump, Giuliani and the extremist groups the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers conspired to incite the attack on the Capitol with the goal of preventing Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s win in the presidential election.

It argues that they therefore violated a law often referred to as the Ku Klux Klan Act, passed in 1871 in response to Klan violence and intimidation preventing members of Congress in the Reconstruction south from carrying out their constitutional duties. The NAACP, founded in 1909, says the statute was designed to protect against conspiracies.

Well, that's one way of fixing it. But if this is a crime, shouldn't the federal government be prosecuting them, rather than leaving it to a private suit? Or is the US system now so dysfunctional that it is incapable of protecting itself from attempted coups?