Thursday, October 31, 2013

Jack welcomes hungry ghouls

It's Halloween! Which means a friendly pumpkin to signal the presence of chocolate:


This year, Jack is trying out his "drunk and seedy" look. Or maybe its just the camera angle...

A cynical ploy

You're a major intelligence agency which has been caught systematically breaking the law and violating the privacy of foreign heads-of-state, foreign publics, and your own citizens. How do you explain it all? Hide behind the "threat" of terrorism, of course:

The National Security Agency advised its officials to cite the 9/11 attacks as justification for its mass surveillance activities, according to a master list of NSA talking points.

The document, obtained by Al Jazeera through a Freedom of Information Act request, contains talking points and suggested statements for NSA officials (PDF) responding to the fallout from media revelations that originated with former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Invoking the events of 9/11 to justify the controversial NSA programs, which have caused major diplomatic fallout around the world, was the top item on the talking points that agency officials were encouraged to use.

Under the subheading “Sound Bites That Resonate,” the document suggests the statement “I much prefer to be here today explaining these programs, than explaining another 9/11 event that we were not able to prevent.”

You got that? If we don't let the spies do whatever they want to us, the nasty IslamoPiratePaedoTerrorists will get us! Its a cynical ploy. Sadly, Americans are now so conditioned to live in terror and jump at the merest "threat' that they'll probably get away with it.

New Fisk

Is The Hague making a mockery of justice so the CIA and MI6 can save face?

Telling us what we already knew

Last week the government quietly gave Anadarko permission to drill in 1500m of water off the Raglan coast. So what happens if something goes wrong? We couldn't cope:

A leading maritime author says New Zealand is woefully unprepared if Anadarko Petroleum Corporation's drilling of the country's deepest-ever oil well just 100 nautical miles off Raglan goes wrong.

John Julian, who wrote Black Tide: The Story Behind the Rena Disaster, said New Zealand wouldn't cope if Anadarko's drilling in 1500 metres of water went awry.

"We aren't ready yet, we don't have the necessary kit at our disposal, and the modest dollar pool that Maritime New Zealand and its political masters had at their disposal has been more than mopped up by the wreck of the Rena," he said.

Our oil-spill response capacity is laughable - three glorified aluminium dinghies. It would be utterly overwhelmed by a spill, as the Rena disaster showed us. And we don't require drillers to have appropriate response vessels on standby - or even to agree to cover the costs of cleanup. We take the risk, they get the reward - and if the worst happens, we are utterly fucked.

This is not a credible policy. National are gambling with our environment, hoping for a lucky strike as a substitute for an economic plan. We shouldn't put up with them risking our futures like this.

All your emails are belong to them

The latest NSALeak: the NSA and GCHQ are spying on Google and Yahoo, and therefore on you:

The National Security Agency has secretly broken into the main communications links that connect Yahoo and Google data centers around the world, according to documents obtained from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and interviews with knowledgeable officials.

By tapping those links, the agency has positioned itself to collect at will from hundreds of millions of user accounts, many of them belonging to Americans. The NSA does not keep everything it collects, but it keeps a lot.


The NSA’s principal tool to exploit the data links is a project called MUSCULAR, operated jointly with the agency’s British counterpart, the Government Communications Headquarters. From undisclosed interception points, the NSA and the GCHQ are copying entire data flows across fiber-optic cables that carry information between the data centers of the Silicon Valley giants.

The infiltration is especially striking because the NSA, under a separate program known as PRISM, has front-door access to Google and Yahoo user accounts through a court-approved process.

This isn't targeted interception, just a bulk data trawl, and against American companies. Which presumably is why their ever-reliable patsies GCHQ are involved: to launder the data and circumvent restrictions on domestic spying. Which raises an obvious question: is the GCSB helping with this program? Are they tapping our google searches and gmail messages for the Americans (who then of course will make anything about kiwis available to them, according to the principle of "you circumvent my laws, and I'll circumvent yours")?

Meanwhile, it now seems that the NSA's mass-spying on Spanish citizens was the product of collusion with Spain's spies, who appear to have sold out the privacy of their own citizens (and broken Spanish anti-wiretapping laws) for snuggles with the hegemon. Again there are very ugly words for this sort of thing, and it raises an uncomfortable question: what does a nation do when its spies are all quislings, traitors, and servants of a foreign power?

Here in New Zealand, we pay $60 million a year to fund a local branch of the NSA to destroy our privacy and undermine our foreign relations. We shouldn't be. Parliament should defund, disband, and destroy this agency - and the quicker, the better.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

New Fisk

Remembering the First World War: The flood of 1914-18 memorabilia has begun – and it will break your heart

A $150 million rip-off

Meridian Energy was listed on the stock exchange yesterday, and the price immediately leaped to $1.08. Which tells us right off that the government sold it too cheap. Their underpricing has meant a $150 million windfall gain to the 1%. That's $150 million we could have spent on schools and hospitals.

Just more evidence that privatisation is an inherently corrupt process, aimed at delivering windfall gains to government cronies rather than value for the taxpayer.

We need to end this process, and we need to take back what was stolen from us. And when we do, we should make sure that the 1% don't get a cent more than what they paid us. Renationalisation at sale price less any dividends and asset-stripping is the only fair policy. And if the 1% don't like that, they shouldn't buy stolen property.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

National doesn't care about child poverty

Today the Children's Commissioner's Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty released its progress report on child poverty [PDF]. They looked hard to find areas of progress, and they found some - but on the big issues the government refuses to move. The government refuses to even formulate a formal strategy on how to reduce child poverty, let alone address core problems such as income adequacy and poor housing quality. The Minister's response is simply to giggle at the issue. I guess hungry kids look funny when you're on $250,000 a year...

But the worst part of it is that National doesn't even care enough about child poverty to bother measuring it - and so the Children's Commissioner has had to ask a charity for $500,000 to do it themselves. Think about that: child poverty rates are a key social statistic and a fundamental accountability mechanism, and National is simply abrogating its responsibility for even measuring it. So, the Children's Commissioner has had to go begging. The good news is that they've found the money. The bad news is that National will simply dismiss their annual findings as "one of a range of measures" - and probably giggle some more.

"Social responsibility" and leaks

British Prime Minister David Cameron wants newspapers to show "social responsibility" and not publish leaked material which makes his government look bad:

David Cameron has called on the Guardian and other newspapers to show "social responsibility" in the reporting of the leaked NSA files to avoid high court injunctions or the use of D notices to prevent the publication of information that could damage national security.


Cameron told MPs: "We have a free press, it's very important the press feels it is not pre-censored from what it writes and all the rest of it.

"The approach we have taken is to try to talk to the press and explain how damaging some of these things can be and that is why the Guardian did actually destroy some of the information and disks that they have. But they've now gone on and printed further material which is damaging.

"I don't want to have to use injunctions or D notices or the other tougher measures. I think it's much better to appeal to newspapers' sense of social responsibility. But if they don't demonstrate some social responsibility it would be very difficult for government to stand back and not to act."

So, according to Cameron, "social responsibility" lies in keeping the government's secrets. Bullshit. "Social responsibility" is telling citizens what their government is doing so they can hold it to account. And its telling them what its friends are doing so they can assess whether they really want that sort of relationship with such people. In both cases, transparency increases accountability and democracy. And by opposing it, Cameron has shown that he believes in neither.

Shorter John Key: "National can't run a company"

John Key has used the failure of Solid Energy to attack the SOE model, saying that the company would still be afloat if it had been part-privatised:

If Solid Energy was partly privatised, it probably would not be in the mess it is in now, Prime Minister John Key says.

Continuing to defend the Government's sell-down of state assets, Key said today a deal to bailout Solid Energy might not have been necessary had the company been partially floated.

"My own personal view is if we'd had the mixed ownership model applied to Solid Energy, it may well not have gotten itself in the mess it did," he told Firstline.

"That's because the external analysis would have rung a lot of bells and demanded a lot more accountability," he said.

So basicly he's attributing Solid Energy's failure to a failure of oversight. But who provided that oversight/ board members appointed by the government, and ultimately Ministers appointed by him. So what's he's saying is that National failed to run Solid Energy properly. Rather than demanding further privatisations, maybe he should tackle the real problem, and demand the resignations of Bill English and Tony Ryall.

New Fisk

How the Sunni-Shia schism is dividing the world

Now it's Spain's turn

The weekend's NSALeak: the NSA has been spying on 60 million Spanish phone calls a month:

The US National Security Agency (NSA) secretly monitored 60 million phone calls in Spain in one month, Spanish media say.

The reports say the latest allegations came from documents provided by the fugitive US analyst Edward Snowden.

They say the NSA collected the numbers and locations of the callers and the recipients, but not the calls' content.

Note that these aren't suspected terrorists; they're just ordinary people. The surveillance isn't targeted; its a dragnet.

Again, there's diplomatic blowback: ambassadors have been summoned and angry public statements made. The US is now apparently worried that its allies' reaction to their spying will affect counter-terrorism cooperation. And meanwhile, we're publicly snuggling up to the criminals, increasing the risk of sharing the diplomatic fallout. We're already being named on lists of countries that spy on their own citizens; how long until our membership of the Five Eyes blows back on us?

Meanwhile, it appears the US elite has finally found something to be outraged about. Mass-spying on Americans, on foreign publics, on foreign leaders is all fine. But the Senate wasn't told about it! Quelle horreur!. Still, if it means this will finally be stopped, I'll take what I can get.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Vital safeguards

Last month, Judith Collins signed a deal with the US to give them access to all our fingerprint data. But Phil Goff, while sitting on the select committee examining the deal, has suggested a couple of vital safeguards:

Labour's Phil Goff says New Zealand should refuse to hand over information such as fingerprint data on its citizens to United States authorities if it will be used to prosecute for a crime punishable by the death penalty, or if the request is predominantly politically motivated.

MPs on the Foreign Affairs select committee were briefed this week by officials about a pending agreement for mutual access by New Zealand and the US to fingerprint as well as other data for investigating crimes and terrorism, and for use by immigration. There is also provision for DNA data to be included in the agreement in the future.

The agreement allows either country to specify certain crimes for which it will not provide such information. Mr Goff said there were good reasons for two exemptions - if fingerprint or other evidence was to be used in the conviction and execution of a New Zealander under the death penalty, and if the data were requested for political rather than criminal reasons.

He said there were good reasons for sharing information to detect serious crime and terrorism but New Zealand should not have blind faith the US system would use the personal details of New Zealand citizens only for the purposes set down

Refusing to turn over information to assist ina death penalty case is simply a matter of law - section 8 of the BORA basicly rules out any cooperation from the New Zealand state in such cases. As for political cases, they are excluded from extradition treaties, and should be excluded from information-sharing ones as well. We should not be providing information to the US to help them convict people like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, whose only "crime" has been to expose US wrongdoing to its own citizens (and the world).

The agreement allows us to specify such exclusions. The question now is whether National will take a stand for New Zealand values, or roll over to the US. Sadly, I think it will be the latter.

No confidence in Crown Law

The Solicitor-General has taken over the case against John Banks. As I said earlier, I am not sure we can be confident in their independence; even if we rule out explicit political intervention, most prosecutors will probably see vigorous pursuit of a conviction (which could lead to the Government falling and an election) as a career-limiting move, or they'll simply take an easy plea-bargin rather than going all the way. We need to watch them like hawks to make sure they pursue the case with appropriate vigour, rather than cutting some shady backroom deal to let Banks (and the government) off.

...Except that we can't. Because everything they do will be protected by legal professional privilege, effectively excluding it from the coverage of the OIA. Meaning that we have no way of effectively overseeing them and ensuring they actually do their job in this case. They can't even be held to account through Parliament, because the Attorney-General does not have Ministerial responsibility for law officer functions (and that's a Good Thing).

This isn't a good situation to be in. No transparency and no accountability means there can be no trust. If the charges are dropped, or even if Banks is acquitted, it will look like a political stitch-up. And we all lose from that. After their initial refusal, it would have been better for the government to stay out of it.

Traitors to their own people

So, it turns out that despite routinely denouncing US drone strikes, it turns out that the previous Pakistani government actively colluded with the Americans in the bombing of their own people:

Despite repeatedly denouncing the CIA’s drone campaign, top officials in Pakistan’s government have for years secretly endorsed the programme and routinely received classified briefings on strikes and casualty counts, according to top-secret CIA documents and Pakistani diplomatic memos.

The files describe dozens of drone attacks in Pakistan’s tribal region and include maps as well as before-and-after aerial photos of targeted compounds from late 2007 to late 2011, in which the campaign intensified.

Markings on the documents indicate that many of them were prepared by the CIA’s Counterterrorism Centre specifically to be shared with Pakistan’s government. They tout the success of strikes that killed dozens of alleged al-Qa’ida operatives and assert repeatedly that no civilians were harmed.

We know that the latter is a lie; the US simply claimed that anyone killed was a terrorist, regardless of the actual facts. Meanwhile their bombing has been so indiscriminate that Amnesty International and Human Rights watch are calling it a war crime and demanding prosecutions.

The Pakistani political reaction is likely to be unpleasant. There are very ugly words for government officials who collude with foreign powers to murder their own people - "quislings" and "traitors" among them. President Sharif was elected six months ago on a platform of ending drone strikes. He should start by putting the collaborators on trial for conspiracy to murder.

(Meanwhile, there's a lesson here for those collaborating with the US: your secret will come out, either through leaks, journalism, or a sordid Washington power play. And when that happens, you'll be exposed to the wrath of your own people, whether electoral, judicial, or worse. If you want to avoid that wrath, don't collaborate. It's that simple).

Women go backwards again

The World Economic Forum has released its annual Global Gender Gap Index. We've dropped a place (to 7th), having been overtaken by the Philippines. But worse, our score has dropped, from .7805 to .7799. And the reason for the drop? Wage equality. National is actually dragging women backwards. Which is what happens when you have a government for, of and by dead white males.

It is quite striking that we make progress in these indices under Labour. All National gives us is stagnation.


The latest NSALeak: The NSA's spying on Angela Merkel was not an isolated incident:

The National Security Agency monitored the phone conversations of 35 world leaders after being given the numbers by an official in another US government department, according to a classified document provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The confidential memo reveals that the NSA encourages senior officials in its "customer" departments, such the White House, State and the Pentagon, to share their "Rolodexes" so the agency can add the phone numbers of leading foreign politicians to their surveillance systems.

The document notes that one unnamed US official handed over 200 numbers, including those of the 35 world leaders, none of whom is named. These were immediately "tasked" for monitoring by the NSA.

The irony: despite all this spying, the US got "little reportable intelligence". Meanwhile, its revelation is destroying the US's alliances and diplomatic relationships, because no-one wants to deal with a two-faced spying scumbag.

Heckuva job, NSA; heckuva job.

Meanwhile former NSA director Michael Hayden just got live-tweeted giving off-the-record "deep background" interviews to journalists in which he slagged off his former boss. Which suggests that despite the aura of secrecy, the US's spies are complete idiots. Who has a sensitive conversation in public on a train, where other people can hear? What a moron.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

More British war crimes

Another day, more British war crimes in Afghanistan:

Three Royal Marines carried out the "execution" of a suspected insurgent as he lay badly wounded after being hit by helicopter cannon fire in Afghanistan, a court martial was told on Wednesday.

Footage of the helpless, bloodied man being dragged across a field and the moment a sergeant bends down and apparently shoots him in the chest at close range was shown in court.

The sergeant, who can be identified only as Marine A, is allegedly heard telling the man: "There you are, shuffle off this mortal coil, you cunt. It's nothing you wouldn't do to us."

A few moments later Marine A is allegedly heard telling colleagues: "Obviously this doesn't go anywhere fellas. I've just broken the Geneva convention."

The footage was captured on a camera fixed to the helmet of another of the men, Marine B, who is accused of helping Marine A carry out the murder.

There's more sickening details in the article, and they clearly show intent to murder a wounded prisoner and cover it up. The soldiers even argued over who got to kill him. And then the British wonder why people join terrorist groups against them. If they didn't behave like this, then they'd rob their enemies of one of their greatest recruitment tools.

Ministerial expenses

So, right after the failure of the Meridian share offer, the government has dumped its Ministerial expenses. Highlights:

  • Maurice Williamson's [p 9] $137.50 three-course dinner for one in Dunedin, including a full bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. I guess it just gets lonely down there...
  • John Key [p 13] spent $110 on very expensive skin-care products, tagged as "NZ skin care for protocol officer". Was it a gift? Because if it wasn't, it seems extravagant. Not to mention odd.
  • Jonathan Coleman's [p 9] $1500 a night stay at the Shangri-La Hotel in Singapore (his private secretary was exiled to the servant's quarters at a mere $500 a night). I expect Ministers to stay somewhere reasonable when they travel, but this is simply insane; even the Prime Minister only gets a $500 / night room when he travels. There's also the $93 lunch bill, which doesn't include his minion because they billed for two lunches of their own on the same day.
  • Murray McCully's boozing. ~$50 on "room service wine" in Cairo. A dinner in Singapore (itemised on his hotel bill) which spent ~NZ$165 on food and ~NZ$135 on beverages. A ~NZ$400 diner in PNG with another ~NZ$280 on booze (classified as "accommodation and meals for MFA and 2 P/S"). A similar pattern in Port Vila, with ~NZ$150 on food, and ~NZ$120 on booze. I don't begrudge a Minister a glas sof wine with their meal, but when its that proprortion of a large dinner bill, it looks like a habit. He's also in the luxury hotel scam, paying ~NZ$1250 for a night in the Grand Papua in Port Moresby.
  • And then there's Tim Groser. What we have from him is bad enough - foie gras on the taxpayer (so he's the Minister of Animal Cruelty), obviously different minibar expenses hand-labelled "mineral water", and Heinekin with everything. But it's what we don't have that's interesting. Oddly, every time Minister Groser has an expensive meal somewhere, he loses the detailed receipt, and only keeps the till receipt with the costs (which are inevitably over NZ$100 a head). He also misreports trips to posh Parisian restaurants where he spends hundreds of Euro of taxpayers money as "refreshments". No, Tim - "refreshments" is when you go to Starbucks, or buy a coke, or even buy green olives, hummus and (of course) a Heinekin for (presumably) a snacky lunch in the sun. When you spend 250 Euro at a sit-down place at 10pm, its called a "meal", and you give us a fucking full receipt so we can see whether we are getting value for our money, or whether you're just having a giant piss-up at our expense.

This is how National spends your money. You can judge at the ballot box whether its a good investment.

And more blowback

The NSA is rapidly turning the US's friends into its enemies:

The furore over the scale of American mass surveillance revealed by Edward Snowden shifted to an incendiary new level on Wednesday evening when Angela Merkel of Germany called Barack Obama to demand explanations over reports that the US National Security Agency was monitoring her mobile phone.

Merkel was said by informed sources in Germany to be "livid" over the reports and convinced, on the basis of a German intelligence investigation, that the reports were utterly substantiated.

The German news weekly, Der Spiegel, reported an investigation by German intelligence, prompted by research from the magazine, that produced plausible information that Merkel's mobile was targeted by the US eavesdropping agency. The German chancellor found the evidence substantial enough to call the White House and demand clarification.

The white House's response? "We're not tapping her phone now" (because she's not making a call?) - but they refuse to deny having done it in the past. Which is as good as an admission of guilt.

So how many more US allies does the NSA have to alienate before the US government realises that spying on their friends just isn't worth it. And would they stop anyway?

Meanwhile, its worth asking: was the GCSB involved? Does it spy on the embassies of friendly European countries, or on the communications of EU politicians when they visit the region? Because thanks to the US, they will think we do, and we're a damn sight easier to punish than the Americans are. Our involvement with the "five eyes" may be about to cost us, big time.


A ballot for two member's bill was held today and the following bills were drawn:

  • Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill (Phil Twyford)
  • Underground Coal Mining Safety Bill (Damien O'Connor)

Both bills were new to the ballot this week, and so not on the Parliament website.

meanwhile, National's Alfred Ngaro gets the "ominous title" award for his "Evidence (Inference from Silence) Amendment Bill". Having eliminated juries from most trials, National now apparently wants to remove the right to silence as well. What next? The presumption of innocence? The right not to be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned? The entire BORA?


Oh dear. After all their efforts to make it a success - a rock-bottom price, payment on installment, propping up a major customer with a government subsidy, and guaranteed high dividends from oligopoly rents - the Meridian privatisation has turned into a spectacular failure, attracting only 62,000 investors. That's fewer than voted for ACT in 2008. I guess people have learned their lesson from the Mighty River Power fiasco, where investors got badly burned and have already lost 10% of their money.

And naturally, it's all Labour's fault. So much for the party of personal responsibility...

That 62,000 BTW is ~1.4% of the population. That's who National represents - a tiny elite of the rich. The other 98.6% of us get to have our assets sold off at a loss and our public services cut for the benefit of this tiny clique of National cronies. Time to vote them out, and get a government which actually represents the people of New Zealand.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Climate change: Committed to failure

Today in Question Time the Greens' Kennedy Graham quizzed Associate Climate Change Minister Simon bridges on the yawning gulf between the government's climate change target and the latest MfE projections. Bridges responded that the government will meet its target, and that the projections are wrong, as they are based on a low carbon price, which will almost "surely rise". That's laughable enough, because MfE will have included higher carbon prices in its emissions estimates, but it gets worse: Bridges then went on to say that an increase in the carbon price would be a Bad Thing:

Rt Hon John Key : What is the likely impact of a much higher carbon price and a much more fulsome emissions trading scheme on residential consumers when they pay their electricity bill, if one was to be promoted?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES : Well, of course prices will rise exponentially, and it will be a terrible thing for consumers all around New Zealand. Let us hope that Labour and the Greens never—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! The last part of that answer is out of order.

So we'll meet our targets because carbon prices will rise, but ongoing National governments will stop carbon prices from rising. The obvious conclusion: we won't meet our targets. The only commitment National has on climate change is a commitment to fail.

Not so nice after all

Two weeks ago, John Key met the Sultan of Brunei, who he described as a "thoroughly charming, very nice man". Now that "nice man" is introducing a penal code which includes punishments of flogging, amputation, and death by stoning.

There are two conclusions we can draw from this. Firstly, that Brunei is not the sort of country we should be negotiating with. And secondly, that John Key is a very poor judge of character. Nice people don't order amputations or executions. But I guess a brutal medieval despot would fit in perfectly with his banker friends at Merrill Lynch.

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day, and first up is the third reading of Jacqui Dean's Conservation (Natural Heritage Protection) Bill, which should pass without issue. Then we have Tracey Martin's Social Security (Clothing Allowances for Orphans and Unsupported Children) Amendment Bill - a worthy bill, but one which National will probably vote down. Third there is Jacinda Ardern's Care of Children Law Reform Bill to force a Law Commission inquiry (and introduction of any resulting legislation) into adoption law. Fourth is Sue Moroney's Privacy (Giving Privacy Commissioner Necessary Tools) Amendment Bill to allow the Privacy Commissioner to issue compliance notices against agencies. Finally, if the House moves quickly, it should make a start on Winston Peters' Reserve Bank of New Zealand (Amending Primary Function of Bank) Amendment Bill (No 2). If all goes as expected, there should be a ballot for two or three bills tomorrow.

What happens if National's oil gamble goes wrong?

At the moment, National is gambling for an economic recovery, rolling the dice in a desperate hope of striking oil. As part of this, they are allowing foreign companies - Anadarko, Petrobras - to explore for oil offshore. while currently in the seismic stage, ultimately, this process will result in drilling wells - in deeper water and worse conditions than anything done before in New Zealand.

What happens if something goes wrong, as it did in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010? Greenpeace got some scientists to model the effects, using a monte carlo simulation to produce probability maps of where the oil would go. The results are graphic and horrifying:

The full map and a walkthrough on what is affected is here. A North Island spill will close beaches from Auckland to the Kawhia Harbour and clog the habitat of the critically endangered Maui's Dolphin (which will probably mean extinction). It will mean iconic beaches such as Piha will be covered in black sludge. A South Island spill will mostly stay offshore, but will severely affect Kaikoura's whales, as well as fishing. It could extend all the way to the Chatham islands.

While the chances of an accident are low, the impact of one would be absolutely devastating on our environment, on our endangered species, and our way of life. What's National doing to stop one? Nothing. They won't even require these wells to have blowout protectors (which so spectacularly failed to work on Deepwater Horizon) installed. They're gambling with our future, with no safety net. And their response to public concerns about this is to make protest illegal and remove consultation rights.

This isn't right. Hell, its not even sane. "If you can't cap it, don't drill it" should be a fundamental part of our environmental regulation. Until it is, we should not allow deepwater drilling. It is that simple.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Something to go to in Auckland

There will be a public lecture at Auckland university tonight from climate scientist Jim Salinger and two contributers to his new book, Living in a warmer world: How changing climate will affect our lives:

When: 18:00, Tuesday 22 October 2013
Where: Owen Glenn Building, OGGB3, University of Auckland

[Hat-tip: @Samrdyson]

More blowback

The latest NSALeaks. First, the NSA spied on France, tapping and recording tens of millions of phone calls a month:

According to the documents retrieved from the NSA database by its ex-analyst, telephone communications of French citizens are intercepted on a massive scale. Le Monde has been able to obtain access to documents which describe the techniques used to violate the secrets or simply the private life of French people. Some elements of information about this espionage have been referred to by Der Speigel and The Guardian, but others are, to date, unpublished.

Amongst the thousands of documents extracted from the NSA by its ex-employee there is a graph which describes the extent of telephone monitoring and tapping (DNR – Dial Number Recognition) carried out in France. It can be seen that over a period of thirty days – from 10 December 2012 to 8 January 2013, 70,3 million recordings of French citizens' telephone data were made by the NSA. This agency has several methods of data collection. According to the elements obtained by Le Monde, when a telephone number is used in France, it activates a signal which automatically triggers the recording of the call. Apparently this surveillance system also picks up SMS messages and their content using key words. Finally, the NSA apparently stores the history of the connections of each target – or the meta-data.

And they hacked the email of Mexican President Felipe Calderon:
Der Spiegel said in May 2010, an NSA division known as "Tailored Access Operations" reported it had gained access to then-president Calderon's email account, and turned his office into a "lucrative" source of information.

It said details of the alleged NSA hacking of Calderon's account were contained in a document leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Snowden's leaked information has prompted angry recriminations against Washington in Latin America, particularly Brazil.

According to Der Spiegel, the NSA succeeded in hacking a central server in the network of the Mexican presidency that was also used by other members of Calderon's cabinet, yielding a trove of information on diplomatic and economic matters.

Both revelations are causing significant diplomatic blowback for the US. And no wonder - these countries are US allies. And yet the US is spying on them as if they are enemies. And the US's only response is that its all legal (which rather misses the point).

Just another example of how US spying harms US interests...

Equality wins in the ACT

The Australian Capital Territory has just voted for marriage equality. But while it has been passed by the legislative assembly, the federal government plans to try and overturn it through the courts. Which simply shows how backwards and out-of-step Australian politicans are. The majority of Australians support marriage equality. Time for its federal politicians to catch up.


Around the world, religious nutters want to ban abortion. What does that mean? In Ireland, it means women who miscarry die in agony, denied the basic medical care which would save their life. And in El Salvador, it means women being jailed for miscarriages:

Glenda Xiomara Cruz was crippled by abdominal pain and heavy bleeding in the early hours of 30 October 2012. The 19-year-old from Puerto El Triunfo, eastern El Salvador, went to the nearest public hospital where doctors said she had lost her baby.

It was the first she knew about the pregnancy as her menstrual cycle was unbroken, her weight practically unchanged, and a pregnancy test in May 2012 had been negative.

Four days later she was charged with aggravated murder - intentionally murdering the 38-to-42 week foetus - at a court hearing she was too sick to attend. The hospital had reported her to the police for a suspected abortion.

After two emergency operations and three weeks in hospital she was moved to Ilopango women's prison on the outskirts of the capital San Salvador. Then last month she was sentenced to 10 years in jail, the judge ruling that she should have saved the baby's life.

She's not the only victim of this barbaric law. El Salvador has jailed 29 women for murder by miscarriage in the last decade, all but one of them the victim of naturally occurring complications. Its as unjust as it is barbaric. But that's what the Christian baby-cult means: punishing women, regardless of culpability.

Parliamentary sovereignty trumps contracts

Skycity's New Zealand International Convention Centre Bill was reported back [PDF] from select committee today. But while the National majority on the committee recommended that it be passed with only minor amendments, Labour and the Greens made it clear that they would be repealing the bill and its regulatory concessions, with the backing of a Crown Law opinion saying they could do so:

A future Government would be able to scrap the SkyCity convention centre deal without paying any compensation to the casino operator, Crown Law says.


Advice to the committee from Crown Law says while the deal and the legislation can be scrapped by a future government, it would be liable to pay SkyCity millions of dollars in compensation.

However, a future parliament could also amend the legislation to remove the compensation provisions.

Crown Law warned the wording of any future change must be extremely clear, because courts are likely to interpret ambiguity in favour of the payment of compensation.

Steven Joyce is squealing at this prospect, warning that any attempt to revoke the deal would cause Armageddon and corporate sulking. But Parliament is sovereign, and businesses know that this sort of arrangement is subject to "political risk". SkyCity's been put on notice about what will happen when the government changes; if they continue with the deal and lose a packet on it, they have only themselves to blame.

As for Joyce, if he doesn't want future Parliaments to revoke his sleazy backroom deals, he shouldn't make them. Its that simple.

Monday, October 21, 2013


Great: our regional councils are warning dairy farmers before inspecting their RMA compliance:

Inspectors looking for evidence of dirty dairying are giving farmers up to three days warning of an inspection - which critics say is like police telling motorists where drink-drive checkpoints will be.

Information obtained from regional councils and unitary authorities by The Dominion Post under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act shows that eight of the 17 councils give farmers at least 24 hours forewarning of inspections.

Fish & Game chief executive Bryce Johnson says this makes "an absolute nonsense" of monitoring.

"It's akin to police letting drivers know where and when they will be setting up drink-driving checkpoints."

My local council, Horizons, is one of those that warns farmers. Strangely, their compliance rating is 93%. what is it when the farmers aren't warned and don't have time to clean up and switch the pipes around? Sadly, we'll never know - but the state of the regions rivers kindof speaks for itself.

This policy is simply insanity. Spot-checks must be exactly that: unannounced, to see what the real compliance situation is. Otherwise they're just a bad joke, a PR exercise for the public designed to cover up for the dirty status quo. And that's just not acceptable.

Climate change: Projecting failure

Back in 2011, the National government finally gazetted a formal climate change target: a reduction to 50% of 1990 emissions by 2050. So how are they doing? The Ministry for the Environment's Annual Report out today includes a graph of projections, and they're not good:


[From p. 60 of 2013 Annual Report; red line indicating government target added]

As you can see, emissions are projected to rise and rise and rise. As for that "50% by 2050" target, it is left in the dust. Why? Because the government simply has no policy to reduce emissions. Its flagship policy, the ETS, has been so gutted and compromised that it is now worse than useless, a means of subsidising dirty industries to pollute further rather than clean themselves up. Even the progress it had made towards limiting forestry emissions has been undone, thanks to National's insistence on accepting junk foreign credits. And as a result, our expected peak emissions are in fact 20 million tons worse than they were projected to be just last year.

Credible policy would build on the progress we've made to have that projected emissions line gradually decline towards the target. Instead, it widens the gap. The upshot: National's policy is simply not credible.

For a KiwiFund

Over the weekend, NZ First leader Winston Peters laid out his bottom line for coalition negotiations: turning KiwiSaver into a government-backed "KiwiFund", which would invest in New Zealand rather than overseas. Naturally, John Key has panned this policy, likening it to communism, but its an excellent idea. Here's why.

Firstly, and most importantly, it would almost certainly increase returns to savers. Firstly because it would immediately free up the $385 million the ticket-clippers and shysters have taken from kiwisavers in fees over the last fives years, and secondly because the government is simply better at managing money than the market is. The latter is heresy to the political right, but the facts speak for themselves: most Kiwisaver funds return between 5.5% and 8% over three years. The New Zealand Superannuation Fund returns about 11.25%. You need to be with a very good "aggressive" fund to beat that, and then you have to deal with the fact that your retirement savings could disappear with one bad bet. The NZSF is safe and risk-free.

Secondly, because it removes a large chunk of risk from the equation. At the moment if your Kiwisaver fund goes under, because its managers made poor bets with other people's money, or simply decided to take the lot on holiday to Las Vegas and Monaco, you're screwed. A government guarantee solves that problem for individual savers, and gives us certainty. A government provider is the cost of that guarantee, but it seems like one worth paying, especially since the government is unlikely to decide to "invest" your funds in horse-racing and hookers.

And thirdly, because investing more of the funds in New Zealand will have wider economic benefits. Our long-term problem as an economy has been a lack of capital for development, meaning that successful small businesses have trouble turning into large ones. Directing superannuation savings towards domestic investment will solve this problem, and give kiwi businesses access to the capital they need without having to go begging overseas.

There's a lot to like here, and no real downside. The only question is implementation. The easiest method would be to establish a public provider, and make it the default; people could choose lower, riskier returns if they wanted, but only motivated morons would. Kiwisaver allows transfers, so those who are already signed up to poorly-performing private schemes can shift over. The public provider could then outcompete the private ones, and the parasitic NZ "savings" industry can die a natural death. And those that don't suffer that fate will avoid it because they're offering a combination of risk and return equal or superior to the government option and offering positive benefits to their customers, earning their fees rather than merely clipping the ticket. Either way, its a win for savers. The only loser is the underperforming finance industry which can't live up to its own rhetoric.

Will it happen? On recent polling, Winston is irrelevant anyway, but the Greens are sympathetic to the idea, and I don't think it would be hard to convince Labour to introduce a government option to force the market to lift its game. So we may see some version. The question is whether we'll see them go the whole way into default provider territory - but that might just be a matter of giving it a few years for the government provider to prove itself...

New Fisk

It took decades for truth to be revealed in Algeria. How long will it take Syria?
Slow going by UN in probe on murder of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri

Justice for Bloody Sunday?

On 30 January 1972, the British Army murdered 14 unarmed Irish civil rights protesters in the Bloody Sunday massacre. Now, 41 years later, the soldiers who pulled the triggers may be about to face trial for their crimes:

The British soldiers who killed 14 people on Bloody Sunday in Derry may be arrested and charged with murder or attempted murder.

The Sunday Times of London report says that up to 20 retired soldiers are likely to be arrested and questioned by police for murder, attempted murder or criminal injury over the shootings more than 40 years ago.

Britain’s Ministry of Defence has already started to hire lawyers to represent the soldiers, most of whom are now in their 60s and 70s.

They will be questioned under criminal caution about their roles in the shootings when soldiers who opened fire on participants in a Civil Rights march.

Good. Soldiers who murder civilians need to be held to account and treated like the criminals they are. The British government was forced to finally acknowledge the truth in 2010 with the Savile inquiry, but that's not enough: there needs to be justice as well.

Friday, October 18, 2013

A move towards honesty

National is going to abandon the electoral strategy of deniable "cups of tea" and instead go for explicit endorsements:

Prime Minister John Key has indicated he will abandon election-year game-playing such as the Epsom cup of tea stunt, and instead will be more explicit with voters about whether he wants them to vote strategically in some electorates next year.

Asked whether Act leader John Banks could expect another "cup of tea" in election year after being told he must face trial over donations returns from his unsuccessful 2010 Auckland mayoralty campaign, Mr Key said it was too early to say.

He then indicated he intended to abandon such stunts and instead set out a clear position on coalition partners well in advance, including possibly openly endorsing candidates from other parties in some seats.

He said decisions would be made over the next year, but National intended to be clear with voters about its coalition options.

I don't have a problem with parties saying "we want to work with this person", or with them refusing to contest a seat or standing in name only if it advantages them. But I do want them to be open and honest that that is what they are doing, so that voters can judge both the relationship and the tactic. Key's announcement is a positive step towards such honesty, and it is good to see.

This will restore confidence in the system!

So, having initially decided that there was no case to answer, the Solicitor-General is now considering taking over the John Banks prosecution. Given the political implications (a conviction means Banks loses his seat, and possibly that the government falls), I think its now far too late for that. Yes, we all know they're supposedly independent. But if they take over the case and are less than vigorous, negotiate a deal, drop the charges or even if they merely lose, then it will look like a stitch-up and undermine confidence in the justice system. Given that, it would be better for public confidence if they stayed out of it, and left Graham McCready to make his own mistakes.


The European Union is about to outlaw data transfers to the US. The reason? The NSA:

New European rules aimed at curbing questionable transfers of data from EU countries to the US are being finalised in Brussels in the first concrete reaction to the Edward Snowden disclosures on US and British mass surveillance of digital communications.

Regulations on European data protection standards are expected to pass the European parliament committee stage on Monday after the various political groupings agreed on a new compromise draft following two years of gridlock on the issue.

The draft would make it harder for the big US internet servers and social media providers to transfer European data to third countries, subject them to EU law rather than secret American court orders, and authorise swingeing fines possibly running into the billions for the first time for not complying with the new rules.

The immediate effect will be to force those US-based companies (and NZ ones) to locate their services in the EU, keeping their data out of NSA hands. But it will also create immense pressure from the US tech industry for their government to negotiate a data-privacy agreement, which will be required to conform to EU law. Of course, the NSA could always just ignore that treaty, or rely on its British subsidiaries "partners", but this is a start, and a good one.

An appalling decision

The Human Rights Review Tribunal has ruled in the case of Gay and Lesbian Clergy Anti-Discrimination Society Inc v Bishop of Auckland [PDF]. The case was about Geno Sisneros, who had been refused permission to become an Anglican Priest because he was gay (or because he was in a de facto relationship rather than single or married). On the face of it, the decision should have been open and shut: sexual orientation is a prohibited ground of discrimination. It is illegal for a qualifying body - e.g. one conferring a qualification to become a priest - to refuse to confer a qualification "by reason of any of the prohibited grounds of discrimination". While there is an exemption to protect religious independence, it applies only where the discrimination is on the grounds of sex or religious belief. The discrimination was not on those grounds. Therefore it was illegal.

The HRRT thought differently, effectively ignoring the clear meaning of the law and reading in wide latitude to discriminate for religious reasons. If they can cloak it under the guise of religion, its OK. So, churches can now discriminate against the disabled, and on the basis of race, simply by saying that hate is a religious tradition.

In the process, they seem to have stepped away from the substantive interpretation of discrimination adopted by the Courts, under which discrimination is assessed on the basis of its effects, not intent (so an action is discriminatory if it materially disadvantages someone on the basis of a prohibited ground, regardless of whether it is driven by prejudice or not). But it gets worse: this sort of construction - discrimination is illegal unless for a specified reason - is universal in the Human Rights Act. And there are other religious exemptions, which now apparently apply more widely. So under the HRRT's interpretation, churches can now refuse to employ gay people, and religious schools can expel gay students (or ones with children).

I'm hoping that there will be an appeal, because this is simply untenable. This isn't the Middle Ages. Religious groups must obey the law like everybody else. And that includes the Human Rights Act and its principles of non-discrimination.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A gap that needs to be filled

Earlier today the Independent Police Conduct Authority released a damning report about an incident in which police had unlawfully trespassed, broken into a house, and beaten people (breaking someone's neck in the process) to unlawfully shut down a party. the police's response? A giant "fuck you":

Despite breaking the law by entering the house, Nicholls said none of the 11 officers involved had been, or would be, disciplined.

"Our belief is the police acted in good faith in terms of entering the property."

So, despite several apparent crimes being committed - including aggravated burglary - the police won't even discipline, let alone prosecute their own.

The Police refusing to hold their own to account is a constant problem. We need a solution. We need an NGO dedicated to mounting private prosecutions, to hold the police to account when they won't do it themselves.

But its not just the police. We also need an NGO to enforce electoral law, because the Police have repeatedly shown that they are unwilling to do so. It should not have been left to Graham McCready to bring a case against John Banks. And cases should have been brought against both Labour and National in 2005 for overspending.

The fact that we now need a body like this is an indictment on our justice system. But its where we're at. Who's up for it?

Unfit to be Speaker

If anyone was in any doubt, we've had proof today that David Carter is unfit to be Speaker. First, he ruled a question asked by Metiria Turei which began with a reference to a "sleazy deal" out of order. Then, when asked, he said that that was not unparliamentary language. Finally, when then asked to justify his given this apparent contradiction, he threw her out. The obvious conclusion: Carter's decision was unjustifiable.

We see this day after day in Question Time, and it is not sustainable. Carter's performance as Speaker has been arbitrary, authoritarian, and inconsistent. Rather than enforcing the Standing orders of the House neutrally, he abuses them to protect the government and limit them being held to account. And every day he does this, he undermines confidence in Parliament, and our system of government. He brings our House and our democracy into contempt. He should step down.

Whitewash and persecution in the UK

The UK Parliament is finally acting on the NSAleaks revelations, with the Intelligence and Security Committee announcing an inquiry into mass-surveillance:

The extent and scale of mass surveillance undertaken by Britain's spy agencies is to be scrutinised in a major inquiry to be formally launched on Thursday.

Parliament's intelligence and security committee (ISC), the body tasked with overseeing the work of GCHQ, MI5 and MI6, will say the investigation is a response to concern raised by the leaks from the whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the committee chair, said "an informed and proper debate was needed". One Whitehall source described the investigation as "a public inquiry in all but name".

But while it looks like they're acting, its worth remembering: ISC is GCHQ's permanent oversight - and thus permanently compromised. Quite apart from the establishment's natural interest in protecting its own, finding that GCHQ had broken the law would mean admitting that they had failed to do their jobs in overseeing it. And they're hardly likely to do that, are they?

Meanwhile, while the ISC is looking into the spies, another Select Committee will be holding an inquisition into The Guardian's publication of information about them. And they'll be doing this on the orders of the Prime Minister, in an explicit attempt to find out if they have broken the law. Which sounds like an executive Star Chamber to me.

In a democracy it is the job of the police to investigate criminal allegations, and the courts to judge them. It is not the job of Parliament. But I guess a kangaroo committee which can make things up as it goes along is far better for this sort of McCarthyite persecution than courts which have to actually follow the law.

More police crime

Back in 2009 Police were called to an "out of control" party in Wellington. When they got there, they found that, contrary to reports, there was no fighting in the street outside. The hosts told them there was no problem, and that they did not need assistance. The police did not believe them. So they broke into the house, smashing windows in the process, and beat those inside to get them to disperse - in the process breaking someone's neck. In the aftermath, when people complained to them and the IPCA, they leaked information about them in an effort to discredit them. And now the Independent Police Conduct Authority has ruled that all of that was unlawful:

An Independent Police Conduct Authority report has found that Police acted contrary to law in entering a private residence on Homebush Road, Khandallah, Wellington in the early hours of 5 September 2009.

The Authority today released the results of its independent investigation into the actions of members of the Tactical Policing Unit who shut down the private party using unnecessary, excessive force in the process.


Independent Police Conduct Authority Chair Judge Sir David Carruthers said today although the Tactical Policing Unit was responding to a call from a partygoer concerned about the behaviour of gatecrashers, the decision to close the party down was contrary to law.

“The force used to remove partygoers from the house in an effort to shut down the party was also excessive and contrary to law.

“The action of a Tactical Policing Unit officer in striking one of the partygoers with a baton, using excessive force, was also contrary to law. Medical records show that this young man sustained a displaced fracture of the C7 spinous process, or a broken neck, as a result of the officer’s action,” Sir David said.

Miraculously, the police, who just last year had published a self-serving whitewash clearing all their officers of any wrongdoing, have now accepted the IPCA's findings. Which raises an obvious question: will the officers involved face charges? Because looking at their description of events, there are prima facie cases for trespass, criminal damage, burglary, aggravated burglary ("burglary with a weapon"), assault, injuring with intent and wounding with intent. Not to mention misuse of official information.

The police must obey the law. If they don't, they are nothing more than a gang with a fancy uniform (and that's exactly how they have behaved in this incident). Sadly, the police don't give us much cause for confidence here: the IPCA specifically finds they unjustly apply a different standard to investigating their own officers than to ordinary members of the public. But if the police won't uphold the law, then the people will have to - through private prosecutions.

The IPCA is also recommending changes around how the police deal with parties. Good. The current situation - where the police apparently regard parties as riots in progress, demand that they be "registered" (implying that you need their permission to exercise your freedom of assembly in your own home), and shut them down on a whim - is a cause of public disorder, not a cure for it. The police need to change their approach. The question is whether they'll learn their lesson, or continue with the same pig-headed approach which has caused these problems.

Update: And bingo, the police announce that they will not discipline their home-invading, neck-breaking officers. Which strongly suggests they won't charge them either. And then they wonder why people have no faith in them...


The gradual switch to STV has been one of the great improvements in local government democracy. It has meant a switch from a system which gave a narrow plurality total power, to one where people's votes counted. Naturally the right hates it. And naturally, National wants to use poor local body turnouts as an excuse to get rid of it:

The Government has flagged a wide-ranging review of how we vote in the local body elections, including alleged "turnoffs" - the confusing transferable voting system and the three-week voting period.


[Local Government Minister Chris Tremain] would ask the justice and electoral committee to investigate other ways to lift voter turnout.

"Part of this will be considering the confusion created by the single transferable voting system [STV], especially when voters are presented with [different] voting systems on the same voting papers.

So, they'll "lift voter turnout" by making people's votes worthless again. Yeah, that'll work. Meanwhile, the real problem - the fact that people don't really have much to vote for in local government (and when they do, Gerry Brownlee will just bulldoze them anyway) will go completely unexamined.

People vote if their votes count. Rather than trying to strip power from us, Tremain should be working out how to give us more. That's what will get us involved. But public involvement and public power are precisely what the National party exists to prevent. Why, if people can decide local body policy by electing candidates who take clear policy stands and have the power to implement them, they might vote against oil drilling, or giving all the water to dairy farmers, or other vested interests. And we can't be having that now, can we?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Banks to stand trial

John Banks will face trial for electoral fraud. According to the Judge, there is a question of whether he was wilfully blind to the declaration and whether he intended for donations from SkyCity and Kim Dotcom to be anonymous. If convicted, he will face up to two years imprisonment, and will automaticly lose his seat in the House, forcing a byelection and possibly a general election.

So, the stakes are high for Banks. Meanwhile, he will have the deciding vote on legislation enabling SkyCity's $400 million casino deal, despite SkyCity CEO Nigel Morrison being a witness in the trial. There's an obvious potential for one hand to wash the other here, and yet remarkably John Key does not consider it to be a conflict of interest, and cannot recall whether Banks has formally notified him of one [video]. Strangely, the House's Standing Orders do not cover this possibility; Members are only required to declare financial interests before a vote; your entire political career being in the hands of someone whose crony legislation you will decide the fate of apparently is beyond the scope of the rules. So, Banks could vote to advantage a witness in his case, possibly securing favourable testimony, and it would all be within the rules (to use MPs' favourite phrase).

This is simply unacceptable. Our Parliament cannot be dragged into disrepute and tainted with corruption like this. At the least, the bill needs to be delayed until the outcome of the trial is clear and there is no possibility of the perception of corruption.

As for Banks, I think these charges are simply politicly unsustainable and taint him irrevocably. Electoral fraud has no place in our democracy, and those in our House must be above even its perception. He should resign.

Update: And splat, he's resigned as a Minister. But he'll still be there in the House, voting on things which directly affect his future. And as long as that's the case, there will be the suspicion of a quid pro quo.

Gambling with our environment

US oil company Anadarko is about to begin oil exploration off the Kaikoura coast, and government Ministers are angrily downplaying the risks. Meanwhile, it turns out that they've been formally warned that an accident would be catastrophic:

The Government was warned last year an offshore oil spill would have a "catastrophic impact" on New Zealand's coastline and "huge economic consequences".

The advice was included in a ministry briefing to Environment Minister Amy Adams about classifying exploratory drilling for oil and gas.


A briefing prepared in October last year said that while the probability of a well blowout in New Zealand was "unlikely" due to the small number of wells, "the true likelihood is unclear".

"However, if an oil spill does occur, it is highly likely to have a catastrophic impact on New Zealand's coastline and huge economic consequences, regardless of the other marine management regimes in place."

Do we need any more evidence that National is gambling with our environment? They're allowing activity with potentially huge environmental consequences, in the hope that they get lucky. As for why, its because striking oil is their economic "plan". So they're not just gambling with the environment - their entire economic policy is a gamble as well. And this is what National calls "better economic management"?

If you can't cap it, don't drill it. Its that simple. If Anadarko wants to conduct such risky drilling in New Zealand waters, it should be fully prepared to respond immediately to an accident. If they think that's "uneconomic", then their industry is. The people of New Zealand should not be expected to pay the costs or bear the consequences of an oil company skimping on safety.

Justice for dirty dairying

Cleaning up the dairy industry requires prosecutions, and it requires significant fines to make dirty practices economicly unviable. Finally, we're seeing some progress on that:

The Auckland District Court on Tuesday fined Fenwick Farms $114,000 after it admitted pumping dairy shed effluent straight into a stream which feeds the Waikato River.

A former employee of the farmer thinks the heavy fine was justified - and that it should have been higher.

"Should be paying more for the amount of effluent on it. He knew what he was doing. There was no remorse about it. The only remorse he's got is probably getting a fine, and that's it," the former employee said.

Its a record fine for the Waikato region, and almost 2.5 times the previous record. Which tells us that the courts are losing their patience with this as well, and recognising the damage it causes, both to the environment and the dairy industry. Even Federated Farmers supports the fine - which tells us we might just be on the verge of the culture shift we need.


Back in 2011 Solid Energy established a lignite briquetting plant in Mataura. The plant was the first phase of an ambitious plan to exploit Southland's lignite, turning it into urea and diesel fuel - a plan which had the enthusiastic support of John Key. As we all know, that plan was one of the major factors in Solid Energy's failure and near-bankruptcy. And now, the briquette plant which started it all has been shut down and mothballed.

Good. Coal is a dirty fuel, and lignite is the dirtiest form of it. New Zealand and the global environment are better off without it. And in the wider view, coal companies like Solid Energy need to realise that they have no future. Their "profits" can only come by imposing enormous costs on the environment, and on humanity, including hundreds of millions of human lives. If we are to avoid those costs, they basicly have to go out of business. It's that simple.

We made a small start on that today in Mataura. Good riddance.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Time to end the LGOIMA veto

Something that came to my attention while reading the Ombudsman's Annual Report [PDF]: last year, Judith Collins made a routine request for information to the Independent Maori Statutory Board (the unelected body which advises the Auckland Council). The Board refused the request. When Collins went to the Ombudsman to force them to release it, the Board vetoed the release.

The Board could do this because the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act (LGOIMA) contains a veto power:

Where a recommendation is made under section 30(1) to a local authority, a public duty to observe that recommendation shall be imposed on that local authority on the commencement of the 21st working day after the day on which that recommendation is made to the local authority unless, before that day, the local authority, by resolution made at a meeting of that local authority, decides otherwise and records that decision in writing.

(My emphasis).

The OIA also contains a veto power, but it has not been used since 1987, and its use now is constitutionally unthinkable - so unthinkable that the Law Commission has recommended that it be removed. So why do we still let local authorities and their subsidiary agencies veto the Ombudsman? It seems utterly contrary to the rule of law. The legitimate interests in secrecy are already protected by the Act. And local authorities should just have to lump it.

What the Independent Maori Statutory Board did was quite unconstitutional. And their petty secrecy and refusal to accept the rule of law should be the death knell for this unconstitutional power of secrecy.

Arafat was poisoned

Last November the body of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was exhumed for an autopsy to determine if he was poisoned. Sadly, it appears that he was:

Swiss radiation experts have confirmed they found traces of the radioactive agent polonium on the clothing of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, supporting the possibility he was poisoned.

In a report published by The Lancet medical journal, the team adds scientific details to media statements made in 2012 that they had found polonium on Mr Arafat's belongings.


The report says several samples containing blood and urine had higher unexplained levels of polonium than the reference samples, AFP reports.

Computer modelling, which calculates polonium's very fast decay, found the levels were compatible with a lethal ingestion.

Polonium is quite a sophisticated method, and there's really only one country which had both motive and the means to do so: Israel.

Different standards

Last night, Maori TV's Native Affairs exposed serious corruption at the Kohanga Reo National Trust, with trustees abusing charity credit cards to fund personal spending. The Trust is not a government organisation, but it is government-funded, so these people are stealing taxpayer's money. Worse, they're stealing it at the expense of kids' education. Its dishonest and its despicable.

So what does John Key think should be done? He's pretty clear:

Prime Minister John Key has warned that any state-funded organisation found to be misspending taxpayer money will have "the book thrown at them.''

Which is entirely appropriate. We should have no pity for thieves; those in power who steal money from the taxpayer and rob the public of services should be punished and sacked.

At the same time, I can't help but notice the contrast with how Key has handled such cases amongst his own Ministers. Back in 2010, then-Housing and Fisheries Minister Phil Heatley was found to have used a Ministerial credit card to pay for booze and family holidays, having been repeatedly warned against such spending by his officials. He resigned, but rather than "throw the book at him", Key reinstated him a month later, saying there was no intent to deceive (despite Heatley admitting that he had fraudulently filled out an expenses claim to hide the fact that he was buying booze for party cronies on the taxpayer's tab). There's clearly a different standard here. Is it because he's white? Or merely because - unlike the Kohanga Reo trustees - he is one of Key's mates?

This isn't conservation

So, having censored itself over the Ruataniwha dam, the Department of Conservation has now been caught conspiring with the Hawke's Bay Regional Council to flood a forest park for the scheme:

A legal loophole could let the Department of Conservation swap away 23 hectares of Ruahine Forest Park, to be flooded as part of a proposed Hawke's Bay dam project, without consulting the public.

Internal briefing documents show DOC advised Hawke's Bay Regional Council that a concession to flood a section of the park was unlikely to be granted. Instead, a way around that would be a land swap, which was its preferred position, it told the council.

Under the Conservation Act, DOC cannot exchange conservation land for private land unless it has been downgraded to stewardship land. Before any conservation land can be reclassified, it must go through a public consultation process.

But DOC spokesman Rory Newsam said in this case, Ruahine Forest Park had never been "formally gazetted" as conservation land - though it was "deemed to be managed" as conservation land.

This raises the obvious question of how much other land which we think is protected really isn't because DoC are muppets. But beyond that: isn't the purpose of DoC to conserve? Instead, they seem to be working hand-in-glove with those who want to pillage the conservation estate - our conservation estate - for private gain.

DoC should not be swapping land with people who want to ruin the environment. If the Hawke's Bay Regional Council's dam requires flooding a forest park, then that means they can't build it there. It's that simple.

All your friends are belong to them

Today's NSAleak: the NSA spies on who everybody's friends are:

The National Security Agency is harvesting hundreds of millions of contact lists from personal e-mail and instant messaging accounts around the world, many of them belonging to Americans, according to senior intelligence officials and top secret documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

The collection program, which has not been disclosed before, intercepts e-mail address books and “buddy lists” from instant messaging services as they move across global data links. Online services often transmit those contacts when a user logs on, composes a message, or synchronizes a computer or mobile device with information stored on remote servers.

Rather than targeting individual users, the NSA is gathering contact lists in large numbers that amount to a sizable fraction of the world’s e-mail and instant messaging accounts. Analysis of that data enables the agency to search for hidden connections and map relationships within a much smaller universe of foreign intelligence targets.

But while there's obvious intelligence value in social network analysis of e.g. suspected terrorists, there's no such value to such analysis of innocent people to any but a totalitarian government. The fact that NSA thinks this level of collateral collection is acceptable speaks volumes about their totalitarian mindset.

Meanwhile, this apparently depends on the cooperation of foreign intelligence agencies (such as GCSB) and foreign telecommunications companies. The latter have no legal obligation to cooperate with a US intelligence agency, so you really have to wonder why they're doing it - and why they're not screaming about how the Americans demanded that they spy on their own customers.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Justice for electoral fraud?

Three years ago, Labour local body candidate Daljit Singh allegedly conspired to redirect postal ballots in the Auckland supercity elections in the hope of gaining election by fraud. Today, he finally went on trial for those offences:

A leader of New Zealand's small Sikh community has pleaded not guilty to forging election documents in a bid to win a local body election three years ago.

In the High Court in Auckland today Labour Party member and Sikh leader Daljit Singh faces 20 charges of forging documents to change residential addresses showing that people from places like Timaru and Tauranga appeared to live in the Otara-Papatoetoe Local Board area.

Singh was a candidate in the first super city election in 2010.

"In a sentence, he and his associates . . . carried out a fraud in the election system to try and assist Daljit Singh," Crown prosecutor Robin McCoubrey told the jury of 10 women and two men.

I understand that the Electoral Commission has tightened up the procedure around changing addresses since then, but it should never have allowed it to be so lax in the first place. Meanwhile, the above suggests that Singh is still a member of the Labour Party. If so, I'm appalled. Electoral fraud has no place in our democracy, and someone tainted by the allegation should not be accepted as a member of a political party.

In it up to their necks

For twenty years the Consulting Association ran an illegal blacklist of the UK construction industry, targeting union organisers and "left-wing troublemakers". British construction companies paid subscriptions to have prospective employees vetted against the list; thousands were refused employment as a result. The entire operation was seized by the UK Information Commissioner in 2009, and subsequent examination of the data showed that some of it could only have come from the police and security services. When this was revealed, the UK police angrily dismissed complaints, saying that it was nothing to do with them. naturally, they lied:

Police officers across the country supplied information on workers to a blacklist operation run by Britain's biggest construction companies, the police watchdog has told lawyers representing victims.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission has informed those affected that a Scotland Yard inquiry into police collusion has identified that it is "likely that all special branches were involved in providing information" that kept certain individuals out of work.

Who'd have thunk it? A far-right organisation victimises left-wingers, and the police are in it up to their necks. And then they wonder why people don't believe them about anything...

The good news is that some of those victimised will probably receive compensation. But the real question is whether those responsible for this gross invasion of privacy and those who unlawfully colluded with them will ever be fully held accountable.

Local bodies

So, local body elections happened, and saw the re-election of left-wing mayors in Auckland and Wellington, the election of a left-wing mayor and a Labour council in Christchurch, and a Greenslide in Wellington. That's a pretty good result - especially the latter - but it does have me wondering: how long until National decides to simply bulldoze away those councils full of troublesome political opponents in favour of commissions stacked with unelected cronies? Remember, they did it to ECan, they can do it to the others too.

(Speaking of ECan, I'd love to see Labour's policy on it. An incoming Labour government can end the dictatorship with the flick of a pen, by ordering the dictators to hold elections. Will they? I'd like to see a concrete promise here along the lines of "elections within three months")

Locally, my crook of a mayor won on the first ballot. Chris Teo-Sherrell and Duncan McCann got re-elected (as did most of the incumbents), and are joined by Aleisha Rutherford and Rachel Bowen (who made positive noises on the ENM survey). For Horizons we got at lest one clean-water candidate (Rachel Keedwell) and former city councillor Pat Kelly (who's an OK guy, and looks good to Generation Zero), but didn't have the big changeover I was hoping for. But the driving issue of water quality isn't going away, and there's always next time.

Update: Added in the Christchurch council result. So they have a Labour mayor with pretty solid council backing. Brownlee is probably already firing up the bulldozer to get rid of them...

New Fisk

Lebanon has cause for shame in its treatment of Syrian refugees
Further proof emerges of Turkey’s genocide

Something to go to in Palmerston North

Margaret Sparrow and Dr Alison McCulloch will be launching their books, Abortion Then and Now: New Zealand Abortion Stories from 1940 to 1980, and Fighting to Choose: The Abortion Rights Struggle in Aotearoa New Zealand, in Palmerston North this Friday:

When: 17:30 - 19:00, Friday 18 October
Where: Palmerston North Central Library, The Square

There will be a short presentation by both authors and a Q&A session.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Immigration backs down

Back in 2011, I highlighted an obnoxious practice of Immigration NZ of refusing to record reasons for certain decisions. The practice was contrary to the Public Records Act, and, as OIA'd documents later revealed, had been implemented specifically to prevent those decisions from being reviewed by the courts or the Ombudsman. Now, according to the NZ Council for Civil Liberties, Immigration has backed down in the face of complaints to the Chief Archivist and Ombudsman, and issued a new circular [PDF] requiring that reasons be recorded.

So, open government and the rule of law win. But no doubt Immigration will find another way to subvert them.