Friday, November 29, 2013

Misson creep

For the past decade, the UK internet industry has had a voluntary blacklist to block child pornography. Now, the government wants to impose one for "extremist" content as well:

The government is to order broadband companies to block extremist websites and empower a specialist unit to identify and report content deemed too dangerous for online publication.

The crime and security minister, James Brokenshire, said on Wednesday that measures for censoring extremist content would be announced shortly. The initiative is likely to be controversial, with broadband companies already warning that freedom of speech could be compromised.

Today the target is Muslim extremists and terrorist "sympathisers" - that is, people who criticise UK government policy. But its worth remembering who else the British government regards as "extremists" to be surveilled, databased, and tracked: environmentalists, peace activists, students, and those supporting equality. Given those anti-democratic attitudes, an "anti-terrorism" blocklist seems to be the thin end of the wedge for widespread political censorship.

Spherical politicians in a vaccuum

I have no special knowledge of the Green Party leadership challenge. I am not a member of the party, and I have no useful sources. More importantly, I think its a matter for party members, rather than random bloggers, to resolve. But the general consensus is that there's nothing really to it, and that Green members are a little annoyed at having it raised (oh, and apparently having a democratic party which permits the leadership to be challenged is "crazy" - another sign of the anti-democratic strain in our political journalists).

And then there's Rachel Smalley:

[L]et me tell you something - in politics, there is never smoke without fire. [Hay] wouldn't have done this if he didn't have the numbers. I think the Greens are frustrated at the moment, possibly a bit anxious, and this is why...

The big problem with this? It assumes that those involved are uber-rational Machiavellians. And the conclusion is entirely an artefact of that assumption.

Real politicians are not spherical entities moving in a perfect vaccuum (or that other simplifying assumption, the "perfectly-informed rational market actor"). They are frequently egotistical, lack perfect information, and are not solely driven by the acquisition of power. We've seen plenty of examples in recent years of politicians who can't count, and who have launched leadership challenges without having the numbers - the present Leader of the Opposition among them. Absent compelling evidence to the contrary, this looks like more of the same.

More blowback

Last week we learned that Australia had been spying on Indonesia. The Indonesians are naturally furious, and have already ended co-operation over people-smuggling. Now they've gone one further and stopped co-operating on terrorism and crime as well:

National police chief Sutarman told the Indonesian parliament’s Commission I on foreign affairs that there was now no cooperation between his forces and Australia on counter-terrorism, information sharing and international crime.

Defence minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro told parliament that three joint exercises with Australian troops had been cancelled — one involving the elite Kopassus special forces troops, one in Darwin and another — a navy counter-terrorism exercise in Manado, North Sulawesi — later this month. He denied there would be any disadvantage for Indonesia over these suspensions.

“Joint exercises are important, coordinating patrols is important, but how can we do it if there is lack of trust among the crews or among the soldiers?” Mr Purnomo said.

Spies justify their powers and budgets with the claim that they keep their citizens safe. Instead, the excesses of Australia's spies are now actively endangering Australians. Time to shut them down.

Britain's dirty colonial laundry goes public

Last year, we learned that viciously culled the official records of its imperial crimes, incinerating documents and keeping the surviving records in an illegal secret archive. Those records have now been publicly released - including records on how the cull was conducted:

Known in several former colonies as “Operation Legacy”, Whitehall set out a list of the types of material it wanted removed, including anything which “might embarrass members of the police, military forces, public servants (such as police agents or informers)”. Once “dirty” documents had been removed the remaining “clean” material was passed to a new strata of administrators overseeing independence processes who were deliberately not told about the sifting process.

It also ordered the destruction or removal of “all papers which are likely to be interpreted, either reasonably or by malice, as indicating racial prejudice or bias”.

Under the rules, all material marked “Top Secret” or “Secret” was either sent back to Britain via the RAF or the navy, or destroyed either by burning or “placed in well-weighted crates and sunk in deep and current free water at the maximum practicable distance from shore”.

Among the documents is a note that officials should carefully control any bonfires of secrets and avoid a situation similar to Indian in 1947 when the local press was filled with reports about the “pall of smoke” which fell over Delhi at the end of the Raj as British officials burnt their papers.

If anyone tells you that Britain was a "good empire", they're lying. They're simply an empire which burned all the evidence. And as a result, they've largely gotten away with their crimes.

Canadian spies broke the law

Today's NSALeak: the Canadian Communications Security Establishment allowed the NSA to spy on the 2010 G8 and G20 summits in Canada:

Top secret documents retrieved by U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden show that Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government allowed the largest American spy agency to conduct widespread surveillance in Canada during the 2010 G8 and G20 summits.

The documents are being reported exclusively by CBC News.

The briefing notes, stamped "Top Secret," show the U.S. turned its Ottawa embassy into a security command post during a six-day spying operation by the National Security Agency while U.S. President Barack Obama and 25 other foreign heads of government were on Canadian soil in June of 2010.

The spying was to "provid[e] support to policymakers" - that is, spy on other parties negotiating positions to advantage the US (and presumably Canada, though who knows?)

The head of CESC says that he does "not ask [partners] to perform actions that is against the law for me to perform in Canada". But he also says that "CSEC, under its legislation, cannot target Canadians anywhere in the world or anyone in Canada, including visitors to Canada". So we have two options: either CESC invited the NSA to set up temporary listening posts on Canadian territory to spy on Martians, or they broke the law. And the fact that they refuse to answer when asked whether they got a warrant for the NSA to spy tells us all we need to know.

Intercepting communications without a warrant is of course illegal in Canada. So the head of CESC and everyone who negotiated this sordid deal should be going to jail for conspiracy.

(There's no obvious question about GCSB behaviour here because they are allowed to spy on non-New Zealanders within New Zealand, so they don't need to invite foreign spies in to circumvent the law. But its an illustration of the mindset of the Five Eyes spies that they see their own governing legislation as something to be circumvented rather than obeyed).

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Our dishonest police

It looks like the police have been withholding evidence in the Kim Dotcom case:

Lawyers for Kim Dotcom have threatened to summon government spies to give evidence in court to obtain information they say they need for his compensation claim.

They have raised the possibility after the Green Party on Tuesday released a police summary of their investigation into whether the internet businessman was spied on illegally.

Mr Dotcom's lead lawyer Paul Davison, QC, told a hearing in the High Court in Auckland on Wednesday that neither he nor a court-appointed special advocate have ever been given the summary or the full report.

As Davison points out, this raises the obvious question of what else the government is hiding. But beyond that, if they can't follow the basic rules of disclosure in this case, how many others are they messing up in a similar way?

So much for the copper tax

Since the Commerce Commission ruled against the government's plan to subsidise Chorus' profits by letting them charge extortionate and unwarranted broadband prices, the government has been sabre-rattling and threatening to legislate. But the minor parties have just blown that plan out of the water:

New Zealand First, the Maori Party and United Future are all vowing to oppose any legislation which would overrule the Commerce Commission on broadband pricing.

In what appears to be a series of coordinated releases this afternoon, all three parties have said they would respect the regulators determination, which would see the price of wholesale broadband drop from December 2014.

NZ First IT spokesperson Tracey Martin said in a statement that the party supported the commission's final recommendation on pricing, and opposed ''any deal that puts the interests of a publicly listed company ahead of New Zealand families and businesses''.

"We will vote against any legislation that seeks to overrule the Commerce Commission's final pricing recommendation or that tries to delay its implementation from 1 December 2014," she said.

Which means that there's simply no majority for legislation. Cheaper broadband is here to stay. As for the government cronies in Chorus, they'll have to actually work for their money, rather than just engaging in lazy rent-seeking.

But apart from enjoying the government's discomfort, its an interesting development, because it suggests the minor parties have finally learned to count. Without Peter Dunne, National no longer has an easy majority - they have to work for every vote. And on some things - e.g. RMA "reform" - they are no longer going to be able to get their way. The question now is whether they throw their toys and call an election to avoid such democratic "instability", or whether they simply make Peter Dunne a Minister again so he goes back to being a reliable footstool.

The NSA, PRISM and porn

The latest NSALeak: the NSA uses people's surfing habits to undermine and discredit them:

The National Security Agency has been gathering records of online sexual activity and evidence of visits to pornographic websites as part of a proposed plan to harm the reputations of those whom the agency believes are radicalizing others through incendiary speeches, according to a top-secret NSA document. The document, provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, identifies six targets, all Muslims, as “exemplars” of how “personal vulnerabilities” can be learned through electronic surveillance, and then exploited to undermine a target's credibility, reputation and authority.

The NSA document, dated Oct. 3, 2012, repeatedly refers to the power of charges of hypocrisy to undermine such a messenger. “A previous SIGINT" -- or signals intelligence, the interception of communications -- "assessment report on radicalization indicated that radicalizers appear to be particularly vulnerable in the area of authority when their private and public behaviors are not consistent,” the document argues.

Among the vulnerabilities listed by the NSA that can be effectively exploited are “viewing sexually explicit material online” and “using sexually explicit persuasive language when communicating with inexperienced young girls.”

Its a pretty obvious application of the NSA's mass-surveillance. PRISM lets them know everyone's dirty little online secrets. But its not just about porn - the NSA documents list "inconsistent arguments", "disagree[ment] with AQ on some issues", "exorbitant speaking fees" and "mistirect[ed] donations" as ways of undermining people. So its pretty clear that they're doing a full trawl of targets - and faced with that and an agency looking for ways to spin anything to its advantage, very few people would survive such scrutiny. And note who they're applying it to: not to actual terrorists, but to people who merely disagree with US policy. So we have a government acting as the online Stasi, using mass surveillance to dig into people's private lives to prevent them from exercising their freedom of speech against it.

As the article points out, the US has a long and dirty history of doing this to its domestic political opponents, for example wiretapping Martin Luther King and other civil rights activists in an effort to get dirt to discredit them. The NSA was up to its neck in such dirty, anti-democratic actions, before it was legally barred from operating in the US (which means that it simply gets the FBI to front for it, with the data ending up in the same databases). Its not surprising that they've continued using such tactics.

There are two obvious concerns which immediately arise. Firstly, there is one group which is exquisitely vulnerable to such tactics: politicians. And thanks to secrecy, we'll never be able to be sure that the NSA is not using this technology to promote its own domestic political aims and target those seeking to limit its powers or cut its budget. But its not just about government power-games - think of what a government could do with it if they decided to use it against their political opponents. Think of what Richard Nixon would have done with it. And that alone is a reason why this program, and the agency which runs it, must be shut down. Mass-surveillance is simply inconsistent with democracy.

Burning the CIA

Since 2004 the CIA has been conducting a campaign of terror in Pakistan, using remotely operate drones to murder Pakistanis they believe to be associated with terrorism. Their standard for such association is low, and the drone strikes have killed a large number of innocent civilians. Amnesty International believes this indiscriminate use of force is a war crime.

The strikes are (naturally) deeply unpopular in Pakistan. And now the PTI, a party led by former cricketer Imran Khan, has . In the process, they've exposed the CIA's Islamabad station chief:

The political party led by the former cricket star Imran Khan claims to have blown the cover of the CIA's most senior officer in Pakistan as part of an increasingly high-stakes campaign against US drone strikes.

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party named a man it claimed was head of the CIA station in Islamabad in a letter to police demanding he be nominated as one of the people responsible for a drone strike on 21 November, which killed five militants including senior commanders of the Haqqani Network.

John Brennan, the CIA director, was also nominated as an "accused person" for murder and "waging war against Pakistan".

The Guardian refuses to name the accused (perhaps for fear of another visit from the government with a power-sander), but other media does: he is Craig Peters Osth. Cryptome has more on him (including his past mentions in US diplomatic telegrams) here. As for the legal situation, as The Hindu notes,
The Peshawar High Court has already declared such drone strikes illegal and a violation of Pakistani and International laws in its judgment. Ms Mazari stated that Craig Osth is currently residing and operating from the United States Embassy situated in the Diplomatic Enclave in Islamabad, which is a clear violation of diplomatic norms and laws as a foreign mission cannot be used for any criminal activity within a sovereign state. CIA Station Chief is not a diplomatic post therefore he does not enjoy any diplomatic immunity and is within the bounds of domestic laws of Pakistan.

The Americans will no doubt try and hustle their agent out of the country. Otherwise they're looking at a very public and very embarrassing trial. Either way, now that he's been named, he should find it quite difficult to work in such positions in future.

Good riddance

Silvio Berlusconi has been expelled from the Italian Senate:

The Italian Senate has voted to expel ex-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi from parliament with immediate effect over his conviction for tax fraud.

Berlusconi, who has dominated politics for 20 years, could now face arrest over other criminal cases as he has lost his immunity from prosecution.

He told supporters in Rome it was a "day of mourning" for democracy.

Berlusconi has been a toxic influence on Italian politics, legislating repeatedly to protect himself and his cronies from prosecution for their crimes. Now, he's just a convicted tax fraudster, barred from office for six years. While he'll no doubt try to retain an influence through his Forza Italia party (named after a football chant - yes, Italian politics is that debased), inevitably his inability to lead a government will see that influence decline. And given his age, he's unlikely to have time to make a comeback.

So, Italian politics is finally free of Berlusconi. The question is whether they can do better, or whether its Berlusconis all the way down...

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Covering up their crimes

In the dying days of the British Empire, British soldiers murdered 24 unarmed villagers in Batang Kali. Since then, they've been systematically covering up the crime:

British governments blocked two police investigations into the covering up of the killing by British troops of 24 unarmed rubber plantation workers during counterinsurgency operations in Malaysia nearly 65 years ago, the appeal court heard on Tuesday.

Relatives of victims who died in the massacre of Batang Kali in December 1948 were in court to hear how soldiers of the Scots Guards had admitted murdering the plantation workers.

The government intervened to stop a Scotland Yard investigation in 1970 after the soldiers' confession. The police officer in charge subsequently complained that the issue was "politically flavoured from the outset". The investigation was stopped because of a "political change of view" when the Conservatives came to power in 1970, the officer said.

The Ministry of Defence said: "If no reaction is forthcoming, the matter will probably now remain buried in the public mind … and quietly forgotten."

An investigation by the Malaysian police in the 1990s, after fresh evidence emerged, was also blocked following intervention by the British government, the appeal court heard.

This is what empires do: murder people then cover it up to protect their reputation. Britain's empire was no different. And its long past time those responsible for it were held to account.

A forced merger

Last year, National passed the Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Act 2012. Among other things, the Act made it vastly easier to force local bodies to merge. Previously, any local body merger had to be approved by a referendum of those affected, and it had to win a majority in each local body. The Act removed that requirement, and now only allows a vote if forced by a petition of residents (who have to gather the signatures of 10% of the relevant electors within 40 working days - something which is almost certainly impossible).

Now we're seeing the results of that legislation, with a forced merger of five councils in Hawke's Bay. This years local body election results made it pretty clear that local residents do not want to be merged in this way, with anti-amalgamation mayors voted in in Napier, wairoa and Central Hawke's Bay. But the Mayor of Hastings wants it, and under the new rules, if someone files an application, the merger happens.

The good news is that the proposed boundaries of the merged council include a tiny part of the Rangitikei District, encompassing 20 voters. Getting a petition of 10% of them to force a referendum should be easy, and that referendum will see the merger proposal defeated. But its a stark warning of what is to come in Wellington and Canterbury. National has stacked the rules to allow their chosen cronies to destroy our local democracies. We cannot let that happen.

New kiwi blog

Polity, by Rob Salmond

The problem with fixing housing

Why has the government done so little to fix the housing crisis? Because anything which looks to produce a real solution gets a reaction like this:

Auckland's housing shortage is smaller than officials think and if the Housing Accord reaches its target over the next three years there could be an oversupply of 10,000 homes, says the Institute of Economic Research.


NZIER estimates the shortage of housing at around 5000 homes.

"If the Housing Accord is successful in delivering 39,000 homes and sections, we estimate it will result in an oversupply of 10,000 homes. A significant increase in the housing supply, alongside the Reserve Bank's efforts to cool highly geared credit growth, is a significant risk for house prices in Auckland," NZIER principal economist Shamubeel Eaqub said.

(Emphasis added)

Pretty obviously, increasing the supply of houses will cause prices to fall. And that is the ultimate goal of the exercise - to lower the price so that housing is again accessible to all. But that threatens the vested interests of a whole lot of people: not just morons who leveraged themselves to the hilt to invest in overpriced rental properties, or people who borrowed on the mortgage against their bubble-priced asset to fund a lifestyle they couldn't afford, or MPs who own a disproportionate number of houses, but also ordinary people who simply bought an overpriced house to live in (and who would face seeing it devalued, possibly to the point where they had negative equity, if housing policy was successful). And that's a powerful voting bloc to keep locking the young out of home-ownership in favour of turning them into peasant tenants.

And that said: enough of them seem to realise that we just can't go on like this. Mass home-ownership is a core part of the kiwi dream, and a key underpinning for our vision of ourselves as an egalitarian society. More prosaically, those wealthy property-owning parents don't like seeing their kids struggle to enjoy the same lifestyle they had. That's a powerful force as well, and enough to support at least some explicit deflation of the housing market.

If there has been mass-spying, there must be accountability

Stuff reports on the implicit admission in the police investigation into illegal GCSB spying that the GCSB sourced their information from the NSA. In doing so, it reminds us of this:

In August, the whistleblower released documents in which New Zealand was listed as a collection site for an NSA database of phone-call, email and internet search data. However, the New Zealand Government has consistently refused to confirm what co-operation is given to the NSA.

Prime Minister John Key has previously said he would resign if the GCSB was found to be conducting mass surveillance on New Zealanders.

Key's relaxed attitude to the prospect of Snowden leaks about New Zealand suggests he doesn't think that that's a real possibility - though whether its because he knows its not happening, or he simply hasn't been briefed is anyone's guess. And note what its silent on - the NSA. If its revealed that we cut a deal to let the NSA spy on all of us rather than doing it ourselves (something Key refuses to deny), Key will undoubtedly quibble semantics and refuse to go. In which case we should drive him from office with torches and pitchforks. There's no place in our government for foreign quislings.

But if the worst comes to the worst, and it turns out the GCSB have been illegally collecting all our metadata under some torturous interpretation of the law, its not just the Prime Minister who should be run out of town on a rail. The GCSB is supposed to be overseen by the Intelligence and Security Committee, consisting of the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, and three other MPs. Its membership since 2006 has included Phil Goff, David Shearer, David Cunliffe, Winston Peters, Tariana Turia, Russel Norman, John Banks, Peter Dunne and Tony Ryall (and various other sitting MPs; full details can be found in the 2006, 2009, 2012 and 2013 membership motions). These people are supposed to have been our oversight. If they were briefed about any mass-spying and didn't use Parliamentary Privilege to tell us, we should hold them responsible.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Ten kiwis died for this

Afghanistan is planning to bring back public stoning for adulterers:

Afghan government officials have proposed reintroducing public stoning as a punishment for adultery, Human Rights Watch said, even though the practice has been denounced both inside and outside the country as one of the most repugnant symbols of the Taliban regime.

The sentence for married adulterers, along with flogging for unmarried offenders, appears in a draft revision of the country's penal code being managed by the ministry of justice.

There are several references to stoning in a translated section of the draft seen by the Guardian, including detailed notes on judicial requirements for handing down the sentence.

"Men and women who commit adultery shall be punished based on the circumstances to one of the following punishments: lashing, stoning [to death]," article 21 states. The draft goes on to specify that the stoning should be public, in article 23.

Ten kiwi soldiers died in Afghanistan. And this is what they died for: so the Afghan government could go back to the barbaric, medieval practice of stoning consenting adults for having sex. They died for nothing, and our politicians need to be held accountable for that.

The police, the GCSB, and PRISM

The police have been forced to release the executive summary [PDF] of their investigation into the GCSB for illegally spying on Kim Dotcom. The big news (because its easy and doesn't require close analysis) is that four GCSB agents refused to be interviewed by police. In a criminal matter, these people of course enjoy the right to silence and the presumption of innocence. Politically, its a different story. GCSB staff need to be able to enjoy the full the full trust and confidence of the New Zealand public that they are acting lawfully. Their lack of cooperation here means that that is simply no longer the case. Simply to preserve what's left of the GCSB's reputation, these uncooperative agents have to go.

Meanwhile, unmentioned by the media are the real stories. First, an implicit admission that the GCSB got their information from the NSA via PRISM:

23. Because of the origin of the data supplied to GCSB it could not be established to an evidential standard whether the data was gathered at rest or in transit. The collection of data in transit is needed to satisfy the Crimes Act legal definition of intercept R v Cox.


37. For the remainder of the data collected by GCSB the investigation could not establish whether it was gathered at rest or in transit when it was acquired. GCSB could not provide the investigation with this information as they did not have it.

(Emphasis added)

So, information was supplied to GCSB, and they don't know how it was collected. Meaning that it came from a foreign partner. So, the GCSB uses PRISM against New Zealanders.

(Sadly, the police were not specific about whether any of the data referred to came from within New Zealand. If it did, then that would also be evidence that the NSA was intercepting the communications of New Zealanders)

Secondly, there's the police's odd views about "intent". I've gone over them here, and Graeme Edgeler has his own analysis here. The police expand on their legal views, saying:
Any employee who acts in good faith and without culpable ignorance or negligence is protected from criminal prosecution. A person who honestly but mistakenly believes that the interception was done pursuant to, and in accordance with the terms of, the relevant statutory authority will not be criminally liable.

Pointy comments about the Nuremburg defence aside, while this is appropriate for Contravention of Statute, it is inappropriate for a strict liability offence such as intercepting communications. The police deliberately ignored the law here, and we have been denied justice as a result.

And then there's this bit:
It was also established that other communications were obtained that were considered to have been intercepted by GCSB's New Zealand based resources. These communications were lawfully intercepted in accordance with the GCSB Act.

The latter simply cannot be true. Before John Key amended it, Section 14 of the GCSB Act was pretty clear:
Neither the Director, nor an employee of the Bureau, nor a person acting on behalf of the Bureau may authorise or take any action for the purpose of intercepting the communications of a person (not being a foreign organisation or a foreign person) who is a New Zealand citizen or a permanent resident.

Kim Dotcom was a New Zealand permanent resident. His communications were therefore absolutely off-limits to the GCSB, and their interception was a criminal offence. It doesn't matter how they did it - the GCSB's warrantless interception powers were subject to this section. It doesn't matter if it was "only" metadata - that's clearly a "communication" in terms of the GCSB Act. The GCSB broke the law here, and the police just seem to have ignored it. They have some serious explaining to do.

Fiji: A directed verdict?

For the last week, Brigadier General Pita Driti has been on trial on charges of sedition and mutiny over allegations he plotted to overthrow dictator Voreqe Bainimarama. This morning, the panel of three "assessors" - Fiji's equivalent of a jury - acquitted him of both charges. But the judge turned around and convicted him anyway:

One of Fiji's senior military heads has been found guilty of plotting to overthrow strongman Voreqe Bainimarama and planning to kill one of his main supporters.

In a sensational turn, High Court judge Paul Madigan overturned the unanimous findings of a three person assessor or jury panel who earlier this morning found Brigadier General Pita Driti not guilty of the plot.

The evidence heard last week suggests several of Fiji's colonels were also plotting to overthrow Bainimarama in 2010. But Madigan's unusual over-ruling of an assessor panel under-scores the heavy international legal criticism laid against Fiji's judiciary that it is not independent of the military regime.

Overturning the assessor's verdict is perfectly legal, but given the nature of the charges and the doubts that have been raised about the independence of Fiji's judiciary, it smacks of a directed verdict. We'll probably never know whether it was, but Fiji's mickey-mouse colonial relic judicial system does has done itself no favours here, and seems purposely designed to create doubts.

Meanwhile, the case is also another example of the absurdity of sedition laws:
Driti pleaded not guilty to a charge of uttering seditious words which included saying that Sayed-Khaiyum should be removed and that Bainimarama has "lost the plot" and should be removed from leadership.

Neither of these statements would be considered objectionable (or surprising) in a mature democracy. But Fiji is no longer a democracy, and its leaders are not mature. Banning such criticism serves only to prevent scrutiny of their actions, and the resulting lack of accountability directly contributes to the poor governance the coup-mongers complain of.

Deep-sea drilling goes to court

Greenpeace is seeking a judicial review of Anadarko's offshore drilling consent:

Greenpeace today filed papers at the High Court of New Zealand in Wellington asking for a Judicial Review of the decision to allow Anadarko to carry out drilling.

The government’s Environmental Protection Agency made an ‘error in law’ by allowing Anadarko to go-ahead without looking at several key documents, including reports on oil spill modelling and emergency plans to deal with an oil spill, according to the legal papers.

Lawyers for Greenpeace are asking for the matter to be ‘allocated an urgent hearing date’ due to the ‘national importance of the issue’.

Unfortunately Anadarko has already started drilling, so presumably they'll also be applying for an interim injunction to prevent them from carrying out potentially unlawful activities until the case is resolved.

(Meanwhile, in case they simply shift to their other site off Otago, I hope someone is going over that consent with a fine-tooth comb as well to see if it suffers from similar errors).

Key, the GCSB, and spying

John Key was asked more questions about the GCSB this morning, and admitted for the first time that Edward Snowden may have leaked documents about the GCSB. But naturally, he's relaxed about it:

Prime Minister John Key says he won't be surprised if Edward Snowden has more documents on New Zealand's spying activities, but isn't worried about what they may contain.

Appearing on Firstline this morning, Mr Key said New Zealand's spy agencies operate within the law and have good reasons for undertaking the activities they do.

"At the end of the day, they're an intelligence agency. They gather intelligence… So I don't think it's really going to be shock-horror that they've actually gathered intelligence, if that's what he ends up," says Mr Key.

"What we always do though is make sure we abide by the law and make sure that we're doing it because there's a particular reason, and that's really the safety and security of New Zealanders, or the protection of New Zealand's intellectual property, whatever it might be."

Firstly, up until a few months ago, the law said that intercepting the communications (including metadata) of New Zealanders in any way was illegal. If the GCSB has run the sort of metadata-trawling operation we're seeing in other countries, heads should roll - including that of the Prime Minister, and any MPs on the Intelligence and Security Committee who failed to immediately inform the public of this illegal activity.

Secondly, its pretty obvious from Key's response that when the dirt comes out on who we've spied on, he's going to go for the Abbot response of refusing to apologise for anything. Which isn't working out very well. So he's willing to wreck our relations with South-East Asia and the Pacific (GCSB's area of surveillance within the Five Eyes) in order to toady to the Americans.

Finally, while Key is relaxed, the New Zealand technology industry shouldn't be. Blowback from the NSA's activities is directly hurting US companies, losing them sales, preventing overseas acquisitions, and threatening tougher regulation. When the GCSB's dirt comes out, the New Zealand tech industry will suffer the same fate. But I guess they're not dairy farmers, so they're just not important in National's worldview.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Maori, large electorates, and representation

The Maori Party's Te Ururoa Flavell is upset about the proposed electorate boundaries, saying that the proposed Maori electorates are too big. He's right - they are, geographically speaking. But that's because electorate boundaries are not determined by geographical size, but by population. And on that measure, Maori electorates are pretty the same size as general ones (60,141 people vs 59,679 for the South Island quota - the difference is due to rounding error, and far less than than +/- 5% permitted under the law).

Maori make up ~15% of the population, and only half of them go on the Maori roll. Which means that a Maori electorate, by definition, is going to be on average the size of 13 general ones (with the actual ratio varying with the distribution of the Maori electoral population - more in the South Island, less in Northland and the Bay of Plenty). That's just the cost of having electorates for a subset of the population.

As for how to "fix" it, Flavell

electoral law guarantees there will be at least 16 general electorates in the South Island so each one won't be too big, and that approach should apply to Maori electorates.

But regardless of the number of South Island Maori electorates chosen, this can only lead to one result: massive political over-representation of Maori. Which is simply a non-starter in a democracy committed to one person, one vote (and its corollary, one vote, one value).

What we can do is resource MPs representing such electorates adequately to allow them to maintain a presence (and interact with constituents) across their electorate. there's already some recognition for this in the Parliamentary expenses framework - MPs representing "large electorates" (anything bigger than 12,500 square kilometres) gain increased support funding and staff entitlements. But its clearly not enough to deal with the distributed population of the large Maori electorates. Something needs to be done here to ensure that Maori voters get the access to representation they deserve (and which is enjoyed by everybody else).

New Fisk

He may huff and puff but Benjamin Netanyahu is on his own now as nuclear agreement isolates Israel
Suicide attack in Beirut: Tragedy is spreading from Iran’s western border to the Mediterranean

On spying, refusal to deny is an admission of guilt

Last week, we learned that the NSA was spying on innocent UK citizens, with the full cooperation of GCHQ. Which raised the obvious question: were they also spying on New Zealanders? On Friday, 3News asked John Key about it. His response was unhelpful:

The Prime Minister refused to give an assurance today that New Zealanders have not been the subject of mass surveillance by the United States - saying he doesn't talk about such matters.


So, the question for Mr Key is, can he give an assurance that the NSA isn't doing that in New Zealand too?

But when asked, Mr Key again refused to comment.

"I'm not going to talk about that specific issue because I don't comment on security or intelligence issues," he said.

This is absolutely damning. Given the nature of the allegations, if Key was in a position to deny them, he would. The fact that he has refused to can therefore only be seen as an admission of guilt, that our "allies" the US are spying on kiwis, with the full knowledge and collusion of the New Zealand government.

If we want this to stop, we need to vote out the spies. Since they don't actually run for election, this means voting out the government which cooperates them and instead voting for parties which will shut down the GCSB, pull us out of Five Eyes, and protect our privacy from the US. Fortunately, we'll have a chance to do that next year.

Deep-sea drilling: Risks and arrogance

Over the weekend thousands of people turned out at beaches around the country to protest against deep-sea drilling. The Greens also released new data showing that deep sea drilling is even riskier than we thought, with a 5% chance of a significant spill:

New analysis revealed by the Green Party today shows that the risk of a spill from deep sea drilling increases as the depth of the water increases, and that in ultra-deep water, the risk is as high as 1 in 19 wells.

“When we look to the Gulf of Mexico, we see that for shallow water oil drilling 1 in 272 wells has a spill, while that number increases to 1 in 35 wells for deep sea drilling and to 1 in 19 wells for ultra-deep sea drilling,” said Green Party energy spokesperson Gareth Hughes.

Mr Hughes was referring to information from the United States Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement about spills of 50 barrels (5962 litres) or greater from wells drilled in the Gulf of Mexico between 1964 and 2012. The industry defines deep sea drilling as drilling in waters 300m - 1499m, and ultra-deep sea drilling as drilling in waters of 1500m or deeper; Anadarko is about to drill a well off the coast of Raglan in 1520m of water.

And if there is a spill, that oil will end up on beaches from Kaipara to New Plymouth. But relax! John Key isn't worried by any of this. Instead, he thinks that anyone who is is "confused":
Key denied there was a large number of people in New Zealand worried about the safety of deep-sea drilling.

"There are people who are genuinely confused by the data and what they're told," he said.

In other words, we're all ignorant peasants whose voices should be ignored.

There's a name for this: arrogance. Fortunately we have the perfect cure for it: an election next year.

Friday, November 22, 2013

David Cunliffe: Sexist

It looks like David Cunliffe can't resist the urge to indulge in sexist abuse. In a column for The Ruminator, he begins:

A couple of months ago I was asked to write a post for the Ruminator and, rather optimistically, I agreed.The original brief was to respond to a post by Judith Collins. My post was going to be about snapper, not trout. But considering that issue, along with Judith’s leadership aspirations, has floundered, I’ll try another hook.

So Judith Collins is a trout. Geddit? Geddit?

As Collins points out, we can imagine the outcry from Labour if one of National's male MPs called a Labour woman a trout. Except we don't have to imagine it - remember this mess from 2007 when Nick Smith called Judith Tizard a witch?

Cunliffe is supposed to be leading a party dedicated to equality. He needs to act like it. Starting with an apology for this cheap, nasty sexism.


MPs have been handed a $3,500 pay rise, with John Key getting a whopping $9,500. The Remuneration Authority calls this "restrained". Hardly. To point out the obvious: the CPI rose by 1.4%, and salary and wage rates by 1.7%. So why are MPs getting 2.2%?

I support well-paid MPs because it prevents corruption. But our MPs are already well-paid (and anyone who thinks $140,000 a year plus slush-fund isn't is completely disconnected from reality). What we have here is a political class elevating itself into the stratosphere. Not only does this worsen our spiralling inequality - it also further disconnects them from the people they purport to represent.

And then, to add insult to injury, they call it "restrained". Here's a hint: for the rest of the public sector, "restraint" means pay cuts and sackings, restructuring and a total loss of job security. Meanwhile, their bosses make out like bandits. And then MPs wonder why people think they're all greedy hypocrites? They've earned that reputation fair and square.

How Anadarko will deal with an oil spill

Texan oil cowboys Anadarko, responsible for one of the world's worst oil disasters, is currently drilling for oil in deep water off the Raglan coast. The government assures us that the drilling is safe, and that there's no risk to the environment. So how would Anadarko deal with an oil spill? Environment and Conservation Organisations of NZ OIA'd their list of response equipment, and its shocking:

The documentation lists the Contents of the “Environmental Spill Response Kit” to be carried on board the drill ship:

“The kit on the drillship includes:
  • 15-4’ socks, 5-8’ socks, 190 pads, 16 pillows;
  • 2-10 lb Albozorbit, 15 disposable bags with ties;
  • 4 pair of nitrile gloves, 4 pairs silvershield gloves;
  • 4 each splash resistant goggles, 4-Tyvek coveralls XL;
  • 1 non-sparking shovel; and
  • 1 emergency response guidebook.”
(page 58-59, Anadarko Discharge Management Plan from the Environmental Impact Assessment.) Cath Wallace said it is clear Anadarko envisages a maximum of four people to respond: with one shovel. “The ‘socks’ are four feet and eight feet long: hardly sufficient to protect the ocean. Their total length is about 30 metres for a 230 m long ship.” “ECO is astonished at how minimal this kit is. There appears to be no provisions for spills at sea or for a well blow out or other spill from the drill vessel.”

So basically, Anadarko thinks that is oil spill responsibilities extend to cleaning up small amounts of oil spilled on deck. For anything bigger, they're planning to rely on Maritime NZ, who have a total of 3 8-metre dinghies. Yeah, that'll fix it.

As a "response" goes, this is a joke. Anadarko needs to be better prepared than this - and if they're not, they shouldn't be drilling. If you can't cap it, don't drill it.

Time to vote against asset sales

It's referendum time:

Voting begins today in a citizens-initiated referendum on whether the Government should sell part of its stake in power companies and Air New Zealand.

The non-binding referendum asks the question: "Do you support the Government selling up to 49 per cent of Meridian Energy, Mighty River Power, Genesis Power, Solid Energy and Air New Zealand?"

The postal vote closes on December 13.

Voters should post their papers back no later than December 12 for them to arrive on time, said chief electoral officer Robert Peden.

My ballot papers haven't arrived yet, but when they do I'll be voting immediately. As Russel Norman points out, this is our chance to make our voice heard, to make it clear to the government that if they continue down this path, they will be de-elected next year. The more of us who do it, the stronger that threat will be - and the greater the chance that the government will listen.

Climate change: We're hypocrites

Tim Groser gave New Zealand's national statement to the (failing) Warsaw climate talks last night, in which he made the usual call for action. The Greens' Kennedy Graham - who is also in Warsaw - gives his impression of the speech here. And the overall impression, obvious to everyone is that we're simply hypocrites. Firstly, there's the big hypocrisy: calling for action while doing nothing ourselves. Our current "target" promises less than we've already achieved, while we're on track for a 50% increase in emissions by 2050 (compare this with the government's target of a 50% reduction). Against this backdrop, Groser's speech was nothing more than hot air.

But there's the specific hypocrisies as well. One of the policy props Groser leaned on to try and present New Zealand as "doing something" was the "Friends of Fossil Fuel Subsides Reform" group, which aims to eliminate subsidies to fossil fuels. The problem? New Zealand subsidises fossil fuels. And those subsidies have risen dramatically under the National government - production subsidies have risen from $5.9 million in 2008 to $46.3 million last year, due to National's massive tax subsidies for oil drilling. When experts challenged him on this hypocrisy, Groser told them to

Don’t get hung up about every single little thing that you might say was a subsidy in one form or another. Just tackle the big issues...

In other words, "Look! Over there! A monkey!".

Our climate change policy, and our negotiating position, are thoroughly hypocritical. If you asked kiwis how they thought we should present ourselves to the world, you'd get a demand for honesty and fair dealing, not this. But once again the undemocratic nature of foreign policy allows MFAT and Groser to misrepresent the desires of the people they are supposed to be representing.

This is undemocratic and wrong. But its also stupid. As I've pointed out repeatedly, as a small country with no diplomatic "weight" to fling around (and strong public opinion against doing so anyway), New Zealand is essentially dependent on persuasion to get what we want. And our most important tool in persuading people is a reputation for honesty and fair-dealing. And Groser is pissing away that reputation with every word he speaks (a trend which has been strengthening over the term of this government). And if he is allowed to continue, if we continue to be hypocrites (not just on this, but in almost every series of negotiations National participates in), we're going to learn a hard lesson: you can't run a mana-based foreign policy if you don't have any.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Dairy will destroy our waterways

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment released a major report today on Water quality in New Zealand: Land use and nutrient pollution. The core finding? Continued dairy expansion will pollute our waterways, rendering them unusable for recreation or drinking:

Dr Jan Wright said the conversion of beef and sheep farming to dairy farming land had increased nutrient loads on waterways.

''It is almost inevitable that without significantly more intervention, we will continue to see an on-going deterioration in water quality in many catchments across the country, particularly in Canterbury and Southland,'' she said.

''Unfortunately, this investigation has shown the clear link between expanding dairy farming and increasing stress on water quality. Even with best practice mitigation, the large-scale conversion of more land to dairy farming will generally result in more degraded fresh water.''

But its not just about rivers - nitrogen runoff pollutes groundwater, which many of us rely on for drinking. Canterbury's dairy boom has already made some wells unusable, and that trend is only going to continue.

The vested farming interests such as IrrigationNZ are already spreading FUD, but the blunt fact is that "industry best practice" isn't enough. We can't just keep on letting people stick more cows on the land, shitting out more nitrogen into our rivers and groundwater. If we want rivers that are safe to swim in, if we want water that is safe to drink, then we need to stop that process. And that means stocking limits and an overall cap on dairy numbers, almost certainly set well below what we have at present in most areas.

The full report and appendices is here.

Britain's murderous army

Former British soldiers have admitted that they participated in a death squad which murdered unarmed civilians in Northern Ireland in the 1970's:

Soldiers from an undercover unit used by the British army in Northern Ireland killed unarmed civilians, former members have told BBC One's Panorama.

Speaking publicly for the first time, the ex-members of the Military Reaction Force (MRF), which was disbanded in 1973, said they had been tasked with "hunting down" IRA members in Belfast.

The former soldiers said they believed the unit had saved many lives.

The Ministry of Defence said it had referred the disclosures to police.

The BBC has identified ten murders that this death squad was responsible for, and there will likely be more. But after 40 years, the units records have all been destroyed, and it will be difficult to bring the murderers to justice. And Northern Ireland's Attorney-General doesn't exactly seem keen on doing his job.

National lied to us about drilling

At the moment, Texan oil cowboys Anadarko are starting drilling in 1500m of water off the Raglan coast. Environment Minister Amy Adams has told us repeatedly that the drilling is safe, and that there is no chance of an accident. But she's been lying to us:

Documents obtained by Labour show the Government has kept secret the real risk of an incident including a major oil spill occurring at the depths of Anadarko’s proposed Kaikōura drilling site, Labour Leader David Cunliffe says.

“The Government has constantly told the public deep sea oil exploration will be safe.

“However, documents obtained under the Official Information Act show Environment Minister Amy Adams had international research 13 months ago showing there is a 70 per cent probability of a ‘reportable incident’ occurring within a year at the 1500m depth of the Kaikōura well.

“This research shows while existing shallow water sites such as Taranaki carry a risk of only around 10 per cent, the risk is dramatically increased at deeper levels.

“Amy Adams went to great lengths to keep this information from the public. In fact, she told Parliament there is a ‘very low risk’ of a large scale oil spill occurring.

If the government was really confident about safety, they'd let the facts speak for themselves. The fact that they lied about it and suppressed this data tells us they're worried - but they're willing to gamble with out environment anyway, because they have no other economic plan.

Climate change: The enemy

Who's responsible for climate change? It turns out that 90 companies are responsible for nearly two-thirds of all emissions:

The climate crisis of the 21st century has been caused largely by just 90 companies, which between them produced nearly two-thirds of the greenhouse gas emissions generated since the dawning of the industrial age, new research suggests.

The companies range from investor-owned firms – household names such as Chevron, Exxon and BP – to state-owned and government-run firms.


Half of the estimated emissions were produced just in the past 25 years – well past the date when governments and corporations became aware that rising greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of coal and oil were causing dangerous climate change.

Many of the same companies are also sitting on substantial reserves of fossil fuel which – if they are burned – puts the world at even greater risk of dangerous climate change.

And more climate change means more storms like Typhoon Haiyan, more death, and more destruction. So its basically us or them: their future profits - or our futures. And that's a pretty obvious choice.

The full list of companies is here.

US spies on the UK

When news broke that the US and systematically been spying on its ally Germany, John Key was quick to reassure us. We had nothing to worry about, because our membership of the "Five Eyes" spy alliance exempted us from US spying.

He lied. In the case of the UK, membership provides no protection - GCHQ agreed to allow the US to collect and retain information on UK citizens:

The phone, internet and email records of UK citizens not suspected of any wrongdoing have been analysed and stored by America's National Security Agency under a secret deal that was approved by British intelligence officials, according to documents from the whistleblower Edward Snowden.

In the first explicit confirmation that UK citizens have been caught up in US mass surveillance programs, an NSA memo describes how in 2007 an agreement was reached that allowed the agency to "unmask" and hold on to personal data about Britons that had previously been off limits.

The memo, published in a joint investigation by the Guardian and Britain's Channel 4 News, says the material is being put in databases where it can be made available to other members of the US intelligence and military community.

Just another example of how citizens are being betrayed to the hegemon by our traitorous spy agencies. And it raises an obvious question: did GCSB make a similar "deal" with the US? And if so, why? What's in it for New Zealand to have the Americans spying on us?

But it gets worse, because Five Eyes membership in fact provides no protection at all:
A separate draft memo, marked top-secret and dated from 2005, reveals a proposed NSA procedure for spying on the citizens of the UK and other Five-Eyes nations, even where the partner government has explicitly denied the US permission to do so. The memo makes clear that partner countries must not be informed about this surveillance, or even the procedure itself.

So, we provide information, and the US will spy on us anyway. If this is what an "alliance" means to the US, I think they need a better dictionary.

Cooperation with the US in a global spy alliance damages our diplomatic relations, and erodes our privacy and human rights. It is bad for New Zealand (not to mention the world). Its time we got out.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Unlawful drilling?

A flotilla of protesters is currently confronting Texan oil cowboy Anadarko's drilling rig over plans to drill a test well off the Raglan coast in 1500 metres of water. Meanwhile, according to the Environmental Defence Society, Anadarko has not complied with the law and the grant of a consent under the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act 2012's transitional measures may be unlawful:

The Environmental Defence Society has questioned whether the Anadarko exploration project off the coast of Raglan is lawful.

“The Environmental Protection Authority is required to accept the company’s Environmental Impact Assessment. But the EPA has confirmed to us that it has not seen the Emergency Response Plan, part of the EIA, which Anadarko has prepared, that covers off what would happen in the event of an oil well blow-out,” said EDS Chairman Gary Taylor.

“As Anadarko’s EIA conceded, a blow-out has a low probability but would have severe consequences for the marine and coastal environment. It is the biggest concern that we have and I think that would be shared by most New Zealanders.

“It is therefore surprising and disturbing that the EPA has not seen the ERP and has instead relied on Maritime New Zealand doing so. But the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act 2012 requires the EPA to do that - and it can’t simply pass that responsibility to another agency.

“To do that is arguably unlawful and that means that Anadarko may not be authorised to drill under the Act’s transitional provisions.

If this is the case, the EDS should go to court immediately to seek an injunction. And if Anadarko is inconvenienced, they can seek costs from the EPA, whose mistake has put them in this position.


The latest NSALeak: Norway's intelligence services spied on their own citizens for the NSA:

Norway's intelligence services said they, not the US National Security Agency, collected data on more than 33 million phone conversations in Norway over the space of one month last year.

The comments came following a report on Tuesday by Dagbladet, the Norwegian daily, that said the NSA collected the ‘meta data’ on the private phone calls of over 33 million Norwegian phone calls last December and January.

Norwegian intelligence says it voluntarily shares the collected data with the Americans in the name of security.

According to other stories, the surveillance is "in total disregard for Norwegian law" and politicians had been assured by the US that their country was not a target for surveillance.

Norway gave us the word we apply to politicians and institutions who collaborate with foreign powers: Quisling. And today, that word seems to apply to their own spies.

G4S admits fraud

British security company G4S has admitted that it overcharged the UK government on contracts:

Private security company G4S has admitted it has overcharged the Ministry of Justice more than £24m on its contract for the electronic monitoring of thousands of offenders in England in a practice that was going on for years.


G4S said an external review it had commissioned by the law firm Linklaters had confirmed it had been wrong to consider it was contractually entitled to bill for monitoring offenders when tags had not been fitted or after they had been removed.

G4S said it had apologised to the MoJ and issued credit notes for £23.3m that had been incorrectly billed between 2005 and May 2013.

A further credit note for £800,000 is to be issued to cover continued overcharging that has happened since June.

Despite admitting the overcharging, it claims there was no dishonesty. Bullshit. As the details here make clear, they were billing for people who were in jail, billing for people when they'd removed the tags, billing for people where they'd never even installed equipment. No honest person could possibly believe they were entitled to payment in such circumstances. But corporations aren't honest - they are sociopaths. And they need to be convicted and punished for their dishonesty.

Meanwhile, with increased outsourcing in New Zealand, its only a matter of time before we see such scandals here. Its the same corporations we're outsourcing to; we'd be fools to believe they left their fraudulent business practices at home.

New Fisk

Bomb blasts kill 23 in Beirut: Iranian Embassy is the target in a widening war between Shia and Sunni

Tacit toleration

Yesterday I asked the obvious question: why was former constable Gordon Stanley Meyer's corrupt abuse of women and his uniform allowed to go on for so long? Because the police didn't bother watching him after receiving a complaint in 2007. Even worse, they didn't even bother warning him:

Police Assistant Commissioner Grant Nicholls told Radio NZ that Meyer was not issued a warning over the 2007 complaint, nor was a monitoring programme put in place. "You would have thought he would have heeded the warning of the inquiry. Obviously he didn't."

Meyer went on to regularly fill in as acting sergeant and to patrol the city alone at night, which was when his offending took place.

When asked why Meyer's supervisors were not informed of the 2007 complaint, a police spokesman said: "Police are bound by the same laws as any other employer. In the absence of sufficient evidence in either the criminal or employment context police had no lawful grounds to take the measures ... outlined."

This is a gross failure of the police's duty of care to the public. Faced with a potential criminal in their midst who was abusing his position to victimise members of the public, they shrugged their shoulders and looked the other way. And then they wonder why no-one trusts them anymore? It's because they tacitly tolerate people like Meyer.

But its not just an isolated case - the problem is systematic. Back in 2007, the Commission of Inquiry into Police Conduct recommended that police establish an "early warning system" to monitor such employees, and to make their full disciplinary record available to managers and those making appointments, to allow risky employees to be managed. Six years on, they haven't done it. Delving into the Auditor General's 2012 monitoring report, they installed complaint-tracking software back in 2009, but have not yet rolled it out fully. Meanwhile, they have made conscious decisions that complaint information will not be used for appointment processes and performance monitoring, and to not keep formal records of early interventions on personnel files. This seems to be an outright rejection of Bazley's recommendation. The Auditor-General recommended that the system be fully implemented and in use by December 31 2012. It is unclear if the Police have obeyed. Until they do, we are going to see problems like constable Meyer. And public trust will continue to decline as a result.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Capitalism, American style

The Walton family, owners of Wal-mart, are worth as much as the bottom 41.5% of Americans combined. Meanwhile, the business they own is running a food drive for its employees so they will have enough to eat over the Thanksgiving holiday.

As one tweet going round today so memorably puts it,

While the Cold War was on, saying "under capitalism, supermarket workers will need charity to buy food" would have been laughable propaganda

But that's the modern reality. Without the need to convince people that they're better than the alternative (or the threat of a peasant revolt) capitalism is free to be indecent. And any attempt to fix it is thwarted by either buying politicians, or threatening them. As the original article notes:
When the Washington DC city council passed a living wage bill requiring Walmart to pay workers a minimum of $12.50 per hour, the chain threatened to shut down its new stores if Mayor Vincent Gray didn’t veto the bill. Gray vetoed the bill.

And so workers literally starve while their fatcat bosses get richer and richer and richer. Americans need to get angry about this - very angry. And given the total dysfunction and unresponsiveness of the US political system, the only outlet for that anger looks to be lynchings and mansion-burnings.

And lest anyone think this is a uniquely American problem: here in New Zealand, its not just beneficiaries who are forced to rely on foodbanks. The disparities aren't so obscene, but we have the same indecent situation of rock-bottom wages driving people into poverty. Fortunately, unlike America we have a functioning democracy, making peaceful change possible. Our political parties are already feeling the pressure on the living wage; all we need to do is keep it up.

Against subsidising developers

The New Zealand Initiative - formerly known as the Business Round Table - has a brilliant new plan to solve the housing crisis: subsidise developer's profits:

Think tank the NZ Initiative is proposing the taxpayer - rather than developers and home buyers - pay councils for providing water and sewerage services to new houses as part of a suite of measures to improve home affordability.


To tackle that, the think tank proposes replacing the development contributions levied by councils on developers to pay for water, sewerage and roads with a one-off "Housing Encouragement Grant" for every new house built in their area, provided the house meets minimum delivery deadlines from application to completion.

The think tank proposes the grant be benchmarked on the GST levied on the cost of building the house, which would mean a $60,000 grant for $400,000 house.

This is nothing more than a subsidy to developer's profits. Housing sprawl imposes real costs on the community, and the "polluter pays" principle says that those creating those costs - developers (and indirectly their customers) - should pay them. If this makes new housing developments less desirable than buying an existing house, then that's life. Developers should not be expecting the rest of the community to provide them with a free ride.

(Meanwhile, Public Address analyses the NZ Initiative's other great plan - private taxation by developers - and recognises it for what it is: feudalism)

Why was this allowed to go on for so long?

Yesterday former police officer Gordon Stanley Meyer plead guilty to charges of corruption, bribery, and indecent assault over allegations he had demanded sexual favours from a woman in exchange for ignoring a drink-driving incident. The article then noted that

This afternoon police revealed Meyer was investigated for alleged indecent behaviour in 2007 after a woman made a formal complaint but there was insufficient evidence to prosecute.

A police officer who spoke on condition of anonymity called the earlier investigation a "cock-up". That was the opportunity to get rid of Meyer, the officer said.

Today it turns out that the police station Meyer was based at was dysfunctional. But it also notes that he faced several other charges "related to allegations of flashing, touching women's breasts, receiving oral sex in a police car and making sexual comments", which were quashed or dropped. Which raises the question: why was this offending allowed to go on for so long? Surely Meyer's employment should have been seriously questioned in 2007 as a result of the complaint against him? And if it wasn't then, shouldn't it have been the next time (or the next time, or the next time) a complaint was made?

Yes, I want criminal cops prosecuted to the full extent of the law. But beyond that, I want them sacked. Public confidence in the police requires that its individual officers be beyond reproach. Meyer clearly wasn't. He used the power of his uniform to prey on women. And the police's refusal to take employment action against him directly enabled that offending.

Monday, November 18, 2013

No justice against the police

From the Herald today:

Two police officers accused of assaulting a woman in her Auckland home have been discharged without conviction.


In December 2010, the officers visited the property after the woman was involved in a minor car crash, and entered the house when nobody answered the door.

They arrested the woman after Constable Russell forced his way into her bedroom.

The woman then brought a private prosecution against the pair.

Judge Lawrence Hinton found the officers acted in good faith, but did not have permission to be in the house and the arrest constituted assault.

If you or I broke into someone's house to assault them, we'd be looking at the thick end of 10 years for burglary (and 14 years for home invasion if we'd taken a baton, taser, or pepper-spray - weapons - while doing so). If the police do it illegally, they don't even get a slap on the wrist. While its not stated in the story, the discharge without conviction is almost certainly to avoid prejudicing their employment - which is bullshit. Police who break into people's homes to assault them should be fired.

Meanwhile, I'm wondering why a private prosecution was necessary. Shouldn't the police have disciplined their officers? Shouldn't the "Independent" Police Conduct Authority? Or is punishment in a clear case of police wrongdoing simply too much to expect?

Either way, the message is clear: if the police commit a crime against you, you won't get justice by going through the courts. Which will simply encourage people to seek it by other means. Whether that's a Good Thing for our society is left as an exercise for the reader.

Spying on Indonesia

Today's NSALeak: Australia spied on the President of Indonesia:

Australia's spy agencies have attempted to listen in on the personal phone calls of the Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and have targeted the mobile phones of his wife, senior ministers and confidants, a top secret document from whistleblower Edward Snowden reveals.

The document, dated November 2009, names the president and nine of his inner circle as targets of the surveillance, including the vice-president, Boediono, who last week visited Australia. Other named targets include ministers from the time who are now possible candidates in next year's Indonesian presidential election, and the first lady, Kristiani Herawati, better known as Ani Yudhoyono.


A slide entitled Indonesian President Voice Intercept (August ‘09), shows a call from an unknown number in Thailand to Yudhoyono. But the call did not last long enough for the DSD to fulfil its aims. “Nil further info at this time (didn’t make the dev threshold - only a sub-1minute call),” a note at the bottom says.

Another slide, titled Indonesian President Voice Events, has a graphic of calls on Yudhoyono's Nokia handset over 15 days in August 2009. It plots CDRs – call data records – which record the numbers called and calling a phone, the duration of calls, and whether it was a voice call or SMS. The agency, in what is standard procedure for surveillance, appears to have expanded its operations to include the calls of those who had been in touch with the president. Another slide, entitled Way Forward, states an imperative: “Must have content.”

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot's response? It's not spying, but "research". Somehow, I think the Indonesians will see it rather differently, and Australian-Indonesian relations will suffer as a result.

Just another example of how spies are harmful to friendly relations and national interests.

A chronology of deceit

Air NZ asset sale tipped for next week, New Zealand Herald, 13 November 2013:

The Government is being tipped to sell down its stake in Air New Zealand early next week ahead of a referendum asking Kiwis if they support partial sales of state-owned assets.

The Government owns 73 per cent of the national carrier and has said it wants to reduce its stake to 51 per cent, but has yet to name a timeframe.

Several market sources spoken to today said there was an expectation that the deal would be done before a referendum asking Kiwis if they support the Government selling up to 49 per cent of Meridian Energy, Mighty River Power, Genesis Power, Solid Energy and Air New Zealand.

PM says no decision on Air NZ sale timing, Stuff, 14 November 2013:
No decision has been made on when the Government will sell down its stake in Air New Zealand, Prime Minister John Key says.

Asked today if it was true the Government could not sell between December and March, he said: "I don't think that's right. I haven't seen any advice on that."

The timing of the asset-sale referendum "would not make any difference" to the timing of the Air New Zealand selldown, Key said.

Air New Zealand sell down process underway, Press release: New Zealand Government, 17 November 2013:
The Government has today started the process to sell 20 per cent of Air New Zealand shares, Finance Minister Bill English and State Owned Enterprises Minister Tony Ryall say.

“A sale of shares to New Zealand brokers and to New Zealand and some offshore institutions will commence tomorrow, Monday 18 November, via a bookbuild process,” Mr English says. “We expect the transaction to be completed by Tuesday evening.

Air NZ shares sale timing 'arrogant', Stuff, 18 November 2013:
English denied the timing was a "cynical move" to sell off the state asset before a referendum on the Government's mixed-ownership programme kicked off Friday.

"The fact is the Government outlined a programme three years ago," he said.

"The possibility of the Air New Zealand sale and the Genesis sale have been quite clear since we completed [the] Meridian [sale].

"So I don't think it's any surprise to anybody that the Government is proceeding with a programme that it after all, campaigned on back in 2011. A number of the political parties said the 2011 election was a referendum on asset sales so there's no doubt about the Government's mandate."

And then politicians wonder why we think they're all lying little scumsuckers? It's because rather than admit openly to his policies, the Prime Minister lies to our face about them. And then having done so, his chief stooge then tells us that the policy was always clear and, by implication, the Prime Minister's words mean nothing.

Again, why should we believe anything which comes out of these people's mouths again?

New Fisk

The real poison is to be found in Arafat's legacy

Another day, another rort

Another day, another exposure of a rort by MP's. This time its Moana Mackey renting her electorate office from her mother - one of a number of MPs who rent from related parties, or even themselves. As with all the other rorts, the rorter declares that its all "within the rules", and is utterly silent about the ethics.

And its pretty obvious why: because these sorts of related party transactions are corrupt, and raise the prospect that the taxpayer is being ripped off. And even were we are getting value for money, the fact that a government service is purchased from an MP's relative (or themselves) on their say-so is... unseemly.

Such rorts bring Parliament, and hence our democracy, into disrepute, and they need to end. Fortunately, in this case, the fix is easy: a simple ban on renting accommodation or office space from related parties (including other MPs), donors, or bodies in which an MP has a financial interest. If they're going to rent, they can do it transparently on the open market - and not as a backdoor way of enriching themselves or their cronies.

Friday, November 15, 2013

More torture and rendition in the UK

Two weeks ago the UK news was full of the story of a terrorism suspect who had cut off his tracking tag, disguised himself as a woman and gone on the run, in violation of his "control order". The initial focus was on the adequacy of the control order system and the dastardlyness of the assumed terrorist, but there's another more important aspect to it: Mohammed Ahmed Mohamed had been rendered to the UK and was in the country against his will:

Mohamed was in Britain against his will: he had been forced aboard an aircraft in Somaliland, the breakaway territory in northern Somalia, and flown to the UK in March 2011 in an operation that his lawyers say amounted to little more than an act of rendition. He and a second man had been detained in Somaliland two months earlier and allegedly suffered severe mistreatment while they were being interrogated. Since then, evidence has emerged that the British government had a hand in their detention, and may have supplied many of the questions.

As a consequence, the coalition government is now facing, for the first time, serious allegations of complicity in rendition and torture. The men's accusations, if true, would appear to flatly contradict the assurances given by the heads of the three main intelligence agencies when they stepped out of the shadows for the first time last week, telling the intelligence and security committee they have learned a great deal since 9/11, and that "at this stage" their officers could not possibly become complicit in torture. However, the public may never learn whether the allegations are true or not: when Mohamed and the second man decided to sue the British government for damages, lawyers representing the intelligence agencies called upon the secret justice provisions of the highly controversial Justice and Security Act.

It is the first time that the government has resorted to these provisions since the act became law earlier this year. As a consequence of this move, any evidence that the government itself possesses that supports the allegations is unlikely ever to see the light of day. Instead, any such evidence will be heard by the court in secret, and part of the court's final judgment will also remain concealed.

Wouldn't you run from someone who had kidnapped and tortured you? But when its a state of course they get to define it as a "crime".

Meanwhile, the use of the Justice and Security Act provisions should fill us all with disquiet. These are not designed to ensure that cases against the British government receive a fair hearing on their merits; instead they aim at allowing the government to present "evidence" which cannot be challenged, and bully judges into accepting it in secret. The result is not justice, but a kangaroo court - and not accountability, but impunity. Judgements of such a system can have no credibility. Instead, the natural conclusion is that the government is in fact guilty, and has manipulated the system to avoid being held accountable for its crimes.

More misogyny from the Substandard

Last week, the Manawatu Substandard published a misogynist cartoon from Malcolm Evans, about Labour's gender equality policy. And just to make sure the message got through, they've republished it today. Here's the version from the cartoonist's website:

So women who want equality aren't real women hur hur. I know that you're meant to set your clock back a decade in the rural locations Evans is published, but I didn't think they'd go back to the 70's. But Evans has already made it perfectly clear what he thinks the role of women in politics is: cheerleaders.

(Oh, and not content with sexism, Evans also does racism too. why do newspapers publish this shit? It's not "comment", its bullying)

Is this really what the police are for?

Over in the UK, the police have been rocked by spying scandals, with revelations that they spied on peaceful protesters, their critics, and pretty much everyone other than actual criminals. You'd think after that they would have learned, but apparently not - they've just been caught trying to recruit an informant to spy on students at Cambridge University:

Police sought to launch a secret operation to spy on the political activities of students at Cambridge University, a covertly recorded film reveals.

An officer monitoring political campaigners attempted to persuade an activist in his 20s to become an informant and feed him information about students and other protesters in return for money.

But instead the activist wore a hidden camera to record a meeting with the officer and expose the surveillance of undergraduates and others at the 800-year-old institution.

The officer, who is part of a covert unit, is filmed saying the police need informants like him to collect information about student protests as it is "impossible" to infiltrate their own officers into the university.

Is this really what the police are for? Spying on students so they're kept up to date about their protests? I don't think so. The police should focus on criminals - and protest is not a crime.

New Fisk

The Egyptian general idolised for deposing former President Mohamed Morsi

Fearmongering vs the law

When I first heard that DPMC was concerned about kiwis fighting in Syria, I thought it was the usual security fearmongering. We live in a "benign strategic environment", even with America's war on Muslims, so the spies need to come up with new excuses to justify their big budgets and intrusive powers. "Syria" just seemed to be the latest of these. But its actually worse than that:

The Government wants to ensure that any New Zealanders fighting in the Syrian civil war do not return and pose a threat here.

Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet chief executive Andrew Kibblewhite told Parliament's government administration select committee yesterday of concern about foreigners fighting in Syria and the situation was being monitored.

"You look at New Zealand, Australia, other countries, are all potential home bases for fighters in Syria so that would be a risk that we would want to be aware of and think about if we need to do anything to mitigate that."

Australian officials have said about 200 Australians are known to have fought in the Syrian civil war with that government moving to block them from returning.

What's the problem here? Simply that if they're talking about New Zealanders, then what they're talking about here is making people exiles from their own country. Which is of course illegal - New Zealanders have an absolute right to enter New Zealand, and if you are a New Zealand citizen, the Immigration Act simply does not apply to you. So, they cannot possibly do hat they are suggesting. About the only thing they can do is cancel your passport to stop you from travelling again (something they have only done once).

The government has greater scope for action against permanent residents, but even then they cannot prevent people returning, as permanent residency guarantees entry. All they can really do is cancel the visa - something which is rightly difficult for permanent residents - or fall back on monarchical powers (something which again is only rarely used - once in 2006 and I think once in the 80's against a Russian diplomat). In other words, they're pushing shit uphill. Unless, of course, they intend to change the law to make it easier to deport people for vague "offences" on secret "evidence". Again.

But the kicker?
A spokesman for New Zealand's intelligence agencies was unable to confirm whether any New Zealanders have fought in Syria or whether any have been stopped attempting to come back.

All this fearmongering, and they have no idea if its actually a problem. I think that speaks for itself about the character of our intelligence services.