Monday, March 31, 2014


The NSA's global panopticon hasn't caught any actual terrorists yet. But it does seem to be killing the cloud computing industry:

The vast scale of online surveillance revealed by Edward Snowden is changing how businesses store commercially sensitive data, with potentially dramatic consequences for the future of the internet, according to a new study.

A survey of 1,000 business leaders from around the world has found that many are questioning their reliance on "cloud computing" in favour of more secure forms of data storage as the whistleblower's revelations continue to reverberate.


The survey of 1,000 information and communications technology decision-makers from France, Germany, Hong Kong, the UK and the US was carried out by NTT Communications. It found that, following the Snowden revelations, almost 90% had changed the way they use the cloud – a storage service that allows data to be accessed from anywhere in the world but which is more susceptible to online surveillance.

The study also found that almost a third of those questioned were moving their company's data to locations where they "know it will be safe", and 16% said they had delayed or cancelled their contracts with cloud service providers.

I guess they worked out that giving their data to the NSA to be provided to their US competitors or snooped through at will would be bad for business...

Climate change: Fire and flood

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has released the second part of its Fifth Assessment report, focusing on impacts. The report had been widely leaked ahead of its release, and on a global scale predicts war, disease, and famine. But there's also a regional chapter on Australasia, which is equally grim reading. Australia gets the worst of it, of course - they will lose the Great Barrier Reef and lose key species no matter what we do - but New Zealand is going to cop it as well, from fire and flood:

o increased frequency and intensity of flood damage to settlements and infrastructure in Australia and New Zealand, driven by increasing extreme rainfall although the amount of change remains uncertain; in many locations, continued reliance on increased protection alone would become progressively less feasible [Table 25-1, 25.4.2, Box 25-8, 25.10.3]


o increased damages to ecosystems and settlements, economic losses and risks to human life from wildfires in most of southern Australia and many parts of New Zealand, driven by rising temperatures and drying trends; local planning mechanisms, building design, early warning systems and public education can assist with adaptation and are being implemented in regions that have experienced major events [25.2, Table 25-1, 25.6.1, 25.7.1, Box 25-6]

The flooding risk will be exacerbated by sea-level rise, which will turn one in 100 year floods into annual events in some regions. Which is something you'd expect local councils to be taking into account in their planning rules. Unfortunately, when they try, rich residents take them to court to try and protect the value of their soon-to-be worthless homes long enough to flick them on to the next sucker (who will then no doubt take the council to court for failing to warn them of the risk of inundation). I expect it will be a similar story with wildfire risk: people will say "you can't put that on my LIM, because no-one will want to buy my house!" Its the whole story of climate change write small: a slow drift to apocalypse, with any move to prevent or limit it foiled by the selfish and greedy rich.

As for our government, they're basically ruling out doing anything:
"We're not playing God on this. That natural process will determine what happens to adaptation of human beings and other mammals and species," he said.

The New Zealand carbon emissions account for 0.2% worldwide. The Government says it's up to local authorities to do what is needed.

So, they won't try and save our climate, our coast, or even our endangered species (some of which face being wiped out by climate change), because that would be "playing god". Which invites the question: what fucking good are they? And why are we paying Tim Groser a generous ministerial salary for this portfolio if he is ruling out doing anything at all?

Ending princely privilege

On Friday a UK cross-party committee suggested ending royal vetoes over legislation. And now its gone from a suggestion to a bill:

Prince Charles is facing a Westminster campaign to strip him and his estate of special privileges including tax exemptions, a power of veto over new laws and immunity from legislation covering everything from squatting to planning.

A radical bill is to be put before the House of Lords proposing to remove special treatment of the prince and the Duchy of Cornwall, his inherited £800m estate that provides him with a £19m a year private income.

The move, by the old-Etonian Labour peer Lord Berkeley, also exposes little-known exemptions from laws enforced on everyone else by at least eight acts of parliament.

In his capacity as the Duke of Cornwall, the prince cannot be prosecuted for breaches of planning laws such as building without permission or breaking the terms of planning consents, which would normally attract fines of up to £50,000. The prince's estate also enjoys an exemption from people registering land under squatters' rights or other forms of "adverse possession" until they have occupied it for 60 years, compared with 10 years for other landowners. Neither is it obliged to allow Duchy leaseholders to buy their freeholds.

Plus of course he doesn't have to pay tax like the peasants do.

The bill would end all of that, and remove Charles Windsor's medieval privileges. And good riddance to them! The idea that someone should be beyond the reach of the law simply by dint of his birth has no place in a modern democracy, and the sooner the practice is ended, the better.

New Fisk

As the centenary of the First World War Armenian Genocide nears, a survivor describes how she still hears the screams

A bad way to handle it

Back in 1994, 17-year-old gang associate Teina Pora was arrested and convicted of a particularly nasty rape and murder. DNA evidence subsequently showed that the crime was in fact committed by serial rapist Malcolm Rewa, but thanks to a bit of bribery by police Pora's conviction was upheld. As a result, Pora has spent 20 years in jail for a crime he did not commit, repeatedly denied parole because he has continued to maintain his innocence.

Pora's case is finally going before the Privy Council (probably the last case to go there), and our system is apparently incapable of handling it. On Friday he was denied bail for the appeal, apparently because our courts lack the power to grant it (which is an omission you think they would have considered over the 150 year reign of the foreign appeals system). But now he's been granted parole after all. No matter what you think of the case, this is a really shitty way of handling it; it is obviously in the interests of justice that Pora be freed pending appeal, but this looks like they're using the parole system as a substitute for the failure of the courts. Which raises the question of why our courts can't serve the interests of justice in this case.

The only positive news is that with the demise of foreign appeals, this mess is unlikely to happen again. And its ironic that what is likely to be the final case has exposed such a fundamental weakness in the foreign appeals system. And it provides yet another argument for the repatriation of our courts.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Pissing on the OIA

Earlier in the year, David Hines released the findings of his remarkable OIA project on religious education in state primary schools. He sent requests to all 1800 state primary schools. What's appalling is that over 1000 of them were "reluctant" to answer and had to be persuaded to by the Ombudsman. In February, 260 were defying the Ombudsman's demand to respond to Hines' request. And now they've gotten away with it:

This Office received a complaint about the lack of a response by over 1,000 schools to a request for information (in the form of a religious education survey). We took an active role in supporting the Boards of Trustees to better understand their obligations under the OIA and, as a result, most subsequently provided the information requested. However, over 100 Boards of Trustees still failed to provide a response to the requester despite this being in breach of their obligations under the OIA.

The requester chose not to continue pursuing his complaint against the relatively few Boards of Trustees that remain in breach of their OIA obligations.

So, they ignored the law, and then they just waited it out until the requester got bored and decided to move on. If you need an example for why we need criminal penalties for breaches of the OIA, this is it. We can jail people for contempt of court; the Ombudsman should have similar penalties available for errant public officials.

I'm trying to get a list of the schools so they can at the least be named and shamed. These schools are failing both in their legal duty under the OIA, and also in their responsibilities as educational institutions to mould our future citizens. The message they're sending their students is crystal clear: the law does not matter. The sheer hypocrisy of that position (created by law, funded by law, and purporting to impose rules on others) should be plain to all.

And OTOH, is this really surprising? The Ombudsman is now so underfunded that it is reportedly taking six months for them to even give OIA complaints a number, and a complaint can take two years to resolve. Under these conditions, it is no wonder people give up waiting for justice - and no wonder agencies have started ignoring the law.

If we want the OIA to work, we need to properly fund enforcement. But Ministers have no interest in that, any more than Turkeys have an interest in christmas dinner. And so the OIA, a core part of our democracy, dies a slow death from neglect.

Something to do tomorrow

Tomorrow is a nationwide day of action against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the secret "trade" deal which threatens to impose US copyright laws on us, gut Pharmac, and sign away our laws to foreign multinationals. There are protests scheduled for Auckland, Christchurch, Dunedin, Geraldine, Hamilton, Hokianga, Invercargill, Kaitaia, Nelson, Palmerston North, Taranaki, Tauranga, Thames, Whanganui, Wellington, Whangarei. If you live in one of those places, and you value our democracy, then it might be worth going to one.

That was quick

Yesterday, the Internet Party finally launched. And within 7 hours, they had the 500 paid-up members required for registration. At a time when political party membership is generally falling, that's quite an achievement. As for how they did it: they made it cheap, and they made it easy via online signup - something we can expect the other parties to try and mirror. But in addition to that, they had a cause people could believe in, even if its "visionary" is a vaguely creepy guy who looks increasingly like a Bond villain. Internet freedom, privacy, copyright, but above all, politicians who understand the internet rather than fearing it, people who are of the net rather than coming across like Mr Magoo every time they talk about it - these are things that matter to an increasing number of people. And now there's a party based around those issues, they're in the political discourse, and other parties will have to respond.

And that's the Internet Party's real value: making the net an issue. Their mere existence moves the Overton window on these issues. Other parties will now be asked about copyright terms, or membership in the "fives eyes" spy-club, and have to take an explicit rather than passive stance. And that means we can judge them on it.

A mystery solved

Late last year, I noticed something interesting: this blog was getting visits referred by a site called The site was not publicly accessible, but its IP address was from a block belonging to the NZDF. The visits were roughly correlated with posts about the NSALeaks and GCSB (though at the time I was blogging a lot of that stuff, so it woudl be hard not to be), and eventually I grew curious enough to send an OIA (by Twitter!) on the subject.

Yesterday - after 20 working days of utter silence, then a panicked acknowledgement and a very dubious 20 day extension for "consultation" - I finally got a response. According to NZDF, is the name of an access point from which members of the NZDF as individuals, exercise their choice to use the internet on an occasional and moderate basis. Individuals may visit sites such as yours. Consequently all sites visited by these individuals currently have a referrer of

Which neatly solves that mystery (for the record, I was expecting that it might be media monitoring, as many agencies do). At the same time, I'm left wondering why it took them 40 days to provide such routine information, or why the @NZDefenceForce twitter account, currently proudly advertised on their website, took itself private after finally noticing my request. Is NZDF really giving up on social media just because someone asked them a question using it?

(And yes, you can OIA agencies using Twitter or Facebook. The Ombudsman has guidelines on the subject here)

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Cash for honours

Meanwhile, I'm wondering how this got so little media attention: last Wednesday, in the General Debate, Chris Hipkins outright accused National of selling honours:

This is a Government that has one rule for itself and another rule for everybody else. It is a Government that is interested only in furthering the interests of its mates and those close to it. Look, for example, at the number of National Party donors who have been given honours under this Government. Tony Astle—60 grand to the National Party was enough to make him an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit. Chris Parkin gave $66,000 to the National Party, and that made him a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit. Sir Graeme Douglas—twenty-five grand gave him an insignia of the Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit. Sir William Gallagher—$42,000 got him a knighthood. Lady Diana Isaac—$20,000 made her an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit. [Interruption] Oh, there is old “Maestro”, Jonathan Coleman, piping up at the perfect time, of course, because we know that Garth Barfoot gave him $5,000 for his campaign and he got made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in exchange for that.
The only mention of this I can find in the media is one small report on Newstalk ZB. Which is odd, given how explosive this allegation is (and how easily it can be checked by looking at the data). Party donation returns are public. Honours lists are public. Surely its not that hard to check the two for correlations? Or would they rather leave it to bloggers?

Meanwhile, Labour has its own dirty history here. But I hope we can take it from Hipkins' speech that there will be no more honours handed out to Labour party donors in future, and that donations from those who have received honours while Labour is in power will be refused for the sake of political propriety.


"Sir Graeme Douglas, of Remuera", press release (Governor-General of NZ), 25 August 2010:

Sir Graeme Douglas received the Insignia of a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to philanthropy and athletics. Mr Douglas founded Douglas Pharmaceuticals, one of the fastest-growing pharmaceutical companies in Australasia, in 1967...

Excerpt from National Party return of donations for year ending 31 December 2011:

"Books thrown open on party donations", Stuff, 10 May 2013:
Party donations returns for last year [2012 - I/S] have been released today by the Electoral Commission.


The National Party received $16,849.96 from Wellington's Museum Hotel owner Chris Parkin, philanthropist Graeme Douglas gave $25,000, and Cyril Smith of Fendalton, donated $29,950.

Excerpt from Returns of party donations exceeding $30,000, New Zealand Electoral Commission:

His total public donations before his knighthood? $9600, in 1996. Since being knighted, he's given the party that gave it to him $72,000. You can be the judge of whether that is proper or seemly.

The end of the royal veto in the UK?

A couple of years ago, we learned about the secret influence the British royal family had over the UK's legislation. Any bill which affects the "prerogatives of the crown" must have the consent of the monarch. What bills affect those self-claimed "prerogatives"? Pretty much anything, from housing and energy to planning and coroners. But now, Parliament may be about to end the practice:

A cross-party committee of MPs has questioned whether the Queen and the Prince of Wales should keep a residual power of veto over certain parliamentary bills.

MPs on the Commons political and constitutional reform committee said the royal process of consent fuels speculation that the monarch "has undue influence on the legislative process".


The MPs on the committee said it is the government, rather than the monarch, which can use the process of consent to block a bill. Prof Rodney Brazier of Manchester University told MPs he could think of four examples between 1868 and 1999 when the government used the process to block a private member's bill.

Hopefully they'll expunge this anachronism for good. A country's laws should be made by its democratically elected parliament. Subjecting them to the whim of an unelected inbred is highly undemocratic.

This may have consequences here too. Standing Order 309 of the NZ Parliament provides that
No Member’s bill, local bill, or private bill that contains any provision affecting the rights or prerogatives of the Crown may be passed unless the Crown has, by message, indicated its consent to that provision.
As in the UK, this effectively gives the government the power to veto a bill, by advising that consent be denied, even when there is a clear majority for it passing. This is undemocratic. And as in the UK, it applies to more bills than you would think. Sue Bradford's bill abolishing youth rates for example needed government permission to pass, because it changed what "the Crown" (actually Ministers, because the Governor-General always acts on advice and must sign whatever is put in front of them) could do by Order In Council. This is simply unacceptable in a democracy. The legislature should have the final word on laws, not the executive.

Vaguely creepy

Its launch day for the Internet party. So naturally, its time to dish the dirt on Kim Dotcom:

Kim Dotcom’s political aspirations have taken a hit after he admitted owning a rare piece of Nazi memorabilia, a signed copy of Hitler's autobiographical manifesto, Mein Kampf (My Struggle).

Speaking on 3 News, the German born internet entrepreneur said it was among several rare pieces of rare World War II memorabilia he had bought. Other items in his collection include a cigar holder that once belonged to British leader Winston Churchill and a pen that belonged to Soviet leader Josef Stalin.

This doesn't mean that Dotcom is a Nazi, but it is vaguely creepy (and ditto on the Stalin stuff), and its unlikely to endear him to voters. Yes, I grok that his favourite game leads naturally to an interest in World War II (just as mine has led to an interest in medieval history), but owning stuff by the Twentieth Century's greatest criminal (and the runner-up) is really taking that too far.

But then, as an unsentimental person, I just don't get memorabilia in general.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Politicians and games

Metro has a fluff piece about Conservative party leader Colin Craig, which includes an interesting surprise: Craig is a fan of the game "Diplomacy".

For those who don't know, Diplomacy is a classic strategy game based on pre-World War I Europe. Players assume the role of one of the era's Great Powers and compete to control all of Europe. Like most games of its era, its zero-sum, where victory can only be gained by trampling over the corpses of your enemies. The catch is that there is no randomness - the game has very simple mechanics, which are completely deterministic. So you can't rely on luck of the dice and gamble your way to victory. Instead, in order to win, you need to carefully build alliances, and then betray your former allies. It is therefore a game which rewards deceit and treachery - a training tool for sociopaths (its telling that it is also the favourite game of war-criminal Henry Kissinger).

Which I think tells us something interesting about Craig. But it raises a question for the rest of us: do we really want politicians who so openly enjoy treachery? Yes, its a value the political class admires (witness the popularity of the original "House of Cards" among them). But is it healthy for our democracy to be run by self-admitted sociopaths? Do we really want those sorts of people making decisions on our behalf? Quite apart from the obvious concerns about the sorts of decisions they will make, its not particularly representative, is it?

Meanwhile, I'm now wondering what our other politicians' favourite games are. And I think I'd like politicians who enjoy "Pandemic" (where players must cooperate to beat the game) or "Settlers of Catan" more than those who like Dip, let alone "Risk" or "Monopoly".

Ending bulk collection

President Obama is cancelling the NSA's bulk collection of US phone records:

Barack Obama confirmed on Tuesday that the US plans to end the National Security Agency's systematic collection of Americans’ telephone records, as leaders of a key committee in Congress insisted they were close to a deal with the White House to revamp the surveillance program.

Under plans to be put forward by the Obama administration in the next few days, the NSA would end the so-called bulk collection of telephone records, and instead would be required to seek a new kind of court order to search data held by telecommunications companies.

Good. At the same time, the devil is going to be in the details. How much data will phone companies retain? How easy will those court orders be to get? And how much information will be disclosed? On the latter point, they're talking about "two hops" - that is, everyone who has every called anyone who has called a person of interest. That's a massive, unjustified invasion of privacy. Its also worth noting that this only protects Americans, and only to phone records - the NSA's invasion of foreign phone networks, its global tracking of cellphones, its bulk-harvesting of email and internet traffic will continue unabated. The only way that will stop is if we vote out the spies, and shut the NSA and its "partners" down.

Australia's great leap backwards

Over 25 years ago, the Australian government abolished knighthoods and other feudal titles from their honours system. Now, on a whim, Tony Abbott is bringing them back:

“Pre-eminent” Australians will become knights and dames at the Queen’s approval for the first time since 1989 after a shock announcement by the staunchly monarchist prime minister, creating a new tier of honour as an “important grace note” in our national life.


But as he prepared for the governor general, Quentin Bryce, to hand over to her successor, Peter Cosgrove, Tony Abbott announced that, on his recommendation, the Queen had amended the letters patent for the Order of Australia to create a new honour: knights and dames of the Order of Australia.

He had not discussed the move with either his cabinet or his party room and said he had made the decision “in the past few weeks”.

Cabinet collective responsibility? What's that?

So, thanks to the archaic views of one man, Australians will be dragged backwards into a past of status and hierarchy. And while the first recipients are intended to be governors and public servants, its unlikely to be long before the usual corruption rears its head, and they start handing them out to businessmen in exchange for donations. Dame Gina Rinehart anyone?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Gagging Kim Dotcom

Since their botched raid on Kim Dotcom's mansion last year, the New Zealand government has faced a PR problem over their handling of the case. And that has been hammered home at every opportunity by Dotcom himself, who turns out to be quite good at winning the hearts of ordinary kiwis. But now the government has a solution: gag him:

Crown lawyers have suggested Kim Dotcom should be gagged from commenting publicly on the legal action against him.

At a hearing at the High Court in Auckland on Monday, Crown lawyer Kristy McDonald took issue with comments the internet businessman had made on the social media site Twitter.

She told the court many of the tweets were scurrilous and risked undermining the court process.

That's our government's view of how the justice system should work: they get to persecute you, and you don't get to complain about it to anyone.

But while it would be undoubtedly convenient for Crown Law, its hard to see how a gag order on Dotcom would be consistent with the Bill of Rights Act's affirmation of freedom of expression. And while that right can be limited to protect the judicial process, with no jury involved, its hard to see how that could apply. The only "benefit" to such a gag-order would be to reduce public scrutiny of the government and reduce their bad PR. And that doesn't seem to be "demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society" at all.

The latest terrorist "threat": Whistleblowers

Meanwhile, in the UK, they're having their own scandal over the abuse of anti-terrorism powers, after HMRC (their equivalent of IRD) was caught using anti-terrorist powers to uncover and persecute a whistleblower:

MPs have criticised Britain's leading tax official after HM Revenue & Customs used powers meant to catch terrorists to hunt down an employee who exposed a secret multimillion-pound "sweetheart" deal with Goldman Sachs.

Lin Homer, the chief executive of HMRC, had told the public accounts committee that phone records had been obtained using the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) to unearth information about Osita Mba, an in-house lawyer.


Using the Public Interest Disclosure Act, Mba wrote in confidence to the National Audit Office (NAO) and two parliamentary committees in 2011 saying that the then head of tax, Dave Hartnett, had "let off" Goldman Sachs from paying at least £10m in interest.

When HMRC discovered Mba's intervention, his belongings, emails, internet search records and phone calls and the phone records of his then wife, Claudia, were examined by investigators.

But despite this being a clear abuse of the law, HMRC won't commit to not doing it again. Which seems like a really good reason to strip them (and other agencies) of these powers.

The same problems everywhere

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service is Canada's equivalent of the NZ SIS. It is responsible for conducting covert operation and collecting and analysing intelligence on threats to "national security".

According to CSIS, Canada's indigenous people are such a threat:

Secret documents from Canada’s spy agency show that the Canadian government was getting ready in case last year’s Idle No More protests “escalated.”

A heavily-redacted 11-page report — with one entire page missing — obtained under the Access to Information Act shows that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service was involved in preparing an all-of-government approach to dealing with the First Nations protests, which began in late 2012.

The redactions were, in part, because the information related to “the efforts of Canada towards detecting, preventing or suppressing subversive or hostile activities,” according to a letter from the spy agency.

Because obviously indigenous people getting upset about the government shitting on them and their environment and protesting peacefully about it is a threat to "national security".

And then spies wonder why we see them as a threat to democracy...

I don't see it either

The "big" political news today (this being a non-sitting week when the politicians are on holiday, some of them literally) is that the Internet Party is in talks with Mana to form an electoral alliance (which presumably means a joint party list). Like pretty much everyone else, I'm boggled by this. Its easy to see why the Internet Party would want to talk to Mana: they're unlikely to make 5%, so they need to find an electorate MP to get their people into Parliament. But its much harder to see why Mana would be interested in assisting a party founded by a multi-millionaire (who sought to buy influence via John Banks), and whose platform and core constituency has virtually nothing in common with theirs. Even talking to Dotcom undermines Mana's sense of authenticity and alienates its supporters and activists. For them, its all cost and no benefit.

But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Maori and the poor are deeply interested in internet freedom, and maybe there's a lot of IT geeks who support the Treaty and worker's rights. Or maybe, despite those enormous differences, they'll be able to get along, or at least co-habit. After all, Winston manages it - though largely by ensuring his two core constituencies of conservative Maori and racist Pakeha pensioners are never in the same room together. But I doubt it.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Stinkier and stinkier

The government's decision to cut the Problem Gambling Foundation's funding is looking stinkier and stinkier. First, news that they were the target of repeated complaints from the gambling industry:

The Ministry of Health had several meetings with the Problem Gambling Foundation to address concerns about political lobbying after complaints by poker machine trusts about outspoken attacks on the sector, the Sunday Star-Times has been told.

A senior industry source said pokie trusts had lodged several complaints with the ministry about PGF's behaviour, resulting in the foundation's chief executive, Graeme Ramsey, being called to "please explain" meetings.

Ramsey confirmed the meetings, saying "it's fair to say our political activity creates tension with the funder" but said he had told the ministry no taxpayer money was spent on advocacy work.

Second, it seems that the Salvation Army didn't even apply for the contract it won:
The Salvation Army says it was unaware it would be taking over as the lead agency for gambling addiction services after the Ministry of Health controversially cut funding to the Problem Gambling Foundation.


National manager of addictions Captain Gerry Walker said he had not yet been shown a contract and "did not know what the situation is".

His organisation had applied for its usual amount of funding for gambling addiction services - between $1 million and $2 million.

Instead, the ministry decided that it would take over as the national provider.

So, a contract is taken away from an organisation which is publicly acknowledged to do excellent work, and given to one which didn't even apply for it, because that organisation is unpopular with the industry the funder is supposed to be cleaning up after. If that isn't a political decision driven by revenge, I don't know what is.

Another stolen generation

Between 1909 and 1969, the Australian government stole tens of thousands of Aboriginal children from their families. This policy of forcible seperation was conducted in an explicit attempt to "breed out the colour" and thereby eliminate Australia's indigenous people. In 2008, then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made a formal apology for the stolen generations. But that hasn't changed anything: the Australian government is still stealing indigenous children:

Today, the theft of Aboriginal children – including babies taken from the birth table – is now more widespread than at any time during the last century. As of June last year, almost 14,000 Aboriginal children had been "removed". This is five times the number when Bringing Them Home was written. More than a third of all removed children are Aboriginal – from 3% of the population. At the present rate, this mass removal of Aboriginal children will result in a stolen generation of more than 3,300 children in the Northern Territory alone.

Pat (not her real name) is the mother whose anguish was secretly recorded on a phone as four department of child services officials, and six police, descended on her home. On the tape an official claims they have come only for an "assessment". But two of the police officers, who knew Pat, told her they saw no risk to her child and warned her to "get out of here quick". Pat fled, cradling her infant, but the one-year-old was eventually seized without her knowing why. The next morning a police officer returned to apologise to her and said her baby should never have been taken away. Pat has no idea where her son is.

Once she was "invited" by officials to bring her children to "neutral" offices to discuss a "care plan". The doors were locked and officials seized the children, with one of the youngest dragging on a police officer's gun belt. Many Indigenous mothers are unaware of their legal rights. A secretive children's court has become notorious for rubber-stamping removals.

Why do they do this? Officially its about child protection. But most of the issues justifying separation are the result of poverty, which the government does nothing to fix. The Northern Territory government spends A$80 million on stealing kids, but only A$500,000 on supporting the impoverished families they target for their raids. Which tells you everything you really need to know about this policy: its just more Australian racism.

New Fisk

Assad is already counting on soldiers still at school to fill the gaps left by 30,000 casualties

Hacking Huawei

The latest NSA leak: The NSA hacked Huawei:

The American government conducted a major intelligence offensive against China, with targets including the Chinese government and networking company Huawei, according to documents from former NSA worker Edward Snowden that have been viewed by SPIEGEL and the New York Times. Among the American intelligence service's targets were former Chinese President Hu Jintao, the Chinese Trade Ministry, banks, as well as telecommunications companies.

But the NSA made a special effort to target Huawei. With 150,000 employees and €28 billion ($38.6 billion) in annual revenues, the company is the world's second largest network equipment supplier. At the beginning of 2009, the NSA began an extensive operation, referred to internally as "Shotgiant," against the company, which is considered a major competitor to US-based Cisco. The company produces smartphones and tablets, but also mobile phone infrastructure, WLAN routers and fiber optic cable -- the kind of technology that is decisive in the NSA's battle for data supremacy.

They stole their customer lists, they stole their source code, and they spied on the company's internal business communications. Ostensibly this was done so they could determine whether Huawei equipment could be used by the Chinese government for spying - but according to the New York Times piece, it was also done to allow them hack other networks which used Huawei equipment. So, it turns out that there is a good reason to ban Huawei from sensitive networks - but its the US, rather than China, which exploits it.

Meanwhile, it seems a bit rich for the US to be complaining about Chinese "cyber-espionage" when they're pulling this sort of shit. But hypocrisy is what the US does.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Equality comes to Michigan

A federal court has struck down Michigan's ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional:

Michigan's ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional, a federal judge said Friday as he struck down a law that was widely embraced by voters a decade ago — the latest in a recent series of decisions overturning similar prohibitions across the country.

U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman released his 31-page ruling exactly two weeks after a rare trial that mostly focused on the impact of same-sex parenting on children.

He noted that supporters of same-sex marriage believe the Michigan ban was at least partly the result of animosity toward gays and lesbians.

"Many Michigan residents have religious convictions whose principles govern the conduct of their daily lives and inform their own viewpoints about marriage," Friedman said. "Nonetheless, these views cannot strip other citizens of the guarantees of equal protection under the law."

The ruling is of course being appealed, but unlike other similar recent cases, it hasn't been stayed - meaning that Michigan citizens will be free to marry the moment the clerk's offices open. Which is what happens when you case relies solely on bigotry and hate.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The real barrier to fixing the housing crisis

Over on Radio Live, Duncan Garner reminds us of the real barrier to government action to fix the housing crisis: the vested interests of MPs:

There are millions of reasons why both National and, before them Labour, failed to do too much about housing: the free market is working very well for home-owning politicians thank-you very much.

This is not a conspiracy theory. I just want to point out how much property MPs from across the political spectrum own. It’s mind-blowing, actually. It shows just how good the investment is – if you can afford to get into the market! Sorry first home buyers!


So, check out the list. None of these MPs have a vested interest in a capital gains tax do they? None of these MPs want to get rid of foreign buyers do they? Why would they want the market slowed?

That list shows that 68 out of 121 MPs own more than one house (and Chris Tremain owns 20). They all have a strong financial interest in perpetuating the current housing shortage and market bubble. People going homeless? First-home buyers locked out of the market? Or society changing from one where most adults own their own home to one of tenants and landlords? They're directly profiting from all of those ills.

The most effective way to solve the housing crisis is though a government mass-building program to increase supply. Get young families into homes of their own, crush the landlords, improve the quality of our housing stock, and revitalise state housing into the bargain. But those 68 MPs aren't going to vote to destroy the value of their biggest assets, anymore than turkeys will vote for christmas. And so the people of New Zealand suffer, and our "leaders" grow rich off our suffering.

One way of fixing it

Yahoo has discovered a way of getting out from under the eyes of the UK's intrusive surveillance state: move to Dublin. And Britain's spies are not happy about it:

Theresa May summoned the internet giant Yahoo for an urgent meeting on Thursday to raise security concerns after the company announced plans to move to Dublin where it is beyond the reach of Britain's surveillance laws.

By making the Irish capital rather than London the centre of its European, Middle East and Africa operations, Yahoo cannot be forced to hand over information demanded by Scotland Yard and the intelligence agencies through "warrants" issued under Britain's controversial anti-terror laws.


"There are concerns in the Home Office about how Ripa will apply to Yahoo once it has moved its headquarters to Dublin," said a Whitehall source. "The home secretary asked to see officials from Yahoo because in Dublin they don't have equivalent laws to Ripa. This could particularly affect investigations led by Scotland Yard and the national crime agency. They regard this as a very serious issue."

This is what happens if your government is too intrusive: companies which can make use of the free market in legal jurisdictions and move somewhere safer. Of course, GCHQ will simply snoop Yahoo users traffic from international cables - but that information won't be able to be used in court. So GCHQ spying has directly undermined the UK's law enforcement efforts. I'm sure the people of the UK - whose lives are affected a lot more by ordinary crime than fantasy "terrorists" - feel a lot safer.

Justice for Jimmy Mubenga?

Back in 2010, Jimmy Mubenga died while being deported from the UK after being subjected to positional asphyxia by his guards. Now those guards are facing manslaughter charges:

Three G4S guards are being charged with manslaughter following the death of a man as he was being deported from the UK.

Jimmy Mubenga, 46, died after being restrained by the three on board a plane at Heathrow airport in October 2010.

On Thursday the Crown Prosecution Service said the guards, Stuart Tribelnig, 38, Terry Hughes, 53, and Colin Kaler, 51, would be charged with manslaughter.

Malcolm McHaffie, deputy head of CPS special crime, said: "There is sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction and it is in the public interest to prosecute Colin Kaler, Terrence Hughes and Stuart Tribelnig."

Good. While I don't think the guards intended to kill Mubenga, they certainly seem to have shown a callous disregard for his life. But meanwhile, G4S, the company which set their organisational culture, gets to escape scot-free. Shouldn't they be on trial as well?

New Fisk

'There is no sectarianism in the army': Syria’s war – the general’s view


The Problem Gambling Foundation is one of our most effective social services NGOs, helping thousands of people a year. So naturally the government is slashing its funding:

The Problem Gambling Foundation of New Zealand can confirm that the Ministry of Health has informed us it will not be contracting with PGF for the bulk of current services after June 30.

While the Ministry describes PGF as a valued provider of quality services it has told PGF it has a superior offer for the clinical and public health services PGF provides.

As a result PGF will not be able to continue as the largest provider of problem gambling services in Australasia and an internationally recognised pioneer in our field.

Why? It's hard not to see it as revenge for the organisation's strong advocacy against National's corrupt SkyCity pokie deal. National's Tau Henare certainly sees it that way:
why should Govt pay a group to be critical of it? Pay them to help but don't pay them to bag the hand that feeds them.

[Tau Henare has previously received hospitality from SkyCity. Guess they're getting what they paid for]

Never mind the fact that the Foundation's advocacy operations are privately funded. They oppose government policy, and therefore in the government's eyes they should be defunded. Its everything that is wrong with National in a nutshell.

Taxpayer's money is not the gift of the government, to be used to reward cronies and punish opponents. This decision must be reversed.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A good idea from NZFirst

From an environmental economics perspective, mining is a wealth transfer, shifting public wealth (in the form of minerals in the ground) into private profits of mining companies. Along the way, it creates jobs, but it is basically spending capital, like living off the savings in your bank account. And in regions like the West Coast, we see what happens when the resources run out or become unprofitable to extract: the jobs disappear, and a regional economy geared solely to resource extraction withers and dies.

The way to solve this is to invest some portion of those mining profits into economic development, so that the economy grows and diversifies. At the moment, this is done privately, and usually elsewhere, by the mining companies and their shareholders reinvesting their profits, so there's no benefit to the extracting region. But NZFirst has hit on a policy to change that, by requiring a portion of government mining royalties to be returned to the region they were extracted from for economic development:

New Zealand First will deliver a share of mining royalties to target development on the West Coast, says New Zealand First Leader Rt Hon Winston Peters.

“We will ensure 25 per cent of the royalties paid for mining are placed in a regional development fund, and not absorbed into the Beehive’s piggy bank,” Mr Peters told an audience in Greymouth.

While the press release is focused on the West Coast, the full speech makes it clear that this is a scheme for all regions, with royalties going to regional council controlled regional development funds. And so they should: its their wealth after all.

A good move

While the government is trying to impose secrecy over environmental reporting, regional councils have moved in the opposite direction, collaborating to produce a website to show us how dirty our rivers are:

The Land Air Water Aotearoa, or LAWA, website is a collaboration of 16 councils, the Ministry for the Environment and Cawthron Institute scientists.

Regional councils collect water samples from more than 1100 sites, the data is analysed, independently verified and uploaded online.

So why aren't they waiting for this to be included in National's regular environmental reporting? Possibly they've figured out that Ministerial control means that reporting can't be trusted...

The website is here.

Justice for Batang Kali?

In the dying days of the British Empire, British soldiers murdered 24 unarmed villagers in Batang Kali. Subsequent governments methodically covered up the crime. Now, the UK Court of Appeal has finally opened the door to a proper investigation:

Relatives of unarmed rubber plantation workers killed by British troops in Malaysia said on Wednesday they would appeal to the supreme court after three senior UK judges said they had "forged the first link in the chain" in their campaign for an independent inquiry into the massacre.

The appeal court ruled that precedence forced them to dismiss their case. However, Lord Justices Maurice Kay, Rimer, and Fulford, in effect invited the Malaysian families to pursue their case in Britain's highest court. They added that it was probable that their case would succeed in the European human rights court in Strasbourg.

The judges described initial British investigations into what is known as the massacre of Batang Kali in December 1948 as woefully inadequate.

So, a long way to go yet, but the British government will almost certainly be forced to investigate, just as they were over their war crime sin Iraq. Meanwhile, what does it say about a government that it resists well-founded demands for such investigations? Is protecting the reputation of a dead empire really more important than justice?

Political parties are not charities

John Key is in trouble again, this time for claiming that his golf game with Oravida owner Stone Shi was the result of a donation to charity. Now it turns out that the "charity" was the National Party. Which is just a little deceitful. Since Key is obviously confused, here's some help:

A charity in New Zealand law is an organisation established to fulfil a "charitable purpose", such as "the relief of poverty, the advancement of education or religion, or any other matter beneficial to the community". A political party is a body established to fulfil a political purpose, such as advocating a particular political point of view, competing for and winning political office, or distributing jobs and government funding to its donors and cronies. A political purpose is not "charitable", and charities which engage in politics get deregistered.

And while we're at it: the National Party does not appear in the register of charities. it is an offence to misrepresent a body as a charity when it is not. Maybe Key should be a little more careful with his language?

Protecting their own again

Back in 2011, an off-suty Christchurch police officer randomly beat a teenager with his baton. Rather than being charged with assault with a weapon, the police treated it as an employment matter and refused to prosecute. Now the Independent Police Conduct authority has ruled that they were wrong to do so:

Police were wrong not to charge an off-duty cop who used his baton to bash a youth he thought had smashed his letterbox, a review has found.


In releasing today's report, IPCA chairman Sir David Carruthers said despite the serious nature of the off-duty officer's actions, a criminal prosecution was never undertaken.

"In investigating the police decision not to prosecute, the Authority found that the decision not to interview the officer as part of a criminal investigation was a departure from the proper process," he said.

"The authority also found that the decision not to prosecute the off-duty officer because it was not in the public interest to do so was made without proper consideration of the prosecution guidelines."

How did this happen? The usual story: police looking out for each other, minimising complaints for the public to protect their mates. And it has worked: the officer won't be prosecuted, and has kept his job. And the police think this is how they restore trust. Yeah right.

This officer is a brutal thug who launched an unprovoked attack on a member of the public. There should be no place in the police for him.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

"Oversight", British style

How does the British government keep a leash on its spies? It doesn't:

Britain's intelligence services had a system of oversight no better than that seen in the TV comedy Yes Minister, an MP said on Tuesday during a meeting of a Commons committee.

Julian Huppert, a Liberal Democrat, said the sitcom depicting ineffectual government was an appropriate comparison after it emerged that the intelligence services commissioner appearing before MPs worked only part-time, and operated with a staff of two.

The MP said that Sir Mark Waller, the commissioner, was subject to a system in which investigations were no more rigorous than decent chaps asking other decent chaps if they had behaved properly.

And if you read further, you'll see that that's exactly what Britain's "watchdog" did in response to the Snowden revelations: politely asked those he was supposed to keeping an eye on whether they had broken the law, and accepted their denials at face value. And this is an oversight regime the public is supposed to have trust in? It's simply a bad joke. But isn't it so very British?

New Fisk

Qatar pays Syrian rebels £40m ransom to free nuns - or did it? It depends what rumours you believe

One hell of a backflip

I was intending to write a post sneering at the idea that an official inquiry could clear someone without ever investigating the core allegations. But events have moved too quickly: last night's whitewash has suddenly turned into an SFO referral. Which is one hell of a backflip from a Minister who less than 24 hours ago was saying "nothing to see here, move along". But it does conveniently mean that they no longer have to answer questions about it in Parliament or from the media.

Its not just metadata

The latest NSALeak: the NSA is recording all your phone calls:

The National Security Agency has built a surveillance system capable of recording “100 percent” of a foreign country’s telephone calls, enabling the agency to rewind and review conversations as long as a month after they take place, according to people with direct knowledge of the effort and documents supplied by former contractor Edward Snowden.


The voice interception program, called MYSTIC, began in 2009. Its RETRO tool, short for “retrospective retrieval,” and related projects reached full capacity against the first target nation in 2011. Planning documents two years later anticipated similar operations elsewhere.

In the initial deployment, collection systems are recording “every single” conversation nationwide, storing billions of them in a 30-day rolling buffer that clears the oldest calls as new ones arrive, according to a classified summary.

The call buffer opens a door “into the past,” the summary says, enabling users to “retrieve audio of interest that was not tasked at the time of the original call.” Analysts listen to only a fraction of 1 percent of the calls, but the absolute numbers are high. Each month, they send millions of voice clippings, or “cuts,” for processing and long-term storage.

Recording every phone call ever made for analysis at your leisure goes well beyond even the most sordid fantasy of the Stasi. Apparently only one country is affected so far, but Congress has appropriated money to extend the system to six more (naturally, the Washington Post is collaborating with the NSA in refusing to identify the victims). And no doubt there will be more in the future - unless we vote out the spies, and end all intelligence cooperation with the US.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

"Thoroughly investigated"

Back in 2004, British soldiers mutilated the bodies of Iraqi resistance fighters and tortured and murdered captives after the battle of Danny Boy. When the UK media highlighted the story in 2008, the British military dismissed it on the basis that the case had been "thoroughly investigated by the RMP [Royal Military Police]" who had "found no evidence to support these allegations". They were lying:

Senior army officers "slammed the door" to block a military police investigation into the treatment of prisoners captured after a fierce battle in Iraq, and then tried to deny having done so, a public inquiry into the incident has heard.

Lucy Bowen, a military police special investigations officer, described how commanders of 1 Battalion Princess of Wales Royal Regiment (1PWRR) stopped her from questioning soldiers after the Battle of Danny Boy – Danny Boy was a British checkpoint near Majar al-Kabir, north of Basra – on 14 May 2004, in which at least 20 insurgents were killed and others were wounded and captured.

The inquiry counsel, Jonathan Acton Davis QC, said: "The door was slammed in your face?" Bowen replied: "Yes … they would not allow us to investigate."

This is how the British military protects its "honour": by covering up serious allegations of torture, murder, and war crimes. The question is, will the current inquiry actually get to the truth, or will it just be more of the same?

More cronyism

Today's cronyism: Chris Finlayson has appointed property consultant Grant Kerr to the new Arts Council. He has some arts background, having been "co-founder and chairperson of the Taranaki Arts Festival Trust". But he's also National MP Maggie Barry's partner. Which makes the appointment rather unseemly.

I am unable to confirm whether the Wayne Marriott appointed is the former Young Nats president and failed Aoraki candidate.

Update: It appears that its a different Wayne Marriot. So, only one crony today then.

Climate change: War, disease, and famine

What will climate change do to human civilisation? According to the IPCC, war, disease, and famine:

Climate change will displace hundreds of millions of people by the end of this century, increasing the risk of violent conflict and wiping trillions of dollars off the global economy, a forthcoming UN report will warn.

The second of three publications by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, due to be made public at the end of this month, is the most comprehensive investigation into the impact of climate change ever undertaken. A draft of the final version seen by The Independent says the warming climate will place the world under enormous strain, forcing mass migration, especially in Asia, and increasing the risk of violent conflict.

Based on thousands of peer-reviewed studies and put together by hundreds of respected scientists, the report predicts that climate change will reduce median crop yields by 2 per cent per decade for the rest of the century – at a time of rapidly growing demand for food. This will in turn push up malnutrition in children by about a fifth, it predicts.

The report also forecasts that the warming climate will take its toll on human health, pushing up the number of intense heatwaves and fires and increasing the risk from food and water-borne diseases.

We can still stop this - but that would require radically decarbonising the global economy, bursting the carbon bubble and destroying the wealth of the global rich. And it appears that they'd rather destroy the world and be king of the ashes than see that happen.

New Fisk

On the march with Assad’s army: ‘Unusually, the Syrian army took rebel prisoners. Ominously, I saw none’

A clear conflict of interest

Last week, I joined with other bloggers in highlighting Environment Minister Amy Adams' apparent conflict of interest over decisions she made about ECan. Adams has come out swinging, calling the excavation of her actions a "smear campaign" and even threatening defamation proceedings against a Taranaki Daily News columnist who had brought the story into the public media. Meanwhile, Rob Salmond has just highlighted the smoking gun: a 2012 Cabinet Paper on the renwal of ECan's dictatorship:

"Over several years a number of problems with ECan’s performance emerged… Key priorities of regional and national importance, such as the effective management of Canterbury’s valuable freshwater resources, were not progressed. (para 12)

"Irrigation is predicted to significantly contribute to the growth of the New Zealand economy, with Canterbury being a key contributor. The value of production in Canterbury is predicted to increase from $1,000 [per] ha to $7,000 [per] ha with the irrigation acceleration initiatives underway." (para 13)

"...there is a significant risk that the progress that has been made since the Commissioners’ appointment will stall, or at worst, be reversed at the expiry of their term with the local authority election in 2013." (para 15)


"The Act currently removes appeal rights to the Environment Court in relation to decisions made by ECan, but provides a right of appeal to the High Court on points of law. We propose to continue this limitation to decisions that are made on RMA plans and policy statements that relate to freshwater management (including those instruments containing related land use or discharge provisions). This is to ensure that the CWMS [Canterbury Water Management Strategy] is given appropriate priority and to enable broader freshwater related plans and policies to be progressed in a timely manner. This is consistent with the significance of freshwater management as reflected in other government policies including the Irrigation Acceleration Fund and Business Growth Agenda." (para 41)

Amy Adams was one of the two people who brought that paper to Cabinet (the other was then-Local Government Minister David Carter). So we have a person who owns a stake in an irrigation company (and a farm whose value will be significantly improved by irrigation) directly promoting governance arrangements designed to help the business she has shares in. As Rob points out, Adams "could reasonably be perceived as standing to gain or lose financially from decisions or acts for which [she] is responsible", meeting the Cabinet Manual test for a pecuniary conflict of interest (though he sloppily over-eggs it by failing to follow the paper trail on what Cabinet actually decided). Adams should have declared that conflict and recused herself from all decision-making on the subject. She didn't. Whether this was ethical behaviour is left as an exercise for the reader.

Monday, March 17, 2014

A very British double-standard

Back in the 1960's and 70's, the British government ethnically cleansed the island of Diego Garcia to make way for a US military base. Its inhabitants, the Chagossians, were forcibly deported from their homes and dumped in a slum in Mauritius. When they won a court case enabling their return in the 2000s, the british responded by declaring the entire archipelago a marine reserve, ostensibly to protect the environment, but in reality to keep them out (something the British courts are incapable of admitting even when presented with clear evidence). So, the Chagossians can't return because they might pollute the environment.

And meanwhile, the US Navy gets to pour sewage into their lagoon:

The American military has poured hundreds of tonnes of human sewage and waste water into a protected coral lagoon on the British-owned base of Diego Garcia over three decades in breach of environmental rules, The Independent can reveal.


Despite these undertakings, it has emerged that US Navy vessels have been discharging waste water, including treated sewage, into the clear lagoon ever since a naval support station was established on Diego Garcia in the early 1980s.

According to scientific advisers, elevated levels of nutrients caused by the waste – which have resulted in nitrogen and phosphate readings up to four times higher than normal – may be damaging the coral.

So its one rule for the Chagossians - British "subjects" whose rights the government exists to protect - and one for their foreign "partners". Its a clear double standard. But isn't it so very, very British?

"Amazing achievements"

Truck group gave $95,000 to MPs, New Zealand Herald, April 16, 2009:

Jonathan Coleman, National: $36,323.14. Includes $16,672 from Brian Choi Trust (contribution donations) and $5000 from Barfoot and Thompson real estate director Garth Barfoot.
Excerpt from National Party return of donations for year ending 31 December 2010:

Excerpt from National Party return of donations for year ending 31 December 2011:

Excerpt from Jonathan Coleman: Return of candidate expenses and donations for the 2011 general election:

Michele Hewitson Interview: Garth Barfoot, New Zealand Herald, 14 July 2012:
There was a photograph on his desk of him at a fundraiser dinner for John Key. He said: "I had to buy something!" This was a little dig at my digs about him being careful with money. What did he have to buy? "Well, a table of course. And as the biggest spender, I got two tables. I got one for my daughter... He is a National Party supporter then, obviously. "Well, on Google I'm the biggest donor to the National Party! Ha! I think: 'How mean people are!"'
Garth Barfoot named in Queens Birthday Honours, press release, Barfoot & Thompson, June 2013:
Garth Barfoot, Director of real estate company Barfoot & Thompson, has been made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM) for services to business, sport and the community.

Born in 1936, Garth has been involved in real estate for over 54 years. He is the former President of the Auckland branch of the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand (REINZ) and in 1991, was made a Life Member.

”We’re really proud of Garth,” says Barfoot & Thompson Managing Director Peter Thompson says. “Our heartiest congratulations to Garth on his amazing achievements.”

New Fisk

'One day, you will all be lynched, dead, sick or alive'

The expected result

As expected, Crimea has voted to rejoin Russia:

Some 95.5% of voters in Crimea have supported joining Russia, officials say. after half the votes have been counted in a disputed referendum.

Crimea's leader says he will apply to join Russia on Monday. Russia's Vladimir Putin has said he will respect the Crimean people's wishes.

Which is exactly the result you get when you have a "vote" with no "Nyet" option happening under Russian guns. But Russia doesn't need the result to be internationally credible - all it needs is a number it can wave in its state-controlled press to "justify" annexation domestically.

The next question: will Russia now try the same scam of destabilisation and stealth invasion in Eastern Ukraine?

Friday, March 14, 2014

An economic upgrade?

David Cunliffe presented the broad strokes of his economic policy today, under the slogan of an "economic upgrade". Much of it was stuff we'd heard before: capital gains tax, universal kiwisaver, R&D tax credits, better monetary policy. But there's also a strong focus on regional development, industrial policy, and direct government intervention. It still needs to be fleshed out, but its not a bad start. Because one thing is clear: we need to move our economy away from a focus on milk. Our environment can't sustain it, and its not delivering for anyone other than a narrow class of wealthy farmers. As research from the New Zealand Institute has shown, rich economies have multiple sources of income. And they consciously develop them through industrial policy. And the Ministry for Economic Development (back before it became MoBIE) agreed; back in 2009 they were recommending that the government support IT and high-tech manufacturing to overcome its capital deficit by taking direct stakes in promising companies. It will be interesting to see whether Labour is willing to go this far, or whether they'll compromise their proposed economic transformation by soft-peddling it to the business community.

How McDonald's makes its profits

Stealing from its workers:

US workers have accused fast-food giant McDonald's of systematically stealing wages through illicit practices like forcing them to work off-the-clock and failing to pay overtime.

Seven class-action lawsuits were filed on this week in California, Michigan and New York demanding that McDonald's pay back the stolen wages and end the practices that violate state and federal laws, lawyers representing the workers said.


The lawsuits argue that McDonald's, which took in nearly $US5.6 billion in profits last year, regularly fails to compensate its already low-paid workers for all the hours they work.

It allegedly forced employees to work off-the-clock, failed to pay them overtime, shaved hours off time cards, and deprived employees of timely meal and rest breaks, among other practices.

McDonald's isn't alone. Wage-theft is pervasive across the US economy, practiced by companies big and small. Their entire economy is propped up by theft from the poor. And in true US style, its left to the poor and weak to try and defend their rights, rather than having a strong national regulator who will do it for them and ensure everyone is paid what they're owed.

US capitalism: sociopathic and dishonest. We should not use it as a model.

Metadata reveals your most personal secrets

We've already seen several terrifying examples of what the NSA and GCSB can learn from your metadata, but here's another one. Stanford University has been conducting a study of metadata, using an app installed by volunteers on their phones which gives them exactly what we know the NSA can access from your phone company. And just by looking at phone calls, they've uncovered the deepest secrets of people's lives:

So what was revealed, precisely? Mayer and his team showed that participants called public numbers of “Alcoholics Anonymous, gun stores, NARAL Pro-Choice, labor unions, divorce lawyers, sexually transmitted disease clinics, a Canadian import pharmacy, strip clubs, and much more.”

The researchers were even surprised that they had real-world results to support a classic nightmare scenario feared by many civil libertarians and privacy activists.

Participant A communicated with multiple local neurology groups, a specialty pharmacy, a rare condition management service, and a hotline for a pharmaceutical used solely to treat relapsing multiple sclerosis.

Participant B spoke at length with cardiologists at a major medical center, talked briefly with a medical laboratory, received calls from a pharmacy, and placed short calls to a home reporting hotline for a medical device used to monitor cardiac arrhythmia.

Participant C made a number of calls to a firearm store that specializes in the AR semiautomatic rifle platform. They also spoke at length with customer service for a firearm manufacturer that produces an AR line.

In a span of three weeks, Participant D contacted a home improvement store, locksmiths, a hydroponics dealer, and a head shop.

Participant E had a long, early morning call with her sister. Two days later, she placed a series of calls to the local Planned Parenthood location. She placed brief additional calls two weeks later, and made a final call a month after.
If they care to look, the spies know not just your job and personal relationships, but what diseases you have, whether you're engage din criminal activity, and whether you've had an abortion. This is horrificly intrusive. And all of it is done without any warrant, or any sort of oversight at all.

People have a right to privacy, especially from the government. Indiscriminate metadata surveillance needs to end.

A gift to the rich

Yesterday the government announced the details of its privatisation of Genesis Energy, including a discounted price, generous bonus scheme, and huge dividend. Clearly, they're trying to make it highly tempting to buyers who have already been burned by Might River Power and Meridian. But think about it for a moment: this is public money they're giving away. Every cent off the price is money the public doesn't get, every bonus share money the public has to spend, every extra dollar of dividend a dollar pillaged. This isn't getting the best value for New Zealand; its not even pretending. Instead its just an outright gift to the wealthy (who will no doubt then tell us how deserving they are for being "clever" enough to have such generous patrons).

There can no longer be any doubt: privatisation is inherently corrupt, a mechanism by which the government transfers public wealth into the hands of donors and cronies. And the public should be quite clear to those participating: if you buy Genesis shares, you are a thief.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Unlawful detention in the UK

Appalling news from the UK:

Tens of thousands of vulnerable people are being unlawfully detained in care homes and hospitals across England and Wales, according to a damning House of Lords inquiry which concludes that legislation created to protect people with mental health conditions – including dementia and autism – has failed.

After a nine-month inquiry during which more than 60 witnesses were questioned and more than 200 written submissions received, the report concludes that vulnerable people are being let down by social workers, healthcare professionals and other carers, many of whom are often not aware of the law or how it should be enforced.

The starkest failure highlighted by the Lords was that tens of thousands of people are being wrongly “deprived of their liberty” in care homes and hospitals.

Basically state services responsible for care simply do not care about the law and are detaining people unlawfully. Meanwhile oversight is underfunded and so non-existent in practice. It a massive failure, and one which should cause deep shame to the British state.

Not that they're alone. Check out the Ombudsman's 2008-9 Annual Report, which has examples of people detained under the wrong act, and even without any paperwork authorising detention at all. This is a global problem - its just that it seems to be worse in the UK, despite a law which is strong on paper.

A global cyberwar against everyone

The latest NSALeak: the NSA is deliberately spreading malware on a massive scale to spy on everyone:

Top-secret documents reveal that the National Security Agency is dramatically expanding its ability to covertly hack into computers on a mass scale by using automated systems that reduce the level of human oversight in the process.

The classified files – provided previously by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden – contain new details about groundbreaking surveillance technology the agency has developed to infect potentially millions of computers worldwide with malware “implants.” The clandestine initiative enables the NSA to break into targeted computers and to siphon out data from foreign Internet and phone networks.

The covert infrastructure that supports the hacking efforts operates from the agency’s headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, and from eavesdropping bases in the United Kingdom and Japan. GCHQ, the British intelligence agency, appears to have played an integral role in helping to develop the implants tactic.

This isn't the sort of targeted operation they aimed at Belgacom - its effectively a gloabl cyberwar against everyone. They infected 100,000 computers already, and they plan to infect millions - well beyond any possible number needed strictly for "national security". Why? So they can pwn you:
One implant, codenamed UNITEDRAKE, can be used with a variety of “plug-ins” that enable the agency to gain total control of an infected computer.

An implant plug-in named CAPTIVATEDAUDIENCE, for example, is used to take over a targeted computer’s microphone and record conversations taking place near the device. Another, GUMFISH, can covertly take over a computer’s webcam and snap photographs. FOGGYBOTTOM records logs of Internet browsing histories and collects login details and passwords used to access websites and email accounts. GROK is used to log keystrokes. And SALVAGERABBIT exfiltrates data from removable flash drives that connect to an infected computer.

We've already seen that they target ordinary people without any "national security" reason whatsoever, spying on their movements, communications, sex lives. This is more of the same. That's their vision of the future: an omniscient surveillance system, spying on everything we do, forever.

Unless we use our democratic power while we still have it to cut their budgets, outlaw their spying, and shut them down. Time to pull the plug on the spies, before they pull the plug on our democracy.

Citizenship for sale

This smells bad:

A wealthy Auckland businessman was given New Zealand citizenship against official advice after a Government minister lobbied the colleague who made the decision.

Maurice Williamson, the Minister of Building and Construction, and Prime Minister John Key then opened the first stage of a $70 million construction project launched by the Chinese-born developer after he became a citizen.

The following year, one of his companies made a $22,000 donation to the National Party.

I doubt that there was anything like a formal agreement - "$22,000 for citizenship". Instead, its likely to be a case of the person showing "gratitude" to the party whose members helped him to become a citizen. But like the William Yan case, where citizenship was also granted against official advice to a donor (though one with a far shadier record), it smells very bad indeed, and creates a perception that government Ministers are selling citizenship in exchange for party kickbacks. Their refusal to refuse such kickbacks is undermining the integrity of our entire political system.

Incidentally, this means that fully half of National's declared 2012 donors are tainted by corruption (Chris Parkin gave $16,850 and got a government job, and there's another donor on that list who also got something if you care to correlate the contents). Which is why we need public funding of political parties and to end the reliance on private donations: to stop our political system being tainted in this way.

Freedom of information beats the monarchy

One of the ground rules underlying the UK's constitution (and our own) is that the monarchy is "politically neutral". But in the case of Prince Charles, its a myth - he lobbies government extensively, holding private meetings with Cabinet Ministers, vetoing legislation which threatens his economic interests, even having government websites critical of his pet quackery censored. One of his chief vehicles for such lobbying are the "black spider memos" - letters named for his spidery handwriting, sent regularly to Ministers. Back in 2012, the Information Tribunal ruled that they should be released under the Freedom of Information Act, but this was swiftly vetoed by the Attorney-General on the grounds that release would "undermined his position of political neutrality" (by exposing it as a lie). Now, that veto has been overturned by the courts:

Three senior judges have ruled that Dominic Grieve, the attorney general, acted unlawfully when he blocked the publication of letters written by Prince Charles to government ministers.

The ruling, led by Lord Dyson, the head of the civil judiciary in England and Wales, paves the way for the release of the letters which reveal how the prince lobbied government ministers to change official policies.


Dyson, the master of the rolls, said Grieve "did not have reasonable grounds" for issuing the veto "merely because he disagrees with the decision" of the tribunal.

Grieve "could point to no error of law or fact in the [tribunal's] decision, and the government departments concerned did not even seek permission to appeal it", he added.

Leave has been granted to appeal to the Supreme Court, so release could still be overturned. But in the meantime, its an important victory of transparency over secrecy, and law over monarchical privilege.

As for the wider issue: if the UK government is worried about the monarchy's political neutrality, maybe they should place the blame where it lies: on Charles Windsor. And start returning his letters unopened.

[The full judgement is here]

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

National's gamble fails again

National's big economic "strategy" for the past six years has been to gamble on finding oil. Their sole vehicle for this is Texan oil cowboys Anadarko, but they came up bust in Taranaki, and now they've failed in Otago as well.

Texan oil company Anadarko says it's too early to know if oil drilling in the Canterbury Basin has come up dry.

Greenpeace said today the exploratory well drilled off the Otago coast, about 60 kilometres northeast of Dunedin, has failed to yield any oil.

It would be the second such failure for Anadarko, after a well off the Taranaki coast also came up dry last month.

And its unlikely they'll stick around to try again. good riddance. And now they're gone, perhaps the government could get a real plan?

Some answers from Amy Adams

Amy Adams' press secretary has popped up on The Standard to give some answers. Adams has indeed declared a conflict of interest with regards to Central Plains Water, and transferred decisions relating to it to Gerry Brownlee:

Accordingly, to avoid any actual or perceived conflicts of interest, Minister Adams has transferred her responsibilities as Environment Minister to Minister Brownlee. This was done after she became Environment Minister in April 2012... Environment officials report directly to Minister Brownlee on matters concerning the Central Plains Water scheme.

I understand there has only been one Cabinet decision made regarding the Central Plains Water Scheme. On this occasion, Minister Brownlee took the paper to the relevant Cabinet committee. When this issue was discussed, Minister Adams excused herself from the Cabinet committee where it was discussed, and took no part in the discussions.

The decision in question was the one to amend the Rakaia River Water Conservation Order, allowing the river to be pillaged for irrigation.

So, while she has behaved ethically in the specific case, it doesn't answer the wider questions about the ECan dictatorship and its relaxed water management regime.