Friday, February 27, 2015

"CIA or Gestapo tactics"

Earlier in the week we learned that the Chicago police department had been running its very own black site, where prisoners were disappeared, beaten, shackled, hot-boxed, and held without access to lawyers (or any other form of due process). It seems to be turning into a major political issue in Chicago, and rightly so. While the Chicago PD has a dirty history of torture and abuse (so much so that when the US needed torturers for Guantanamo, they hired a former Chicago police detective), the idea that torture is happening in America is a bit too much even for Americans. And with a mayoral runoff election now on the cards, there might be some chance of change (or, it could just be swept back under the carpet, like Fergusson and police violence generally. This is America after all).

But what got my attention reading all this was the reaction of one local politician:

Until this week, the Cook County commissioner Richard Boykin only knew of the warehouse next-door – like the mother – as a police facility in a struggling Chicago neighbourhood.

“I hadn’t heard of the sort of CIA or Gestapo tactics that were mentioned in the Guardian article until it was brought to my attention,” Boykin said in an interview outside Homan Square. “And we are calling for the Department of Justice to open an investigation into these allegations.”

[Emphasis added]

Yes, the CIA now has such a reputation for torture that even Americans talk about it in the same breath as the Gestapo.

(Those who don't like the comparison may wish to consider this 2007 analysis of the two organisations' techniques. The major difference between the two seems to be that the Gestapo were better dressed).

Spies begat terror

The big news from the UK today is that one of ISIS's executioners has been identified as a London man known who was being monitored by MI5. But in addition to raising questions about MI5's competence, its also raising questions about their role in his radicalisation:

Emails and other documents that emerged on Thursday also showed that security services had been tracking Emwazi since 2009, starting when he was refused entry to Tanzania, until the middle of 2013 when they informed his family that he had crossed over to Syria.

During that period Emwazi complained on occasion that he had been harassed by MI5, but the Kuwaiti-born Briton eventually disappeared before arriving on the world stage as the murderous public face of Isis in August 2014.


Asim Qureshi, the research director of Cage, an advocacy group working with victims of the “war on terror”, said Emwazi’s repeated detention and interrogation by the security services would have ended up making him susceptible to radicalisation. Cage had previously advised Emwazi when he was complaining about his treatment five years ago.

Emwazi was refused permission to enter Tanzania in August 2009, and he told Cage that he was put on a plane to the Netherlands where he was questioned by MI5. In a subsequent series of emails sent to Cage, Emwazi said the British officer knew “everything about me; where I lived, what I did, and the people I hanged around with”.

He said that he was asked to become an informant but refused – and the MI5 officer was alleged to have said that “life would be harder”.

There's no question that Emwazi was an extremist - that's why MI5 was interested in him. But in this case, as in others, their heavy-handed tactics seem to have made things worse, not better, and pushed him over the edge into murder. Its the war on terror in miniature, where the US/UK's abuses simply drive more people to terrorism. we've seen it over US torture, which is a recruiting poster for radicals. We've seen it over Iraq and Afghanistan, where the US invasion provided an endless stream of atrocities. And we're seeing it in Australia at the moment, where Tony Abbott's war on Muslims is fuelling rather than quenching domestic radicalism. And sadly, John Key seems to be marching us down exactly the same path. And the only people who do well out of such tactics are spies and terrorists, who seem to paradoxically need each other to survive.

National is laundering donations

On Wednesday I highlighted a disturbing trend in the 2014 election candidate donation returns, where National Party candidates were almost entirely funded from the party's head office - suggesting that the party was laundering donations to hide the identity of donors to local campaigns. Yesterday, National MP Jono Naylor (who has prior on hiding the identity of donors, then paying them off with big favours) effectively admitted that was the case:

National Party list MP Jono Naylor was the highest spender in Palmerston North - he declared $22,048.97 in expenses and $25,688.34 in donations. Naylor said the money was drawn from donations to the party's Palmerston North branch.

[Emphasis added. The donation from the National Party was his only declared source of funding]

So, to make that clear: people donate to the Palmerston North branch to support National's campaign there. That money is then given to the local candidate. Meaning that the donations aren't party donations, but candidate ones, and the party is acting as a transmitter and should be identifying the contributors.

I'm sure that, like the banks who facilitate tax cheating, the National Party has a lawyer who says its all legal. But its certainly not within the spirit of the law. And if we want to end this sort of scam, we need to lower the party donation disclosure threshold so it is equal to the candidate one: $1,500. That way there's no benefit in this sort of laundering.

Crocodile tears from Key

In the wake of yesterday's obscene MP's pay-rise, John Key has made his annual statement that he's not happy and wants to see the law changed:

Prime Minister John Key says he supports changes to the law driving the annual pay rises MPs receive, but say they don't want.


Remuneration Authority chairman John Errington yesterday said that the MPs were the ones who set the rules the authority followed in deciding the pay rise.

Key said MPs' salaries were at an appropriate level, and politicians needed to look at changing the law the Remuneration Authority acted under.

Which we can add to all his other annual statements where he says the same thing, but does nothing.

Its time for Key to put his money where his mouth is. He has a Parliamentary majority. He has control of the legislative agenda. He can make this happen if he wants to. If it doesn't happen, then it will be obvious why: because he doesn't want to, and all those annual statements of disquiet are just crocodile tears.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Spy Cables

There's been another major leak of intelligence material, this time from South Africa to Al Jazeera and the Guardian. As usual, it exposes more dubiousness from governments, from Netanyahu's outright lies over Iran's nuclear program to South Africa's State Security Agency spying on its own government. It also appears much of the intelligence circulating to support the 'war on terror" is outright fantasy, given creedance by politicians because someone has stamped it "Top Secret". And then there's the really dubious stuff: South Africa spying on its own citizens at the request of other nations, and spying on non-hostile nations just so they've got something to trade.

And again, it raises the obvious question: if this is how the intelligence world works, are "our" spies doing this? Is the SIS spying on peaceful New Zealanders because some dipshit foreign authoritarian doesn't like what they say (yes)? Is the GCSB spying on our neighbours, who we quite like actually and want to get along with, because the US is interested in them (almost certainly). Such quid pro quo arrangements have nothing to do with our national security, and appear to be well outside our spy agencies' functions, and would therefore be illegal. But our intelligence oversight bodies are forbidden from investigating operational matters, or focused on process, rather than policy - which means that they don't provide oversight of this sort of thing. Which means the spies get to run riot.

No freedom of speech in Turkey

Merve Buyuksarac is a Turkish model. Last month she shared a poem satirising Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on her Instagram account. Now, she's been detained, and is facing two years in jail:

A former model and Miss Turkey could face up to two years for social media posts that prosecutors have deemed to be critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

A lawyer for the model Merve Buyuksarac said today that an Istanbul prosecutor is demanding she be prosecuted on charges of insulting a public official. A court will decide whether to start proceedings.

The idea that you can't mock or satirise elected officials seems peculiarly authoritarian. But that's pretty much Turkey in a nutshell. They're not a democracy, and won't be until their leaders stop pretending they're still Sultan.

John Key on MPs' pay rises

Most MPs resigned to their 1.4pc pay rise, Dominion Post, 25 December 2010:

Prime Minister John Key urged restraint over the setting of politicians' pay this year but most MPs seem resigned to the boost in their salaries which, they are quick to point out, was decided independently.

Mr Key was consulted by the Remuneration Authority – the independent body that sets politicians' pay – and said given the circumstances restraint should be shown.

"He argued there should be a nil increase for MPs, or if there was any increase, it should be in the band of other public-sector pay settlements," a spokesman for Mr Key said.

The authority decided on a 1.4 per cent rise backdated to July and a one-off payment of $2000 to cover the decreased use of MPs' travel subsidy. The rise boosts Mr Key's salary to $400,500 and a backbencher's to $134,800.

Mana outrage over MPs' $7000 pay rise, New Zealand Herald, 17 November 2011:
Prime Minister John Key said we was also disappointed with part of the decision to increase MP's pay.

He said he was happy with the 1.5 per cent increase because that was roughly in line with what the rest of the country got, but he said there was little need for the $5,000 to compensate for the scrapping of the travel allowance.

Key tips pay jump for MPs, New Zealand Herald, 22 October 2013:
Prime Minister John Key has hinted the Remuneration Authority is lining up a good pay rise for MPs this year, saying he had been consulted on the proposed increase and had told the authority he believed only a small, if not zero, pay rise should be offered.

Mr Key would not reveal what the proposed increase was or what he had said but hinted it was above the rate of inflation.

"But bluntly, I'm not in favour of big pay increases for MPs. If it was my vote, it would be no pay increases, but I don't get that vote."

He said there might be a valid argument for low increases to an MPs' salary to keep pace with inflation. "That would be the top end. But I don't buy the argument that they're out of whack with the rest of the private sector or the public sector." Inflation over the 2012/13 year was 0.7 per cent.

John Keys hints he'll change law on MPs' pay rises - but he'll still take today's hike, New Zealand Herald, 26 February 2015:
Prime Minister John Key says Parliament may change the law on how MPs' pay rates are set in the future, but he won't turn down a pay rise expected today.

He told reporters this morning that he wrote to the Remuneration Authority early this year urging it not to give MPs a pay rise at all this year, but the authority had given them a pay rise anyway.

Forgive my scepticism, but I'll believe it when I see it. Every year, John Key says MPs' don't need a huge pay rise, and even threatens to change the law. But he never does, except to hide the setting of MPs' perks behind the Remuneration Authority blame-sink as well (which, surprise surprise, resulted in another big increase). Its amazing how powerless the Prime Minister is on this, when he can ram new spying powers through in less than a month and pass a law to pillage the conservation estate overnight. You'd almost get the impression that he didn't really care, and was just saying what his pollsters had told him we wanted to hear...

Pigs at the trough

New Zealanders are struggling. Wages increased only 1.8% last year, and 40% of workers didn't get a wage rise at all. Benefits are static, capped at the level set by Ruth Richardson in 1990. The minimum wage increased by a measley 50 cents.

And meanwhile, our MPs are helping themselves to a $10,000 pay rise. While telling us all to "do more with less".

(Oh yes, its technically the Remuneration Commission giving them the pay rise. Which they set up for that purpose in an effort to hide what is really going on. But everyone knows its a scam to dodge blame, and no-one believes MPs' insincere claims that they are absolutely helpless to change the rules they wrote to give them endless huge pay-rises. They're not helpless here, they just choose to be so they can keep on raking in the cash).

Its obscene. Its hypocritical. And its a perfect example of everything that is wrong with our political system. Like the bankers, our MPs get paid well regardless of their performance. Their incentive therefore to improve the lot of the rest of us is negligible. They're simply not in the same boat. And with taxpayer-subsidised mortgages (now with less transparency!) and taxpayer-funded sluch funds, they grow further and further apart from the people they purport to represent.

MPs need to be well-paid to prevent corruption. And they are, and have been for a long time. But there's no need for them to be paid like bankers. There's no need for them to be in the top 1%. And there's certainly no need for guaranteed pay rises. Instead, their pay should be linked to the median individual income. And if they fail to increase it, thereby improving the lot of every kiwi, then they shouldn't get any more. Its that simple.

(We can also file this under "earning their reputation", part I've-lost-fucking-count-now).

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

More political corruption in the UK

Last night in the UK, intelligence and security committee chair Malcom Rifkind stepped down, and announced that he would be leaving Parliament at the upcoming election. Why? Because along with Labour's Jack Straw, he'd been caught on video offering to use his Parliamentary influence in exchange for cash (Straw has yet to resign. The shameless war criminal is also shameless about corruption). He's not the first British MP to be caught this way, and sadly he won't be the last. Why? Because as the LibDems' Julian Huppert points out, British MPs are effectively insulated from their constituents, to the extent that they no longer feel any accountability towards them:

At the crux of this failure is our electoral system. Safe seats generate complacency. They give many MPs the opportunity to sit back, knowing they’ll get re-elected again and again. This was captured crudely by a Labour MP recently: even if “a raving alcoholic paedophile” were selected as a candidate, he said, his seat would still be kept.

And it is often in safe seats where some MPs find they have enough time to take on two jobs. Suddenly they believe they don’t need to respond to casework or do the work in parliament. They are above all that – and why shouldn’t they earn £5,000 a day at the end of their careers?


The problem is far starker when we have MPs working for private interests. We just can’t allow members to work part time for a consultancy, part time in parliament. That’s plain wrong. The inevitable result is that organisations will exert unacceptable influence on parliament.

Besides the obvious requirement of electoral reform, his solution is to ban MPs from holding second jobs except in exceptional circumstances (he uses the example of medical doctors needing to stay current), preventing them from laundering cash-for-access deals through outside employment. Its a good idea. Sadly, I can't imagine Britain's corrupt MPs ever voting for it. Too many of them have their noses in the trough, or hope to. Until there is electoral reform, the only way Britain's democracy can be reformed is to bulldoze Westminster and all its corrupt little pigs into the Thames.

The latest election donation scam

Back in 2007 the then-Labour government passed the Electoral Finance Act. One of the key provisions of the Act was to end the National Party's practice of laundering party donations through trusts. While supposedly hugely contentious, this provision - and the rest of the Electoral Finance Act structure - was retained when National "repealed" it in 2009.

Why is this relevant? Because 2014 election candidate returns were released yesterday. And they show that the practice hasn't really ended. Instead, its shifted to the candidate level, with the National Party as the laundry.

Take a look. National candidate after National candidate gets tens of thousands of dollars donated by the National Party. Often, these are their only donations. These donations are clearly made up of contributions from donations to the National party. But no contributors are identified. Clearly National thinks that these donations have not been made specifically to be passed on to specific candidates - or that no-one can prove it. But Jami-Lee Ross's $25,000 returned donation from Donghua Liu - declared in his return, and indeed the only donation he declares from outside the National Party - shows that "Cabinet club" donations are in fact given to specific candidates, and that they do know where the money comes from. Which makes all those large donations from the party look very dodgy indeed.

The scam here exploits the declaration threshold between parties and candidates. Candidates must declare any donation over $1,500, but parties only have to declare donations over $15,000. So, donate to the party, six months later it gets passed on, no-one has to declare anything, and no-one knows who an MP is beholden to or how much for. It may be entirely legal - because MPs with no interest in transparency wrote the law to suit themselves - but its not transparent and doesn't provide confidence in our electoral system or that our MPs are not secretly doing favours for donors.

As for how to fix it, its simple: lower the party donation threshold to $1,500, the same as the candidate threshold. Then no-one will be able to escape scrutiny for large donations.

(I should note: the Internet Party did this too, but its pretty clear where their money come from. Labour's local electorate committees also donate to their candidates, but in much lower amounts; it seems to be a case of localised fund-raising from small donors rather than centralised funding from big ones).

Counterfactual: What would Labour do?

Part of National's "justification" for sending kiwi troops off to die in another American crusade in Iraq is that "Labour would have done it to". Here's DPF:

not for one second do I think a Labour Government would have said “No, we will be the only country in Western World not to contribute in a military sense to defeating ISIL”. Which means that their rhetoric this week is just opposition, because they don’t actually have the responsibility to make a decision.
And (more cynically) Dim-Post:
I’m not as outraged at Key and National as most people on the left, because I think that if Labour were in government our commitment to the latest US/UK adventure in Iraq would be pretty much identical. The marketing would be different: our troops would be providing ‘humanitarian aid': painting schools, standing up for women’s rights, and so on, instead of National’s more paternal ‘training the Iraqi army’ pretext. But I just can’t see a Labour PM saying ‘no’ to Obama.
There's a certain truth in this: when push comes to shove, Labour are chickenshits and bow to the US. But it also ignores the elephant in the room: MMP.

To point out the obvious, Labour's most likely coalition partner in any future government is the Greens. Who have non-violence as a core part of their party ethos, massive membership backing for that, and (unlike the Alliance) a Parliamentary team who work for their membership rather than themselves. So, if a future Labour Prime Minister stands up and says "we want to send troops to fight in another pointless foreign war to cosy up to the US", the Greens will say "goodbye" and topple the government - and have the full backign of their membership in doing so. Trying to finesse it as "non-combat" troops delivering "humanitarian aid" (as in Iraq 2003) will see the same result if the US is involved. The only troop deployments which won't result in an immediate confidence crisis for the government will be those which are truly non-combat, overwhelmingly backed by the UN and international law, and (most importantly) not backed by the US or its NATO / Five Eyes proxies. UN peacekeeping, in other words.

Labour may be chickenshits. But above all, they're appartchiks. They won't give up their Ministerial salaries and perks to fight someone else's war (and indeed, if they're toppled, they won't be able to; constitutionally you can't deploy troops in caretaker mode except in extreme and dire circumstances like being invaded). And they won't want to enter a Labour-National grand coalition (and surrender half of those salaries and perks to their enemies) every time the US wants to fight another war (which is pretty much all the time ATM). So, the answer to the counterfactual question of "what would Labour do" is act self-interesedly in the face of Green power and not send troops.

Of course, for this to happen, the Greens need to have that power. Better get working on it.

New Fisk

Egypt coup: Leaked tape proves defence minister tried to conceal Morsi’s true location in military prison, say forensic scientists

Member's Day

Today is a member's Day, the first one of the year. And its an important one. First up there's the second reading of the Manukau City Council (Regulation of Prostitution in Specified Places) Bill, which is the Christian right's latest attempt to recriminalise prostitution by the back door. A select committee has recommended that it not be passed, so it'll probably fail. In which case on past behaviour I expect they'll just waste more of Auckland ratepayer's money trying again next year. Second is the third reading of the Parental Leave and Employment Protection (Six Months' Paid Leave) Amendment Bill. Sadly, despite the departure of Mike Sabin to spend more time with his lawyer, this will fail - while the vote will be 60-60, that's a loss. Still, its close and shows that the opposition can work together on this issue.

Once the main events are over, there's the second reading of Kennedy Graham's Register of Pecuniary Interests of Judges Bill, followed by the second reading of Tracey Martin's Social Security (Clothing Allowances for Orphans and Unsupported Children) Amendment Bill. The House is unlikely to get further than that, which is good as it gives John Campbell more time to build the (already pretty overwhelming, unless you have more than $50 million and live in Remuera) case for the the Harawira / Turei "feed the kids" bill.

There's still plenty of first readings stacked up on the Order Paper, and we're still at least a month from a ballot.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A predetermined decision

John Key has just made his statement to Parliament on the deployment of troops to Iraq. While other parties were allowed two hours to "comment" on it, there was no vote - and National explicitly denied leave for one. In those comments, every party other than National and ACT expressed opposition to the deployment - and even ACT expressed strong scepticism, before voting for it anyway (I guess its a habit for them).

The government's "case" was to appeal to our outrage against ISIS, and stoke fear that they posed some "threat" against New Zealand. It was the usual torrent of clichés, "standing up for what is right", "our share of the burden". You could turn it into a drinking game. And they didn't convince anyone (except ACT, kindof, maybe).

What is clear from today is that this deployment does not have the support of Parliament. It is National's decision alone (and in fact, John Key's - because his caucus sure as hell weren't consulted). When kiwi troops have their heads sawed off on live TV, the blood will be on their hands.

What's also clear is that there is widespread support for foreign troop deployments to require explicit Parliamentary authorisation. While the current majority for it is only temporary, the breadth of support across parties suggests there will be a majority after the next election. It would be good to see parties commit to that with actual policy.

Protest against the war on Thursday

Peace Action Wellington is holding a protest against Key's war in Iraq this Thursday:

When: 17:00, Thursday 26 February
Where: Cenotaph, Wellington

Meanwhile, the government is planning a big patriotic wank for the Anzac centennial. I think they've just ensured that its going to be hotly contested.

The hollowing out of the Labour Party

Party returns of election expenses are out, and the big news is that the Greens outspent Labour:

Labour spent half as much as National on last year's election campaign and was outspent by the Greens for the first time.

Parties' election advertising expenses were released yesterday and show Labour spent $1.27 million - slightly less than the Green Party on $1.29 million and half the National Party's $2.6 million.

Which means that the Greens had more money than Labour. And this isn't due to a massive increase in the Greens' fundraising (yes, they spent half a million more than they did last election, but still less than they did in 2008), but due to Labour's spending declining. Big donors have abandoned them because they're not in government and unable to deliver policy in return, while small donors have switched their support to the party which actually advocates for the left. Which is going to make them even more beholden to corporate money in the long term, and correspondingly less appealing to their traditional voters.

DPF has his usual dollars-per-vote breakdown here.

TICS kills innovation

When National passed the Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Act 2013, submitters warned them that the law's onerous notice requirements - which require that network operators ask the GCSB for permission before making any changes to their networks - would stifle innovation.

That fear appears to have become a reality:

Tech Liberty has a good explanation of what this all means:
So this is a statement by the CEO of a government owned company whose purpose is to "establish and operate the Advanced Network in order to promote education, research and innovation for the benefit of New Zealand" saying that they can't do the research and development work they need to do because the bureaucrats in the NCSC at the GCSB are holding them back.

Apparently the NCSC were willing to help, but the law was inflexible enough that making any significant change - like you might want to do quite frequently on an experimental network - was going to require the full notification and authorisation procedure. When asked for an exemption the reply was that this would be extremely unlikely to be granted.

Apparently Google has also been involved with research and development into SDN in New Zealand. We've been told by multiple sources that they were so annoyed by the TICSA's requirements and the NCSC's administration of them that they have closed the New Zealand section of this project and redeployed the hardware to Australia and the USA. This can only be seen as a loss to New Zealand.

So, the GCSB's obsession with "network security" (which, thanks to Snowden, we now know means "making sure people don't plug the backdoors we use") is killing research and driving tech companies out of the country.

Thanks, GCSB. Great job you're doing there. I hope you're really proud of yourselves, protecting us from these "threats".

Not reassuring

The Inspector General of Intelligence and Security finally released their annual report today, a mere seven months after it was due. One obvious point is that she takes the job far more seriously than her predecessors, who tended to issue 5 or 6 page summaries of complaints (example). By contrast, we have a thorough explanation of the Inspector-General's work, from which we can actually judge whether the oversight regime is sufficient. Not to mention a treasure trove of information about the actions of "our" spies. For example:

  • SIS's slow vetting procedures appear to have interfered with the establishment of IGIS's office and their recruitment of staff. Vetting is their core function, but apparently it still takes months.
  • IGIS currently has an own-motion inquiry into the SIS underway "which arose from the regular inspection of intelligence warrants [and] is the first Inspector-General inquiry into the “propriety” of particular activities of an intelligence and security agency". Which sounds as if SIS are abusing their powers. Unfortunately, as its "operational", all the details are classified, and we'll only be getting a summary at the end of it. Its unclear whether the victims of any SIS impropriety will be informed of the violation of their rights so they may take legal action against the spies.
  • Because they'd only been in the role for seven weeks, the IGIS can not certify that GCSB and SIS are complying with their legislation.
  • The SIS have no internal compliance framework or internal audit staff. They have no mechanism for self-reporting failures to their management or to IGIS. While they are apparently working on this, the picture is of an agency which does not really care about whether it complies with the law.
  • IGIS reviewed 10 interception warrants and 48 access authorisations from GCSB last year. Assuming that these were all in force, it appears that the number of access authorisations has almost doubled since 2013. They're spying on a lot more computers than they used to be.
  • IGIS's discussion of warrantless interception powers gives two examples of their use: Waihopai and "the interception of high frequency signals of ships or other radio operators". But the implication is that if they apply to passive SIGINT then they could be used to intercept cellphone traffic (which is radio signals). While the GCSB is forbidden to use warrantless powers to intercept New Zealander's "private communications", as I highlighted on Friday, how they interpret that term in relation to cellphone encryption could be crucial.
  • GCSB reported violating its warrants and illegally intercepted private communications three times in the last year. In all cases the breach of the law was covered up from the public and the evidence destroyed. If you or I had done that, we'd be facing jail.
  • IGIS's "review" of warrants does not actually involve reviewing decisions, only the process. So, they're not actually checking to see whether warrants are justified. Some "oversight".
while this is far more information than we've had before about oversight of "our" intelligence agencies, its not exactly reassuring. And while the IGIS is obviously trying, the fact that she refuses to review warrants for justification means that she's not really a watchdog so much as a PR fig-leaf.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Sky City tried to cheat us right from the beginning

So, it turns out that Sky City's surprise "cost overrun" on their crony-deal convention centre was their plan all along, and that the government knew about it from the beginning:

Ministerial advice provided to Radio New Zealand shows the Government was told 14 months ago that SkyCity could not find a way to build the centre for the $402 million price tag, to which it had agreed.

The extensively blacked out reports provided under the Official Information Act span a 16-month period, and also show major changes in the design during a year of negotiation between the Crown and the casino operator.

The parties had agreed in May 2013 that SkyCity would build a 3500 seat national convention centre, at its own cost of $315 million.

In return, the Government would extend its casino licence by 35 years and pass legislation allowing an expanded casino operation.

When the deal was signed in July 2013, the agreed price had risen to $402 million. The required legislation passed with a one vote majority in November 2013.

Just four weeks later, in December, officials from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) told Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce that the casino operator had advised for the first time it would not be possible to build the centre as proposed for that price, nor had it been able to come up with an appropriate alternative.

They also changed the design so that we would be getting a smaller convention centre, instead focusing on a new hotel to be built on former TVNZ land. Its hard to escape the conclusion that the whole thing was a shake-down, an attempt to get as much money and land from the government as possible while providing as little as possible in return. But really, do we expect anything different from the gambling industry?

This should be a warning to future govenments not to make these sorts of deals - because the business partner will screw you, and use your public commitment to the deal succeeding to screw further concessions out of you (or provide less for the same price, as has been done here).

But what really bites is that the government has known about this for fourteen months, and kept silent about it. They've been lying to us the whole time! And that's just not something we should accept from them.

Fruit flies and austerity

Foreign fruit flies are rampaging (OK, buzzing quietly) through Grey Lynn, putting our $6 billion horticulture export industry under threat. The government is likely to spend tens of millions on a response. So how did we get here? As 3News' Brook Sabin points out, its because the government has systematically cut frontline biosecurity. Sabin highlights cuts to staff numbers and container inspections. He attributes this to the government viewing biosecurity as "red tape" and wanting to speed things up for cargo and passengers - and that's certainly a factor. But there's a bigger picture here, around cuts and austerity.

Since coming to office, the government has tried to cap government spending, handing out sub-inflation increases to pretty much everyone. So, from 2010 to 2014, border biosecurity monitoring funding went from $75.1 to $80.4 million - a 7% increase vs inflation of 9%. Against that 2% cut in real terms, international visitor numbers rose from 2.53 to 2.86 million, an increase of 13%, while international cargo imports [infoshare - you'll need to poke it] rose from 41.9 to 50 million tons - an increase of 19%. So, our biosecurity staff are being expected to do ~15% more work with 2% less funding. And that's simply not sustainable. The cost is that mistakes happen, bugs get through, and then we have to spend tens of millions on expensive cleanup efforts, while imposing huge disruptions on people's lives. Or kiss our export industries goodbye.

Still, it could have been worse: it could have been foot and mouth disease. But given the cuts, that's probably only a matter of time...

Meanwhile, with starved government departments leading to major service failures, its beginning to feel like the late 1990's all over again...

New Fisk

Shah Suleyman: The truly Byzantine origins of Turkey's operation to rescue a long-dead body from the 'Islamic Caliphate'
Ethel Raine: The untold story of a woman who spied for Britain during the Great War

Parliament must vote on Iraq

Cabinet today is expected to approve the deployment of kiwi troops to Iraq. But Parliament will not be allowed to vote on it:

Prime Minister John Key this morning confirmed there wouldn't be a vote in Parliament on sending troops but there would be a parliamentary debate.

The Government would almost certainly lose a vote. Labour, NZ First, the Greens, United Future and the Maori Party are lined up against sending troops to Iraq leaving only the one additional vote in support from the Act Party, which would not be enough because of the seat left vacant by the resignation of Northland MP Mike Sabin.

Labour leader Andrew Little said the lack of a vote was reflective of the level of support going to Iraq would receive.

Sending soldiers overseas to die is one of the most important decisions a government can make. That decision needs demonstrable democratic legitimacy - and the only way of doing that is by winning a vote in Parliament. If they can't win such a vote, the troops shouldn't go - it's that simple (and if this government is concerned, they should make it a matter of confidence, and stand or fall on the result).

Meanwhile, ponder this: under our constitutional system, spending money requires the government to demonstrate that it has the confidence of the House (and the government falls if it can not). Sending soldiers overseas to die does not. That seems... odd.

"The national interest" and democracy

Saturday saw a truly despicable column from the Dominion Post's Tracey Watkins, where she lectured the Greens on how they (and implicitly all other parties as well) must put the "national interest" first and stop criticising our spy agencies, and that the "price of admission" to Parliament is to fall into lockstep behind the National-Labour security duopoly rather than engaging in "party politicking". Its the same arrogant shit we saw from John Key the other day, and it was appalling from him - but worse from a journalist whose job is to provide a check on the powerful.

So what's wrong with Watkins' view (which could have come straight from Aitken Street)? Two things: Firstly, the idea that there is a single "national interest". Secondly, the idea that that - or anything else, for that matter - should be "beyond politics".

The first is pretty obvious. We're not in the age on absolute monarchy anymore, where the "national interest" was synonymous with that of the monarch (and who they wanted to marry or divorce, and which piece of someone else's pie they wanted to grab). We live in a democracy. And that means that there is not a "national interest", but four and a half million of them. Not all of which agree (I take it as axiomatic that people are the best judges of their own interests. Paternalism is simply arrogant; "if only you knew what we knew" doubly so). Trying to pretend that that disagreement doesn't exist, and that there is only one "national interest" (which, by an amazing coincidence, just happens to be the same as that of the security / foreign affairs establishment) is both profoundly dishonest, and profoundly undemocratic.

Which brings us to the second problem: the idea that the National-Labour security duopoly's policies on privacy and human rights are somehow beyond politics. This is simply false by definition: politics is what happens when people disagree (technically, over ends rather than means, but I'm keeping it simple here), and people very obviously disagree over this. So, again, its dishonest. But the crime against democracy is worse. As Watkins implicitly recognises (with her admission that "the Greens' views on national security are out of sync with much of the voting public" - "much", but not "all"), the Greens represent a constituency - I'm one of them - whose views on freedom, privacy and security are very different from those of Rebecca Kitteridge and John Key. Watkins is basically saying not only that our views don't matter, but that they should not even be raised. And that is simply wrong.

In a democratic state, the will of the majority should of course prevail. But you can't pretend that dissenting views don't exist, or erase them from the conversation. Our democratic institutions, such as Parliament and the Intelligence and Security Committee, should be representative of the public. And that means representing not just the majority, but those who disagree with them as well. And in the case of the ISC, that would be hugely beneficial, given the demonstrated lax oversight by the security duopoly.

Though speaking of majorities, it's worth noting this: we've never actually been asked if we want spies, or what their powers should be. The decision has always been made for us, without real consultation (no, a select committee process where the committee doesn't even read the public submissions isn't "consultation"), by the security establishment. If they're so sure they're necessary, what are they afraid of? Let's have a referendum on the continued existence of the SIS and GCSB, and see what the public really think of them.

Friday, February 20, 2015

In the UK, journalism is now "harassment"

Yes, really:

A journalist told by Scotland Yard that he could be arrested for trying to interview a convicted fraudster has warned that press freedom is under threat after launching an appeal to clear his name.

Gareth Davies said he had received a prevention of harassment warning from the Metropolitan Police after a single visit to the home of a woman who had just admitted ripping off customers to the tune of more than £230,000 as her discount flight business fell apart.

Mr Davies, chief reporter at the Croydon Advertiser, had compiled evidence that Neelam Desai had also conned people in a dating website scam and went to her house to seek comment. But she called 999 and complained that she was being harassed after a string of stories about her crimes in the newspaper.

Three officers subsequently visited the paper’s office in March last year with a warning notice – usually used for cases of domestic abuse – based largely on the word of Desai who is currently serving 30 months in jail for crimes of dishonesty. Mr Davies says police did not investigate her claims, which he contests.

Which really speaks for itself about the state of press freedom in the UK and how its police now view their role (defending criminals and fraudsters from the media; the only difference between Desai and a banker is one of scale). Meanwhile, the rest of us can only look on in horror.

Treasury gets a disclosure log

Via DPF, TransTasman reports that Treasury has established an OIA disclosure log:

The Treasury is trialling the publication of its responses to selected OIA requests. The proactive release of individuals requests follow on from material such as Budget papers and Briefings to Incoming Ministers being released in bulk fashion for some time. Initial OIA requests released range from the Debt Management Office’s replacement of its Matriarch IT system through to Govt funding of NZ America’s Cup Teams. The argument for release is since the work has already been done to respond to the request and compile the information it might as well be more widely released.
The log itself is here. It will be updated every Thursday afternoon. But it really needs an RSS or Twitter feed so people can automatically get the info, rather than having to look for it.

Meanwhile, DPF suggests we need a government-wide disclosure log system, with all requests uploaded and tagged a week after being sent to requesters. That's a great idea, which would cost a pittance (seriously, a server is a pittance in government terms; the upload and tagging can be folded into the normal response process) and which would significantly increase transparency. I'd love to see it happen, but I just can't imagine it happening under this secretive government.

A dilemma

The Privileges Committee has called for submissions on their Question of privilege regarding use of social media to report on parliamentary proceedings. Its an important topic with huge implications for our democracy, and normally I would be encouraging people to submit in favour of a more open Parliament. However, we've been down this road before. Just a few months ago, we also faced an important topic with huge implications for our democracy, in the shape of Key / Kitteridge Countering Terrorist Fighters Legislation Bill. I encouraged people to submit, wrote a submission guide to help them, and many people did based on that. And the committee didn't read any of them. The entire submissions process was a fraud, a charade designed to lend democratic legitimacy to a decision that had already been made and which was going to be rammed through regardless of what we thought of it. And our participation only helped provide cover for that.

So, my question is, do I encourage people to submit on this, and lend their democratic legitimacy to the process, knowing how it has been abused in the past and that National may simply be looking for a rubberstamp for a decision it has already made (and National, by raising this, clearly Has Some Views on what people should be allowed to say about them and their patsy Speaker over Twitter during Question Time)? I can't in good conscience encourage people to waste their time. But I'm not sure that I can just walk away from our democracy either.

And that's the core problem: when you abuse the democratic system as National has, people lose faith in it. And that really is not good for our democracy.

All your phones are belong to them

Use a mobile phone? Congratulations! The NSA and GCHQ have your encryption keys!

AMERICAN AND BRITISH spies hacked into the internal computer network of the largest manufacturer of SIM cards in the world, stealing encryption keys used to protect the privacy of cellphone communications across the globe, according to top-secret documents provided to The Intercept by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The hack was perpetrated by a joint unit consisting of operatives from the NSA and its British counterpart Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ. The breach, detailed in a secret 2010 GCHQ document, gave the surveillance agencies the potential to secretly monitor a large portion of the world’s cellular communications, including both voice and data.

The company targeted by the intelligence agencies, Gemalto, is a multinational firm incorporated in the Netherlands that makes the chips used in mobile phones and next-generation credit cards. Among its clients are AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint and some 450 wireless network providers around the world. The company operates in 85 countries and has more than 40 manufacturing facilities. One of its three global headquarters is in Austin, Texas and it has a large factory in Pennsylvania.

In all, Gemalto produces some 2 billion SIM cards a year. Its motto is “Security to be Free.”

And with those keys, they can listen in to any call you make and spy on everything you do, without needing a warrant or legal authorisation and without having to tell the network.

The obvious question: does GCSB have access to these keys? Are they using them to monitor our phone calls? While it would seem on its face to be illegal, but we already know that the spies use secret legal interpretations to make the illegal legal. Is an encrypted signal a private communication, or does the encryption signify that the parties do not believe it to be private? Is intercepting it but not decrypting it immediately legally intercepting that private communication, or is it, in the infamous words of the former Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, "arguably legal"? The problem is that we don't know, because the GCSB's legal advice on what they can and can not do (and therefore how much privacy we have) is kept secret. But given what we already know about their approach to the law, I think we should assume the worst.

And while we're at it: the company NSA/GCHQ hacked, Gemato, also makes electronic passports. The government might want to look at whether our "allies" have compromised our passport system.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Here we go again

So, after a review, a secret one-sided "peer review" of the review, a judicial review and a secret settlement deal, we're now back to square one on David Bain's bid for compensation, with another review:

Cabinet will go back to square one on the David Bain compensation case and has commissioned a fresh inquiry.

A 2012 report by former Canadian Supreme Court judge Justice Ian Binnie, which found Bain was innocent on the balance of probabilities, was rejected by ex-Justice Minister Judith Collins, sparking court action by Bain's legal team.

Collins' successor Amy Adams said Cabinet does not have the information to "reasonably" make a decision.

She has asked for the new report and says it is important "the final decision on Mr Bain's claim is durable and withstands the close scrutiny the case attracts."

Hopefully it will be better managed than the last clusterfuck. But with Collins out of the picture, that's probably guaranteed. I doubt Adams will be dumb enough to leak inquiry material to a sewerblogger while she's meant to be considering it, for example...

But the fundamental problem still remains: while Bain was imprisoned for a prolonged period before being eventually acquitted, whether he receives compensation will ultimately be decided by a bunch of politicians, who, like Collins, will be driven by vote-grubbing rather than justice. And that is not a recipe for a just outcome. We would be far better replacing our current ad-hoc scheme with a statutory one, to provide compensation for all victims of miscarriages of justice, rather than just those who the government thinks are white enough and sympathetic enough to get them votes.

Because obviously the tourism industry can't pay people more...

Queenstown has a problem: its a tourist-trap, so no-one can afford to live there. Which means they have a labour shortage. In a free market, the solution is obviously that employers need to offer more money, so as to attract the required workers. But that might affect profits. So instead, they've got the government to give them open-slather for foreign labour.

We have 5.7% unemployment - and National would rather than employers exploited foreign backpackers than pay kiwis enough to live on. Isn't it so very, very National?


"Australian Taleban" David Hicks has been acquitted of all charges:

Australian David Hicks has welcomed the decision of an American military court to set aside his terrorism conviction, but says he will not be seeking an official apology.

Mr Hicks, a former prisoner at the US Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, has won a legal challenge to his terrorism conviction before a military court in Cuba.

At a press conference in Sydney today he thanked the Australian public for its support and said he was "looking forward to getting on with my life now that my name has been cleared".

The reason? Because the crime Hicks pled guilty to in his plea bargain did not exist at the time of the supposed offence and could not be applied retrospectively. Disgracefully, the US government tried to argue that that didn't matter, and that Hicks' imprisonment and conviction was legal simply because he had agreed to it and agreed not to appeal (another example of American "justice"). Fortunately, the court called bullshit on that.

Hicks will now be able to sue for compensation, both from the US government (which tortured and rendered him, then imprisoned him unlawfully for six years), and the Australian one (which collaborated in that treatment, then subjected him to a control order limiting his freedom on the basis of this bogus conviction). I hope he takes them both to the cleaners.

Britain admits spying on lawyers

Meanwhile, from spy central, another admission: they've been illegally spying on people's lawyers and intercepting legally privileged material:

The regime under which UK intelligence agencies, including MI5 and MI6, have been monitoring conversations between lawyers and their clients for the past five years is unlawful, the British government has admitted.


The admission that the regime surrounding state snooping on legally privileged communications has also failed to comply with the European convention on human rights comes in advance of a legal challenge, to be heard early next month, in which the security services are alleged to have unlawfully intercepted conversations between lawyers and their clients to provide the government with an advantage in court.

The case is due to be heard before the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT). It is being brought by lawyers on behalf of two Libyans, Abdel-Hakim Belhaj and Sami al-Saadi, who, along with their families, were abducted in a joint MI6-CIA operation and sent back to Tripoli to be tortured by Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in 2004.

That's a civil case (yes, they invaded people's privacy and pissed on the ECHR just to save the government money), but it is likely they've also done this in criminal terrorism cases as well. Which has just given everyone convicted of such an offence in the UK in the past five years grounds for appeal. Not to mention handed a clear propaganda victory to those terrorists, who can publicly claim (with some justification) that their convictions were just a stitch-up. Heckuva job those spies are doing there. I bet UKanians all feel a lot safer now.

National wants secret evidence in our courts

Two weeks ago I highlighted some disturbing advice on the Countering Terrorist Fighters Legislation Bill, which suggested that the SIS wanted to be able to use secret evidence in our courtrooms. And yesterday, lo and behold, the Minister of Justice, just nominated for the Intelligence and Security Committee, directed the Law Commission to look into exactly that:

The Law Commission is reviewing the laws that determine how security sensitive information should be dealt with in court proceedings. The review will look at how to protect information that may prejudice New Zealand’s security.

It will also consider whether the current rules governing disclosure of such information in court, and the use of that information by the Crown or another party in the proceedings, need to be reformed.


Sir Grant Hammond, the President of the Law Commission, said: “It is timely for New Zealand to look at the types of approaches that have been taken in allied jurisdictions which allow security sensitive information to be used in court under a carefully controlled process that involves disclosing it only to special security-cleared lawyers acting on behalf of a party.”

Or, in English, "it is time for New Zealand to look at unfair trials which allow defendants to be convicted on secret evidence which they can never see or effectively contest, and the government to escape civil liability on the same basis". The UK (of course) has passed such a law (partly in an effort to get themselves off the hook for torture cases), and it has already led to one attempt to hold a trial completely in secret. That was fortunately defeated, but the "evidence" was still secret. Naturally, it resulted in a conviction. Which can never be trusted because the evidence was never properly tested.

And that's what the SIS's desire to play their silly spy games in the courts will get us: a justice system which is patently unfair and whose outcomes can never be trusted. We've been here before with Ahmed Zaoui, and my views haven't changed. Open justice is essential to maintaining public confidence in the integrity of the justice system. Secret "justice" isn't.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

National's New Zealand

National likes to make a lot of noise about its "rock star economy". This is what it really means:

Auckland Council has released new research into the city's homeless population, which has more than doubled in the city centre in the space of a year.

A count last October found 142 people sleeping rough within three kilometres of the Sky Tower, up from just 68 in 2013.

The new report says many have a history of violence, emotional abuse and neglect.

And while the public often see homelessness as a choice, many on the street have very few options as they can't access help without documents and a fixed address.

This is what running high unemployment while cutting access to benefits, state housing, and health care means: more homeless people. But why does National care about them? Its not like they're big donors like Sky City...

This is National's New Zealand: the rich slurp champagne in government-funded casinos, while the poor go homeless. It is indecent. It is wrong. And we need to change it by getting rid of this immoral government of the rich.

77% of "world class"

Remember how National's dirty crony deal with sky City was going to give us a "world class" convention centre for free (well, paid for by poor problem gamblers in South Auckland, but they don't vote National, and National doesn't care about the consequent social problems, so its "free" as far as National is concerned)? Something which would "put us on the map" and attract international business? It turns out that the proposed convention centre wasn't so "world class":

The capacity of the proposed International Convention Centre falls under the limits the founding study on the project said was needed to make it viable for a return to the economy.

"To improve economic growth New Zealand needs a centre that can accommodate an average of 3500 delegates in a plenary session," the report for Auckland Council and the Ministry for Tourism found in 2009.

Resource application documents filed with Auckland Council show the "Plenary Hall" has a maximum capacity of 3000 people - well short of an "average" 3500 delegates - and could drop further with talks of 10 per cent cuts to the centre.

So, we may in fact be getting a convention centre which is only 77% of "world class". In other words, not "world class" at all. So why are we giving Sky City all those gambling concessions again? They're not even pretending to deliver what they promised.

Australia sends more children to be tortured

Last week, the Australian Human Rights Commission delivered a damning report on the treatment of children in Australia's offshore gulags in Nauru and Papua New Guinea, alleging widespread human rights abuses. While they didn't use the word, the mental distress caused by indefinite detention makes it tantamount to torture.

The Austrlaian government's response? Send more kids there to be tortured:

An Australian Greens senator, Sarah Hanson-Young, says the Australian government is still sending children to the Nauru asylum seeker detention camp.

She says Australia sent children, some as young as four, to the camp on Friday and Saturday, just days after the release of a damning report on the abuses they face.

This is, as Hanson-Young says, outrageous, and it makes it clear that this torture is deliberate and planned. And again, if the Australian government won't stop it, then we should exercise our universal jurisdiction and start prosecuting them ourselves.

Ask GCHQ if they spied on you

Last Monday the UK Investigatory Powers Tribunal ruled that GCHQ's mass-surveillance program was illegal. And because the UK still pretends to operate under the rule of law, that ruling has consequences: you can ask GCHQ if they spied on you illegally, and if they did, they have to delete your data:

Because the IPT found the intelligence sharing to be illegal, anyone, inside or outside the UK, can file a complaint to the IPT and ask if their communications were part of that illegal sharing, and be legally entitled to an answer. [Privacy International's Eric] King explained, “If they don’t find anything, it’s likely they respond ‘no determination’. If they do find something, the IPT is obliged to give a declaration to the individual that their communications were illegally interfered with.”

[Emphasis added]

While the information only applies to information illegally shared with GCHQ by the NSA (and not ASD, CSE, or GCSB), that's still better than we've had before. And if GCHQ had access to NSA data on you, then GCSB almost certainly does to. So this is indirectly a way of finding out which New Zealanders GCSB is illegally spying on through its partner agencies.

To make things easy, Privacy International has started a joint case before the IPT. You can sign up for it here. You'll need to provide an email address and confirm it (Privacy International, understandably, is big on double opt-in). They'll then add your data to their claim before the IPT and try and force an answer for you. It'll probably take a while - the spies don't like being subject to the law - but over ten thousand people have already done it. And if it succeeds, it'll give us our best look at the global spycloud yet.

"As soon as practicable"

Finally, five months after the election, we're getting an Intelligence and Security Committee:

Hon Gerry Brownlee to move, That under section 8 of the Intelligence and Security Committee Act 1996, this House endorse the following as members of the Intelligence and Security Committee: Hon Christopher Finlayson and Hon Amy Adams, nominated by the Prime Minister under section 7(1)(c) of the Act; and David Shearer, nominated by the Leader of the Opposition under section 7(1)(d) of the Act.

Whether this meets the statutory requirement of appointment "as soon as practicable after the commencement of... Parliament" is left as an exercise for the reader.

Others, such as Andrea Vance and Paul Buchanen, have already highlighted that this ends any pretence of reform of "our" spy agencies. Instead, the statutory review that Peter Dunne sold his casting vote on the GCSB Bill in 2013 will be turned into a rubber-stamp for greater surveillance powers. I hope he's learned his lesson from that (see also: the Greens and sunset clauses).

Meanwhile, John Key has revealed his undemocratic attitudes, saying that an independent voice on the Intelligence and Security Committee during the review "could railroad the process" and that
"I don't think the committee was terribly constructive over the last few years, I think it was used less as a way of constructing the right outcomes for legislation, and more as a sort of political battleground."

Which is simply mind-boggling - firstly, that there is a predetermined (by the spy agencies and their US masters) "right outcome", and secondly that political decisions can be made by anything other than a political process.

But I guess that's the problem: our national security deep state and their proxies (of which the Prime Minister is now one) do not see these questions about our privacy and freedoms (or our participation in foreign wars, or in one-sided "free-trade" deals) as political decisions. Instead, they see them in purely technocratic terms as means to achieve some predetermined fixed "national interest". But by doing so, they deny us, the voters, any right to even have a view on such matters.

This has to change. And as the national security state won't reform itself, we need to elect politicians who will destroy it.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

No wonder the UK has a revenue problem

The current UK Chancellor of the Exchequer (that's "Minister of Finance" for those not tied to a glorious history of feudal tablecloths) advocates tax cheating:

George Osborne once advised people to use “clever financial products” that could have helped them reduce care costs and inheritance tax, a video from 2003 shows.

The re-emergence of the footage will be embarrassing for the chancellor as it comes amid controversy about the government’s lack of prosecutions of tax evaders who had accounts at HSBC in Switzerland.


“The one piece of advice I would give to Bill [a viewer] is that there are some pretty clever financial products that enable you in effect to pass on your home, or the value of your home, to your son or daughter and then get personal care paid for by the state,” Osborne said.

He adds: “I probably shouldn’t be advocating this on television.”

And then we wonder why the UK has a revenue problem... Perhaps if its government cracked down on tax cheats rather than advocating for them, it might be able to balance its books.

New Fisk

Isis has provoked an Arab alliance to bomb the West’s enemies

"Behind the wire"

When John Key has spoken of sending kiwi troops to Iraq, he's always said they'd be performing a training role, "behind the wire". The clear implication: behind the front lines and safe. But as today's talk of basing them at Camp Taji shows, that's just bullshit. Because according to the latest maps from the BBC, Camp Taji is in an ISIS supporting area, just a stones-throw from their strongholds around Fallujah:

[Original map stolen from the BBC]

Its so "safe", the US has been bombing people there. And as this weeks attack on Ain al-Asad airbase (used for a similar "training" mission by the US) shows, the front lines can shift at any moment and "safe" areas can become battlegrounds.

Basically, this is not a safe deployment. The lives of those soldiers will be at risk, and Key is lying about it.

Fuck Andrew Little

And while we're on the topic of Andrew Little and his pro-spy agenda, there's this lovely bit:

The US's metadata-driven campaign of drone strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen has been found to constitute extrajudicial and arbitrary killing by the UN. Insofar as the bombing of Iraq and Syria is aimed at executions, then the UN is likely to reach similar conclusions (they may also have something to say about the indiscriminate nature of such attacks). Plus of course there are serious questions as to whether providing targeting information to allow people to be killed is consistent with the BORA's affirmation of the right to life. but Little doesn't seem to care about any of that. If the US and the spies want it, he supports it. Which is why I can never support him as Prime Minister.

A stitch-up on spying

Last week I started asking some questions about the statutory Intelligence and Security Committee, and why we don't have one at the moment. Legally, the Prime Minister must nominate one "as soon as practicable after the commencement of each Parliament", but it's been five months. During which, no-one is keeping an eye on our spies.

In addition to a couple of OIA requests, yesterday I asked Andrew Little outright whether he'd nominated anyone yet. He replied promptly: David Shearer. Which has caused a bit of a ruckus:

The Government has sewn up a deal with Labour to ensure no minor parties are on the parliamentary committee overseeing a major review of the intelligence services.

The move left the Green Party fuming. Co-leader Dr Russel Norman said that an illegal spying scandal occurred under the watches of both major parties.

And he telephoned Labour leader Andrew Little to blast him, after he learned of the snub yesterday afternoon.

"I think it's a bad call," he said.

"It means it's the old boys' club - Labour and National - both of whom have been responsible for illegal spying.

"The Greens were the only ones on [the committee] with clean hands . . . the spy agencies will be extremely happy. The duopoly of illegal spying will be maintained without any independent oversight."

And he has a point. If we want robust oversight of our spies, we don't want the oversight committee to include only representatives of the establishment. While their ability to speak out is necessarily constrained (its the nuclear option; use it wisely), minor party representatives provide an alternate viewpoint and a far better check and balance than those responsible for the jailing of Ahmed Zaoui and illegal GCSB spying. That's why it's been so useful to have not just Norman, but Tariana Turia and Peter Dunne on the committee over the years.

It speaks volumes about Labour's commitment to "reform" that they're part of this stitch up. And it is not going to increase public confidence in the spies.

It is open to the government to fix this - there's no reason why Key couldn't nominate Norman. But he has apparently already chosen Chris Finlayson and Amy Adams, ensuring a majority (just in case Labour aren't willing to do whatever they're told behind closed doors). Our democracy will be poorer for it.

In the long term, I think this shows the desperate need for reform of intelligence oversight. The ISC needs to be expanded, and made responsible to Parliament, not the Prime Minister. And it needs to be given proper oversight powers, rather than drip-fed only what the spies want it to know. In a democracy, the spies are meant to work for us and obey the law. The current "oversight" arrangements give no guarantee that that is happening.

Monday, February 16, 2015

This is not what police are for

There's some sportsball thing going on at the moment, and the police are busy arresting people for telling people about it:

Betting cheats evicted from the Cricket World Cup opening match in Christchurch used multiple cellphones and laptops to relay information to people overseas willing to pay big money for the information, police say.

A security expert said police probably knew who they were looking for before Saturday's game began.

Police arrested "several" individuals and groups for courtsiding during the New Zealand versus Sri Lanka match at Hagley Oval.

All were trespassed from future International Cricket Council events.

Courtsiding refers to a spectator at an event sending immediate information on game scores and activities before it is broadcast. The delay can be up to 15 seconds and allows people overseas to make spot bets.

The problem: while its against the ground entry conditions, telling people overseas what is happening at a sporting event you are attending is not actually illegal. So while police are acting properly in removing people from the grounds on the request of the property owners, the pre-game and in-game surveillance (which includes social media monitoring and a threat to monitor phones) seems entirely unjustified. What law are these people breaking?

The purpose of the police is to enforce the law. If its not illegal, they have no business getting involved. Its that simple.

Meathead values

Last week, Palmerston North elected a rugby meathead for a mayor. And over the weekend, we got the first display of his values: choosing to fund a covered stadium rather than social housing [offline]:

Palmerston North's new mayor Grant Smith has had his first win, gaining city council support of $1 million to pay half the cost of a new covered stand at Arena Manawatu.

The money has been included in the draft long term plan in the 2017-18 year, subject to private interests matching the money to cover the embankment.


The plan had opponents, including those who would rather have seen the council pour money into social housing.


[Councillor Chris] Teo-Sherrell said with an ageing population and increasing numbers of vulnerable people unable to afford private housing living in unsafe circumstances, the council had to show leadership [by funding social housing].

He said it was much more important than extra spending on Arena Manawatu. "I must have a different value set," he said.

Indeed he does: one which sees people as being more important than rugby. Sadly, our new mayor doesn't share it. Given a choice between providing a roof over the head of rugby fans to keep them dry for two hours every week, or one over the head of pensioners to keep them dry for the rest of their lives, he's chosen the former. And that's simply immoral.

[Meanwhile, I'm wondering how this got past the council's conflict-of-interest provisions. The primary beneficiary of this decision is Manawatu Rugby, an organisation Smith sits on the board of. using your council position to push for benefits to an outside entity you manage seems to be a perfect example of a conflict, and exactly the sort of thing an ethical representative would not do]

Britain's spies protected paedophiles

What are Britain's spies for? Protecting paedophiles, apparently:

MI5 is facing allegations it was complicit in the sexual abuse of children, the high court in Northern Ireland will hear on Tuesday.

Victims of the abuse are taking legal action to force a full independent inquiry with the power to compel witnesses to testify and the security service to hand over documents.


Children are alleged to have suffered sustained sexual abuse after being taken from the east Belfast children’s home, run by a member of a Protestant paramilitary organisation, to be offered to men.

Lawyers for the victims will argue in court that “there is credible evidence (and it is therefore arguable) that the security forces and security services were aware of the abuse, permitted it to continue and colluded in protecting the individuals involved from investigation or prosecution”, according to papers lodged with the Belfast high court.

And (unsuccessfully) framed people who complained about it for manslaughter. Its like something out of a le Carre novel.

And this isn't the only case. They seem to have been up to their neck in the Westminster paedophile coverup as well.

The problem here is the spy mindset. We see sexual abuse as a crime to be punished. They see it as leverage, a means of gaining intelligence. And this is why they should never be let near law enforcement or allowed any input whatsoever on law enforcement decisions.

New Fisk

Freed Al-Jazeera journalist: Why can’t Canada get me home?
Talking offers hope of a peaceful solution. But we’re not allowed to do it

Compare and contrast

John Key warns of SkyCity 'eyesore' if more money is not found, New Zealand Herald, 10 February 2015:

Prime Minister John Key won't rule out using taxpayer money to stop SkyCity's convention centre becoming an "eyesore".

Mr Key expressed doubts over the wisdom of insisting the casino operator sticks to the initial $402 million spending plan for the building of the convention centre.

"I'm keen to see the best convention centre I can for Auckland, because this is a very long-term asset, so I would hate to see some sort of eyesore constructed down town.

PM: SkyCity convention centre got too 'flash', New Zealand Herald, 16 February 2015:
Prime Minister John Key says the SkyCity convention centre plan grew in both size and "flashness" until a public backlash persuaded the Government not to spend any more money on it.

SkyCity may need to shrink its international convention centre after public funding was ruled out, prompting critics to question whether the plan for a "world-class, iconic" building in downtown Auckland is now fading away.

"It grew from 33,000 square metres to 38,000 square metres. It did get a bit flasher," he told Mike Hosking on Newstalk ZB this morning.

"Some of the points SkyCity were making were totally valid. But in the end I just think that public opinion on this thing, rightly so, was: 'There's a deal, leave it as the contract said, even if SkyCity were right, it's possibly gone up a little more, we all need to live within our means', and that's what we are going to do."

So, from "eyesore" to "too flash" in just six days. But he didn't do any polling. And if you believe that, I have another international convention centre to sell you...

Friday, February 13, 2015

Tax cheating is not normal

A clash between UK opposition leader Ed Miliband and Conservative Party Treasurer Stanley Fink has forced the latter to admit that he is a tax cheat. But in the process, he also made an outrageous claim: that tax cheating is "normal" in UK society:

The peer – a multimillionaire former hedge fund manager turned Conservative donor and philanthropist – also said he did take “vanilla” tax avoidance measures, including transferring shares into family trusts while he worked in Switzerland.

In an interview with the Evening Stardard, Fink said: “The expression tax avoidance is so wide that everyone does tax avoidance at some level.”

No, they don't. To point out the obvious, in order to cheat on your taxes in this way, you have to have a shitload of money. Not just to pay the dodgy accountants who enable it, but to make it worthwhile in the first place. And ordinary UKanians don't. They don't have shares to transfer into family trusts. They don't have foreign bank accounts to hide the money in. And they certainly don't have the piles of cash which would make the costs of doing this outweigh the taxes they dodge. Tax-cheating is only "normal" amongst the wealthy. And we shouldn't let them dictate our perceptions of its ethics.

Australia attacks judicial independence

Yesterday, the Australian government was finally forced to release the Australian Human Rights Commission's inquiry into children in immigration detention, which showed they were torturing children, which it had buried for months. Abbott responded with an attack on the AHRC and its role, accusing the report of being "a blatantly partisan politicised exercise" and an attack on his government. Now it turns out that just two weeks ago, he had tried to sack the Human Rights Commissioner in a transparent effort to get someone less willing to do the job:

The Abbott government sought the resignation of the president of the Australian Human Rights Commission Gillian Triggs two weeks before it launched an extraordinary attack on the commission over its report on children in immigration detention.

The request was conveyed orally by an official on behalf of the Attorney-General, Senator George Brandis. It was rejected outright by Professor Triggs, who saw it as an attack on the independence and integrity of the commission and herself.

Fairfax Media understands that no grounds were given for seeking Professor Triggs' resignation and that she was told "some other opportunity" would be available to her if she resigned.

The Human Rights Commissioner is not a judge, but its a quasi-judicial role, and statutorily independent for the same reasons. Seeking to remove her is an attack on judicial independence and an attack on the integrity of Australia's human rights protections. But that's the sort of country Australia is now: a country where everything must be subordinated to the Prime Minister's whim and his desire to protect himself from criticism. Its third world stuff, what I'd expect in Fiji. And to see it happening in a supposedly democratic country like Australia is appalling.

Questions on Iraq

Iraqi Foreign Minister (and cause of Iraq's current woes) Ibrahim al-Jaafari has given New Zealand a formal invitation to join the "club" of countries propping up his corrupt, torturing regime. Because it will please the US and get him another golf invite with Barack Obama, John Key will probably accept. But before he does, I think he owes us answers to the following questions:

  • What will be done to protect New Zealand troops from attacks from the soldiers they are supposed to be training? "Green on blue" or "insider" attacks were a problem in Afghanistan, and in Iraq before the US pullout; they're considered a significant risk to Australia's training mission there. How will NZ forces be protected from this, and why do we want to train people who want to kill them?
  • Will NZ troops be subject to Iraqi law? The government says it will have to negotiate a satisfactory Status of Forces Agreement, and this normally means exemption from local law. But another word for exemption is "impunity" - and the US occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan showed us the dangers of soldiers who enjoy impunity for killing and torturing the locals. Being subject to Iraqi law is vital to ensure accountability of our soldiers to the people they're supposed to be helping - and if this isn't acceptable, they shouldn't go.
  • Will NZ troops be turning over captives to the Iraqis? The government wants them to provide their own "force protection", which means that contrary to all public assurances, they'll be shooting people and taking captives. But the Iraqi government uses torture. The NZ Army has been in trouble before for turning over captives to torturers - both the US and the Afghan regime. Are we going to repeat that mistake, and expose kiwi troops to prosecution for war crimes, or are we going to ensure that any captives are detained humanely by New Zealand, rather than turned over to countries with a known record of war crimes?

These are just a few of the most obvious questions a deployment to Iraq raises, and there are no doubt more. The government owes us an answer to them. And the best way of getting answers is by requiring them to address such issues in Parliament before any troops can be deployed.