Monday, October 31, 2016

New Fisk

What it's really like to be in the middle of the battle for Aleppo
The strange case of the Scottish ambulance found among the rubble of eastern Aleppo
Massacre of innocents: As Syria and Russia bombard eastern Aleppo children are also dying in the west of the city


Iceland went to the polls over the weekend, and while the final outcome isn't clear yet, what is clear is that the Pirate Party fell well short of expectations. Instead, they merely tripled their vote, from 5.1% to 14.5% - but its a long way from the 22% and leading place in the government coalition we were hoping for.

The various parties are trying to hammer out a coalition, but the decision is basicly in the hands of the new Revival Party, a Green liberal party which split from the incumbent Independence Party over Europe. They could go either way, so its really just a question of whether they want to support the corrupt political establishment, or the anti-establishment coalition.

Meanwhile, with 10 seats in the Althing, the Pirate Party should be able to exercise some influence. And hopefully we'll see that reflected in Icelandic policy on copyright, privacy, and human rights.

Happy Halloween


Its Halloween, which is as close to a religious holiday as I get. Pumpkins! Chocolate! Spooky plastic ravens! More chocolate!

If kids knock on your door asking for chocolate, be nice to them. Remember, thwarted kids grow up to try and take over the world.

Friday, October 28, 2016

A victory for the environment?

We've finally managed to get a marine protected area in the Ross Sea:

A joint New Zealand-US proposal to create the world's largest marine protected area in Antarctic waters has finally got across the line.

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully confirmed this afternoon that member countries of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) had agreed to the sanctuary in the Ross Sea after talks in Hobart this week.

The marine protected area (MPA) will cover roughly 1.55m square kilometres, of which 1.12m sq km will be a no-take zone.

...which means the other 430,000 square kilometres will allow fishing. So how is it a "protected area" again?

Looking at MFAT's page on the deal, it seems fishing for toothfish - a highly sought-after commercial catch - will be permitted for "scientific research". Which smacks of Japan's "scientific whaling" bullshit. It would be nice if we could get an environmental deal which doesn't include this sort of bullshit commercial carveout...

Climate change: The purpose of the ETS

Writing in the Herald, Brian Fallow looks at New Zealand's options for meeting our carbon budget. None of them look very credible. And part of the reason for this is that the government is just confused over the purpose of the Emissions Trading Scheme:

It is the Government's responsibility to ensure New Zealand meets its international obligation, at lowest cost.

But the purpose of the ETS is different. It is to set the economy on a decarbonising path. A path towards zero net emissions from these islands, hopefully within the lifetimes of most of the people who already inhabit them.


The object of the ETS is not to mitigate fiscal risk. It is to mitigate climate change.

The government's efforts to pervert a tool for reducing emissions into one for reducing costs is the main reason why New Zealand has failed spectacularly to lower its climate change footprint, and why future governments are facing a bill of $72 billion. As for how to fix it, the answer is simple: auction units rather than giving them away as pollution subsidies, and don't open the system up to international trade. But I guess that might cost National's donors and cronies too much money, and then they might not donate any more...

Thursday, October 27, 2016

National bans protesting against US ship visit

Next month the US will be sending a non-nuclear-armed (but possibly cluster-bomb-armed) ship to New Zealand to participate in the New Zealand Navy's birthday party. As the representative of a military currently bombing children in at least seven countries, the USS Sampson is likely to attract protests on the water. So National has simply banned them:

Protest boats will be banned from parts of Auckland's harbour during a historic visit by a United States warship.

The US Navy is sending the USS Sampson to Auckland for the Royal New Zealand Navy's 75th birthday next month - the first visit by an American ship in 33 years.

Transport Minister Simon Bridges today declared the International Naval Review a Major Maritime Event.

That meant vessels not taking part in the review would have to stay clear of restricted areas in the Waitemata Harbour, Rangitoto Channel and parts of the inner Hauraki Gulf.

Bridges said the restrictions were intended to "ensure the safety of everyone on the water, including people who are not part of the event"

Bullshit. What it's actually intended to do is prevent the navy's birthday celebration being "marred" by the visible presence of people who don't like them or their choice of friends. And that's simply not a legitimate public purpose. This protest ban is a clear violation of the rights of freedom of expression and assembly enshrined in the Bill of Rights Act. The only question is whether the courts find that before or after National's police arrest someone under it.

Housing New Zealand lied on P-tests

For the past few years Housing New Zealand has been evicting tenants on the basis of dodgy tests for methamphetamine residue. Now it turns out that they had been warned repeatedly that the tests were not suitable for that purpose:

Housing New Zealand has ignored repeated warnings from senior government officials that it is misusing methamphetamine contamination guidelines to evict its tenants.

The Ministry of Health has repeatedly told Housing New Zealand that its methamphetamine guidelines were to be applied only for the clean up of former meth labs, and were not intended to monitor homes where the drug has been smoked.

Yet hundreds of tenants have been evicted from their state homes, after Housing New Zealand detected tiny traces of methamphetamine in them, and are often made to pay tens of thousands of dollars in clean up fees.

The ministry has just published new guidelines saying meth can be found at three to four times higher than the level being used as a reason to evict tenants.

The harm caused here is significant - and not just from evictions and cleanup fees. People's children have been taken on the basis of HNZC's dodgy tests. To inflict this harm on the basis of a test known to be unsuitable goes beyond mere negligence into knowing wrongdoing. And HNZC and its management must be held accountable for it. They could start by repaying all the money they wrongfully demanded, removing all blacklists, and giving their victims their houses back. Sadly, I expect they'll refuse to admit wrongdoing, and rely on their victims being too poor to pursue it through the courts.

New Fisk

The Syrian town shattered by war that may finally have seen an end to the fighting

Tony Ryall: crony

Last month National appointed former MP Tony Ryall as chair of the board of Transpower. It's a nice little retirement package for Ryall - he gets $98,000 a year from the taxpayer. And from documents released under the OIA today, it was pure cronyism: Ryall was appointed against explicit Treasury advice to retain the incumbent:

They go on:


In a section on "succession planning" they note that

With five relatively new directors on the Board it is important to manage succession carefully to ensure sufficient institutional knowledge exists on the Board, especially at a time when the company is in a transofrmative phase of its culture and business.

They recommended that Verbiest be retained as chair, and Ryall appointed as his deputy. They also recommended that "should you decide to retire Mr Verbiest" Ryall be appointed chair (clearly they could see which way the wind was blowing). The Minister, Todd McClay, chose the latter option.

If there's any future governance problems caused by Transpower's inexperienced board, we know who to blame. It would be nice if National treated SOE boards as something other than retirement sinecures for washed-up ex-MPs...

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

A good start

Kenya has commuted the sentences of everyone awaiting execution to life imprisonment:

Kenya's President has commuted the sentences of all the country's death row inmates to life imprisonment.

Thousands of prisoners condemned to death have been spared their lives although Kenya very rarely carries the sentences out - the last execution taking place in 1987.

At the stroke of a pen, President Uhuru Kenyatta commuted the sentences of 2,655 male and 92 female death row inmates.

This is obviously a good start in the fight against the death penalty, and reflects the government's opposition to it. But capital punishment is still on the books in Kenya. It should be repealed.

Community agencies should not be forced to spy for the government

Last week, we learned that the Ministry of Social Development was imposing new contracts on community agencies such as women's refuge, requiring them to hand over personal information on their clients including names, addresses and dates of birth and information about the service they receive. The purpose of this was for "social investment". Over on The Hand Mirror, LudditeJourno points out what that actually means:

If you doubt this, think about whether you'd be ok with the STI tests you're having being linked to your name in a government database. The same database which has your tax details, benefit details, student loan, car ownership history - hell, there's no limit to what the Integrated Data Infrastructure might grow to include. Let's be honest, there's been next to no public conversation about the developing surveillance system this government has created, and what's appropriate to link and why.

But think again, about accessing services. Let's say you've got a gambling problem, and your relationship and home are both at risk if you can't change. But if you go ask for help, that will be linked to all your other personal information. Are you ready for that, or should you wait a little longer?

Or you've got an eating disorder and it's quietly killing you, but if you ask for help and it's loaded onto your system, will it mean you can't apply for that job you want in government?

And that's without getting into the horrors of the police potentially being able to access it (because police officers are abusers too).

What "social investment" means is mass data surveillance. And what it means in this particular case is that vulnerable people can no longer trust these services. Which directly undermines their ability to do the job they're contracted to do and help those in need. And where the services involved are rape crisis centres, women's refuges, and suicide prevention helplines, that will literally cost lives.

But MSD probably sees that as a feature, not a bug. After all, if people are deterred from using social services by the prospect of future data-matching, it costs less money. And that apparently is all MSD cares about now.

This is an appalling decision from MSD and it needs to be reversed - before anyone dies as a result.

The police admit their abuse of power

The police have admitted that they abused their road-safety powers to collect intelligence on people democratically organising to change the law against physician-asisted suicide. But in doing so, they expose a fundamental problem with their whole operation:

But now, after the story was broken by Stuff, Inspector Chris Bensemann supplied a written statement confirming the checkpoint was to "identify people attending an Exit International meeting in Lower Hutt".

He said police had a duty of care and a "responsibility to the community to investigate any situation where we have reasonable grounds to suspect that persons are being assisted in the commission of suicide".

"Police are responsible for enforcing New Zealand's laws, and currently suicide or encouraging/helping someone to commit suicide - is illegal in New Zealand."

He confirmed the operation was conducted via a breath-testing checkpoint near the location of the meeting.

Spot the problem? Suicide is not a crime in New Zealand, and hasn't been for over a century. And its drawing a very long bow to call democratic advocacy aiding and abetting suicide. The police have overstepped the mark here, abusing their powers to try and enforce laws which haven't been on the books for decades. They need to be reined in,and told very clearly to stop trying to interfere with our democracy.

(Meanwhile, I look forward to them being sued for this, because it seems to be the only way they learn anything...)

Our racist police

Today's "better work story": the police refused to hire a woman because she is Tūhoe

Before beginning her training at Police College in Wellington she was required to go on patrol with officers in Whakatane.

The local officer who wrote a report on her performance told her it wouldn't be a good one but wouldn't say why, or give her a copy of what he'd written.

Ms Tulloch then approached the college, where a recruitment officer told her one of the reasons she'd failed was because she is Tūhoe.

She said she was told she was too nice, she knew too many people, and was Tūhoe.

Which appears to be a prima facie case of unlawful discrimination on the basis of ethnic or national origin.

The police are denying it, but they would, wouldn't they? And their refusal to release the information to their victim makes it look like they have something to hide. As a government agency, and a law-enforcement agency, they have a duty to demonstrate that they are obeying the law. Failing to do that simply compounds their crime.

Finally, the police are supposedly trying to mend fences with Tūhoe after the 2007 Urewera raids. Refusing to hire members of that iwi seems to be a damn funny way to go about it.

AT&T provides mass-surveillance for hire

AT&T is the USA's largest provider of cellphone landlines, and its second-largest cellphone provider. This obviously makes it a prime target for anyone like the NSA looking at mass-surveillance. But instead of acting only in response to lawful court-orders and providing only what is requested, AT&T provides mass-surveillance for hire, selling searches of its huge metadata database as a subscriber service to law enforcement:

Telecommunications giant AT&T is selling access to customer data to local law enforcement in secret, new documents released on Monday reveal.

The program, called Hemisphere, was previously known only as a “partnership” between the company and the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) for the purposes of counter-narcotics operations.

It accesses the trove of telephone metadata available to AT&T, who control a large proportion of America’s landline and cellphone infrastructure. Unlike other providers, who delete their stored metadata after a certain time, AT&T keeps information like call time, duration, and even location data on file for years, with records dating back to 2008.

But according to internal company documents revealed Monday by the Daily Beast, Hemisphere is being sold to local police departments and used to investigate everything from murder to Medicaid fraud, costing US taxpayers millions of dollars every year even while riding roughshod over privacy concerns.

And they do this in secret, under an agreement which requires those agencies to perjure themselves in court to protect the source of the information they are relying on. And that's not done for any valid law-enforcement reason, but to protect AT&T's stock price from public backlash.

This simply is not ethical behaviour from a telecommunications provider. It also points to the danger of allowing providers to retain large databases of metadata. While some information needs to be retained for billing and technical purposes, there's absolutely no need to retain everything permanently (AT&T's cellphone database goes back to 2008; its landline records to 1987. If you've ever made a call in or to the US to someone who uses AT&T, you're probably in there).

It also raises obvious questions about how long New Zealand telecommunications providers retain metadata for. The Privacy Act requires that they not keep personal information for longer than it is required for, and I'd be fascinated to find out how long each of them thinks that is. A query for the Privacy Commisisoner or TechLiberty, perhaps?

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

An abuse of power

We accept drink-driving checkpoints on our roads because of the dangers posed by drunk driving. But rather than using them for that purpose, the police are using them to gather intelligence on elderly euthanasia advocates:

Wellington police may have used an alcohol checkpoint to gather information about elderly women attending euthanasia meetings.

The women had been attending an Exit International meeting on a Sunday afternoon early this month in the Lower Hutt suburb of Maungaraki.

As they left, about 4pm, all were pulled over at the checkpoint and – before being asked to blow into the machine – were made to give their names and addresses, and show their driver's licences.

In the days that followed, at least 10 of them received visits from police officers, asking questions about their association with Exit, a pro-euthanasia group.

If confirmed, this is very obviously an abuse of power. The police have these powers to enforce road safety - not to spy on those democratically advocating law change. Any use of them for an improper purpose is illegal and a violation of our rights against arbitrary detention and unlawful search. Any evidence gathered from them is fruit of the poisonous tree and must be discarded.

Meanwhile, I'm wondering which top cop's parent killed themselves to have the police devoting so many resources to this repressive campaign.

New Fisk

Saudi Arabia ‘deliberately targeting impoverished Yemen’s farms and agricultural industry’

Will Iceland go Pirate?

Iceland goes to the polls on Saturday - and the Pirate Party is still leading:

The party that could be on the cusp of winning Iceland's national elections on Saturday didn't exist four years ago.

Its members are a collection of anarchists, hackers, libertarians and Web geeks. It sets policy through online polls - and thinks the government should do the same. It wants to make Iceland "a Switzerland of bits," free of digital snooping. It has offered Edward Snowden a new place to call home.


The latest opinion polls show the Pirates jostling for first place with the Independence Party. The centre-right party is synonymous with Iceland's political establishment, having governed the country for much of its modern history. But it was badly tarnished by its stewardship of the bubble economy in the lead-up to the 2008 crash.

I'm fascinated to see how this goes. If the Pirate party enters government it will be a huge boost to the global anti-surveillance movement and help increase pressure elsewhere. And it will be interesting to see what stealable solutions they come up with to help everyone protect themselves from the spies and the copyright mafia.

Friday, October 21, 2016

This is why we need Parliamentary authorisation for military deployments

The Guardian is reporting that New Zealand SAS troops are in combat in Northern Iraq. The government is vigorously denying the claims, but do you believe them? The problem - entirely of their own making - is that they cloud SAS deployments in self-serving secrecy and refuse to give any details. This, combined with the fact that they reserved the right to send them to Iraq alongside the supposedly non-combatant trainers, means that it can't really be ruled out.

Which is precisely why foreign military deployments should have to be authorised by Parliament. The government shouldn't have the right to involve us in a shooting war and send kiwis overseas to kill and die without telling us about it. The UK requires Parliamentary authorisation for foreign military deployments. We should follow suit.

A blow against bigotry in the UK

The UK government has agreed to pardon gay men convicted of historic offences:

Thousands of gay and bisexual men convicted under outdated gross indecency laws are to be posthumously pardoned, the Government has announced, in a “momentous” victory for campaigners.

Announcing what has been dubbed as the ‘Alan Turing law’ justice minister Sam Gyimah said the Government would seek to implement the change through an amendment to the Policing and Crime Bill. It will effectively act as an apology to those convicted for consensual same-sex relationships before homosexuality was decriminalised in England and Wales in 1967.


In another step, the Government is also announcing that it will introduce a new statutory pardon for the living in cases where offences have been successfully deleted through the disregard process.

Mr Gyimah added: “It is hugely important that we pardon people convicted of historical sexual offences who would be innocent of any crime today. Through pardons and the existing disregard process we will meet our manifesto commitment to put right these wrongs.”

Righting this historic wrong is a great step forward for justice in the UK, and a blow against bigotry. But what about New Zealand? There's a petition currently before the Justice and Electoral Committee, but the government's response has been to dismiss it as "too hard". National thinks it is far easier to let these people carry the burden of their unjust convictions than to act to correct them - and that's just wrong. These people were convicted of things that should never have been criminal in the first place. The government has wronged them, and it needs to right that wrong and apologise. If the UK can do it, then so can we.

New Fisk

Lebanon is a sectarian nation, yet it has avoided civil war while the Middle East burns – here's why

Open Government: Finally, an action plan!

Yesterday, just ten days before the (self-extended) deadline, the government released its Second Open Government Partnership National Action Plan 2016-18. The first action plan was a disaster, with unambitious and vague "commitments" developed in secret without meaningful input from the public. The good news is that this one is much better.

The Action Plan contains seven commitments, focusing on open data, an open budget, improved OIA practice, improved access to legislation, improved policy practice (including around consultation), and improved OGP engagement. Many of these reflect suggestions made in the public engagement process, and there's no hidden Big Brother agenda. They're also all specific and measureable, with defined milestones, so we can tell if the government is meeting its commitments.

The downside however is a lack of ambition. There's nothing big here, nothing which is going to be transformative or which will be a star commitment - no sign that the government has bought in to the OGP agenda of a race for the top. Instead, they're still trying to do as little as possible while not spending any money or changing anything substantive. They're just doing a better job of complying with OGP guidelines than last time.

In other words, we have a victory of process over substance, which ignores the OGP's promise of real change. New Zealand can and should do better.

Thursday, October 20, 2016


National's New Zealand: where austistic teenagers are held in prison because the DHB is too lazy to help them:

A severely autistic young man is being held in prison because disability service providers cannot find an alternative place for him.

The 18-year-old, who has name suppression, appeared in the Palmerston North District Court this morning before Judge Gerard Lynch, who labelled the situation as "outrageous".

Community liaison nurse Grahame Stillwell said the young man was taken into custody on Sunday, after allegedly assaulting his mother.

He was assessed by the Mid-Central District Health Board crisis team, who said they were unable to perform a full assessment because of the man's challenging behaviour.

Stillwell said nothing had changed since then, and no agencies had responded to his emails asking for help.

The judge is right: this is outrageous. We should be helping disabled people, not imprisoning them - but here we have a young man effectively warehoused in prison because the government agency responsible for providing that help is too fucking lazy to do its job. But I guess helping him would cost money; easier to just dump him on someone else's budget instead.


We're supposed to live in a free society, where people are free to advocate peacefully for changes to the law. But if you advocate peacefully for death with dignity, the police will come knocking on your door:

Wilhelmina Irving is 76, healthy, and law-abiding. She has no immediate plans to die.

But because she attended a euthanasia meeting in Lower Hutt on October 2, at which police were also believed to be present and noting down car registration plates, the law came knocking on her door.


When she recently got a knock at the door from a plain-clothed officer calling himself an inspector, she assumed he was a building inspector. But it soon turned out he wanted to discuss the meeting.

"He told me he knew exactly what had been said, who was there, everything else and [asked] what did I have to say?"

He asked if her children knew whether she had investigated the option of eventually ending her life. Her children did know, she said, just as they knew of her 25-year membership of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society VES).

Before leaving, the inspector gave her a letter, containing details for suicide and depression helplines, which she was instructed to open after he left.

This is chilling and Orwellian. It is no crime to advocate for a law change. It is no crime even to kill yourself. So why are the police investigating and persecuting these people? When Parliament is looking at changing the law, it smacks of interfering in the democratic process.

New Fisk

Saudi Arabia cannot go on throwing every decent person who speaks out on human rights into jail

Drawn: Democracy for ECan?

A ballot for one member's bill was held today and the following bill was drawn:

  • Environment Canterbury (Democracy Restoration) Amendment Bill
Unfortunately, the bill hasn't been updated to take account of the Environment Canterbury (Transitional Governance Arrangements) Act 2016. So where simply calling an election was enough under the old Environment Canterbury (Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management) Act 2010 to return ECan to full democratic rule, all it does now is call an election. Fixing this requires a minor tweak to the definition of "resumption day" in s4 to mirror the old Act in returning everything to normal after the next election. It could be easily done by a select committee, but the question is whether it will get there.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Climate change: No silver bullets for agriculture

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment released a report today on Climate change and agriculture: Understanding the biological greenhouse gases. It investigates New Zealand's agricultural greenhouse gases and what we can do to mitigate them.

Unfortunately, the answer seems to be "not a lot". The government makes a lot of noise about how it is investing in Science!TM to find a silver bullet solution to allow these emissions to be magiced away without affecting farmers' profits. It turns out that its not that simple. While there's a lot of avenues of research, we're a long way from any solution, let alone one which meets the requirements of being cost-effective, easily delivered, and not tainting the milk with illegal residues. Basicly, the current policy of crossing our fingers and hoping (because we can't possibly make farmers pay their own way like everyone else does) isn't working. And meanwhile, the planet continues to burn...

So what can we do? The PCE suggests bringing nitrogen fertilisers into the ETS, since they're easily managed. This will mean higher prices, based on their decay emissions, and this should in turn discourage farmers from using them (or, in market-speak, ensure that they use them when the benefit of using them outweighs the cost). They also suggest lower stocking rates, which no government is ever going to push despite the clear benefits both for the climate and our waterways. But ultimately they suggest offsetting agricultural emissions with trees as a stopgap measure to allow us to buy more time. The scale required is enormous - a million hectares of native forest. But that's what you end up having to do when you let a polluting sector grow like a cancer for twenty years without doing anything to stop it.

The problem is that this merely pushes the problem into the future. While like John Key I hope for a scientific solution to agricultural emissions, unlike him I recognise that hope is not a strategy. Instead, its the policy equivalent of saying that you'll pay your bills by winning the lottery. Agricultural emissions are a real problem now. They are destroying the planet now. And some hoped-for magic bean future solution does absolutely nothing to solve it now. We need a solution for this in the here-and-now, not the distant future, and if the government doesn't want that solution to be shooting cows (saving ~2.5T/year per cow), they need to come up with something.

Climate change: A good move

The Cullen Fund is getting out of fossil fuels:

The New Zealand Superannuation Fund will start getting rid of its investments in fossil fuel companies, it has announced.

The sell-down is part of The Super Fund's climate change strategy, which includes measuring its carbon footprint, engaging with companies and investing more in low carbon or renewable businesses.

The $31 billion fund will not be getting rid of all its fossil fuels investments, however, focusing instead on where it could reduce climate risk "as quickly and easily as possible".

Superannuation Fund chief executive Adrian Orr said the plan would most likely improve the Fund's performance.

Basicly, climate change means there's no future for coal, and a limited future for oil and gas. Ditto industries which depend on those dirty fuels (which, in New Zealand, means milk). Which means that the Cullen Fund's "investments" in those industries are likely to decline in value or simply crash. Selling out of them now, before that happens, is simply good sense from an agency required to be a prudent manager.

Now, if only ACC would do the same, rather than risking people's future accident compensation on doomed industries...

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day. While the committee stage of a private bill will take up most of the afternoon, after that the House should deal with the second reading of Chris Bishop's Financial Assistance for Live Organ Donors Bill. Once that's done, we'll get some fireworks with Chris Hipkins' Education (Charter Schools Abolition) Amendment Bill, and if the House moves quickly it will make a start on Ruth Dyson's Rates Rebate (Retirement Village Residents) Amendment Bill. Which will mean a ballot for one or two bills tomorrow.

New Fisk

Victims of Israeli raid on Gaza flotilla fear legal case will be dropped over new political deal

Climate change: The cost of National's inaction

How much will National's refusal to act on climate change cost us? $72 billion:

New Zealand could face a $72 billion bill to meet its obligations under the Paris climate change agreement unless there's an effective international carbon market, an official says.

New Zealand ratified the accord two weeks ago, committing to reducing net greenhouse gas emissions to 30 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.

Ministry for the Environment climate change director Kay Harrison told a conference last week that the cost to New Zealand to meet it its obligations hit $72 billion, or nearly 30 percent of New Zealand's annual GDP.

That amount would cover the period 2021 to 2030.

While MfE is worried about the lack of an international market, even if we have one we're still looking at $36 billion. The real problem here is that National has allowed emissions to rise and rise, while doing nothing to curb them. Instead, they're subsidising pollution and promoting dirty thermal power plants, locking in higher emissions for the forseeable future. This effectively commits us to a huge bill - about 2% of GDP per year for a decade - money that could be better spent elsewhere.

But I guess their plan is that it'll be someone else's problem, and to throw shit at them for trying to clean up the mess they left. Because that's how National operates, on the economy and on the environment.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

A moral and fiscal failure

Back in 2011, Finance Minister Bill English called prisons a "moral and fiscal failure". So naturally, the government he is a part of is building more of them:

The Government has announced plans for a growing prisoner population including double-bunking for an extra 80 beds at Ngawha in Northland, a new building at Mt Eden to take 245 extra prisoners, and possibly a new 1500-bed prison on the current Waikeria Prison site in Waikato.

Corrections Minister Judith Collins said prison population growth required a further 1800 places.

Work was already underway to add 341 prison places through double-bunking and converting facilities to accommodate more beds.

But another 1800 places were needed which would cost $1 billion.

...which is pretty much National's planned tax cuts, up in smoke.

This is what happens when you make "tough on crime" your policy centrepiece. This is what happens when you continually promise to throw more people in jail for longer and longer: you need to build more prisons to house them - prisons where their lives are destroyed, their skills eroded, and they learn to be better criminals. Its a huge, pointless expense and a complete waste of money which would be better spent on health and education.

GCHQ spied illegally for 17 years

The UK's Investigatory Powers Tribunal has rule don GCHQ's collection of bulk communicatiosn metadata, finding that they had spied illegally on the UK public for seventeen years:

British security agencies have secretly and unlawfully collected massive volumes of confidential personal data, including financial information, on citizens for more than a decade, senior judges have ruled.

The investigatory powers tribunal, which is the only court that hears complaints against MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, said the security services operated an illegal regime to collect vast amounts of communications data, tracking individual phone and web use and other confidential personal information, without adequate safeguards or supervision for 17 years.


The tribunal said the regime governing the collection of bulk communications data (BCD) – the who, where, when and what of personal phone and web communications – failed to comply with article 8 protecting the right to privacy of the European convention of human rights (ECHR) between 1998, when it started, and 4 November 2015, when it was made public.

It added that the retention of of bulk personal datasets (BPD) – which might include medical and tax records, individual biographical details, commercial and financial activities, communications and travel data – also failed to comply with article 8 for the decade it was in operation until it was publicly acknowledged in March 2015.

Seventeen years of illegal spying in violation of the ECHR - you'd think there would be some accountability for that, maybe some people in jail? But no. Instead, GCHQ's abuse is going to be legalised, and they will be handed even more power to engage in mass surveillance on the UK public. Because if the government had to obey its own laws, the "terrorists" might win or something.

I guess being a spy means never having to say you're sorry...

New Fisk

When Mosul falls, Isis will flee to the safety of Syria. But what then?

Australia should be prosecuted for its torture camps

Yesterday Amnesty International released a damning report on Australia's Pacific refugee concentration camps. A key finding of the report was that the treatment in the camps amounted to torture:

Amnesty International found that the system to which refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru are subjected amount to torture.

The combination of refugees’ severe mental anguish, the intentionally harmful nature of the system, and the fact that the goal of offshore processing is intended to intimidate or coerce others to achieve a specific outcome, means that Australia’s offshore “processing” regime fits the definition of torture under international law.

Now, lawyers are apparently investigating laying charge with the International Criminal Court over this state policy of torture:
Lawyers are investigating taking Australia to the International Criminal Court over its offshore detention centres, Amnesty International says.


"The system is illegal and we show in our report in great detail how Australia is violating its multiple international obligations, including an obligation not to torture," she said.

"There are lawyers who are communicating with the International Criminal Court - it's not Amnesty International yet, but we are in touch with them as well, who believe there is enough evidence for the ... court to investigate Australia's offshore processing."

Good. Torture is illegal under international (and Australian) law, and those responsible for it - the architects of the policy and those who implemented it, from government Ministers down to the lowest camp guard - need to be held to account for it.

New Zealand should be a part of this. As I've frequently pointed out, we have universal jurisdiction for torture. And we should use it whenever someone involved in torture sets foot in our country. When our nearest neighbour is running torture camps in our backyard, we need to stand up for what is right. And if that means arresting the Australian Prime Minister on their next state visit, so be it.

Monday, October 17, 2016

A rich man's bubble

Why is John Key so completely out of touch on child poverty? Maybe its because he only visits rich schools...

Prime Minister John Key has been accused of neglecting children in the poorest neighbourhoods, after he visited more than three times as many high decile schools this year, than low.

Of the 27 schools Key visited in the year to September 12, 13 of those were in the decile 8, 9 and 10 bracket, data obtained under the Official Information Act (OIA) shows.

Just four were either 1, 2 or 3 bracket. Ten fell in between.

This is a symptom of a wider problem: our Prime Minister isn't one of us, but lives in a rich man's bubble. At home, he lives in a multi-million dollar mansion in Parnell. At work, he's in a huge state-funded house. He travels everywhere in Ministerial limos, accompanied by armed security goons so he can feel important. And this seals him off utterly from the experiences of normal kiwis, the people he claims to represent. He's said himself that the only time he gets to talk to people is in the Koru Lounge - which isn't really a representative sample...

And the result of all this self-isolation is that the Prime Minister is absolutely blind to the real problems affecting our society. He never sees the beggars on our streets or the hungry kids in our schools. He never has to go on a waiting list to access housing or medical care. He never even sees the way his farmer friends are destroying our rivers, because he holidays overseas. Isn't it time we had a Prime Minister who is actually one of us?

New Fisk

A beautiful mosque and the dark period of the Armenian genocide

Australia's concentration camps are torture

What are the effects of being detained indefinitely in an Australian refugee concentration camp? According to Dr Nina Zimmerman, a forensic psychiatrist contracted by the UN to study the issue, they make 81% of their inmates mentally ill:

Recruited by the UN refugee agency due to her expertise with populations in detention, Dr Zimmerman's mission to Nauru required her to interview refugees and asylum seekers within the detention camp and those living in the island's settlements.

She found 81 percent of those she surveyed were suffering disorders due to their indefinite detention, the second highest rate ever recorded in a group of refugees.

"There's been a study done on Syrians who are fleeing and find themselves in central Europe," explained Dr Zimmerman, putting her findings into context.

"These rates are two to three times higher than what you find in those refugees... three times higher than what you see in the imprisoned populations in Australia."

With an 81% mental illness rate, I'd say that the camps reach the threshold of inflicting severe mental pain and suffering. Which makes them torture under international law. These camps are torture camps. They need to be closed, and the people who order, guard and run them need to be prosecuted.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Climate change: The wrong track

Writing in the Herald this morning, Climate Change Minister Paula Bennett thinks our climate change policy is on the right track, citing the list of policies her government has. But are we really? Below is the government's latest official projection of our emissions pathway, from New Zealand’s second biennial report under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change:


As can be seen, the government expects both gross and net emissions to rise to 2030 (and rise beyond that), despite "commitments" to cut them.

The truth is that we are not on the right track. National's policies are ineffective, and deliberately so, to shield their polluting donors and cronies from having to pay the full costs of their activities. Their "goal" of 90% renewable electricity is on-track for failure, while they're letting polluters build more gas-fired power plants. They've deliberately crippled the ETS, while their policies around agricultural emissions research and electric vehicles are token measures, aimed at generating positive PR and the appearance of action rather than real reductions in emissions.

This is the biggest challenge facing the planet, and it is going to be disastrous for our agricultural industry. This is not a problem we can spin our way out of. We deserve a Minister who understands that, and government which will take it seriously. We won't get either under National.

New Fisk

A quarter century after I was arrested by Turkish police, things have only got worse for Kurdistan

What surplus?

Stephanie Rodgers at Boots Theory responds to yesterday's government "surplus":

The truth is, there is no surplus.

When Housing New Zealand says it simply cannot build the houses we need for families who are living on the street and in their cars, how can we have a surplus?

When District Health Boards insist that they cannot afford to deliver safer rosters for junior doctors, or new equipment, or decent pay rises for support staff, how can we have a surplus?

When public schools, built on the promise of free education for every Kiwi kid, have to demand “voluntary donations” from parents in order to keep operating, how can we have a surplus?

When sick people have to run public campaigns ask for donations to fund the medicine they need, because Pharmac has to prioritise which life-saving treatments it subsidises, how can we have a surplus?

When the people who clean the ministerial toilets in the Beehive aren’t paid a living wage, how can we have a surplus?

If you aren’t providing the services you are contracted to do – in this case, maintaining the public services and promoting the welfare of New Zealanders – and declaring a profit, you’re not running a successful business. You’re running a Ponzi scheme.

The only reason we have a "surplus" is because the government's failure - or rather, refusal - to provide those services does not appear on their balance sheet. If they did, then the trick would be laid bare: all National has done is pump up the government's books by giving us public squalor. And now they plan to leave us that mess, and the long-term costs it entails, while letting the rich run away with the profits as tax-cuts.

This isn't government. Its pillage.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Sexist bullying in our Parliament

If you watch Question Time daily, you'll have noticed that there's a lot of sexist bullying that goes on in Parliament, with National's predominantly male backbench trying to shout down and intimidate female MPs. Today, New Zealand First's Tracey Martin used a point of order to complain about this. The National backbench took the opportunity to prove her point for her, interjecting to shut down her point of order. You can watch the whole sorry display below, from 8:27:

It has become blatant enough that even National's Speaker David Carter conceded the point. And hopefully now we'll see an end to it. Otherwise female MPs should start publicly naming and shaming the bullies so they can be driven out of politics. There should be no place for this sort of bullying in our Parliament.

Phone companies don't want to be spies

The government is currently pushing a spy bill which could significantly expand the powers of our spy agencies. One of the minor provisions would enable private bodies - for example, banks and phone companies - to provide information to spies on request. Its specifically intended to allow spies to circumvent warrant processes, while insulating companies from any legal consequences for betraying their customers' privacy. The good news is that Vodafone, one of the larger telecommunications companies, has said "nope":

Telecommunications giant Vodafone says it is uncomfortable about a proposal to allow New Zealand companies to volunteer suspicious information about their customers to spying agencies.

The company told MPs at Parliament today that it would prefer to stick to a warrants-based regime, rather than offer up sensitive information on its own initiative.


Vodafone lead counsel Tom Thurby said he did not expect any New Zealand business to proactively volunteer information if the law change went ahead.

"Our position would be that we will respond to warrants, we will respond to compulsion. We will not co-operate on a voluntary basis under this clause."

Spark has also apparently raised this issue. Good. There is a process by which the spies can obtain information, which involves both an assessment of its necessity and oversight of the spies' decisions. And they should stick to it. Spies should not be allowed to circumvent the warrant process and the oversight it entails by effectively bullying companies into submission. And naturally, any company receiving such a bullying request should publicise it immediately and tell the spies to fuck off.

"Fiscal prudence"

In their time in office, National has tripled New Zealand's debt from $31.4 to $93.9 billion. So naturally, when they get a whiff of a surplus, they're planning tax cuts for the rich:

Tax cuts could soon be on the way with the Government opening up its books today revealing Crown accounts are tracking along nicely.

"We've always said, if economic and fiscal conditions allow, we will begin to reduce income taxes," Finance Minister Bill English said.

Surplus is currently sitting at around $1.8 billion which is up from $414 million on the previous year.

If National gives away the surplus in tax cuts, the debt Bill English built up will never be reapid. But I guess that's just what National calls "fiscal prudence". Meanwhile, with Housing New Zealand virtually bankrupt due to National's privatisation efforts, it looks like next year's election will be a choice between a functioning state housing system or tax cuts for the rich. Hopefully voters will choose the former.

New Fisk

This is what it feels like to be an ordinary Kurd caught in the tragedy of Turkey’s turmoil

National wrecks state housing

Faced with poor polling, National is talking big on state housing. What they actually appear to have done is bankrupted it:

The Government's state housing agency is set to run out of money by February, ministers have been warned.

Housing New Zealand has also told Finance Minister Bill English that it will have no cash for developments or to maintain houses past 2017/18.


An email by a Treasury official appeared to say that the corporation would run out of money by early next year.

"HNZC modelling indicates that it is likely to exhaust its cash balance by February 2017 based on its planned development activity."


HNZ's financial situation was partly the result of the transfer of 2800 state houses to the Tamaki Regeneration Company, a Government-council entity, this year.

The transfer meant $1.6 billion was removed from HNZ's balance sheet and it was now collecting $34m less in rent a year.

Housing New Zealand is a core government agency responsible for a key government service. Running it to the brink of bankruptcy like this shows either utter incompetence, or pure malice. Either way, there's a real danger that National will use this self-imposed crisis to further undermine state housing by privatising more of it or reintroducing market rents. And when we have a real housing crisis on our hands, either would be a disaster.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Some "solution"

National told us that their Special Housing Areas would solve the housing crisis. But it turns out they haven't. While over a thousand "affordable" homes have been consented, only 18 have been sold to first-home buyers.

Which is what happens when you leave provision to the market: it doesn't deliver. Because affordable homes are less profitable than million dollar palazzos, developers simply aren't interested in building them, no matter how many they are forced by regulation to consent. If we want these homes built, then the government will need to do it directly. And if we want a government committed to that, we need someone other than National.

Twenty years of MMP

The Spinoff reminds us that it has been twenty years since the first MMP election. Like almost all of their commentators, I think that MMP has been a huge improvement to our democracy. Our votes count. Our Parliament looks like us. Our legislature is a check on executive extremism. None of these things were true under the old system, with its marginal electorates and male, pale and stale "representatives".

Things can still be improved, of course. I've consistently argued against the undemocratic 5% threshhold, which unjustifiably excludes some of us from political representation while limiting political competition. Using open lists or preferential voting for electorates wouldn't hurt either. Unlike others, I don't favour elimination of the "electorate lifeboat" because it improves rather than harms proportionality; if we're concerned about party game-playing and unfairness between electorates, we should lower the threshhold to 0.8% so that it ceases to be an issue.

New Fisk

Why did President Erdogan restart the battle with the Kurdish PKK? The answer lies in the tale of the failed coup

CYFS tortured children

The Herald reports today that CYFS, the agency that is supposed to protect kids, has instead been torturing them in one of its "care" facilities:

Teenagers were unlawfully detained for weeks on end in the seclusion wing of a youth justice facility run by Child Youth and Family, according to its own senior staff.

Documents obtained by the Herald also reveal:
  • staff used "inappropriate force" against young people.
  • secure care was used as punishment.
  • some young people were stripped and put in suicide gowns..
  • a "significant number" of teens should not have been put in seclusion in the first place.
The use of segregation (solitary confinement) and isolation is tightly regulated because prolonged isolation causes mental illness. The UN Special Rapporteur on torture has ruled that its use on young people constitutes cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment. Prolonged use on anyone constitutes torture. And here CYFS has been using it on kids for weeks at a time, in blatant violation of the law and basic decency. Fortunately, we have a solution. The Crimes of Torture Act imposes a penalty of up to 14 years imprisonment for committing torture, and 10 years for being an accessory. And its time we fucking used it. The CYFS staff who did this need to go to jail. And until they do, other CYFS staff will feel they have impunity to commit similar acts.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Just fuck off, Labour

Turnout in the local elections was low. Cue the Labour party pushing its stupid barrow of compulsory and online voting:

Compulsory voting for local elections - with fines for those who don't have their say - is worth considering to tackle record low turnout, Labour says.

Fewer than 40 per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot in last weekend's local elections, leading to calls for action in order to reverse the downward trend.

Labour local government spokeswoman Meka Whaitiri said the Government needed to lead the way on a national strategy, looking at innovative ways to improve voter turnout.

The U-turn on trialling online voting at this year's elections due to security concerns was a disappointment, Whaitiri said.


She was interested in exploring Australia's compulsory voting model, where people are fined $20 if they don't vote.

"I know Australia fines people that don't vote, and that idea has been floated, I'm keen to look at that to see how well that gets people to the polls at the end of the day."

Just fuck off, Labour. Online voting is fundamentally insecure, and a stupid idea because of that. As for compulsion, this is Labour's perennial "solution" to the "problem" that its core constituency doesn't turn out for them. But refusing to vote is a choice, and a valid one. People vote when they have something to vote for. It speaks volumes that Labour would rather try and force them to the ballotbox on pain of a fine than give them hope that a Labour government or Labour local body politicians could make a meaningful difference to their lives.

Climate change: Burning the planet

Its official: climate change has doubled the area affected by forest fires. We are literally burning the planet:

Global warming has caused the area affected by forest fires in the western United States to double over the last 30 years – and the problem will continue to get worse until the trees start to run out, according to new research.

Higher air temperatures dry out vegetation, making it more prone to combust, as witnessed with increasing ferocity in states like California and Oregon.

While some parts of the world will get wetter as the climate warms, fires have been increasing in places like the Amazon, Indonesia and Canada's boreal forests.


An extra 4.2 million hectares of forest fires – about 16,000 square miles, the same area as Denmark – were estimated to have been caused by human-induced climate change between 1984 and 2015, according to a paper in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

This increase nearly doubled the area that would have burned if the temperature had not risen, the researchers found.

And they're expecting exponential increases for the next few decades, as past emissions cause temperature rises. This in turn has a real risk of creating positive feedback, as emissions from forest fires drive more fires.

This obviously isn't good news for people who live near forests, as in California, Canada and Australia. If they want their homes to not burn down, they really need to get their governments to stop polluting.

Indiscriminate police spying in the UK

Surprise, surprise - the UK's police are indiscriminately spying on people's cellphones:

Controversial surveillance technology that indiscriminately harvests information from mobile phones is being used by at least seven police forces across the country, a far larger number than previously known, according to police documents.

The hardware, known as an IMSI catcher, tricks mobile phone handsets across an area of several miles into connecting to them by impersonating cellphone towers, and can be used to pinpoint phone owners’ locations or intercept phone calls and text messages.

The Metropolitan police were previously known to have purchased IMSI (international mobile subscriber identity) technology. However, documents obtained by the Bristol Cable, a citizen’s media cooperative, indicate that at least six other police forces have bought the same hardware, also referred to as CCDC (covert communications data capture).

Police refuse to acknowledge their acquisition of this technology or discuss how they use it, claiming that any disclosures could assist criminals and terrorists. As well as the Met, other forces understood to be using it include West Mercia, Warwickshire, West Midlands, Staffordshire, Avon and Somerset, and South Yorkshire.

The problem here is that this isn't the individual surveillance of a wiretap. Instead, IMSI is a trawler which grabs everything in the area and feeds it to police. So in addition to the person they're looking at, they also get the calls, call data and private information of hundreds of even thousands of innocent bystanders. And while there's obvious value in being able to track an individual cellphone (with an appropriate warrant, of course), this is a grossly disproportionate invasion of the public's privacy.

But I guess that's just business as usual now for a country which tracks every vehicle movement on major roads with ANPR and spies on every bit transiting the internet with GCHQ. The UK is an authoritarian surveillance state which has utter contempt for the privacy of its citizens. Those who value privacy, democracy and human rights should get out while they still can.

Meanwhile, someone has used FYI, the public OIA request site, to ask a similar question of New Zealand Police. The police clearly don't want to answer, because they've tried demanding the requester go to a police station and fill out a physical form - something which is simply unlawful (and an abuse of the public's respect for police). And I expect that in 20 working days - or more, because they're usually late - the police will simply refuse to respond because telling us whether they're spying in this way and how much it costs might threaten "the maintenance of the law".

New Fisk

Destruction in Kurdish capital of south-east Turkey is dark mirror to Syria

We should not welcome a dictator

Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama has been acting like a dictator again, shutting down meetings, arresting opposition leaders, and suspending opposition MPs from parliament for pretend offences. So naturally, John Key isn't just going to let him into New Zealand, but give him a state welcome too:

Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama will likely receive a state welcome when he visits New Zealand for the All Blacks test.

Talk of the abrasive leader's visit has been circling for months and on Tuesday Key confirmed it was "highly likely" he would come for the Bledisloe Cup match at Eden Park on October 22.

Fijian media reported he would leave later this week to make an official visit to Australia, where he is opening a symposium in Sydney, and then go on to New Zealand where he would make a speech in Auckland.

Fuck that. Bainimarama is a dictator and he should not be welcome in New Zealand. Our government should not grovel to foreign authoritarian bullies.

Monday, October 10, 2016

10/10: World Day Against the Death Penalty


Today, October 10, is the world day against the death penalty. Out of 195 UN member states, 93 still permit capital punishment. Today is the day we work to change that.

This year's theme is the use of the death penalty for terrorism. 65 countries have the death penalty for terrorism, but executions create martyrs. Combined with the inherent injustice of the death penalty and the use of terrorism offences for political purposes, this is both morally unjustifiable and hugely counterproductive, feeding terrorism instead of stopping it.

The good news is that we are winning the long-term battle: Nauru and Guinea abolished the death penalty this year, and Fiji, Suriname and Congo abolished it last year. In our corner of the world, Papua New Guinea and Tonga are the only holdouts, and there hasn't been an execution since 1982. At this rate it will still take half a century before the death penalty is abolished, but the civilised world is expanding.

Time to end homelessness

Homelessness is a growing stain upon our society. And its not just unemployed people or people with mental health issues living on the streets, but working families forced to sleep in their cars due to sky-high rents, inadequate social housing, and a WINZ bureaucracy focused on cutting costs rather than helping people.

So its good to see the opposition getting together to present some solutions to this problem:

Developing a national strategy to end homelessness could save the Government more than $200 million each year, a cross-party inquiry has concluded.

Labour, the Greens and the Maori Party have released a report with 20 recommendations to tackle homelessness, after holding a series of hearings across New Zealand and receiving hundreds of submissions.

The report recommends rolling out a "housing first" approach as the main response to severe homelessness, as well as increasing the supply of state housing.

It also says the Government should build more affordable houses, reduce the cost of home building, and tackle property speculators.

These are all sensible solutions, and its good to know that they'll also save us money in the long-term. So will the government act? Yeah, right. So far they haven't even bothered to respond to the report. Which I guess shows how interested they are in solving the problem, rather than e.g. profiting from their own Auckland investment properties.

New Fisk

The invasion of Afghanistan 15 years ago was an arrogant, wretched adventure that caused a migrant crisis
The 70,000 post-coup arrests are now at the heart of the Turkish government's propaganda war
On either side of the Turkish-Syrian border, you encounter a past and a present which puts Britain to shame

Local body roundup

Local body election results were announced on Saturday, and Labour seems to have had a good run, capturing the mayoralty of our three largest cities. So, I guess we can expect Nick Smith to threaten them with dictatorship then. Locally, morally bankrupt rugby meathead Grant Smith was re-elected by a landslide, capturing 95% of valid ballots. Note the valid there - his only competitor, convicted child-beater and Robert Chambers parody Ross Barber was outpolled by those who submitted blank ballots. Which I guess shows that a reasonable chunk of Palmerston North want real competition in their mayoral elections.

For city council, the real winner was Green Party candidate Brent Barrett, who came second in the poll and was elected in the first round. He deserved to - his people doorknocked 2,500 homes (including me, twice). His was the only campaign which knocked on my door, and if that reflects a difference in overall campaign strategies, I guess it paid off. Meanwhile, Labour got only one of their four official candidates elected, but there's another couple who simply didn't campaign openly. So, not a bad run for the left in Palmerston North.

For Horizons (aka the Manawatu-Whanganui Regional Council), anti-fluroide nutter Rachel Keedwell topped the poll. I guess people were willing to overlook that for her strong stance on a clean river. She was joined by Wiremu Te Awe Awe, another clean water candidate, but the two useless incumbents got re-elected. Bugger.

Elsewhere, Christchurch elected four clean water candidates to ECan. That's great, but due to government gerrymandering and an only part-elected council, they'll be outvoted by un-elected pollution advocates appointed by Nick Smith. It also looks like good news in Hawke's Bay, where disputes over the Ruataniwha dam have seen an anti-dam majority elected. Hopefully this means that stupid, polluting project will finally be buried.

Many of the results were distorted by outdated and unfair election systems like the block-vote. The time window for getting STV in place for the next election is rather narrow - around 6 months by petition, or 18 by motion - so if you want to organise a local bush for a better voting system in your area, I'd advise starting now.

Friday, October 07, 2016

Going backwards

The Labour Market Statistics (Income) was released today, showing that the gender-pay gap has widened for the second year in a row. Women are now paid 12% less than men, up from 9.1% in 2012. So, despite a supposed "rockstar economy", women are actually going backwards under National.

This isn't good enough. We've had pay equity legislation for 40 years, and yet we still have this gap, and now it is getting wider. And yet all the government does is express "disappointment". You'd almost get the impression that they don't care...

New Fisk

Walking the streets of Istanbul, Erdogan's crackdown lingers heavy in the air

Good luck with that

Apparently Tony Blair wants to re-enter politics to save the UK from Jeremy Corbyn:

Tony Blair has indicated that he is preparing to return to British politics to prevent the "tragedy" of Britain becoming a "one-party state".

The former Prime Minister warned that the rise of the hard-left in Labour means that "the centre ground is in retreat" as he urged moderate politicians to "rise to the challenge".


He accused Jeremy Corbyn of taking the Labour Party "back to the sixties", warning that Mr Corbyn's views are "very, very remote from the way that the broad mass of people really think".

He said: "In the UK at the moment you’ve got a one party state. When you put it all together [taking into account that the Conservative leader wasn’t elected], there’s something seriously wrong.

Of course, one of the reasons the UK effectively has a one-party state is because Blair decided to continue Thatcher's policies rather than repudiate them, resulting in two parties with no real differences between them. But I suspect that's not what he was thinking of.

The good news is that the UK Labour Party elects its leaders now - and if recent leadership elections are anything to go by, Blair doesn't have a hope in hell of winning. If he's returning to politics, he'll have to build his own party, rather than cuckooing his way into UK Labour as he did before.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

A failure of privatisation

The Chief Inspector of Prisons' report into the Serco-run Mt Eden Correctional Facility has been released, and as expected it is damning, finding that there were weekly "fight clubs", freely-available contraband (supplied by Serco's guards, of course), and that inamtes wer eunsupervised while Serco's guards goofed off. Despite this, the government says it will not end prison privatisation - which is odd, because it also destroys the entire argument in favour of it:

The report, which was delayed after a legal challenge by Serco, also slammed the Corrections Department for its failure to detect the incidents through its official monitors.

It described a "difficult" relationship between Corrections monitors and Serco, in which the company often "pushed back" at criticism until the monitors effectively gave up.

Serco's "push back" over issues such as graffiti in cells, homebrew, and disorderly behaviour ended up distracting monitors from core problems at the prison, the report said.

In case anyone's forgotten, National's argument for private prisons was that they would be more efficient because contracts allowed for better monitoring of performance than simply running them through the public service. Instead, what actually happens is that private providers simply refuse to abide by those portions of the contract, and fight tooth and nail against them, while of course demanding an inflated price for this "better monitoring". And the net result is that we pay more for worse services than we would get if the government simply delivered them itself.

A sensible government committed to evidence-based policy would acknowledge this and give up on privatisation, because it simply doesn't work. If it is more profitable to cheat than deliver the service, then that is what providers will do (as even a casual glance at Serco's behaviour overseas would have shown). If National doesn't do this, then we can only conclude that its support for privatisation is dishonest, and aimed at channelling public money to donors and cronies rather than giving us better government.

The power of protest

Think protesting doesn't matter, that your voice doesn't count, that you can't make a difference? Think again. In Poland, women have just forced the government to back away from a Catholic-inspired abortion ban, after tens of thousands of them turned out in the streets:

A controversial proposal to ban abortion in Poland appears to have collapsed after senior politicians from the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) backed away from it after a parliamentary committee urged MPs to vote it down following mass protests.

The justice and human rights committee, which reviews proposed legislation, recommended that parliament reject the bill following a wave of protests earlier in the week that appear to have caught the rightwing government off guard.

In a humiliating climbdown, PiS members who had referred the legislation to the committee less than two weeks ago threw it out.

The Liberal MP and former prime minister Ewa Kopacz told reporters the PiS had “backtracked because it was scared by all the women who hit the streets in protest”.

Which is good news, and a positive sign in Poland's politics (which is becoming increasingly nationalist and bigoted). But it also shows the power of protest. Speaking up does make a difference - all you need is enough friends joining you.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

New Kiwi blog

Kiwi Firewalker - who has recently been blogging at KiwiPolitico and now has their own platform.

Why you can't trust American companies

Why can't you trust American companies? Because they'll gleefully everyone's email for the NSA:

Yahoo Inc last year secretly built a custom software program to search all of its customers' incoming emails for specific information provided by U.S. intelligence officials, according to people familiar with the matter.

The company complied with a classified U.S. government demand, scanning hundreds of millions of Yahoo Mail accounts at the behest of the National Security Agency or FBI, said three former employees and a fourth person apprised of the events.

Some surveillance experts said this represents the first case to surface of a U.S. Internet company agreeing to an intelligence agency's request by searching all arriving messages, as opposed to examining stored messages or scanning a small number of accounts in real time.

This goes well beyond warrants for particular accounts, and into being a tool of the US surveillance state. Its not acceptable, and it treats its customers with contempt.

Meanwhile, if you're an Xtra customer, your privacy might also have been invaded, thanks to Xtra's decision to outsource its email to Yahoo:
Spark is checking with partner Yahoo whether Spark's New Zealand customers may have had their emails snooped on by United States security agencies.


Spark outsourced about 500,000 Xtra email accounts to Yahoo in 2007 but it is not clear whether they were among the accounts scanned on behalf of US security services.

Hopefully the Privacy Commissioner is looking into this as well. But its a perfect example of the dangers of outsourcing, and the lesson is clear: don't trust America, and don't outsource to American companies.

Meanwhile, my blog email is held with Yahoo - though as its I'd already assumed it was being read by GCHQ anyway (because they read everything going into or out of the UK). If you want to actually communicate with me securely, then you can either use my PGP key, or alternatively you can contact me using ProtonMail.

Climate change: More empty promises

New Zealand has officially ratified the Paris Agreement on climate change. Good, I guess - but its worth noting that the non-binding target that we have set ourselves under the agreement is extraordinarily weak, even by New Zealand standards. We're promising a mere 30% cut on 2005 levels by 2030 (or an 11% cut in honest numbers), which is dwarfed by the EU's honest 40%. We're even being beaten by Brazil!

And then of course there's why we ratified. Not because we have any real commitment - New Zealand had planned to ratify as late as possible. Instead, its so we can pursue our policy of special pleading and dishonest accounting:

Bennett said the European Union was initially not expected to ratify until next year, but had now moved to do so within the next week.

The EU's entry would push it over the 55 per cent of emissions required.

As a result New Zealand moved its own date forward from November when it had aimed to ratify in time for the next major climate change summit in Marrakesh.

"That means we are part of the first tranche. It is as much symbolic as anything else, to be part of that first tranche. But there have been noises that the '55-club' may be able to sit in different committees that are deciding accounting processes round forestry and international trading and that sort of thing."

"Forestry and international trading and that sort of thing" being the vital accounting tricks by which the government plans to "meet" its target. Rather than actually cutting emissions...

While I'm pleased that New Zealand has ratified, under the current government we're merely making empty promises we have no intention of keeping. You - and your children - deserve better than that from our government.

Monday, October 03, 2016

For pre-election donation disclosure

The weekend's Sunday Star Times had an excellent article arguing for pre-election disclosure of local body donations:

Like every candidate in every local body race – from the mayoral contest in Auckland where candidates are spending hundreds of thousands apiece, down to small council seats where some candidates reckon $200 is a stretch – Lester will be required to file, within 55 days of the October 8 election day, details of what he's spent on his campaign, how much he raised from donations, and who gave him the cash (except for donations under $1500, which can remain anonymous).

It's the kind of data dump that could be very revealing. Which mayoral candidate might have taken a huge sum from which property developer? Which local councillor may have been supported by a company that could benefit from a change to a zoning rule? Which single-issue lobby group might benefit if a council is stacked with their supporters?

The problem, though, is that even if you have a suspicious mind about the possible connections between donations and future decisions of the officials, by the time you see the electoral returns, it'll be too late to do anything. A good two months will have already passed since you voted.

And the answer is obvious: candidates know who's donated to them, so force them to tell us before we vote. Its a good idea, it would improve transparency and integrity in our democracy, and the candidates seem to support it. So why won't politicians do it?

The answer to that is also obvious: because if local body candidates have to disclose their dirty money before an election, then the public would expect parliamentary candidates and parties to do the same. And more transparent election funding is clearly not something the current government (which has reuced transparency while raking in more money than any party in history) is very keen on at all.

There are a few candidates - for example Hutt City's Mark Leicester - who are doing it anyway. It would be nice to see clean political parties doing this as well to create pressure for change.

Targets for everything but poverty II

And in a perfect illustration of the government's priorities, on the very day John Key refused to commit to a target for child poverty, his government has announced one for wild kiwi numbers:

A strategy to reverse the decline in kiwi numbers has been announced today by Conservation Minister Maggie Barry.

Kiwi numbers currently fall by 2 per cent each year, but the Government wants to turn this into a 2 per cent annual gain, to swell numbers to more than 100,000 by 2030.

Wild kiwi numbers sit just below 70,000, with the annual decline caused mainly by predation from stoats and dogs.

Wild kiwi are important. But wouldn't it be nice if John Key (net worth: over $50 million) cared about poor kids as much as he did about them?

Targets for everything but poverty

The National government loves targets. It has targets for hospital waiting times, for water quality, for renewable energy. One of its core programmes is "Better Public Services", which sets targets for crime, education, employment, and the cost of dealing with government. It even has targets for climate change and making New Zealand predator-free. It does this, because it thinks targets are a good way of focusing the government's mind on achieving important policy goals and that it is important for the public to be able to see whether the government is succeeding or failing.

So what are we to think then of John Key's refusal to set a target on child poverty?

Cut the 150,000 children living in poverty by 10 per cent by the end of next year?

It's a target the new Children's Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft wants the Government to back but Prime Minister John Key won't put that number on it.

Key told RNZ on Monday that he wasn't "rejecting" Becroft - someone the Prime Minister says is doing a good job and was appointed for his skill set - but disputes that a number and a target can be put on child poverty.

"We're very focused on reducing that number. We don't have one agreed measure...let's accept (Becroft's) measure then my point would simply be that I can't tell you today exactly what it would take to get a five or 10 per cent reduction," Key said.

"My point is's difficult to just have one measure."

No-one is pretending that a single measure tells the whole story here. At the same time, picking a measure - such as the material deprivation index, or the number of children living in households with an after housing costs equivalised income less than 60% or 80% of the median - and working to improve it would unquestionably do a world of good. And from a government which has targets for absolutely everything else and uses them as a core policy tool, the refusal to use that tool for child poverty sends a very clear message that it is simply not a priority to them. That they just don't give a shit. That John Key does not care how many children go cold and hungry in this country. And that is simply disgusting and cowardly.