Wednesday, November 30, 2016

This is what happens if you don't vet your list

Mt Roskill is having a by-election on saturday, and while Labour's Michael Wood is expected to win, he's not a certainty. But the National candidate Parmjeet Parmar is already in Parliament as a list MP, so if they win, the next person on the list gets elected. Who is that? Misa Fia Turner, who seems to be a crazy bigot:

Little has been written about Turner. She was the subject of a minor scandal in 2014 when it was alleged she had not earned the Samoan chief title 'Misa'.

Also in 2014, she told the Catholic website CathNews that gay marriage is "really against our moral values".


Turner also seems to be a fan of United States president-elect Donald Trump, who she refers to as "anointed [by God] for an assignment".

She has also posted about a young Samoan woman who claimed to suffer from stigmata, writing: "If God can use a donkey, then He can use anyone as He pleases."

Hating gay people and believing in stigmata and politicians being anointed by god is like something out of the middle ages. But I guess that's what you get if you don't vet your list candidates properly: crazy people.

Member's Day

Today is a member's day, unless the government bumps it for urgency. Assuming that doesn't happen, we'll see the third reading of Chris Bishop's Financial Assistance for Live Organ Donors Bill, followed by the first readings of Andrew Little's Our Work Our Future Bill and Metiria Turei's Residential Tenancies (Safe and Secure Rentals) Amendment Bill. If the House moves quickly, it might make a start on David Bennett's Private International Law (Choice of Law in Tort) Bill, but I think that's unlikely. There should be a ballot for two bills tomorrow.

A barrage of hate

Since the US election there have been a distressing series of reports of hate crimes against immigrants, African-Americans, and Muslims from the US. Now, a report from the Southern Poverty Law Center has explicitly linked this to Donald Trump's election:

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has counted 867 hate incidents in the 10 days after the US election, a report released Tuesday found, a phenomenon it partly blamed on the rhetoric of Donald Trump.

The advocacy group collected reports of incidents from media outlets and its own #ReportHate page. SPLC said it was not able to confirm all reports but believed the number of actual incidents was far higher, as according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics most hate crimes go unreported.


According to the report’s findings, anti-black and anti-immigrant incidents were the most commonly reported, with K-12 settings and colleges the most common venues.

Nearly a third of the incidents (289 of them) were motivated by anti-immigrant sentiment, the report said. Assailants often invoked Trump’s promise to build a wall in their attacks and called for the victims to be deported. For instance, in Redding, California, a student brought “deportation letters” to school and recorded himself handing them out to Latino students. In Royal Oak, Michigan, students chanted “build the wall” in a school cafeteria the day after the election.

SPLC released a separate report on Tuesday detailing the impact of the election on schools.

Anti-black incidents were the second-most common, making up 23%, or 180, of the total. References to lynching were frequent, and pictures of nooses were used for intimidation. For instance, a black doll was found hanging from a noose in an elevator at New York’s Canisius College.

In a school in Orlando, students wrote “Yall Black ppl better start picking yall slave numbers. KKK. 4Lyfe.” followed by the line “Go Trump. 2016”.

This is what happens if you run a campaign based on hate (see also: Brexit). The problem, as Jim Bolger recognised, is that you have to govern the country in the morning. No matter how much Trump's racist supporters want it, non-white people aren't going to just suddenly disappear from the US, and if they try and make that happen, its going to lead to civil disorder. But the scary thing is that Trump might be quite happy for that to happen, provided his name is on the desk.

Beneficial ownership registers expose crime

Why do we need a public register of the beneficial ownership of companies and trusts? Just look at what the UK one has exposed so far:

On top of these data validation issues, we found a number of signs of non-compliance with the law. For example, 9,800 companies listed their beneficial owner as a foreign company. Now this is possible if the foreign company was listed on one of the stock exchanges deemed equivalent to the UK system (e.g. the US, EU and Japanese exchanges). However, we found almost 3,000 companies with tax haven addresses listed as beneficial owners. This is not allowed under the rules. We’ll be handing this list of companies over to Companies House to investigate further.


Initial findings suggest 19 senior politicians (known as politically exposed persons), 76 people from the U.S. sanctions list and 267 disqualified directors were listed as beneficial owners.

However, these matches were based on name and month and year of birth. This means that it’s hard to be certain that the matches are good ones. Any leads coming out of the new register will have to be followed up with more traditional investigative digging.

So that's 3,000 corporate and potentially 350 individual criminals right there. Plus, they can use the data to trace complicated the corporate ownership structures designed to cheat taxes and steal from the public as well.

These seem like excellent reasons to have a public register in New Zealand. So why doesn't our government implement one? Are they on our side, or the side of the criminals and tax cheats?


Last year, driven by panic around cyber-harassment, the government passed the Harmful Digital Communications Act. Among other things, the Act creates an offence of "causing harm by posting digital communication", punishable by up to two years imprisonment and/or a fine of $50,000. When it was going through Parliament, TechLiberty pointed out that the offence was so poorly defined that it would capture people exposing political corruption by politicians. Now, in the first defended case under the HDCA, a judge has supported that interpretation.

The critical questions are the definitions of "harm" and "serious emotional distress", which are not defined elsewhere. The judge interpreted them like this:

"[A]nguish, anxiety or feelings of insecurity" (the prospect of damage to your political career and even imprisonment) are exactly the intent and expected effect of such a post. There's no public good defence, so the prima facie result is that exposing political malfeasance is a crime in New Zealand. You might hope that a judge would interpret the Act through the lens of the BORA to protect such speech, but that's a risky proposition. As for exposing the identity of a rapist or serial harasser online, you're pretty much fucked.

(In the particular case - a nasty case of someone posting intimate photos of their ex online in an effort to bully and control them - the charge was dismissed as the prosecution failed to provide evidence that such harm was actually inflicted. But the threshold has been set).

I doubt that this was National's intention. But its the law they passed. Now the problem is clear, they need to fix it, and quickly. Otherwise, they invite the conclusion that criminalising the exposure of corrupt politicians is something they're perfectly comfortable with.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

More torture of autistic kids

Another school has been caught torturing autistic children:

Claims that staff at a Dunedin special needs school hit, sat on and force-fed children as young as five have led to three investigations - by police, an independent investigator and the Ministry of Education.


RNZ has been told there were 11 sworn affadavits from teachers and teacher aides about children being abused - including being hit, force-fed fruit, and having their wrists bent backward.

Another source said teaching staff had sat on children, pinched their nail cuticles, and tackled them to the ground.

Nearly all the eight or nine pupils of at the Sara Cohen junior class, aged between 5 and 10 and mostly with autism, are non-verbal.

Some were put in a seclusion room regularly, which appears to have been used for longer than two years.

This is just fucking wrong. The use of solitary confinement on adults has been found to be torture; its use on children is prohibited. The idea that a school, which is supposed to protect children, is intstead tortring them for its own convenience is simply monstrous. As for what we should do about it, we have a Crimes of Torture Act, and the police should use it.

More police intimidation

What is it with the police interfering in politics? First there was their attempts to intimidate people protesting against US ship visits, then their outright abuse of power to undermine the push to legalise death with dignity. The anti-democratic mindset is so ingrained that they're now attempting to intimidate people protesting on boring local government issues:

A Horowhenua woman planning to attend a protest in Levin next week has complained to the police watchdog about what she says was an intimidating phone call from an officer.

The protest, dubbed Don't Rumble Our Ross, is being organised against a push to strip the Horowhenua District Council deputy mayor of his title.


Bernadette Casey indicated on the protest's Facebook page that she was planning to attend in support of Mr Ross, but was shocked to receive a phone call from police asking about it on Monday morning.

"I get a phone call from the police asking me if I was the organiser, asking if I knew the organiser of the protest - I don't know who organised it - and then asking if I was going to it. I said to the constable who rang me I didn't think it was any of his business."

This is intrusive and intimidating. People should not be treated like criminals simply because they want their voice to be heard. The police need to be reminded that we have freedom of speech and assembly in this country, and that their job is to facilitate the exercise of those rights, not to try and shut them down.

As for the response, it was exactly the right one. You don't have to tell the police anything in this country, and you shouldn't.

Monday, November 28, 2016

This'll be fun

It turns out that the Scottish Parliament may have the legal power to block Brexit:

Not many people are familiar with section 2 of the Scotland Act of 2016, but it could give First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and her government in Edinburgh the legal power to block the UK from triggering Article 50. Conservative MP Anna Soubry - in a wonderfully honest interview in The Guardian yesterday - mentioned it in passing:

The government is appealing against the high court ruling, but at the supreme court hearing, the Scottish government will argue that the consent of Holyrood is also required to trigger article 50. Soubry thinks it has a strong case. “Yes. I’m reliably informed that the Scotland Act 2016 section 2 says that you cannot interfere with devolved Scottish matters, they must be determined by the Scottish parliament.”

The application of EU law in Scotland is a devolved matter. Which means the consent of the Scottish Parliament is required if Westminster wants to remove it (just as the consent of the NZ Parliament used to be required if the UK Parliament legislated something which affected us).

Of course, the deal here is obvious: Holyrood will consent to Brexit if Westminster consents to Scoxit. And the two countries can then happily go their separate ways. Sadly, I expect the "English nationalists" (actually English supremacists) who backed Brexit won't be happy with that though...

Climate change: More bad news

Currently we're seeing unprecedented weather in the arctic, with air temperatures 20 degrees above normal delaying the usual winter ice formation. That's bad, but the real problem is that this could push us over some tipping points in the global climate:

Arctic scientists have warned that the increasingly rapid melting of the ice cap risks triggering 19 “tipping points” in the region that could have catastrophic consequences around the globe.

The Arctic Resilience Report found that the effects of Arctic warming could be felt as far away as the Indian Ocean, in a stark warning that changes in the region could cause uncontrollable climate change at a global level.

Temperatures in the Arctic are currently about 20C above what would be expected for the time of year, which scientists describe as “off the charts”. Sea ice is at the lowest extent ever recorded for the time of year.

“The warning signals are getting louder,” said Marcus Carson of the Stockholm Environment Institute and one of the lead authors of the report. “[These developments] also make the potential for triggering [tipping points] and feedback loops much larger.”


In the Arctic, the tipping points identified in the new report, published on Friday, include: growth in vegetation on tundra, which replaces reflective snow and ice with darker vegetation, thus absorbing more heat; higher releases of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from the tundra as it warms; shifts in snow distribution that warm the ocean, resulting in altered climate patterns as far away as Asia, where the monsoon could be effected; and the collapse of some key Arctic fisheries, with knock-on effects on ocean ecosystems around the globe.

All of which means either faster climate change or worse consequences for us or both.

This is exactly why we need organisations like NASA's Earth Sciences Division (which President-elect Trump wants to shut down): to tell us what the hell we are doing to our planet and warn us of the consequences of our actions. But I guess that's precisely why Trump and the right want to kill it off: because a few people profit by fucking up the climate for the rest of us, and they don't want us to be able to measure the true cost of their vandalism.

Limiting electronic border searches

Last night the government introduced a new Customs and Excise Bill to Parliament. The bill would replace the Customs and Excise Act 1996 and one of the features is that it finally imposes some limits on Customs' unreasonable and invasive practice of electronic border searches.

The new provisions are in s207 of the bill. The short version is that Customs will only be able to search your electronic devices if they have reasonable cause to suspect "relevant offending" - defined strictly in terms of offences under the Act or the import or export of prohibited goods. And they won't be able to copy anything unless they have reasonable cause to suspect that evidence of that offending will be present. The search threshold is subject to some uncertainty as the new bill shifts prohibited goods largely to an Order In Council system, meaning we don't know exactly what is covered. But the bill includes objectionable publications and "goods that are for a dishonest purpose" (which ends up meaning a crime involving dishonesty in terms of the Crimes Act 1961). The upshot: unless the government passes some very dubious Orders In Council, Customs will not be able to abuse border searches to help police bypass the need for search warrants, they will not be able to abuse them to collect information for the SIS, and they will not be allowed to abuse them to search for pirated TV (which is the primary reason for such searches at present). They'll also be required to report annually on these searches - though not on the numbers of full vs initial searches, and not on what fraction of them actually result in finding anything.

The downside: Customs will be able to demand your password or that you assist them in unlocking any device. So, change your passwords before and after travel (better yet: don't travel with any devices or data other than "if you can read this you are a spying twatcock". Buy a burner at the other end, and get your data encrypted over the cloud).

On paper, this is still a huge advance. The problem is practice. To point out the obvious, Customs is an organisation which operates in near-total secrecy, with an entrenched culture of doing "favours" for police and foreign agencies. Do we really think the organisation which unlawfully harasses cyberactivists and harassed Kim Dotcom and his friends to earn "brownie points" with the FBI is going to change? Yeah, right. Unless this law is coupled with a purge of senior management to change the current institutional culture, I predict we will have a large number of unlawful searches, resulting in abuse of people's privacy and significant liability for the government.

The bigger problem is necessity. The new thresholds largely mirror the requirements for search warrants, sans judicial oversight. So if there's actual reasonable cause (rather than trawling and harassment), Customs could just get one of those. There's perhaps a timeliness argument, but I don't think its beyond Customs' abilities to get a proper warrant within 24 hours if they need to. Like the NZCCL, I think the intrusiveness of these searches requires proper oversight, not the suspicions of some jumped-up security thug at the border. If Customs wants to look at our devices, they should do what the police do and get a warrant for it.

New Fisk

Tougher tactics would have ended Syrian war, claims the country's top intelligence general

"A stupid idea"

That's what John Key thinks of equality around the Cabinet table:

Prime Minister John Key says the idea of promising a gender-balanced Cabinet is "stupid" because appointments are made on talent, not gender.

Speaking on The Nation on Saturday, Key dismissed the call made by Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Jackie Blue, who would like Key to follow in the footsteps of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who last year unveiled a Cabinet which was half female.


But Key told Nation host Lisa Owen "it would be stupid" to promise a gender-balanced Cabinet.

And then he trotted out the usual excuse that Cabinet appointments are made on "merit". Yeah, right. I think Murray McCully, Tim Groser, and Sam Lotu-Iiga are proof of the absurdity of that idea. But even if we accept it, it just pushes the question back another level, from "why doesn't National select women as Cabinet Ministers" to "why doesn't National select women as candidates / MPs?" And I think we all know the answer to that question...

Friday, November 25, 2016

New Fisk

America once turned its back on Anne Frank, just as Donald Trump rejects Muslim refugees today

Utterly predictable

One of the first things National did after being elected was implement targets for A&E waiting times. Seven years later, and it turns out that hospitals have been faking their waiting-time data:

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman has ordered an investigation into alleged "manipulation" of data at district health boards to comply with the six-hour emergency department target.

The first study on this since the six-hour target was introduced in 2009 was presented at a Queenstown conference today by Dr Peter Jones, an emergency medicine specialist and Auckland University researcher.

He said he had found evidence that the data had been manipulated to meet the target.

Opposition politicians have long suspected this, especially after widespread manipulation was uncovered in the UK to comply with its tighter, four-hour target. The UK's policy, unlike in New Zealand, came with incentives and penalties.

This is utterly predictable, and we've seen it everywhere such targets have been tried. When the incentives are strong enough, and its easier to fake data than meet the target, then that's exactly what institutions will do (see also: Serco). We're fortunate here that it doesn't seem to have negatively affected people's care, but that's all it is: good fortune. In reality, what this has done is shifted resources from elsewhere in the health sector to meeting National's targets - and who knows what else is being neglected as a result?

The key problem in the health system isn't slack doctors letting A&E patients suffer because they're on their tea-break - it is under-resourcing. Maybe we should fix that? But I forget: to National, having enough doctors and nurses to deal with actual demand (let alone letting them work sane hours rather than endangering patient safety with endless 14-hour days) is "waste". Better to have mickey mouse targets that everybody lies about instead.

Manifestly unjust

What does National's "three strikes" policy look like in practice? Seven year sentences for bottom-pinching:

A man who grabbed a prison officer on her bum has been sentenced to seven years in prison.

The length of the sentence for the offence involved - and the legislation that enforces it - has earned stern criticism from sentencing judge Kit Toogood.


"I have no option but to sentence you to the maximum term of imprisonment prescribed for the offence - seven years' imprisonment. I agree that is very harsh given that what you did was not the most serious assault of its type, but Parliament has determined that your history of violent offending requires a very stern response to protect the public from you and to act as a deterrent to you and others.

"It may seem very surprising that this consequence could be required by law for an offence of this kind, but that is the law and I have no option but to enforce it.

"Were it not for the requirement to sentence you to the maximum term of seven years, the need to denounce your conduct, hold you accountable and deter others and you from such offending, it would likely have resulted in a period of no more than 12 months' imprisonment."

Nobody likes a groper, but you don't need to be an apologist for indecent assault to recognise that this sentence is grossly disproportionate and manifestly unjust. Even allowing for parole - something the judge allowed because the legally required denial would have been utterly beyond the pale - this man will still serve over four times as much time as is justified by the offence (two years vs six months in practice, assuming parole in both cases). And the effect of that is not going to be to rehabilitate, or to deter, but to tell everyone that the system is unjust and that if you are caught you will not get a fair go from the courts. Which is a very dangerous message to send. After all, if you're going to get seven years regardless, you might as well earn it properly...

But hey, National got to grub votes from stupid vicious old people who approve of stabbing teenagers for tagging fences, so what do they care? And as always, it'll be other people paying the bill for their stupidity.

What does the monarchy stand for?

Over on the NZ Constitution site, Morgan Godfrey nails what the real "symbolism" of the monarchy is: inherited wealth and power:

I sometimes wonder why we can’t do the same with our head of state arrangements. Isn’t it odd that “the Queen in right of New Zealand” lives 18,000 kilometres away in a palace built from Jurassic limestone? Nothing says “modern New Zealand” like the monarch of a rain-soaked island off the north-western coast of the European mainland.

I suppose it’s obvious I’m a partisan for a local and elected head of state. Not just for practical reasons, or even symbolic ones, but simply out of honesty. New Zealand is not feudal Britain. I struggle to summon any affection for a person who makes £304.1 million per year for no other reason than her exalted bloodlines.

The politics of envy! I can hear the accusations crashing against my door. Maybe I’m a bitter hack, but given the argument for constitutional monarchy so often seems to amount to nothing more than “symbolism” and “special relationship” it seems appropriate to state just what the monarchy represents – inherited wealth and power.

The clash with New Zealand's democratic and egalitarian values is obvious. Most of us don't want to live in a country where wealth and power are inherited. For many Pakeha, that's exactly what our ancestors fled here to escape!

An inherited billionaire descended from mass-murdering tyrants is not an appropriate symbol for modern, democratic New Zealand. Its time we cut that constitutional link and declared a republic.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Climate change: Sticking his fingers in his ears

US President-elect Donald Trump has made it clear that he doesn't believe in climate change, claiming that it was "created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive" (I guess Arrhenius must have emigrated or something). And now he's planning to shut down NASA's climate change research as one of his first acts as President:

Donald Trump is poised to eliminate all climate change research conducted by Nasa as part of a crackdown on “politicized science”, his senior adviser on issues relating to the space agency has said.

Nasa’s Earth science division is set to be stripped of funding in favor of exploration of deep space, with the president-elect having set a goal during the campaign to explore the entire solar system by the end of the century.

This would mean the elimination of Nasa’s world-renowned research into temperature, ice, clouds and other climate phenomena. Nasa’s network of satellites provide a wealth of information on climate change, with the Earth science division’s budget set to grow to $2bn next year. By comparison, space exploration has been scaled back somewhat, with a proposed budget of $2.8bn in 2017.

Bob Walker, a senior Trump campaign adviser, said there was no need for Nasa to do what he has previously described as “politically correct environmental monitoring”.

Of course, that environmental monitoring is one of NASA's most successful programmes, and it tells us a great deal about what we are doing to our planet. Shutting it down is like sticking your fingers in your ears so you can't hear the fire alarms. But whether you can hear them or not, the house is still burning, and its still going to kill you (or, in this case, your kids and grandkids).

This is shortsighted and stupid. Sadly, that's climate change denial in a nutshell.

A victory for women

Last year, the government tried to get equal pay off the political agenda by establishing a Joint Working Group on Pay Equity. Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way - in June it reported back, recommending changes to the Employment Relations and Equal Pay Acts which would make it far easier to lodge discrimination claims, while requiring employers to use comparator professions which were not themselves undervalued due to systematic discrimination. After sittign on them for six months, the government has finally released its response, (mostly) accepting the recommendations:

In a major boost in the fight for pay equity women will be able to file claims with employers and not have to go through the courts.

The move has been hailed by the Public Service Association as enabling New Zealand to "once again claim to be a leader in gender equality".

The changes will mean employees who believe they are underpaid because they do work in fields dominated by women will be able to approach their employer to raise a pay equity claim.

The big difference is in the choice of comparators, the profession which a profession is to be compared to when determining whether women are receiving the legally required equal pay for work of equal value. The Joint Working Group recommended that any appropriate, non-undervalued comparator could be used. The government wants to force women to use comparators in their own business, then industry, then sector, which increases the chance that the comparator itself will be undervalued. There's the fallback of the courts, but we've already seen how difficult that is in practice. OTOH, by bringing the process within the Employment Relations Act, women can strike over it, picket over it, and trash their employer's reputation over it. And I think the latter especially is going to be a powerful bargaining chip in the underpaid service sector. In the modern era, no sane business wants to be publicly labelled as discriminating against women, and one campaign can permanently poison a brand with both customers and potential employees.

While its not everything that was hoped for, this still looks like a major step forward. The sooner it is implemented, the better.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

For working less

The Independent today has an interesting piece about Sweden and its culture of working less. Opening by pointing out that the Swedes regard working long hours as a vice rather than a virtue, it goes on:

Swedish culture has taken a step further lately, by making moves towards a six-hour working day. In many of the organisations and companies that have made the change, they’ve noticed that their staff are happier, more productive and more creative, which proves the point that if the employees feel better, they’ll actually do better work. It’s a win-win situation.

Burned-out people cost companies and society time and money. They need healthcare, time off work, replacements have to be recruited and trained. Rested, enthusiastic staff members feel positive about their workplaces and can be passionate about their jobs.

In Sweden, they've figured out that you work to live, not the other way round. And by normalising a healthy attitude to work-life balance, rather than fetishising GDP and work for work's sake, they end up healthier and happier. Which surely is the point. The economy is supposed to work for us, not the other way round.

Justice for Vilikesa Soko

In August 2014, Fijian police arrested Vilikesa Soko in connection with a robbery. They then beat and raped him to death. Yesterday, eight police officers and a solider were sentenced to between seven and nine years jail for that crime:

Eight police officers and a military officer convicted of rape, sexual assault and perverting the course of justice in Fiji have been given custodial sentences by the Lautoka High Court.

The nine men attacked two prisoners, one of whom, Vilikesa Soko, died of his injuries while in custody in Lautoka Hospital in August 2014.

But note what they weren't sentenced for: murder. Despite beating and raping him so badly that he died, charges of manslaughter were inexplicibly dropped. And it will be interesting to see whether these criminals will serve their sentences, or be pardoned by the regime (the solider is a former bodyguard to Frank Bainimarama).

Vilikesa Soko's death wasn't political. Fiji's police routinely beat and torture suspects, with the result that serious charges are frequently dropped due to the "confessions" being inadmissible. Hopefully these convictions will help change that pattern.

A gap in our defence policy

Last week, under cover of a major earthquake, the government announced it was spending $20 billion on new toys for the defence force. New frigates, new ASW aircraft for finding submarines (rather than lost fishermen), cyber-woo - all of it wasted money stolen from the mouths of the poor. And in the Herald today, Brian Rudman points out the obvious: that all of this spending mis aimed at the wrong target:

What is missing is a chapter, or even a page in either the White Paper or the shopping list, outlining plans for dealing with our most immediate and potentially deadly threat.

The vast majority of us were born after the deadly Napier earthquake. But three major shakes in the South Island in the last six years, have highlighted how the enemy we are most likely to have to front is the one within. "Bishop" Tamaki paints him as a scary homophobic Old Testament God. Science tells us we're at the mercy of tectonic plates rubbing against one another.

It's not an enemy we can fight. But it would be nice to think that some of the $20 billion Defence spend-up over the next 15 years, was being earmarked for disaster rescue, relief and reconstruction.

From NZDF's procurement plans, you'd think they were planning to refight the Battle of the Atlantic to protect Mother Britain, or a major tank battle on the North German plain against the forces of the (long dead) Soviet Union. Meanwhile, what actually threatens us is... earthquakes. They've shown how useful they can be in such situations (again, the Canterbury, basicly a Cook Strait ferry painted battleship grey, is our most useful defence asset). It would be nice if their future spending plans were focused on what they actually do and improving their capabilities towards actual threats.

Here's a suggestion: if the government is so concerned about the cost of 24/7 earthquake and tsunami warning, maybe they should take the money from the defence budget? Spending it that way would be far more effective in protecting our lives than buying toys for fantasy wars we will (and should) never fight.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

A harmful subsidy

Our government subsidises bad employers by giving them easy access to cheap migrant labour, allowing them to escape the market requirement to pay more to attract workers. But this isn't just bad for the workers effectively replaced in this way - its also terrible for the economy in the long term, because it discourages investment:

While New Zealand's light labour market regulation assists people to move from one job to another and helps keep unemployment low, this regulatory environment is also discouraging firms from investing in developing their existing and future workers, [a Treasury] report suggests.

"Further work is required to understand how regulatory flexibility impacts New Zealand's ability to sustain and build both human and social capital, particularly as the nature of work continues to evolve.

"A key part of this response is encouraging employers to take responsibility for workforce planning rather than relying on migrant labour alone," the report says. "This approach to immigration provides employment opportunities for domestic workers, with higher wages or improved working conditions where appropriate, and incentivises greater capital intensity, innovation and productivity."

Basicly, employers don't need to invest in training people, or in productivity-improving capital investment, because they can just hire someone from overseas. Which looks great in the short-term, but if allowed to continue means you end up with a low-skill, low-wage economy with out-of-date business infrastructure. You know, sortof like the one we've had since 1990 when National started this whole low wages kick.

If we want to end this negative cycle, we need to raise wages and make it harder to just import workers. That's difficult to do in a country which values diversity and freedom of movement like we do, but requiring skill shortages to be genuine and cracking down on industries, like farming, which use immigrants because kiwis won't tolerate their poor working conditions would seem to be a good start.

...with a stake through its heart

US President-Elect Donald Trump has announced that he will unsign the TPPA on his first day in office:

US President-elect Donald Trump has released a video laying out actions he'll take on his first day in office on January 20, including withdrawing the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.

Good riddance. The TPP was a shit deal which gained us nothing. And now its dead and buried with a stake through its heart, maybe we can do something better - something without the odious subsidies and anti-democratic clauses that the US demanded, for example.

Meanwhile over on Pundit, Andrew Geddis looks at the legality of John Key's plan to try and bring the existing law into force without the USA. His assessment? It would be illegal. When Parliament said "this only comes into force when the TPPA does", it meant it. So if Key wants to try that, he'll either have to fight it in the courts, or convince Parliament to amend the bill to allow it to be brought into force in other circumstances - which in turn means convincing us that a regulatory subsidies for the US copyright mafia and Big Pharma are worth it when we're getting absolutely nothing in return.

An abuse of suppression

The Herald reports that National MP Chester Borrows is to stand trial for allegedly running over a protestor's foot. Which seems fair enough - people in cars have a duty to be careful using them, and it seems like there's at least a case to answer. But what's really surprising is this:

Borrows, who is also Parliament's deputy Speaker, had pleaded not guilty.

He appeared in the Whanganui District Court last month when the judge, on his own motion, suppressed all evidence and argument in relation to the charge.

Which invites the obvious question: what's the reason for this? Borrows isn't a minor, there's no significant privacy interest, the events have been widely reported on. Instead, it simply looks like the judge is trying to spare someone powerful, a former Minister for the Courts, from additional public embarrassment. But that's not what the court's suppression powers are for, and their abuse in this fashion undermines the social licence for suppression throughout the entire justice system.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Places to go, people to be

Nothing from me today - I'm (hopefully) off to Auckland to be other people at New Zealand's largest larp convention. Normal bloggage will resume on Tuesday.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

"Controlling their own borders"

When UKanians voted for Brexit, a lot of them did it so the UK could "control its own borders". None of them seemed to have anticipated that Europe might want to do the same, to them. And now, thanks to Brexit, UKanians will have to pay a travel tax and apply for admission at the EU border:

British people will no longer be able to travel freely to Europe without paying a "travel tax" and being forced to fill out a form under plans unveiled by Brussels.

The US-style visa waiver scheme is one of the first concrete signs UK citizens will not be permitted the privileges they once had to move across European borders unhindered.

The EU Commission said the system of security checks is necessary to prevent terrorist entering the Schengen open-borders area, but UK Brexit critics warned it is further evidence of the hidden cost of quitting the Union.

The demise of borders and border controls has been one of the greatest benefits of Europe (its also one of the benefits of NZ's arrangements with Australia). But its not something the UK will get to keep if it leaves. And now no doubt those Brexit voters will get upset at being treated like non-members by the club they voted to leave...

And Aucklanders wonder why people hate them...

Why do people in the rest of New Zealand hate Aucklanders? Maybe we should ask Phil Goff:

Auckland's transport infrastructure funding nightmare will long-term eclipse even the costs of the Kaikoura earthquake, the city's mayor said.

During a live chat on Wednesday, Phil Goff said Auckland shouldn't take a back seat on Government spending despite Kaikoura's 7.8 quake which has caused devastating damage including closing State Highway 1.


But Goff cited figures to argue Auckland's case, saying the city loses up to $3 billion per year in lost productivity from underdeveloped transport infrastructure.

"That's more in congestion in one year than the entire Kaikoura [earthquake] cost. Can we afford to say 'no, we're looking at somewhere else now ignoring Auckland?'"

In other words, the convenience of Aucklanders during their morning commute trumps the basic needs of people elsewhere in the country.

You can argue that trucking stuff from Auckland to Christchurch via the Picton Ferry isn't the greatest of ideas. But we're talking here about the basics: sewage, power, internet and road connectivity. And given the choice between that or saving rich pricks on the North Shore thirty seconds on their daily commute, the choice should be obvious to anyone with any sense of proportion.

(Sounds like time for another round of "Fuck Phil Goff"...)


One of the hallmarks of the Soviet regime (continued under Putin, of course) was their political use of psychiatry to detain their critics as "mentally ill". Sadly, its already taking off in Trump's America:

A college professor who criticised online Donald Trump and his plans for America, said he was arrested and detained after campus police claimed he was a threat.

Kevin Allred, who teaches Women’s and Gender Studies at Rutgers University, New Jersey, said officers detained him after deciding his comments on the campus, and on Twitter, were dangerous. He said he was forced to undergo a psychiatric evaluation before before being released.


In one of his tweets he referred to a comment he made about the 2nd Amendment, the addition to the US constitution which gun rights activists says gives them the right to bear arms.

His actual "crime"? He talked about burning the American flag - constitutionally protected free speech - and asked if conservatives would care about the 2nd Amendment so much of guns killed more white people. This isn't "threatening" by any stretch of the imagination. But its clearly now politically unacceptable, and US police can see which way the wind is blowing.

If you're a liberal American, you should get out while you still can.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

UK Tories are soft on the death penalty

Opposition to the death penalty has been a longstanding plank of UK foreign policy. But under the Conservative government, they seem to be going soft on it. First, they told the Foreign Office to stop talking about it. Now, they're openly advocating letting Turkey walk away from its international commitments not to murder people:

Boris Johnson stunned his EU foreign minister counterparts this afternoon by calling on the bloc to tone down its opposition to Turkey reintroducing the death penalty, it has been reported.

Diplomats present at the foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels said that Mr Johnson had warned against pushing Turkey “into a corner” over the issue.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan backed the return of the death penalty this summer after he purged over 100,000 potential political opponents from the country’s civil service and arrested opposition political parties.

The problem is that practicising state murder is now a fundamental barrier to EU membership - so if Turkey reinstates executions (and abrogates its commitments under both the ECHR and the second optional protocol to the ICCPR in the process), it can never join. Which might get in the way of arms sales or something. And OTOH, why the hell is the UK trying to dictate EU membership decisions anyway? After all, they're leaving; they shouldn't be allowed to fuck things up for everybody on the way out.

Meanwhile, you really have to wonder: if the UK is soft on executions internationally, do they want to reintroduce them at home? Again, its banned by their participation in the EU and ECHR - but Teresa May wants to get rid of both of those things in the name of "Britishness" (because human rights apparently aren't British - the Magna Carta and Thomas Paine aside). So, does Brexit mean British executions?

Justice for the Pacific solution?

For over a decade the Australian government has kidnapped refugees and rendered them to Pacific concentration camps to be mentally tortured in an effort to deter others. This use of torture as a tool of policy is a crime against humanity. And now, a group of human rights lawyers have petitioned the International Criminal Court to prosecute it:

Every Australian prime minister from John Howard onwards should be investigated for crimes against humanity in relation to the indefinite detention of asylum seekers, according to a group of international lawyers.

The group of seven British, American and Australian lawyers, which includes high-profile barrister and refugee advocate Julian Burnside, has petitioned the International Criminal Court to investigate the treatment of asylum seekers by successive governments, beginning with John Howard's.

A 52-page communique names Mr Howard, Malcolm Turnbull, Tony Abbott, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, claiming they have knowingly breached the Rome Statute of the court.

"Those breaches involve the indefinite detention of asylum seekers who have committed no offence and regardless of their age or health or sex," the communique states. "The breaches also include forcible removal of asylum seekers to Pacific Island countries where they are detained and seriously mistreated, for the stated purpose of 'stopping the boats': that is, deterring people from seeking asylum in Australia."

It also names every Australian immigration minister back to the Howard era - and rightly so: they directed this policy, and they all need to be held accountable for it. As do their senior officials who planned and organised it, and the contractors who actually conducted the torture.

The question now is whether the ICC will investigate - or whether it proves the point of the African nations who are currently quitting it that its international law somehow applies only to brown people and never white ones.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Climate change: Leadership

While the New Zealand government has set itself a pathetic climate change target (and plans to meet it by cooking the books), the Germans are showing us how its done:

Germany’s coalition government has reached an agreement on a climate change action plan which involves reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 to 95% by 2050, a spokesperson said on Friday.

The plan, which will require German industry to reduce its CO2 emission by a fifth by 2030, and Germany’s energy sector to reduce emissions by almost a half, will be reviewed in 2018 with a view to its impact on jobs and society.

“Especially the sector targets, included in the climate protection plan, will be subject to a comprehensive impact assessment,” government spokesperson Georg Streiter said at a news conference. He said the government agreed that the reduction targets could be adjusted in 2018.

These are the sorts of cuts that are actually necessary to beat this problem. And the government committing to them will force the market to find solutions. The contrast with New Zealand's foot-dragging couldn't be greater.

A costly abuse of power

In October 2014 the police raided the home of political journalist Nicky Hager. The search was later ruled illegal, and now the police have been ordered to pay nearly a quarter of a million dollars as an interim payment of court costs:

Investigative journalist Nicky Hager has been awarded interim legal costs towards $475,082 spent suing police.


The High Court has yet to hear Hager's claim for damages from police for breaching his rights. In the meantime, his lawyers asked for police to pay Hager's legal costs of $475,082.78.

Alternatively, they asked for costs on a reduced scale of $232,672.78.

Justice Denis Clifford awarded the lower level of costs, further reduced to pay for two lawyers but not for the third who appeared in court for Hager. The judge did not put a figure on the amount of the reduction.

He said that questions of how police obtained the warrant, searched Hager's home and responded to the court case, would all affect the final costs decision.

The police's abuse of power and political favour to the National Party is now getting very expensive. And again, you have to wonder if the police officers who made the decision, lied to the judge, and violated Hager's human rights - and our trust in them - will be held accountable in any way for their abusive behaviour. But I think we all know what the answer to that will be...

Some good news on Nauru

The Australian government has reached a deal to send the refugees it is currently imprisoning on Nauru to the USA:

Refugees languishing on Manus Island and Nauru will be offered resettlement in the United States under a "one-off" arrangement announced by the Turnbull government.

The long-awaited breakthrough will see the 1800 detainees encouraged to return home, seek resettlement in the US or face an indefinite stay in the Nauruan community.

Getting people out of Australia's Pacific torture camps is the priority here, and its good to see that the USA has stepped in to help that happen. But note that this is a one-off arrangement - it doesn't end the Pacific solution, and future refugees Australia kidnaps at sea will still face rendition and indefinite detention without trial in violation of the Refugee Convention. In other words, don't start buying Australian just yet.

Dead and buried

It's official: the TPPA is dead and buried:

President Barack Obama’s trade office is largely suspending its effort to pass his signature Asian free-trade deal before President-elect Donald Trump takes office, saying on Friday that it was up to Republican leaders in Congress to decide on a vote.

The U.S. Trade Representative’s office had been lobbying lawmakers for months to pass the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership deal in the post-election, lame-duck session of Congress. However, a stunning election that gave Trump the White House and retained Republican majorities in Congress has stymied those plans.

“We have worked closely with Congress to resolve outstanding issues and are ready to move forward, but this is a legislative process and it’s up to Congressional leaders as to whether and when this moves forward,” USTR spokesman Matt McAlvanah said in a statement.

On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would not take up TPP in the weeks before Trump’s inauguration and said its fate was now up to Trump. House Speaker Paul Ryan had earlier said he would not proceed with a lame-duck vote.

And that's that. Trump won't push it, so its dead and buried - as is the Trans-Atlantic Partnership, and probably TISA as well.

Meanwhile, our Parliament is pushing ahead with passing ratifying legislation. The good news is that the law - and its consequent changes to copyright terms and Pharmac - doesn't come into force unless the TPP does, so it'll just sit there as dead law. But you do have to wonder why they're wasting time on it.

As for the way forward, the TPPA began as a small trade deal between New Zealand, Chile, Brunei and Singapore. Efforts to gradually expand that to like-minded countries went wrong when the USA hijacked the party and ruined it, but we could still go back to that path and get some benefits without having to bend over for the copyright mafia. But I guess there's just no prestige in that for Ministers and MFAT deal-makers, so it'll never happen.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Freedom of information is a human right

While we were all freaking out about the US election, the European Court of Human Rights has quietly recognised that freedom of information is a human right:

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights today handed down judgment in the case of Magyar Helsinki Bizottság v. Hungary (application no. 18030/11). It held (15:2) that there is an Article 10 right to public access to information where access to the information is instrumental for the individual’s exercise of his or her right to freedom of expression.

The applicant, Magyar Helsinki Bizottság (Hungarian Helsinki Committee), is an NGO based in Budapest. In pursuit of a survey on the quality of defence provided by public defenders, it requested from a number of police departments the names of the public defenders selected by them in 2008 and the number of appointments per lawyer involved.


The Grand Chamber considered that Article 10(1) of the Convention could be interpreted as including, in the circumstances of the case, a right of access to information, specifying that where the access to information was decisive for the exercise of the right to receive and communicate information, to refuse that access could amount to an interference with the enjoyment of this right.


By denying it access to the requested information, which was ready and available, the domestic authorities had impaired the applicant NGO’s exercise of its freedom to receive and impart information, in a manner striking at the very substance of its Article 10 rights.

[Article 10 is the ECHR's freedom of expression clause, similar to the NZ BORA's Article 14].

There's a little bit more to it - basicly, the applicant has to be a media organisation or NGO engaged in public interest work, and the information has to exist - but its a useful decision. And given the way which European human rights law is influential on NZ decisions, it'll probably be recognised in NZ law if there's a similar case. Though NZ agencies should really be considering requesters' article 14 right to impart information when making OIA decisions anyway...

The end of Ruataniwha?

October's local body elections saw a shift in power on the Hawkes' Bay Regional Council against the Ruataniwha dam. One of the first acts of the council was to put a moratorium on advancing the project. And now they've put it under review:

Applause sounded in a packed Hawke's Bay Regional Council chamber yesterday, when it was unanimously agreed a review would be conducted on the Ruataniwha Water Storage Scheme.

While the atmosphere in the first ordinary council meeting grew tense at times - all councillors stated they welcomed the review.

Among other recommendations, they agreed to commission an independent review of key contractual, legal, financial, economic, and environmental elements of the RWSS, including the impacts and consequences of implementing plan change six with, and without it, as well as withdrawal from the scheme.

Returning Councillor Neil Kirton - who called a moratorium on action relating to the dam on election day - said this was an "important step for this incoming council".

The review will take up the five months. But when its done, hopefully we'll see this plan for environmental destruction killed off for good.

New Fisk

It's not Donald Trump who matters now in the Middle East – it's Putin

A good catch

Ever since Chloe Swarbrick energised Auckland voters and came third in the mayoral election, people have been wondering which political party she'd find a home with for 2017. And now we know: the Greens, of course:

Auckland's youngest mayoral candidate has announced her bid for Parliament on Facebook.

Chloe Swarbrick, 22, announced on Facebook this morning she will stand for the Green Party in next year's general election.

Swarbrick said her mayoralty campaign this year taught her there was "a tide for change" and "a tide for progressive inclusive compassionate and empathetic politics".

Swarbrick also subtly drew on the US presidential election of Donald Trump, and said people were, "dissatisfied with the establishment and the status quo".


"So today I'm announcing that I'm joining the Green Party and I'm intending to run with them in the next general election.

Swarbrick still has to get elected to the party's list (because the Greens are a democratic party, unlike the others), but she's a great catch for them. And hopefully we'll see her in Parliament in 2017.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

A bad sign

Yesterday, Donald Trump won the US presidency. Today, there are large protests in major American cities in response.

Post-election protests of this scale simply don't happen in civilised democracies. The reason they don't happen is because such countries have transparently fair electoral systems where voters can accept the outcome. They do happen in corrupt, third-world kleptocracies where the electoral systems are obviously rigged. I guess the USA now fits into that second category.

And with good reason. Quite apart from the absurdity of the electoral college - an anti-democratic measure designed by C18th aristocrats specifically to thwart democratic outcomes - there's the whole US package of widespread gerrymandering, roll purges, and voter suppression that is part and parcel of the US's politicised electoral administration. The natural suspicion with any US result now is that it is a better reflection of the winning party's ability to manipulate the system to its advantage and keep opposing voters away from the polls than of the will of the people. And from the size of the protests, it looks like a large number of Americans have broken through their "we're the bestest" bullshit to finally recognise that.

In a civilised democracy, this would lead to change. Public trust in the electoral system is just not something you can afford to get wrong. But in the US, with the Republicans in charge of 30+ states and all arms of the federal government? Not a hope. Which means people will either give up on the rigged game of politics, or seek change by other means. Either way, its not good.


A ballot for three member's bills was held this morning and the following bills were drawn:

  • Films, Videos, and Publications Classification (Interim Restriction Order Classification) Amendment Bill (Chris Bishop)
  • Charter Schools (Application of Official Information and Ombudsmen Acts) Bill (Nanaia Mahuta)
  • Crimes (Increased Penalty for Providing Explosive to Commit Crime) Amendment Bill (Alastair Scott)
So, no death with dignity this time. But a sensible fix to the problems exposed by the temporary classification of Into the River last year, and another extension of the OIA. The latter will be interesting, and it will be fascinating to see whether National and the Maori Party will publicly take a stand against transparency for their little boondoggles.

There were 79 bills in the ballot today. Just a few years ago we were lucky to see half that, and its another example of how the importance of the member's ballot has changed as we get more experience with MMP.

Why are the NZ police working for Fiji's despot?

Radio New Zealand reports this morning that an online critic of Fiji's regime was approached by New Zealand police and warned to tone down his posts:

An advisor to two former Fiji Prime Ministers says the New Zealand police have asked him to tone down his Facebook page which posts messages criticising the current Fiji government.

Shailendra Raju used to work for the deposed prime minister Laisenia Qarase and is involved with the Fiji Labour Party. He now lives in New Zealand.

He said the police approached him in August about his postings.

Mr Raju said he had not broken any laws but now had a mutual understanding with the New Zealand authorities.

Raju's Facebook page is here. He's a racist, anti-Muslim bigot (sadly, Fijian politics has become more racist and bigoted since the coup, on both sides). His numerous posts criticise the government for corruption, disrespect for the rule of law, and attacks on Fiji's indigenous people. But having skimmed back to July, there's no obvious threats of violence or anything which could be considered illegal in New Zealand. Which invites the question: why are the New Zealand Police "warning" people about behaviour which does not violate the law? And isn't this a direct and unlawful interference with the right to freedom of expression?

Criticising the government and saying nasty things about Fiji's Attorney-General may be a crime in Fiji, but it isn't one here. Unless there is a clear incitement to violence in New Zealand, this is none of the police's business.

Austerity violates human rights

Its official: austerity is a human rights violation:

Austerity policies introduced into welfare and social care by the UK government amount to “systematic violations” of the rights of people with disabilities, a UN inquiry has concluded.

It says a range of measures aimed at reducing public spending since 2010, including controversial changes such as the bedroom tax, and cuts to disability benefits and social care budgets have disproportionately and adversely affected disabled people.

The highly critical report, published in Geneva on Monday afternoon, says the rights of disabled people to live independently, to work, and achieve an adequate standard of living have been negatively affected by austerity measures.

It makes 11 recommendations, including calling on the UK government to carry out a study of the cumulative impact of all spending cuts on disabled people, and to ensure the human rights of disabled people are upheld.

The British government is in denial about the consequences of their policy, but they would be, wouldn't they? Sadly, they've decided to reject the report in its entirety. And meanwhile, the body-count continues to rack up...

New Fisk

The Middle East will present Donald Trump with a terrifying choice – and he won't be able to handle it

Trumpocalypse Now

So here we are: President Trump. He's not in office yet, but barring the USA being struck by a giant meteor (at which the rest of the world will shrug and say "good riddance", while desperately trying not to starve to death due to impact winter), he will be come January 20. An actual fascist in the White House.

I use that word deliberately. What else do you call someone who repeatedly calls for people to be deported on the basis of their religion, for the military to use torture, for the arrest and imprisonment of his political opponents? He's exactly the sort of tyrant the US's system of "checks and balances" is supposed to protect against. I guess we'll get to see if that actually works. And if not, well, Americans will get to experience their government how the rest of the world experiences it: as a force of terror and destruction, which murders people at random or drags them away to be tortured in the middle of the night. All of those Americans who were stupid enough to think that it was fine to let the NSA construct a mass-surveillance state because it was only used against "bad people" - good luck with that.

What's the quote? "Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard". America is going to get exactly what they voted for. Hopefully they'll learn something from it. And hopefully it won't fuck up our lives too much.

As for NZ, the silver lining is that the TPPA is dead, hooray! But the bigger looming cloud is that Trump won't just continue the US's warmongering ways, but probably get them involved in even bigger and more pointless clusterfucks - which our spineless government will feel obliged to get us involved in in the name of the free trade treaty he's going to tear up. Which is why we simply shouldn't talk to the US, ever: no good can ever come of it.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Member's Day

Today is a member's day, though not an especially exciting one. After a private bill, there's the committee stage of Chris Bishop's Financial Assistance for Live Organ Donors Bill and likely wrapping up Chris Hipkins' Education (Charter Schools Abolition) Amendment Bill. After that the House should make a start on Ruth Dyson's Rates Rebate (Retirement Village Residents) Amendment Bill, and might even get as far as Andrew Little's Our Work Our Future Bill.

The two National spam bills passed in the Statutes Amendment Bill have been withdrawn from the Order Paper, so there will be a ballot for at least two bills tomorrow, and more if the House moves quickly.

This is not what democracy looks like

(Image stolen from the Straits Times)

Its election day in the USA, complete with the usual stories of lawsuits, manipulation, and long queues to vote. The latter is amazing - not because its a sign of the strength of US democracy, but a sign of how weak it is. To point out something which is obvious to everyone outside the US, this simply does not happen in civilised countries. Down here in New Zealand, its in and out in ten minutes, not queue for hours (oh, and we get paid time off to vote too).

The reason the queues exist because the US electoral system itself is politicised. So you get a deliberate under-supply of polling places in areas where people might vote the "wrong" way, purges of the voter rolls targeting opposing demographics, and numerous petty checks aimed at stamping out non-existent "voter-fraud" (i.e. black people voting). Again, civilised countries don't do this. Instead, we try (with varying degrees of success) to let everyone vote. But then, civilised democracies don't see selectively disenfranchising your opponents' supporters as a valid political tactic - that's what makes them civilised democracies.

(Oh - and civilised democracies don't have gerrymandering either. Because voters should choose governments, not the other way round).

Its not hard to get a democracy immune to this sort of political manipulation and which allows the will of the people to be heard. But it appears that the US political establishment simply isn't interested in that.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Duopoly of chickenshits

Parliament is currently holding a select committee inquiry into death with dignity. Public opinion seems to support it. But the Prime Minister has pre-emptively ruled out acting on the committee's recommendations:

There is zero chance of Government introducing legislation to legalise euthanasia even if an inquiry strongly recommends it, Prime Minister John Key says.

A select committee is part-way through a major inquiry on public attitudes to euthanasia in New Zealand, and is considering more than 20,000 public submissions and holding hearings around the country.

Key said today that regardless of the committee's conclusions and the level of public support, the Government would not propose a change.

"There is no chance of it being a Government bill," Key told reporters at Parliament this morning.

And he's quite clear about the reason: he has bigots in his caucus - bigots named Bill English and Gerry Brownlee - who he feels a need to pander to. But Key isn't alone in this chickenshittery: here's Labour's Andrew Little, displaying his usual spine of jelly:
Leader Andrew Little said the Government should "at least" allow a euthanasia bill to come before the House so a debate could take place.

However, he said a law change would not be a priority for a Labour-led Government.

He would personally support the legalisation of euthanasia if it had the same safeguards as former MP Maryan Street's proposed bill.

So,he supports it, would vote for it, but wouldn't put up a bill. Because he too has bigots he needs to pander to.

There is almost certainly a majority in Parliament this time to pass such a bill. There's definitely public support. And yet, our two major political parties just don't want to go near it, because bigots will criticise them. And they're afraid of that rather than welcoming it as a sign of what they're against. Next, no doubt, they'll offer a (non-binding, of course) "plebiscite".

And people wonder why I have such contempt for the establishment parties: because of this. Because we have a duopoly of chickenshits, who have to be dragged kicking and screaming to doing the right thing. Marriage equality, child beating, and now death with dignity. The sooner these political dinosaurs are eradicated, the better.

No hate referendum in Australia

Australians support marriage equality. But their bigoted government doesn't. And rather than accept that society has moved on from the 1950's and legislating accordingly, they've been insisting that equality will only happen if they can hold a giant bigot hatefest and dodge responsibility for it via a referendum (or "plebiscite" as they call it over there). But now, that plan has gone down in flames:

The Turnbull government's proposed plebiscite on same-sex marriage has formally been killed off by the Senate, where it was defeated 29-33 in a late-night vote on Monday, amid a warning the decision would delay marriage equality "for years".

Months of speculation and political posturing culminated in Labor, the Greens, the Nick Xenophon Team and Derryn Hinch combining to defeat the proposal, which would have seen same-sex marriage decided by the Australian people in February.

The decision - an inevitability since Labor pledged to oppose the plebiscite four weeks ago - will force a new conversation about marriage equality that will divide the Coalition and threatens to destabilise the Turnbull government.

Good. Fundamental rights should not be subject to the votes of bigots. And now the only option is for Parliament to do its job and legislate. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull once supported that path; now he opposes it in order to pander to bigots in his caucus.


Faced with increasing competition and declining advertising revenues, New Zealand's two biggest newspaper publishers, Fairfax and NZME, had a brilliant idea: "let's form a monopoly!" Fortunately for the rest of us, the Commerce Commission has said "no":

Two of the country's largest media groups should not be allowed to combine their businesses, the country's competition watchdog says.

The Commerce Commission has given a preliminary "no" to a merger of Fairfax Media and NZME in a draft ruling released on Tuesday. A final decision on the media shake-up is due by March 15.

NZME's shares crashed 23 per cent to a record low of 51c in late morning trading, sending the company's market value under $100 million for the first time.

Good. The proposed level of media concentration is simply unhealthy, both for our democracy and our society, and I'm surprised that the two companies thought they had any chance of getting away with it. You'd hope that this would result in NZME and Fairfax trying to find some other way forward - making a better product that people actually want to pay for, perhaps? Instead, I expect they'll whine, sue, and then demand the government legislate to exempt them from monopoly protections. Because the last thing NZ business management ever does is its job...

Monday, November 07, 2016

Who does the UK MoD work for again?

We know the UK is in bed with the Saudis, and willing to look the other way on pretty much anything they do if they keep buying British guns and supporting "British interests" (whatever they may be) in the Middle East. But the rot goes deeper than that. It turns out that the UK Ministry of Defence lied to a Cabinet Minister so it could continue selling bombs to the Saudis:

The Ministry of Defence has been accused of “seriously misleading” a cabinet minister in a desperate effort to get export licences for British-made missiles for use by Saudi Arabia in its controversial bombing campaign in Yemen.

The former business secretary Vince Cable has told the Guardian he was given specific assurances by the MoD about oversight of potential targets – which he deemed an essential safeguard to minimise the risk of civilian casualties in the increasingly bloody conflict.

He says he was told that the UK would enhance its oversight to the level given by the Saudis to the US – which would include involvement in decisions about what was being bombed.

It was on this basis, Cable says, that he agreed to sign licences for a consignment of laser-guided Paveway IV missiles, which he had blocked amid concerns about civilian deaths.

While denied by the MoD, Cable's story has been backed by other witnesses. Which raises the question: who does the UK Ministry of Defence work for? The elected government, or a pack of child-murdering foreign despots? And if its the latter, why do they expect the British public to pay for them, or permit them to operate on UK soil?

We need an independent animal welfare regulator

Another day, more tales of gratuitious animal abuse by farmers:

Animal rights supporters are calling for an independent watchdog to take over animal welfare responsibilities from the Ministry for Primary Industries following more allegations of farm animal abuse.

Comments made by members of a dairy farming Facebook group about how to stop a cow from kicking and to get it to let down milk have been called "sickening".

Complaints based on the Facebook comments have been made to the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), which has started "several investigations" as a result, with some already completed.

Some of the suggestions included inserting a hose into the cow's "fanny" and blowing into it (called "tubing" in the industry), which is a breach of the Dairy Cattle Code of Welfare.

Unfortunately, MPI is utterly captured by the industry it is supposed to be regulating, and the police just aren't interested. These farmers won't be punished for their cruelty. Which is why we need an independent body to investigate and prosecute these sorts of offences. Sadly, we won't get it from National - the farmer's party has no interest in holding farmers accountable for their crimes.

A good idea

Human Rights Commisisoner Dr Jackie Blue thinks its time to force companies to disclose their gender pay-gaps:

Women's pay and their presence in the workplace hierarchy aren't progressing quickly enough, says Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Jackie Blue.

So she's now calling for a law forcing major New Zealand companies to declare their gender pay gap.

Dr Blue says she would like to see New Zealand adopt a new UK law which applies to every company with more than 250 employees.

"They tried the voluntary approach, didn't work, so they're bringing in legislation. There's going to be a penalty if they don't comply of about £5000. It's still too low," she told the Nation.

"But just across in Australia, they've been doing that since 2012 for companies over 100, so this is not like a weird idea."

I agree. Public information - and the public pressure that results from it - is one of the best ways to force employers to obey the law. At present, they get away with discriminatory pay rates because its done in secret: they don't tell us (or the government) that they're doing it, while gag clauses in employment contracts prevent their employees from discussing pay rates and finding out. But whether a company is breaking the law is not private information. Instead, sunlight is the best disinfectant. Employers should be forced to provide this data, and justify any pay gaps that exist.

National will never do it: their dead white male caucus is deeply in the pocket of the dead white male business class which benefits from this discrimination. If we want a more equal society, we need to change the government.

New Fisk

A view of the Syrian war from the Golan Heights

Why we need inheritance taxes

The Herald yesterday pointed out the long-term consequences of Auckland's unrestrained housing bubble: increased disparities of wealth and the rise of an English-style class system:

Beckett faces becoming a victim of a new phenomena that is poised to create a tale of two Aucklands.

Economists say there are those who will inherit houses and those who will never afford one.

This "bequest bulge" driven by a combination of crazy house prices and baby boomer housing wealth may spark a return to the Victorian-style class system.

And that places Auckland at the precipice of an unprecedented shift back in time.

An Auckland house is expected to cost more than $3 million in 20 years time. And at that price, even people with university degrees and good jobs will be locked out of the housing market. The only people able to afford to own their own home will be those who inherited one from their parents.

This is not the sort of New Zealand anyone wants to live in. Inherited wealth disparities on this scale are exactly why many of our ancestors fled Britain - and why we strangled our incipient would-be aristocracy at birth in the 1890's with land taxes. As for how to stop it again, the answer is simple: tax it. We used to have inheritance taxes, which limited the ability of the ultra-wealthy to pass on social disparity. We should bring them back.

Friday, November 04, 2016

Another spy agency caught illegally hoarding metadata

The Canadians aren't just spying on journalists. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service has been caught illegally hoarding metadata:

A Federal Court judge says Canada's spy agency illegally kept potentially revealing electronic data about people over a 10-year period.

In a hard-hitting ruling made public Thursday, Justice Simon Noel said the Canadian Security Intelligence Service breached its duty to inform the court of its data-collection program, since the information was gathered using judicial warrants.

CSIS should not have retained the information since it was not directly related to threats to the security of Canada, the ruling said.

"Ultimately, the rule of law must prevail," Noel wrote, adding, "without it, the actions of people and institutions cannot be trusted to accurately reflect the purpose they were entrusted to fulfil."

There's shades of GCHQ here, which was recently found to have spied illegally on the public for 17 years. And it really makes you wonder whether the New Zealand SIS or GCSB are doing the same thing here. Five Eyes agencies share techniques and strategies, and if one has been doing something for a long time, its a good bet that the others are too. Clearly there's a consensus among the Five Eyes that mass domestic metadata surveillance is a useful counter-terrorism tool. But our Parliament has never approved such a thing, and it seems to go well beyond the particularised suspicion the warrant mechanism has been sold to us on. I think we need some assurances that our intelligence agencies are not doing this. And if they won't give such assurances, we can only conclude that they are guilty and need to be shut down.

Canada spies on journalists

Another week, another example of police spying on journalists - this time in Canada:

Rights campaigners are among those sounding the alarm over the erosion of press freedom in Canada after it emerged that police in Montreal had spent several months monitoring the phone of a journalist in order to identify his sources.

La Presse, one of Canada’s oldest and largest newspapers, said on Monday that at least 24 surveillance warrants were obtained by Montreal police to track the phone of columnist Patrick Lagacé. The warrants enabled the force’s special investigation unit to track Lagacé’s whereabouts using the GPS in his phone, as well as monitor incoming and outgoing text messages and calls.

The revelations left Lagacé shaken. “I was appalled,” he said. “I was living in the fiction that police officers wouldn’t dare do that, and in the fiction that judges were protecting journalists – and hence the public – against this type of police intrusion.”

Lagacé isn't alone. It turns out that Quebec police have spied on at least six other journalists (and another one today), all in an effort to uncover their sources, often for the dubious purpose of shutting down leaks. All of these cases of spying would have been judicially authorised, though as with the Hager case here there are natural questions about whether they disclosed all that they should have done in seeking the warrants. The Quebec government has set up an inquiry to try and get the issue out of the media, but the fundamental problem is that Canadian (and New Zealand) law allows this sort of spying in the first place, with no special protection for the public interest work journalists do. The solution is to write those protections into the law, rather than just relying on caselaw, to create a strong presumption against police and spy agencies interfering in the work of the media.

New Fisk

The poppy has become a symbol of racism – I have never worn one, and now I never will

About as popular as a dead cat

Recently when looking over the list of NZ political parties I was lamenting the shrinking number of small parties in our political system. I should have been careful what I wished for: infamous cat-hater Gareth Morgan has decided to play Bob Jones and found his own political party:

Mr Morgan, a philanthropist and economist who set up The Morgan Foundation - a charitable trust "primarily for the purpose of reducing the wealth disparities between people" - said he has resigned from his position as a foundation trustee to launch his political career.

In a statement, Mr Morgan said The Opportunities Party would aim to improve fairness, environmental sustainability and national pride while reducing poverty and housing prices.

He said fear of losing votes made established parties "champions of inertia and only ever reluctant proponents of incremental change".

On the plus side, it sounds like he's interested in action on climate change. On the minus side, he's interested in superannuation (that is, getting rid of it). The former isn't a hugely popular issue, but the latter means that he'll be about as popular as a dead cat. Or ACT.

Still, even cat-haters deserve Parliamentary representation. Its just a shame that our undemocratic 5% threshhold is likely to prevent it.

That for your royal prerogative, you blaggard!

The UK High Court has ruled that it is for Parliament, not the executive, to trigger Article 50 and exit the European Union. And the reason for the judgement? Good old Fitzgerald v. Muldoon:

Basicly, Brexit means the effective repeal of legislation - and legislation of such constitutional significance that it is the UK's only higher law protected from implied repeal, at that. And that can only be done by Parliament, not the exercise of monarchical prerogative power.

The judgement is of course being appealed, and will go straight to the Supreme Court. It may be upheld, it may be overturned. But in the meantime it's a welcome blow for Parliamentary sovereignty against the executive - and the decaying legacy of the monarchy.

(Title of course thanks to pterry. You can find the source in Monstrous Regiment).