Friday, September 29, 2017

This is not what phone taps are for

Yesterday I ranted about the police spying on People Against Prisons Aotearoa. That rant was mostly predicated on the idea that the police had gained a production order for "call associated data" - call records, text messages, and voicemails - from the protesters. But the case has been covered in international media today, including parts of the police statement to the court. And that statement implies that the police didn't obtain a production order, but a full surveillance device warrant:

A police statement to the court, obtained by VICE, said the phone calls and text messages of those members were continually monitored and recorded, and accessible by the direct investigation staff.
That's right: the police tapped people's phones and recorded their calls in a trespass case. One which was so serious that when it went to trial, it resulted in a discharge without conviction.

Supposedly, surveillance warrants are only available for serious crimes - either those with a penalty of 7 years or more in prison, or certain drug and firearms offences. It is difficult to see how a political protest could possibly fall into either category, and therefore how the police could legally have obtained this warrant. And these are certainly not the circumstances which Parliament or the people of New Zealand expected or permitted these spying powers to be used. It is a gross abuse of power, and one which directly threatens our democracy. We should not tolerate it. The police - and the judge who granted this odious, abusive warrant - must be held to account.

Update: This gets worse. I've obtained the police statement, and there's no mention of a warrant at all - just a "consent", given by a police officer, to tap the phones of other people:

This may be internal police bureaucratese, but you'd expect a statement to a court about an interception to state the legal basis under which it was carried out. None is included, leaving only this "consent". Which is obviously a nonsense - a police officer can no more "consent" to tap your phone as you can "consent" to tap theirs. So I really am wondering what the hell went on here. Its outrageous enough if the spying was legal - but if it was illegal, it makes it orders of magnitude worse. And either way, this is not what police, or interception powers, are for.

New Fisk

I'm all for war crimes trials in The Hague – so long as we agree to prosecute every possible war criminal

Climate change: Good news for once

Some good news about climate change for once: emissions have stalled again:

Global emissions of climate-warming carbon dioxide remained static in 2016, a welcome sign that the world is making at least some progress in the battle against global warming by halting the long-term rising trend.

All of the world’s biggest emitting nations, except India, saw falling or static carbon emissions due to less coal burning and increasing renewable energy, according to data published on Thursday by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (NEAA). However other mainly developing nations, including Indonesia, still have rising rates of CO2 emissions.

Stalled global emissions still means huge amounts of CO2 are being added to the atmosphere every year – more than 35bn tonnes in 2016 – driving up global temperatures and increasing the risk of damaging, extreme weather. Furthermore, other heat-trapping greenhouse gases, mainly methane from cattle and leaks from oil and gas exploration, are still rising and went up by 1% in 2016.

And even flat emissions are easily enough to cook the planet. We're already seeing the results, with heatwaves, hurricanes, and droughts. And if we want to avoid them getting much, much worse, we need emissions to seriously reduce, not just stay static.

As for what the New Zealand government is doing, the answer is of course nothing. National has committed us to high emissions in the name of protecting trucking and dairy industry profits, apparently in the belief that they can just buy their way out of this. But money doesn't stop tropical cyclones, and it doesn't stop the east coast from drying up and blowing away. If we want to stop those things, we need to actually do our bit, so others will do theirs too.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

More police spying

Apparently the police "wiretapped" members of human rights group People Against Prisons Aotearoa over a protest in 2016 in which they occupied a Department of Corrections office. Its unclear whether the wiretapping was of live phone calls (requiring an interception warrant, in theory only available for offences with a penalty of seven years imprisonment or longer), or of text messages under a production order (which has a much lower threshold). But even if it is the latter, it is highly disturbing. Spying on people's private communications should require a high threshold. Here, the police are using it for trespass. Which isn't exactly what most people consider to be serious crime. Instead, it looks as if the police used the excuse of the protest to pillage the communications of their critics to gather intelligence - aided and abetted by their phone companies (who obligingly retain messages and call data for three to six months just in case the police want them).

The Bill of Rights Act is supposed to protect us against unreasonable search and seizure. This seems to be the very definition of "unreasonable". It is neither necessary nor proportionate to the offence for the police to be able to snoop through all your private messages in such circumstances. And they need to be stopped from doing so. A requirement restricting the use of production orders to crimes carrying a penalty of a year or more in prison would be a good start.

New Fisk

Saudi Arabia lifting the driving ban is little more than a glitzy distraction from its continued geopolitical problems

An opportunity for fixed-term Parliaments

Post-election, we've had days of feverish speculation about coalition alignments and bottom lines, as political journalists desperate to make wordcount interview their keyboards rather than kicking back and taking the opportunity for a holiday. But in all that speculation, one thing that hasn't cropped up yet is how Winston will protect himself from whoever he chooses as a coalition partner. Because an obvious nasty strategy for the big parties is to wait until NZ First's popularity drops, then call an early election, resulting in their being eliminated from Parliament (and in the case of National, likely winning 3 years of single-party government).

There's an easy solution to this, of course: fix the date of elections. This disarms the Prime Minister and makes it clear the public expect the politicians to play the hand we deal them, rather than being able to roll the dice to get another one. Germany does this, with its Basic Law requiring that elections be held between 46 and 48 months of the beginning of the legislative session (and prohibiting early ones unless the government votes itself out of office). And the UK passed the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 in an effort to prevent the Tories screwing over their then coalition partners (but coalition did that quite nicely by itself). Given that both the German and UK provisions have been abused, I think that we'd want stronger ones: a fixed election date (the first Saturday after September 19 every three years has been suggested), and a requirement for a two-thirds majority to call an early election. This would allow Parliament to be dissolved early if in absolute deadlock, while preventing a government voting itself out of office for electoral advantage.

The only question is whether Winston trusts National and Labour, or whether he wants to protect himself (and us) against their potential abuse of power. Personally, I'm hoping for the latter.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Something to go to in Wellington

Tomorrow is Right to Know Day, and the Ombudsman and Privacy Commissioner are celebrating it with a livestreamed discussion of transparency and privacy rights:

Ombudsman Leo Donnelly, former Assistant Privacy Commissioner Katrine Evans, and Bryce Edwards from Transparency International will discuss the importance of the right to access information. The forum will be chaired by Radio New Zealand News Director and former political editor Brent Edwards.

‘The Privacy Act and the Official Information Act are among New Zealand’s most important pieces of legislation’, Leo Donnelly said, ‘giving New Zealanders the right to request personal information that organisations hold about them or that affects them, and to complain if the information is withheld’.

The discussion will be held from 12:00 - 13:00 in the Mokopuna Room, Te Wharewaka o Poneke Function Centre, Wellington Waterfront. If you want to attend in person, register here. Otherwise, it'll be livestreamed on Periscope and you'll be able to watch it on YouTube.

A democracy does not do this

Spain has ordered police to blockade polling places to prevent Catalonia from voting on independence:

Police will be deployed at polling stations to prevent people from voting in the Catalan independence referendum, the Spanish government has confirmed.

Although the Catalonia regional government has insisted the unilateral poll will go ahead on Sunday, the Spanish government has vowed to stop the vote, which it says is a clear violation of the constitution. Spain’s constitutional court has suspended the legislation underpinning the referendum while it rules on its legality.

A spokesman for the Spanish government’s Catalan delegation said on Tuesday that the region’s prosecutor had ordered the Mossos d’Esquadra, Catalonia’s police force, to take control of polling booths and identify those in charge.

“The order has been conveyed and it will be executed with all normality,” he said.

The Spanish government has already seized the ballot papers, so the point may be rather moot. At the same time, its a democratic outrage. This is not how democracies behave. Instead, it seems like Spain is regressing back to its days of fascism and cultural suppression (not helped by the fact that its current government are the unapologetic heirs of Franco).

But as well as being outrageous, it is hugely counter-productive. 70% of Catalans support a referendum. That number is likely to increase. And faced with this sort of oppression, support for independence is likely to increase as well. If Spain wants to radicalise the Catalan population and drive them towards unilateral secession, they couldn't have picked a better strategy for doing so.

This is MMP working, not failing

Writing in Stuff, Julian Lee argues that MMP has failed because so few minor parties were elected to Parliament this election. I share the disappointment at the lack of diverse representation and the apparent narrowing of our political sphere, but that isn't due to any failure of MMP. With a Gallagher Index of 2.7, this election wasn't especially unrepresentative in terms of votes equating to seats. MMP seems to have done a better job at ensuring that seats reflected public support than it did last time (when the Gallagher Index was 3.82), or in 2008 (when it was 3.84). Instead, the reason there are so few minor parties represented in Parliament this time is because people didn't vote for them. And that's not the fault of MMP - or at least, no more so than in any previous MMP election.

So whose fault is it? Minor parties can fairly point the finger at the media, who excluded them from debates and whose horse-race style of journalism implicitly stacked the deck against them. And they can point the finger at the election broadcasting rules, which seem designed to lock in a big party duopoly by preventing other parties from buying advertising. But that's the unfair game they've had to play for the last 21 years. They've done better at that game in the past, so fundamentally they have no-one to blame but themselves for their worse performance this time.

That's not to argue that MMP is perfect. As Lee notes, many countries use no-threshold electoral systems, and this would have produced a much more proportional result (and TOP would probably be showing us right now whether their plan of supporting environmental vandals to save the environment would work). As I've argued before, the 5% threshold is an arbitrary and undemocratic barrier to political competition, and it needs to go. But even without it, the blunt truth remains: if parties want to be represented, they need to persuade people to vote for them. And if they can't, they have no-one to blame but themselves.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Renationalisation in the UK?

In the UK, successive governments under Thatcher and Blair privatised everything they possibly could, hocking off public assets at bargain-basement prices to donors and cronies. Those privatisations were (naturally) a disaster, with railways, water companies, and even the royal mail gutted and falling into ruin as the new owners looted them for dividends rather than providing the services they were supposed to. And now, UK Labour has had enough, with Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell promising to take it all back:

The Shadow Chancellor also vowed to press ahead with Labour’s nationalisation programme, saying: “Rail, water, energy, Royal Mail – we’re taking them back.”

Earlier, he hinted Labour would deny shareholders full compensation if the private firms currently running key utilities have behaved badly.

Politicians would decide if full market value would be awarded when were taken back into public ownership, with the price affected by “perceived behaviour”.

They're also promising to unravel corrupt PFI (public-private partnership) contracts as well, to cut the bankers and looters out of government services.

We need to do the same here with the strategic assets that National has stolen from us (or at least the ones worth keeping). Meridian Energy, Mighty River Power, Air New Zealand, we need them back in public ownership (fossil-fuel-powered Genesis OTOH can simply be regulated into oblivion with the rest of that industry). Our electricity sector is too important to be left to private sector mismanagement.

Monday, September 25, 2017

It could be worse

While New Zealand's post-election negotiations look unpleasant, they could be worse. Germans voted today in federal elections, and dealt their parties a really shit hand:

Germany is braced for a period of fraught and protracted coalition talks after Sunday’s elections left an unprecedented number of parties jostling for influence in the next parliament.

With Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, the centre-left Social Democratic party (SPD), rightwing populist Alternative für Deutschland, pro-business FDP, leftwing Die Linke and the Green party, six parties will crowd into the Bundestag’s plenary chamber, a first since the introduction of a 5% hurdle for parliamentary seats in 1953.

Having gained the largest percentage of the vote despite her party suffering its worst result since 1949, Merkel’s CDU will still need to find one or more coalition partners in order to find a governing majority, or pursue a minority government.

AfD are Nazis, and everyone has ruled out working with them. The CDU won't work with the Left, and vice-versa. The SDP has already refused to sign up for another suicidal grand coalition. So the only viable government seems to be the Christian Democrat / Free Democrat / Green "Jamaica" coalition. In NZ terms, that's National-ACT-Green, which gives you an idea of how likely it is. And yet, this is the hand the politicians have been dealt, and they need to find some way of making it work. And in Germany they can't just call another election in the hope of getting a better deal...

Now there's a surprise

ECan is saying that it is failing to meet its water-quality targets, while meeting its irrigation ones:

Canterbury is behind on its regional water quality targets, but is making strong progress on irrigation goals.


The report showed nitrate levels were increasing in about 25 per cent of monitored wells, and decreasing in about 4 per cent.

The target is to show "a demonstrable decrease in nitrate concentrations in shallow groundwater in priority areas" by 2020.

It was a poor result, said Canterbury medical officer of health Dr Alistair Humphrey.

This isn't that surprising, because irrigation means more cows, which in turn means more nitrates. So the targets are in direct opposition to each other. Canterbury has to choose between more irrigation, or safe water. And the only reason they haven't been able to choose the latter is because National has suspended their local democracy.

The only way is Winston

So, the election happened. And rather than seeing the stunning Jacindamania victory we were hoping for, instead we're left with an uncomfortable situation for everyone. National has clearly lost its mandate: their vote dropped, despite sucking up the 4% bigot vote from the Conservatives, and their coalition partners were eliminated. But Labour hasn't won one either, even in combination with the Greens. While the special votes will probably shift a few seats around, that overall outcome won't change. The Greens have already said that they won't support National, and despite the verbage from pundits desperate to make word-count, they're not going to change their mind (hint: its in the name. They're Greens, so supporting dolphin-murdering, river-poisoning, National-Park-mining environmental vandals is off the table, even if you ignore the commitment to social justice). So its basicly a question of who Winston decides to support.

If he supports National in a Black-Blue government, its pretty much a re-run of 1996: tough on crime, shitting on immigrants and beneficiaries. No more privatisation, and no increase in the pension age, but it will also mean broadly the status quo with added nastiness. Especially to Maori. Winston wants to eliminate the Maori seats, and English has refused to rule it out. Which tells us that the big difference between English and John Key is that English is a racist, just like Don Brash.

If he supports Labour, then things get messier, because it will also need to involve the Greens. There's significant common ground there over housing, worker's rights and economic justice, but also significant differences around climate change and fresh water. While a Red-Black-Green "Kenya" or "Afghan" coalition with all three parties in Cabinet is possible, the differences (and Winston's hostility to the Greens) may mean that one party sits out and simply provides confidence and supply. And TBH, given how government with Winston usually goes, I think the Greens should take that option: demand one big concession for confidence and supply, but promise nothing else, and effectively sit on the cross-benches to keep Winston honest. They'd lose the ability to push the government in a greener direction, but TBH I think the extra power to veto stuff is more important - and more likely to appeal to their supporters. Being in Cabinet with Winston when he shits on immigrants and refugees is probably not a place the Greens want to be.

Regardless, I expect whatever government which emerges to be unstable. Winston will throw a tantrum and walk out, or he'll want to retire to a corrupt sinecure appointment in London or Washington. And if he goes left, there's the added danger of National encouraging waka-jumpers. On current numbers, they only need to bribe two junior NZFirst MPs with Ministerial salaries to have a majority, and as we've seen from 1997, they're not above that. Its not going to be a comfortable term. But it will probably be an exciting one.

Friday, September 22, 2017

National's New Zealand

How bad is National's New Zealand? Whole families are homeless and sleeping in doorways:

A homeless family-of-eight are among those sleeping rough on the streets of south Auckland.

The couple and their six children were recently found lying in the entry of the Manurewa Citizens Advice Bureau by its board chairman Gordon Myer when he arrived for work two mornings in a row.

"They lay matting in the area and set their beds up in the foyer," he says.

"There's another group of people who sleep around the back. There's about seven or eight of them."

This is simply indecent, reminscent of the Victorian cities many of our ancestors fled here to escape. And we should not tolerate a government which permits it, which allows families to be left homeless and on the street and without support. Instead, we should take our opportunity tomorrow to vote to end this indecency.

New Fisk

A year on from the murder of Christian writer Nahed Hattar in Jordan, many questions remain unanswered

Last day to enrol

Today is the last day on which you can advance vote. It is also the last day you can enrol to vote - for some odd reason we don't allow enrolment on election day. So, if you're not enrolled, get along to an advance voting station and do it. Likewise if you think you might be busy tomorrow (and don't want your two hours paid time off to vote), or just want the whole thing to be over, get out there and vote! The polls are tight, so no matter who you support, every vote is going to matter.

The Electoral Commission has a list of advance voting locations here.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

WINZ steals from the poorest

Hot on the heels of yesterday's news of WINZ lawlessness, we learn that WINZ has been illegally underpaying the poorest beneficiaries:

More than 7000 of New Zealand's most-desperate beneficiaries have been short-changed by the Government - and they're about to get payback.

A Ministry of Social Development report has found 7148 people on Special Benefits have been underpaid by the Government since 2006, and they have known about it for two years. MSD have estimated the amount could be up to $9.5 million.

In 2015, MSD was advised that it needed to offer the Temporary Additional Support (TAS) to beneficiaries if they were better off on it.

And the short version is, they didn't. Instead, they deliberately kept people on the lower benefit and didn't inform them of their entitlement to the higher one, in order to keep benefit costs low. The good news is that they're going to have to pay it all back - but you can guarantee that they will make that process as slow and difficult as possible to ensure they don't have to. Because that's just how WINZ are: lawless, and focused on cost-cutting rather than helping people.

This agency needs a complete culture change. And that change needs to start by sacking the entire senior management who have allowed this toxic culture to grow and fester. And its lawless chief executive needs to be the first to go...


Remember National's court case with Eminem? A decision was supposed to be issued within three months of the trial ending in May. But strangely, its late:

Justice Helen Cull reserved her decision on May 12 - noting at the time that decisions were usually delivered within three months.

That three-month deadline was reached on August 12, not long before Parliament was dissolved and the election campaign period began on August 22.

It is now more than four months since the decision was reserved.

The Herald has formally asked the High Court if the verdict has been delayed because of its political sensitivity in the election period.

There has been no response so far.

I think the court owes us an explanation for this, because it certainly looks suspicious. As the article points out, 90% of court decisions are delivered on time. If there's a reason for the delay, then we deserve to hear it. Otherwise, the judiciary has only themselves to blame if people believe the worst of them.

New Fisk

If Donald Trump is going to use WW2 to justify his UN speech, it would be good if he got his facts right

A positive sign

While Donald Trump seems trying to start nuclear wars with both North Korea and Iran, there's abeen a positive sign: the UN has outlawed nuclear weapons. And New Zealand was one of the first countries to sign up to the ban:

Dozens of countries, including New Zealand, have signed a treaty to ban nuclear weapons amid tensions over North Korea's nuclear and missile tests.

The US, Britain, France and others, including Australia, boycotted the event at the annual United Nations gathering of world leaders.

The treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons will enter into force 90 days after 50 countries have ratified it. Only a few states were due to deposit their ratification on Wednesday.

No nuclear states are signing - but the treaty effectively criminalises them in international law and declares them to be outlaw regimes, providing a solid basis for international justice if they ever use the things. Assuming there's still people left to care, that is. And while a treaty without the nuclear powers doesn't sound like much of a step forward, its a start towards a safer world.

Rotten to the core

How rotten is WINZ? So rotten that they use false names for those serving on their internal Benefit Review Committees, and present them as truthful to their statutory appeal body. As if that's not bad enough, they then continued to do it, even after promising not to:

Decisions by the Ministry of Social Development's benefits review committees have been issued under fake names and signatures, in breach of the chief executive's personal undertaking.

The deception was exposed when a woman appealed against seven decisions on her case, and a MSD manager disclosed the falsity to the Social Security Appeal Authority that was to hear them.

The woman's lawyer, Tony Ellis, called it "extraordinary misbehaviour".

Except its worse than that, because the false identities were disclosed in an ex patre attempt to influence the Appeal Authority against the victim.

The Appeal Authority's full decision on the falsification is here. Its worth reading, both so you can see how thoroughly rotten WINZ is, but also for its robust defence of the principles of open justice. To put it simply, we're not a shitty despotism, and we just don't do that sort of shit here. In New Zealand, a democratic state under the rule of law, decisions are made in open court, by people whose identities are known. And that's vital to ensuring that both the parties and the public can have confidence in the system. In the case of WINZ decisions, its especially important, because of the enormous disparity in power between the parties. To counteract this, WINZ has a statutory duty of full and complete disclosure to appellants in SSAA cases. Its chief executive has knowingly and repeatedly shat all over that duty.

As for the solution, at the least MSD chief executive Brendan Boyle should resign. He has systematicly violated his statutory duties and fundamentally undermined the integrity of his entire department (and by doing so, endangered his staff). He needs to go for it. He should also be prosecuted for fabricating evidence before the SSAA. This is not something we as a country should tolerate, and we need heads on spikes for it. As for State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes, he needs to go too. A country under the rule of law can not tolerate senior public servants who support this judicial fraud.

Of course, we all know this will never happen, because our "justice" system works for those in power against those without. Official crimes are never punished, and those in power are never held to account. Is it any wonder then that WINZ's victims take matters into their own hands?

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

This is how civil wars start

As I write this, Spanish police are raiding Catalan government offices and arresting government officials in an effort to prevent Catalans from voting in a referendum on independence:

Spanish police officers have raided three Catalan regional government departments and arrested 12 senior officials as Madrid steps up its battle to stop an independence referendum being held in less than two weeks’ time.

On Wednesday morning, a spokesman for the regional government said Guardia Civil officers were searching the Barcelona offices of the presidency and the ministries of economic affairs and foreign relations.

He also confirmed that Josep Maria Jové, the secretary general of economic affairs and an aide to the Catalan vice-president, was among those detained – apparently in connection with the launch of web pages related to the referendum. Catalan ministers are due to hold an emergency meeting.

They've also attacked the Catalan domain name registry in an effort to censor pro-referendum sites, and seized polling materials. The message is clear: Spain's government (the ideological and literal descendents of Franco's fascists) is willing to use force to prevent Catalans from deciding their own future. Its both grossly undemocratic and horrificly stupid. At best, forbidding Catalans from voting invites the Catalan government to unilaterally declare independence. And at worst, using force means its only a matter of time before someone, either the Catalan government or just the 70% of Catalans who want to decide this democraticly, decides to defend themselves with force. And what happens then?

Spain is supposed to be a modern state, committed to democratic ideals. It is part of the European Union, which is similarly committed to democracy. The idea that such a state should behave in this manner is as absurd as it is obscene.

Questions like this should not be resolved by force. They should be resolved democraticly. Let Catalans vote! And if they vote for independence after today, then Spain only has itself to blame.

Kiwis support a water tax

The prospect of making farmers and water bottlers pay for their use of public water has been a big issue this election campaign. Irrigation-dependent dairy farmers hate the idea, of course - they're freeloaders who don't want to pay their fair share. The rest of New Zealand, OTOH, recognises that a resource rental on water is simply fair:

The results of a new Water New Zealand survey show the vast majority of Kiwis want commercial water users to be charged, and are concerned about the quality of waterways.

Seventy seven per cent of those surveyed said agriculture and horticulture users should pay for water, as did 77 per cent of participants living in rural communities.

Fifty nine per cent of respondents said that all water users should pay, and 42 per cent of respondents thought they were already paying for water use.

A clear majority, 89 per cent, thought bottled water companies and similar industries should pay.

"Interestingly, these responses are consistent across city, regional and rural regions," Water New Zealand said in the survey report, released on Wednesday.

Yes, even people in the country recognise that if you profit from the effective privatisation of a public resource, you should be paying for it, just like you do for gold, silver, and oil. Sadly, there seems to be a strong culture among farmers that their profits and lifestyle should be subsidised by the rest of us. But with this sort of support, that culture simply can't last. Farmers are going to have to pay their own way, so they'd better start getting used to the idea.

National censors NZTA

Last month, when the National Party announced ten expensive new roads as the core of its election campaign, the Greater Auckland blog noticed something interesting: the business case for one of them, Whangarei to Wellsford, had disappeared from NZTA's website. Google's cache also suggested why: because the business case found that the road "perform[ed] poorly from an economic efficiency perspective" and should not be built.

The natural suspicion was that the government had ordered the business case removed because it undermined its election promise. And thanks to the OIA, we now know that that is exactly what happened:


Interestingly, Transport Minister Simon Bridges had denied giving any such orders. So either he was outright lying in response to an OIA request, or doesn't know what his own staff are doing. Either way, its not acceptable, and NZTA should not be censoring public information to help with the Minister's election campaign.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

How WINZ got social housing costs so wrong

Last year, National bowed to public pressure over homelessness and replaced emergency housing loans - under which the homeless were saddled with odious debt to be put up in price-gouging motels - with a grant. Their initial budget for these grants was a mere $2 million, but demand was so high that they burned through that in the first month. Currently, WINZ is on track to spend $50 million on these grants, 2500% of their budget. So how did they get it so wrong? Someone used FYI, the public OIA request site, to ask. The result is a depressing insight into the paucity of WINZ's thinking on the issue.

WINZ released 9 MB of documents, but the money quote is buried at the back:

The cost of the SNG has been estimated on the basis of supporting 750 single people and 1,250 families at 7 days each at the maximum SNG rate. Once implemented, the SNG will be demand-driven but an estimate of expected cost still needs to be provided as this is a policy change

So, 2,000 grants at $1,000 each. According to the cover letter, the number of grants was estimated from the number of households with "insecure housing" on WINZ's (severely restricted) social housing register (~800 - 950), and the number of households listed in the 2013 census as lacking habitable accommodation (4,200). In other words, they deliberately estimated that only 40% of those eligible would be given a grant - either because they wouldn't apply, or because WINZ would unlawfully refuse it. They also assumed that families would be given such a grant for only 7 days, after which they would miraculously find an affordable home to live in.

The reality, according to MSD's Social Housing Report, is a little different: MSD gave out 11,446 grants totalling $12.6 million to 3,108 individual clients in the March quarter alone. The average grant wasn't just higher - $1,100 instead of $1,000 - but there were significantly more of them. Partly this is because there were more clients, but the biggest factor is that each client received almost a month of support rather than the expected week. And price-gouging by the motels WINZ was hiring didn't exactly help either.

In retrospect, this should have been obvious to WINZ. People don't just find an affordable home in a week, and given that WINZ itself was organising a big chunk of those homes via its social housing programmes, it should have known how long it would take. But like everything from National, the policy seems to have been designed as a PR stunt, so they could claim that something was being done, not as something designed to actually make a difference.

The scary thing is, it could have been worse. WINZ's first budget estimate, in August 2015, was for 750 grants, at $500 each - a mere $375,000. Clearly the organisation responsible for preventing homelessness had no idea of either the scale of the problem, or the cost of fixing it. And there's little evidence that they've learned anything since.

Climate change: This is going to cost us

For the past six months, National have been suppressing Ministry for the Environment guidance on coastal hazards, which show that sea level rise and the resulting storm surges threaten $19 billion of coastal property. This government malfeasance isn't just bad froma transparency point of view - it has real consequences. Consequences like this:

The Thames-Coromandel District Council recently gave its consent to a 72 lot extension of the Whitianga Waterways canal housing project, and relied on a “least drama” IPCC projection for sea level rise of 1.06 m out to 2120. That 1m projection complies with nine-year-old 2008 Ministry for the Environment guidelines. But was this good resource and risk management practice? If the Council had instead taken account of high-impact but relatively low-probability projections, as has been proposed by the latest 2017 Draft Ministry guidelines and other 2017 reports from the USA, it would have been forced to conclude that both the subdivision itself and most of Whitianga township will be submerged by rising seas.

Instead, people are going to build houses there, and those houses are going to be underwater in 80 years. And long before then, the council will be forced to redzone them, and the owners will sue the council for deliberately and knowingly consenting them when they shouldn't have. Whoever ends up carrying the can, it is going to be hugely expensive, and hugely wasteful, not to mention ruining people's lives. And all because some property developer wanted to to find a greater fool to realise their asset before it became valueless, and the council was too stupid or too corrupt to say "no".

When that happens, we should send the bill to Paula Bennett, whose suppression of bad news has allowed this decision to be made.

Suffrage Day


Today, September 19th, is Suffrage Day. 124 years ago today, women gained the right to vote in New Zealand. Its one of our greatest achievements as a nation, and yet its not one we publicly mark. That needs to change: Suffrage Day should be a public holiday. Its certainly better than celebrating a dead religion, a foreign monarchy, or their odious wars.

This year, Suffrage Day has fallen in the middle of an election campaign, so its a particularly appropriate day to advance vote. If you're not sure where to do that, just select your electorate from the list here.

Australia tries to deport Rohingya to persecution

Myanmar is currently waging a campaign of ethnic cleansing against its Rohingya minority. So naturally, the racist Australian government is trying to force Rohingya detained in its concentration camps to return to persecution:

Australia is promising thousands of dollars to Rohingya refugees who agree to return to Myanmar, a country that has been accused of ethnic cleansing against the Muslim minority.

Asylum seekers in the Australian-run detention centre on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island, have been pressured by officials to return to their home countries, even if they face violence.


Returning Rohingya to their country could put their lives at risk. Myanmar does not recognise the ethnic minority and has conducted military operations in Rohingya villages that the United Nations’ top human rights official branded “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.

Close to 400,000 Rohingya have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh, many with bullet wounds and stories of mass killings, as their villages burn.

This is simply monstrous. But its the ultimate endpoint of Australia's racist, anti-refugee policies: sending people back to be murdered. And the parallels with the shameful treatment of Jews fleeing Nazi Germany - treatment which the Refugee Convention was created to prevent any repeat of - couldn't be any clearer.

National's New Zealand

The latest manifestation of National's social deficit? Malnourished kids:

Malnutrition is putting twice as many kids in hospital compared with 10 years ago, as food prices continue to bite into household incomes.

Child hospitalisation data shows around 120 children a year now have overnight stays due to nutritional deficiencies and anaemia, compared to an average 60 a decade ago.

Doctors say poor nutrition is also a factor in a significant proportion of the rest of the 40,000 annual child hospitalisations linked to poverty - and that vitamin deficiencies are more common in New Zealand compared to similar countries.

"Housing, stress and nutrition - it's all tied together," said pediatrician Dr Nikki Turner, from the Child Poverty Action Group. "If you want to eat nutritiously on a low-income it's difficult, and that means you're more likely to get sick and stay sick for longer."

National has allowed a housing bubble to grow while neglecting poverty and homelessness. And this is the result. And its not simply indecent - it will also cost us later in health, education, and reduced life chances for these children. But I guess National's "answer" to that would simply be to build another road...

Monday, September 18, 2017

Its going to be a short election night

Advance voting has really taken off this year, with enormous numbers exercising their right to vote early, parties campaigning specifically for advance votes, and queues at some advance polling booths. As of Sunday, 445,000 people had advance voted - more than did so in the whole 2011 election. The number of advance votes look like it will easily surpass the 2014 election as well - but by how many?

Looking at the Electoral Commission's graphs, there's a rough pattern. In 2011, roughly 70,000 people had advance voted a week out from the election, versus a final tally of 334,000. In 2014, the week out number was 179,000 versus a final tally of 717,000. So, the final number is somewhere between 4 and 5 times the week out figure. Applying the lower estimate to Friday's tally of 312,000 gives an estimate of roughly 1.25 million advance votes - or about half the total expected to be cast. And it could be even higher.

Those votes are counted early, starting on election afternoon, and announced shortly after the polls close on election night. Which means that from pretty much the moment the election specials start, we're going to already know the rough shape of the result, and have an idea which of the rival polling houses' models is correct. And with fewer votes to count, the rest of the results should be counted much quicker, giving us a final result much earlier. In other words, unless something goes catastrophically wrong somewhere, it is going to be a very short election night.

Too many cows

Waikato's dairy farmers - the dirtiest in the country - are protesting in Morrinsville today to defend their "right" to keep pumping their shit into our rivers and their piss into our wells. Meanwhile, to get an idea of how obscene this is, farmers are just 1% of the population. They produce 50% of greenhouse gas emissions. And their cows use as much water as 60 million people:

Dairy farms in New Zealand use water equivalent to the combined populations of London, New York, Tokyo, Los Angeles, and Rio de Janeiro, experts say.


Fraser and Dewes, using Dairy NZ figures, said there were 12,000 dairy herds in New Zealand consuming 4.8b cubic metres of water.

An average person - based on figures from Wellington, although water use varies nationwide - uses around 80 cubic metres of water, meaning dairy farms alone use the equivalent of around 58.2 million people.

Almost all of the water is used by about 2000 farms, primarily in dry areas such as Canterbury and Otago.

And that's why our rivers are so dirty: because we have the equivalent of five global megalopolises sucking them dry, and spewing their shit back, untreated. And this massively disproportionate use of environmental resources is done by and for the benefit of a tiny clique of rural landowners, while fucking up and threatening the lives of the rest of us.

This has to stop. The number of cows has to decrease, and their water use needs to be reduced to a sustainable level. People running dairy farms in areas of the country like Canterbury where its just not environmentally sustainable need to switch to farming something else. Part of the solution to that is to cut the environmental subsidy and make farmers pay for their profiteering from a public resource. But as we've seen with the ETS, market mechanisms alone are insufficient. Ultimately, we need to regulate unsustainable dairying out of existence. And those persist in illegally pumping shit into our environment need to start going to jail for it.

Friday, September 15, 2017

National: climate freeloaders

Climate change is the greatest threat humanity has ever faced. Globally, it promises famine, disease, death, and war. Within New Zealand, it promises to destroy our agricultural industry and drown our coastal communities. Labour and the Greens are taking this threat seriously, promising to set a target of carbon neutrality by 2050 to push us down the pathway towards a greener economy. National, OTOH, doesn't care:

Both Labour and Greens, likely coalition partners, have committed to a carbon-neutral country by 2050 - but National won't commit to one of its own - and the party doesn't think it's possible within the next century.

"It certainly won't happen by 2050, it might happen by 2100," he said in the Young Voters' Debate hosted by 1 News.


"We don't have a stated policy goal of carbon neutrality. Our goal is to meet our international commitments, take climate change seriously, invest in the stuff that actually makes a difference which is the science around agricultural emissions reductions," Mr Bishop said.

"This might not be a popular view, but whether or not New Zealand becomes carbon neutral by 2050, will not stop hurricanes and sea level rise in New Zealand. We are 0.16 percent of global emissions."

And yet National somehow expect other, poorer, countries to make sacrifices that they are unwilling to make, to save their dirty farmer cronies from being driven off the land. Faced with the biggest crisis the world has ever seen, National's policy is simply to freeload off the efforts of others, while doing nothing ourselves, so that their cronies can make money for a little while longer.

That's not the kiwi way. We can and must do better than National's pathetic inaction.

New Fisk

If Nikki Haley doesn't drop her nonsensical pro-Israeli propaganda line at the UN, she could cause real problems for Lebanon

A bribe predicated on a fantasy

When Murray McCully wanted to bribe a pair of corrupt Saudi businessmen, he got it past Cabinet by telling them that the money would prevent a lawsuit. He then told the New Zealand public during a TV interview that he had been advised by MFAT that there was a real threat of such a suit. Naturally, he lied: MFAT never gave him any such advice:

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade did not provide legal advice to the government on the risk of being sued by a disgruntled Saudi Arabian businessman, documents reveal.

The admission that no legal advice on the lawsuit threat ever existed directly contradicts comments in 2015 by then-Foreign Minister Murray McCully that the ministry had taken advice on the issue.

McCully lied to the public and he lied to Cabinet in order to corruptly spend millions of dollars of our money. If he was still a Minister, he should be sacked. Sadly, his retirement means he will escape any accountability for this. But at least he's out of politics for good.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Labour's tax back-down

So, faced with a campaign of fear, uncertainty and doubt from National, Labour has backed away from any plans to introduce a capital gains tax if elected, and instead punted such decisions until 2020:

Labour will wait until a second term before any tax changes from their working group will be introduced.

It made the u-turn after sustained attacks from the National Party over the vagueness of its tax plans.

Other than their already announced polices - such as cancelling National's planned tax cuts, extending the bright line test to five years, and introducing water and tourist levies - no new taxes or changes will kick in before the next election, Labour said on Thursday.

Its Labour in a nutshell. Promise change, do nothing to make it happen. Talk big about benefitting the many, not the few, then promise to preserve the status quo. And by doing so, rob themselves of any ability to actually effect meaningful change.

And this is why I can never support Labour: they have no courage of their convictions, and stand for nothing beyond their own Ministerial salaries. All they offer is the same old shit, with a different bunch of arseholes at the top. As someone who thinks the status quo is rotten to the core, why would I vote for someone who promises not to fix it?

This should have happened a long time ago

In 2010 the National Party suspended Cantabrians' democratic right to elect their local government, and imposed a dictatorship to give their water away to farmers. Now, the people of Canterbury are symbolicly taking their democracy back:

Around 100 water activists have stormed the offices of Environment Canterbury (Ecan) in Christchurch on Thursday morning.

The group is demanding that local democracy be returned to the people of Canterbury so they can get on with saving the region's ailing rivers.

"We are standing up for our rivers and we are taking our democracy back," says Greenpeace campaigner Gen Toop.

"We will not to be silenced and we will not stand aside and let our rivers continue to be destroyed by too many cows."

This should have happened a long time ago. National's dictatorship in Canterbury has allowed farmers to continue to suck the rivers dry and fill them with shit. This isn't just bad for the environment - it threatens to poison Christchurch's water supply and poses a widespread threat to public health. And it happens because the voters of Canterbury are prevented by the government from electing a regional council which will protect them from farmers.

The Canterbury dictatorship has to go. Full elections now!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Toxic politics

So, apparently National MP Jian Yang is a Chinese spy. Or went to university in China. Or is Chinese. Or something. Apparently, this is something we should all Care Deeply About because National Security and Agent of Influence and Yellow Peril and so on. Except I can't, because raising it during an election campaign just makes it seem like a nasty smear of an MP based on their national origin, designed to whip up fear of the Other.

I have no idea if the allegations are true or not. I'd be uncomfortable if they were, in the same way I'd be uncomfortable if a former member of the CIA or MI6 were a member of our government, because our MP's should work for us, not for other people (also, spying is an inherently unethical profession, so anyone who has ever worked for a spy agency fails the sniff test). But the problem is that we can never know one way or another. Calling someone a spy is pretty much irrefutable. It's like calling someone a meat-suit-wearing demon or a witch: any evidence to the contrary can (and will) just be viewed as another layer of deception. There's just no way of ever overcoming it.

(And on the flip side: if the SIS called a press conference tonight and announced that they'd been investigating Yang for years and were planning on arresting and charging him with espionage, given their past record of paranoia, delusion, and outright fantasy, I don't think we could take that as any evidence whatsoever. If the SIS said the Prime Minister had once defrauded the NZ taxpayer of $32,000 by lying about where he lived, I'd have to check, because they probably just read it on the internet somewhere, put the worst possible slant on it, then presented it as irrefutable truth. In fact, they're probably going "Jian Yang is a spy" right now, based solely on these media reports...)

But while I'd be uncomfortable if the allegation was true, what makes me even more uncomfortable is that it is being made at all, and especially during an election campaign. It's a sort of toxic, paranoid politics seen in xenophobic places like Australia and the US who are obsessed with Foreign Enemies (you know, things NZ doesn't have, because we want to get along with everyone). We've been here before with Muldoon calling people "communists", smearing people as foreign agents based on their political beliefs. Here, we're invited to do it on the colour of someone's skin, with an implicit premise that any kiwi born in a foreign country (or at least, a foreign country blighted with a repressive government) is untrustworthy and Not A Real Kiwi. But if the cost of "national security" is accepting premises like that, then I'd rather disband NZDF, SIS, GCSB and the rest of their corrupting apparatus, and be done with the whole vile idea.

Supporting students

A fortnight ago, Labour announced its bid for the student vote, with a plan to boost student allowances by $50 a week and gradually make tertiary study free. Today the Greens have responded with their own student support package which builds on Labour's. They're suggesting a smaller overall boost to allowances - 20% (so about $40) rather than a flat $50. But the counter to that is the introduction of a universal (and higher) student allowance for post-graduate students. They'd also remove National's unfair lifetime borrowing and allowance limits, which prevent people from continuing study at a time when qualification inflation and rapid changes in employment have made it necessary.

The policy is definitely compatible with Labour's, and the differences are primarily a matter of which problem gets addressed first. Meanwhile, all National is offering students is poverty and debt and workplace exploitation. I guess they just don't want the votes of any students whose parents aren't already filthy rich.

Do the right thing for Rohingya refugees

Sam Neill has called on the government to immediately take in Rohingya refugees fleeing Myanma ethnic cleansing:

Actor Sam Neill has called on Bill English to immediately take in Rohingya refugees who are fleeing worsening bloodshed in Myanmar.

Neill has tweeted English urging him to take in "many" refugees from "the most desperate circumstances", adding, "do the right thing Bill".

That plea comes after the Green Party in Australia called on the Turnbull government to take in 20,000 Rohingya refugees in an emergency intake similar to that set up after the violence in Syria.

Neill is right. What's happening in Myanmar is terrible, a classic case of ethnic cleansing. There's very little we at the bottom of the world can do to directly help, beyond supporting UN sanctions, peacekeepers, and an eventual criminal process against the perpetrators (including Nobel peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi). But one thing we can do is help the victims, by giving some of them a new home here. Its the least we can do.

When National refused to increase the refugee quota to 1500 a year, their excuse was that they needed spare capacity to handle an emergency influx in a crisis. Well, that crisis is here now, so its time for that emergency influx. Or was National lying to us all along?

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Party vote: left

Now that advance voting has opened, things have got real. Who should you vote for? If you read this blog, you probably want a progressive, left-wing government which will reduce inequality, save our rivers, bring our emissions under control, and make houses more affordable. You probably want a Labour-led government, working with the Greens (and possibly the Maori Party) rather than Winston. How do we get that? Simple: give your party vote to one of the components of the coalition you prefer.

That could be Labour, it could be the Greens, it could be the Maori Party - a party vote for any of these three will help. IMHO there are sound tactical reasons for supporting one of the smaller options: to ensure the Greens make it into Parliament (and thus that a left coalition is a real option, rather than Labour being forced into the arms of Winston), and to get the progressive voices in the Maori Party in too (Marama Fox seems pretty solid and very inclined to work with Labour and the Greens, but they need ~2% of the party vote to get her in). If neither of those floats your boat, then vote for Labour. Don't vote for Winston unless you're a racist. And don't bother about TOP, because they're cat-hating arseholes who won't make it over the threshold, so votes for them are simply wasted.

Note that this is a recommendation for your party vote, because that's what determines the overall shape of Parliament and therefore who will be in government. It doesn't really matter what you do with your electorate vote (though if you live in Ohariu, please don't vote for the fascist).

Every party vote counts. If you want change, make sure you vote for it, by party-voting left.

The police should not be above the law

The IPCA has found yet another case of unjustified taser use by police. But was the officer prosecuted? Of course not:

A police officer was not justified in using a taser on a prisoner in custody at Hamilton District Court, an independent inquiry has found.


[Waikato district commander Superintendent Bruce] Bird agreed that the officer's use of the taser was contrary to policy and not justified.

"Our staff face an array of challenges when dealing with aggressive members of the public and policing prisoners in court cells can be very challenging.

"It is important that when under pressure, our officers make the right decisions regarding how best to respond.

"We have discussed this incident thoroughly with the officer involved and learnt from the mistake that was made," Bird said.

If you or I used a lethal weapon in this way, we would be charged with assault with a weapon and prosecuted. But no matter how many times the IPCA finds the police acted unlawfully, there are never charges. Its almost as if police are abusing their prosecutorial discretion to protect their own or something. But by doing so, they undermine respect for the police, and for the law itself.

Either the law applies to all, or it is meaningless. This officer should be prosecuted. The police should not be above the law.

New Fisk

Allegations that three Qataris were 'tortured' by UAE officials will put the UK at the centre of an inter-Arab squabble

"No rolling back the clock"

Jacinda Ardern gave an interview to Radio New Zealand this morning in which she denounced NeoLiberalism. At the same time, she made it clear that she's not actually going to change it. She won't buy back stolen public assets. She won't raise taxes on the rich or tax wealth with inheritance taxes. She won't change the way the Reserve Bank sets monetary policy (and therefore effectively sets the level of unemployment). She's still committed to the TPPA, with a few cosmetic changes around whether foreigners get to buy houses (as opposed to things like investor-state dispute mechanisms, environmental protection, Pharmac, and American copyright insanity). And she has this position because "there's no rolling back the clock". All the unjust stuff, all the evil committed by Douglas, by Richardson, by Shipley, and by Key and his cronies, all of that will be left unchanged.

And that's the Labour Party in a nutshell: presenting itself as the party of change, but not actually offering anything substantive. Instead, what they offer is the same unjust status quo, with the only real change being which wankers get ministerial salaries. And bluntly, that's no change at all.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Climate change: China will ban petrol cars

One of the big worries around climate change is what would happen to the climate when China's 1.2 billion people start living like dirty Americans. The good news is that we're probably not going to have to find out, because China has decided to follow a cleaner path:

China is joining France and Britain in announcing plans to end sales of petrol and diesel cars.

China's industry ministry is developing a timetable to end production and sale of traditional fuel cars and will promote development of electric technology, state media on Sunday cited a Cabinet official as saying.

The reports gave no possible target date, but Beijing is stepping up pressure on automakers to accelerate development of electrics.

This is going to make a massive difference, by preventing an enormous future emissions source. But its not just about climate change: air pollution in parts of China is bad enough to cause social unrest, so its tackling that too.

Meanwhile, the US will probably treat its shitty, dirty, inefficient gas-guzzling cars the same way it treats firearms, and refuse to give them up no matter how insane the consequences of keeping them are. Because proper regulation to save the planet (and prevent superstorms like the one currently drowning Florida) would be against their twisted national pride in backwardness or something. But with the rest of the world acting, they may end up forced to change if their car companies want to still have export markets. Alternatively, they can end up as a technological as well as a social and environmental backwater.

No way to run a justice system

National ran of ideas on what to do as a government long ago, so it has been pushing being "tough on crime". Part of this has been trying to tighten access to bail. But longer sentences and no bail means full prisons... which in turn means Corrections are now assisting prisoners to get bail to free up cells:

Corrections has set up a dedicated team to help get inmates out of prison on electronic bail because it is running out of cells in which to keep them.

The specialist team initially targeted the growing number of female prisoners on remand by helping get electronic bail and a release from prison until their cases could be heard.

Corrections has confirmed the programme has now spread across the entire prison population as the number of inmates grows beyond the levels expected because of "tough on crime" policies.

On the one hand, this is good, because people shouldn't go to prison until they're actually convicted (innocent until proven guilty and all that). On the other, as the article points out, Corrections shoving people up the queue for bail hearings raises separation-of-powers and equal justice issues. And on the gripping hand, the overall picture is of a completely dysfunctional government which has no idea what it is doing, and is unwilling to pay the price of their policies by building new prisons, leaving agencies to just kludge along like this. And that's simply no way to run a justice system.

Get out and vote!

Advance voting has started for the 2017 election. Yes, that's right - you can vote from today! Personally, I prefer the party atmosphere of election day, but if you want to do it early, you can. And no, you don't need to give a reason.

Emma Hart has a guide to the process on Public Address here. And if you're not sure where to go, just pick your electorate here and the Electoral Commission will tell you.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Greens on climate change

The Greens had already made substantial commitments on climate change, including passing a UK-style "Zero Carbon Act" to set binding targets on a downward path towards carbon neutrality by 2050 in their first hundred days, and a green infrastructure fund to help shift the economy in a sustainable direction. Now they've added to that, with a proposal to replace the Emissions Trading Scheme with a "Kiwi Climate Fund" - effectively a carbon tax with variable rates for different gases, allowing a transition for farm emissions.

The problem with the ETS is that while its perfect in theory, its absolutely ineffective in practice. Labour weakened it with subsidies, National weakened it further, and meanwhile international trading flooded the market with fraudulent "credits" that had no environmental value at all. This crashed the price, providing no incentive for anyone to reduce emissions. The Greens' plan would replace all that with a simple tax regime, with the revenue recycled into emissions reductions and a universal payment to every adult New Zealander. Forest-owners would get a fixed payment, rather than the present credit scheme. While unstated, I expect that the proposed independent climate change commission would recommend tax increases to reduce emissions over time.

In theory, this is equivalent to an ETS. In practice, it is likely to be easier to administer and more effective. There will be transition costs - the ETS will take some time to unwind. So its really a way of putting pressure on pro-ETS parties to fix the fucking thing: bring in agriculture, stop subsidising pollution, strangle credit supply to hike the price, so that it works as it should. Otherwise we're just shuffling paper around as a substitute for action.

The other big part of the Greens' proposal is a commitment for no new coal, no fracking, and no new deep sea oil. Which makes sense: the fossil fuel industry is the problem, and they have no future if we are to survive as a civilisation. We need to admit that, and put them out of business (or at least reduce them to the handful of uses for which there aren't substitutes). The market is already doing a lot of this for us (the global coal industry is going bankrupt ATM), but we need to draw a line under it. A "no new holes" policy is a good way of doing this.

Labour is talking big on climate change. I guess now we get to see whether they're serious or not.

Friday, September 08, 2017

Making things worse

The natural response of governments to terrorism is to crack down and use state violence against them. But America learned the hard way in Afghanistan and Iraq that that doesn't work; instead their policies of torture, arbitrary detention, and extra-judicial murder simply encouraged more people to fight them. And now African governments are making the same mistake:

Hundreds of violent extremists in Africa have told researchers that government action aimed at countering terrorism and insurgency across the continent was the “tipping point” for their decision to join an extremist group.


“In a majority of cases, paradoxically, state action appears to be the primary factor finally pushing individuals into violent extremism in Africa,” the new report, Journey to Extremism, says.

Of more than 500 former members of militant organisations interviewed for the report, 71% pointed to “government action”, including “killing of a family member or friend” or “arrest of a family member or friend” as the incident that prompted them to join a group.

“State security-actor conduct is revealed as a prominent accelerator of recruitment, rather than the reverse,” the report says.

You can also look at Australia, where government oppression of Muslims in the name of preventing terrorism has in fact created and fed it.

I don't know what the answer to terrorism is. But it is clear that what governments are doing at the moment - abusing human rights - makes things worse, not better. Its not just a crime, it is a mistake.

A Ministerial accessory

Inmates to share cells to cut costs, Dominion-Post, 9 June 2009:

Moves to combat increasing prison populations by making inmates share cells will cause overcrowding and will result in assaults, suicides, rapes and escapes spiralling, critics warn.


However, double-bunking would mean overcrowding, he said. "You're talking about a cell the size of a toilet that a person has to stay in up to 14 hours a day. Now there will be two people staying in there. I just hope they get on."

Mr Hanlon said overcrowding in prisons overseas had always shown a dramatic increase in assaults, suicides, rapes and escapes, and increased psychopathic behaviour among inmates. "What worries me is there's nothing to address the health and safety of prison officers."

Christchurch earthquake: Beneficiary enraged by looter, New Zealand Herald, 26 February 2011:
Police Minister Judith Collins said the actions of looters was akin to "people who rob the dead".

She expected to see the judiciary throw the book at looters.

"I hope they go to jail for a long time - with a cellmate."

Double-bunking under review after cell rapes, RNZ, 8 September 2017:
The Corrections Department is reviewing its criteria for double-bunking in cells after a repeat sex offender was found guilty of raping three of his cellmates.

William Katipa was yesterday found guilty of 14 charges, including sexual violation and threatening to kill, following a jury trial in the High Court in Auckland. The case comes just four months after repeat sex offender Stephen Mark Gotty was sentenced to preventive detention for sexually abusing his young cellmate.

Judith Collins introduced this policy. She was warned what it would lead to. She didn't care (worse, from her Herald comments, she welcomed it). This displays a depraved indifference to the outcomes. Her policy made these crimes possible, and she should have been in the dock alongside Katipa and Gotty as an accessory.

New Fisk

The West might hardly believe it, but it now seems the Syrian war is ending – and Assad is the victor

Labour on climate change

When she relaunched the Labour Party election campaign, Jacinda Ardern called climate change "my generation's nuclear-free moment". And now she's backing that up with a serious climate change policy:

The Labour Party has released its climate change policy, which includes a new goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern also said all sectors including farmers would have to pay for their emissions within her first term, though their costs would initially be offset.


As previously announced, Labour would make legally binding emissions reductions targets and would set up a new government agency to oversee the work.

"For too long, we have set targets and not done what's needed to achieve them," Ardern said.

"That's why Labour will set up an independent Climate Commission to examine what reductions can practically be achieved by each sector and recommend emissions reductions targets."

If this looks familiar, its because its the Greens' climate change policy. And the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment's. And Generation Zero's. There's a proven model of what works waiting to be adopted; now Labour has adopted it. And good on them for doing so.

Of course, whether Labour can do this depends on whether they have a supportive coalition partner. The Greens and Labour are on the same page on climate change now. Winston Peters supports the framework of targets, but opposes any actual action to achieve them. So if we want Labour to be able to act (and to hold them to actually acting, rather than cutting sweetheart deals to continue subsidising polluters), we need to make sure they have the Greens as a partner. Our entire future depends on it.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Nicky Wagner assaults a protestor

Heckling and protest is part and parcel of political campaigning. Its an example of voters' freedom of speech, and you would be hard pressed to claim that there is any prospect of any harm to anyone. Most politicians respond to this by ignoring it; the witty ones engage with it and use it to their advantage. The National Party, OTOH, assaults people:

A protester wearing a suit was yanked away by Christchurch Central MP Nicky Wagner after popping up right behind National Party leader Bill English while he was addressing a large crowd of National supporters in Christchurch.

The man, holding up a large placard protesting battery hen farming, approached Mr English as he gave a speech before Ms Wagner quickly intervened.

She grabbed the protestor under his arms and swiftly lifted him up and pulled him away before member of Mr English's security team ushered the man away.

There's video, and its very clear that this was a peaceful act of protest. Wagner responded by grabbing the protestor. That's clearly assault, and she should be prosecuted for it.

Of course, that will never happen - we all know the police serve the powerful, not the law. But when Gerry Brownlee threw a protestor down a flight of stairs years ago, he was privately prosecuted and convicted. If the police won't do their jobs, the same should happen in this case. Those in power should not be above the law.

Catalonia will vote

The Catalan Parliament has voted to hold an independence referendum:

The Spanish government has accused the Catalan parliament of committing a “constitutional and democratic atrocity” by approving legislation to allow next month’s bitterly disputed independence referendum to go ahead.

On Wednesday night, the region’s ruling, pro-sovereignty coalition – which has a majority in the Catalan parliament – managed to get the referendum law passed despite angry objections from opposition MPs, who complained that usual parliamentary procedures had been disregarded.

The legislation passed by 72 votes after 52 opposition MPs walked out of the chamber in Barcelona in protest at the end of an ill-tempered, 11-hour session.

The move was denounced by the Spanish government, which once again said it would do everything in its legal and political power to stop the vote from going ahead on 1 October.

Everything? What's that going to mean? Arresting the entire Catalan government? Jailing people who speak out for independence? Suppressing Catalan language and culture? Using the army to keep Catalonia in Spain by force? And what does it think any of that that will do to support for independence?

Spain's position simply isn't tenable. In a modern democracy, the only legitimate response to a region which wants to leave is to let them vote on it and arrange a tidy separation if required. Anything less is simply a gross denial of democratic rights which invites violent rather than legal means of separation.

A corrupt practice

A Māori Party candidate is being investigated for bribing voters:

The Electoral Commission is investigating a Māori Party candidate's campaign for allegedly offering online cash credits to potential supporters.

The investigation involves complaints that Botany candidate Wetex Kang's campaign sent messages offering credits to people on Chinese social media message app WeChat.

The Electoral Commission said it had received complaints about the use of "hong bao dollars" on WeChat as part of Mr Kang's campaign.

Bribing voters is a corrupt electoral practice, with a penalty of two years imprisonment and a $40,000 fine. Those convicted are also automatically barred from voting and standing for office in the next election. This is such a basic part of our electoral law (and any fair democratic system) that you really have to wonder how a political candidate possibly thought it was acceptable.

Not that anything will happen, of course. Because while the public and the Electoral Commission take electoral crime seriously, the police don't. They're too busy harassing harmless drug users, spying on protesters, and sucking up to Ministers than to protect our democracy.

Time for pay equity

National has responded to the recent aged care workers case with a bill that would make it harder for women to gain equal pay. Fortunately, the Greens have a better plan:

The Green Party would require all workplaces to measure and disclose the pay gap between men and women employees if it gets into government.

The party released its pay equity policy today, saying it would ensure that women were treated equally and paid better.

Co-leader James Shaw said his party would require employers to collect data on the wage rates for men and women, by adding gender to pay roll data.

If any employee or union asked for the information, the employer would have to provide anonymised and aggregated data about the pay and gender of other people doing the same work.

Seeing the difference in pay rates in black and white would encourage employers to change their approach, the party said.

And if it doesn't, then the victims of their discrimination will have the information they need to prove it. This approach is used in Scandinavia, and it works. We should do the same here. But to do that, we need to get rid of National, and change the government.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Steven Joyce is a serial liar

Over on Stuff, Vernon Small digs up the past, and points out that Steven Joyce is a serial liar:

July 2011: Steven Joyce attacks Labour's fiscal plan, saying it would leave a huge hole over the next 15 years and add $18.4 billion to debt.

August 2014: Steven Joyce claims reckless Labour spending of almost $18b.

Let's just say that even before this week National campaign manager and finance spokesman Steven Joyce has form.

By comparison with his attempts in 2011 and 2014 the "hole" he claimed to have found in Labour's 2017 plan – $11.7b – was relatively small.

His motivation is as clear as crystal: feed the view Labour is incompetent and that National is the only trusted steward of the nation's books.

Which is good reporting for reminding us of both the truth and Joyce's history of dirty politics. At the same time, it ignores the elephant in the room. Why does Joyce keep doing this? Because journalists like Small report it and give his lies a platform, allowing them to be effective. Their refusal to provide context or history until days after the fact makes them willing co-conspirators in Joyce's abuse of democracy.

More weaponised poverty

National is sliding in the polls, so its kicking the poor again:

National has announced further plans to get more young employed people into work, including training and help to get off drugs but those who refuse it will have their benefit cut by half.

National leader Bill English set out the plan in Invercargill.

The $72 million plan would guarantee work experience or training for under-25s who had been on the benefit for more than six months and rehab for drug users who could not get a job because of drug testing.

Those without children who did not take up offers of training, work or drug rehabilitation would have their benefit docked in half after four weeks.

Russell Brown has already had some pointy things to say on Twitter about the drug rehab aspect - basicly, forced rehabilitation doesn't fucking work, so this is just an exercise in pointless cruelty. Meanwhile, I'm wondering about that "work experience": are we talking real work experience, including the experience of being paid for your fucking work, or are we talking using benefit sanctions to force people into a Warehouse-style forced labour scam? Because the latter is fundamentally immoral. Sadly, "fundamentally immoral" is what we all expect from National on welfare policy. They're not actually interested in helping people, but rather in arbitrarily kicking people off benefits while demonising and stigmatising the poor. As Metiria highlighted, they use poverty as a weapon. And that's not something we should tolerate.

National's New Zealand

One of National's over-arching policies for its term of government has been its efforts to exit state housing provision. Selling state houses, evicting tenants, and tightening assessment criteria so that now only people who are living in a cardboard box can even apply have shifted the basis of the state housing system from providing decent homes for all to providing temporary housing support for the homeless. And here's the result: people living in indecent "temporary" conditions for years, because they cannot get a state house:

Tenants at a South Auckland boarding house are waiting years for a state house, compared with just a few months a decade ago, its owner says.

Mike Ross, who owns Favona Lodge in Mangere, said his residents were almost all permanent tenants now because they have given up hope of finding a state house.


Ten years ago, about one person every two months would get a state house, he said.

"They would get a house and then someone else would move into the room, usually another couple with one or two kids."

Now, they were waiting years.

"Most of them have given up and have gone to private rental houses, flatting, sharing with other people," Mr Ross said.

And in the meantime, they wait for years in nineteenth-century living conditions, with whole families crammed into rooms, because National has made the system which is meant to help them unavailable. It's not just indecent - it also has terrible, and hugely expensive, consequences for people's health, education, and employment. But National doesn't care about that. All they care about is cutting back the state, while maximising the profits of their parasitic, blood-sucking landlord mates (and their landlord backbench MPs).

NZDF lied to us

Stuff has a followup piece from The Valley, exposing the NZDF PR machine in action. Back in 2013, when they released the findings of their inquiry into the Battle of Baghak, they also released a video of NZ soldiers in the field. They said this was to show the public what the battle was like, and to show how NZDF troops acted calmly and professionally under fire. Except that was a lie: the sound was edited. While supposedly to remove swearing, that editing completely changed the impression of what was going on:

The manipulation of the video is far more than just the removal of swearing.

Whole chunks of dialogue taken out are conversations which indicate the level of confusion at the battle site. And of the deleted parts, most of it has no swearing at all.


But actually, it's worse than that. Removing other (non-swearing) parts of the audio disguised the extent to which soldiers were confused and did not know who was where. (It's also worth noting The Valley revealed radio communications were not working properly that day).

This was a major issue during the battle, and its censoring gives, at the very least, a disingenuous picture of how things played out.

There's a name for this: propaganda. And NZDF tried to do it to us, using our money. And that's simply not acceptable in a democracy. NZDF's refusal to admit this was wrong shows how badly they need to be cleaned out, their anti-democratic commanders sacked and replaced with officers who know who they serve: the people of New Zealand.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

"Security reasons"

That's the police's stated reason for refusing to provide a response to an OIA request electronicly, and instead only to provide it physically, on payment of a charge:

I'm sorry I can't forward this document to you electronically for security reasons. I can have it downloaded on to a disk - as per one of the options outlined in my letter.

This is simply bullshit. If there are valid security concerns - for example the report includes information about sensitive police methods or the suppressed identities of witnesses - then those are lawful reasons for withholding the information by redacting it. But having reached a decision to release, I don't think they can then decide to refuse to provide it in the requested format for arbitrary reasons like this.

Given the material requested - a report into the Police's handling of the Crewe murders, where police officers planted evidence to frame an innocent man - I suspect the "security" they're concerned about is the security of their deeply tarnished reputation. Sadly, their behaviour in this case simply makes it clearer that the police are still tainted by this scandal and refusing to admit wrongdoing for it. As for the solution, the Ombudsman should force them to release the information.