Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Happy Halloween!


Its Halloween! Which means its pumpkin, cosplay, and free chocolate time!

The beginning of the end?

In a sane country, today's indictments of Trump aides on tax evasion, money laundering and perjury charges would be the beginning of the end for the Trump presidency. The usual process of plea bargaining and providing information for reduced sentences, combined with the high likelihood that one of the three has already been wearing a wire for the past few months, should see further prosecutions of those closer and closer to Trump. Eventually, he'll either be directly implicated, he'll do something stupid and force impeachment, or he'll resign under the sheer political pressure of having appointed so many crooks. Either way, you wouldn't expect him to be running in 2020.

Except that the US isn't a sane country. Impeachment requires Republican members of Congress to fear losing their seats, but the Republican base doesn't give a shit about political hygiene. And resignation requires shame - something which has long been absent from US political culture. Even if Trump is directly implicated and brought to trial, he'll paint the entire thing as an establishment conspiracy and brazen it out. And US political culture is so sick that he may very well get away with it.

In other words, we're about to find out whether US democracy is salvageable. I hope that it is, but sadly no-one ever went broke thinking the worst of the American people.

Monday, October 30, 2017

PNG tells Australia where to go

Papua New Guinea appears to have decided that it no longer wants to host refugee concentration camps for Australia:

Refugees held on Manus Island who do not want to resettle in Papua New Guinea will not be forced to, and Australia must find them somewhere else to go, the PNG government has warned.

In a reflection of PNG’s growing frustration with Australia’s offshore processing policy the country’s minister for immigration and border protection, Petrus Thomas, issued an unprecedentedly forceful statement late on Sunday, telling Australia it held legal, financial and moral responsibility for the refugees held on Manus.

The statement was released publicly, but is clearly aimed at officials in Canberra, as the two governments negotiate this week on managing the refugee population beyond the slated closure of the Manus detention centre on Tuesday.

Pretty much no-one on Manus Island wants to resettle in Papua New Guinea, mostly because it is simply not a safe environment for them. Refugees who have attempted to become part of the local community have been assaulted. So this is basicly saying that Australia needs to take everyone and find them a new home. And given their decision on the illegality of the concentration camps, I doubt the PNG courts are going to permit forcible rendition to Nauru, so that's got to be a new home that they agree to go to. Which is exactly what Australia doesn't want to do.

Pretty obviously New Zealand could help here. And we should be talking to the PNG government about what we can do to prevent further suffering and human rights abuse by Australia.

Iceland rolls its corrupt government

Icelanders went to the polls for the second time in a year over the weekend, and robbed their corrupt government of its majority:

Iceland’s ruling centre-right parties have lost their majority after a tight election that could usher in only the second left-of-centre government in the country’s history as an independent nation.

With all votes counted after the Nordic island’s second snap poll in a year, the conservative Independence party of the scandal-plagued outgoing prime minister, Bjarni Benediktsson, was on course to remain parliament’s largest.

But it lost five of of its 21 seats in the 63-member Althing, potentially paving the way for its main opponent, the Left-Green Movement headed by Katrín Jakobsdóttir, to form a left-leaning coalition with three or more other parties.

All the governing parties lost seats, and one of them, Bright Future, was eliminated entirely, being reduced to just 1.2% of the vote. Despie that, 25% of Icelanders till voted for a party whose leader corruptly used government information to profit from bank nationalisation. That's appalling.

Political fragmentation means that any government is going to require the cooperation of at least four parties, and maybe even more than that. But its doable, and hopefully Iceland will have a new, non-corrupt government soon.

Police discretion

The police have "re-investigated" former National MP's alleged unlawful recording of his staff members, and confirmed their decision not to lay charges. So far, so unsurprising. But this bit is surprising:

While we recognise the strong interest in this matter, the foundation of any decision to seek warrants or to prosecute is always the evidence available to us.

Speculation, hearsay and third party information does not in itself constitute such evidence.

The legal barrier for issuing a warrant is "reasonable grounds to suspect" that an offence has been committed. In most cases that barrier is met by someone telling the police something - AKA "hearsay and third party information" - or by the police speculating that someone who did something similar will have done this thing too. That's exactly how they got the warrant to search Nicky Hager's house in a desperate effort to uncover his sources and punish him for publishing Dirty Politics. But apparently the rules are different when a politician is involved. So what are we to conclude? Either Barclay is getting special treatment from police on account of his status, or they've just admitted that the vast bulk of their ordinary work fails to meet basic standards. Either way, its not good, and it doesn't provide us with any reason to believe that the law will be upheld fairly for all in future.

Friday, October 27, 2017

New Fisk

By killing Isis fighters instead of bringing them to justice, we become as guilty as our enemies


Quietly, just after the election, the government has released a pile of Ministerial Policy Statements under the Intelligence and Security Act 2017. As required by the Act, these set rules on various issues, such as conducting surveillance in a public place or creating false identities. One of the MPS's is on co-operating with overseas public authorities (AKA foreign spy agencies). And it has some pretty interesting implications in light of the UK government's announced policy of extrajudicial killing.

Firstly, NZ spy agencies now have a legal duty to act "in accordance with New Zealand law and all human rights obligations recognised by New Zealand law". This includes rights not to be deprived of life and not to be subjected to torture or cruel treatment under New Zealand law as well as various international instruments. The MPS makes it clear that this obligation applies explicitly to "the sharing of intelligence, analysis and threat reporting with foreign partners". Spy agencies need to exercise due diligence and actively monitor to ensure that intelligence sharing or cooperation does not breach NZ law or make spy agencies complicit in human rights abuses, and must

decline or stop cooperating with the overseas public authority where a real or substantial risk of breach of human rights obligations (such as the prohibition of torture) is identified.

The UK government has just announced explicitly that it intends to breach the human rights of its citizens suspected of involvement in ISIS by murdering them. They have carried out such murders in the past, and clearly intend to do so in the future. This seems to have some pretty obvious consequences under the MPS: New Zealand spy agencies such as the GCSB can no longer share information with the UK on any UK citizen suspected of involvement with ISIS. Providing information on involvement will put them on a British kill-list and result in them being targeted for murder. Providing actual location details or intelligence which could result in their being located would allow such a murder to be carried out. Breaching this could result in individual GCSB staff being held criminally liable as parties to murder, in the same way that those who knowingly and willingly conspire with a murderer to locate their target would be.

In short, if they haven't already, New Zealand spies will need to cease cooperation with the UK in key parts of the "war on terror", until it disavows its policy of murder. The problem is that the secrecy around spies means that we don't know whether they have, or whether they've round-filed the MPS or are deliberately turning a blind eye to the UK's crimes in the name of maintaining their relationship with the Five Eyes. And where fundamental human rights are concerned, I just don't think that's good enough.

British government supports extrajudicial killing

The UK government officially opposes the death penalty and regards the right to a fair trial as fundamental. The right not to be killed by the state and to be tried if accused of a crime is affirmed in domestic law. They are party to numerous international agreements in both those areas, including the ICCPR and the European Convention on Human Rights. And yet, a Minister in their government is openly calling for the extrajudicial killing of UK citizens:

The only way of dealing with most of the British Islamic State fighters in Syria is to kill them, a British government minister has said.

Rory Stewart, an international development minister, said converts to the terror group believed in an “extremely hateful doctrine” and fighters could expect to be killed given the threat they posed to British security.


Stewart was asked about the comments on BBC Radio 5 Live’s Pienaar’s Politics. The minister said there were “very difficult moral issues”, adding: “These are people who have essentially moved away from any kind of allegiance towards the British government.

“They are absolutely dedicated, as members of the Islamic State, towards the creation of a caliphate. They believe in an extremely hateful doctrine which involves killing themselves, killing others and trying to use violence and brutality to create an eighth-century or seventh-century state.

“So I’m afraid we have to be serious about the fact these people are a serious danger to us, and unfortunately the only way of dealing with them will be, in almost every case, to kill them.”

Note that he's not talking about them dying in combat during war - he's talking about targeted assassinations. Extrajudicial killing. Murder. On the basis of their political views. The UK is now officially a state which murders its dissidents overseas, no different from Russia or North Korea.

This is not acceptable. Nor is it lawful. Those who authorise, plan or participate in such killings are guilty of murder, and they should be prosecuted as such. And if the UK courts won't do it, the international courts should.

The obvious solution

Australia is planning to cut off food, water and electricity supplies to its Manus Island concentration camp next week, and (despite PNG government assurances) has brought in a notoriously brutal police unit to clear the camp by force and force the detainees into other camps. While their detention has been ruled illegal, the refugees do not want to move because the new camps are unsafe - refugees have been assaulted and even killed by locals, and there have been explicit threats if they move. Australia's response to this has simply been to shrug their shoulders and deny responsibility. Having kidnapped these people, rendered them to Papua New Guinea, and detained them illeglaly for years in appalling conditions, they're now pretending that they have no responsibility for what happens afterwards.

This is simply bullshit, and there's an obvious solution: PNG should return the refugees to Australia, where they belong in the first place. If they won't (or can't, because they're basicly an Australian vassal), then there's another alternative: us. New Zealand has offered to take these refugees, and our offer is still open. Australia opposes this, because we eventually give refugees citizenship, which means they could then in theory visit or even move to Australia (as if anyone would want to go to the society which rejected, abused and tortured them). But Australia can't have it both ways and deny responsibility while also claiming the right to determine these people's fates. And to be honest, we shouldn't be talking to them about it anyway. Instead, we should be making our offer directly to the government of Papua New Guinea.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Here's hoping

Back in May, National, ACT and United Future got together to vote down Jan Logie's Equal Pay Amendment Bill. The bill would have provided greater information and transparency around gender and pay, allowing discrimination to be uncovered and corrected. But now that the balance of power in Parliament has changed, it might be back:

A defeated private member's bill that would force the private sector to open up its books and reveal more about gender pay differences may be resurrected as a Government bill, in an effort to narrow the gender pay gap.

The Women's portfolio, to be held by Green MP Julie Anne Genter, was one of many allocations that were released today by Prime Minister-designate Jacinda Ardern. Genter said one of her top priorities was to close the gender pay gap, "both in the public and private sector".

Asked about bringing back the Equal Pay Amendment Bill, which was voted down in May this year by the narrowest of margins, she said: "That is a Green Party bill and certainly one of many things that I''ll be investigating in the role, and trying to win support for with the new Government."

Good. Because we have a real pay equity problem in New Zealand, and we need to fix it. Clearly, current policies aren't working so new ones are needed. And removing the secrecy which hides employer sexism would be a damn good start.

This is just wrong

Its a known fact that WINZ benefits are deliberately not enough to live on, which forces beneficiaries into debt to survive. But it turns out that if you borrow money for food, WINZ considers it to be income and you guilty of fraud. And currently they're pursuing a solo mother through the courts for $120,000 she doesn't have, because they underpaid her in the first place:

In a case being heard in the High Court, the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) is arguing that a sole mother who took out loans to pay for her home repairs and to support her children - because she could not otherwise afford to on the benefit - should have to repay more than $120,000 in so-called ‘over payments’.

This Friday, October 27 is the last day of the hearing. Ms X. has name suppression and is represented by Frances JoyChild QC.

No form Ms X. ever filled out for her benefit asked her to list loans as a form of income. The cost of the nearly eight years of reviews and appeal is huge, both financially and in terms of her health.

This is wrong. Just fucking wrong. WINZ has already been told that by its own Appeals Authority (which pointed out both the absurdity and the unfairness of considering loans to be income while never asking about them), but they've persisted in persecuting this woman. It really gives the impression that their purpose is to grind people's faces into the dirt, rather than provide proper social support so people can live in dignity.

The government committed to reforming the welfare system and changing its punitive culture under the labour-Green confidence and supply agreement. Hopefully they'll start by putting a shit like this - and sacking everybody who has wasted public money on this immoral outrage.

Correction: The Social Security Appeal Authority had ruled some of the loans were not "income" (and noted that WINZ's forms are inadequate and do not ask about loans), but upheld that others are. Details here.

Justice for Teina Pora

In 1994, then 17 year-old gang associate Teina Pora was stitched up for rape and murder on the basis of a false, coerced confession. In 1996 DNA evidence showed he was innocent, but it took until 2015 for him to finally be freed. In 2016, the government awarded him $2.5 million in compensation for the 21 years he had wrongly spent behind bars - but, being arseholes, they shortchanged him of $500,000 by refusing to adjust it for inflation. When Pora went to court on that point and won, National's arseholes promised to appeal to stop an innocent man from getting the compensation he was entitled to. But now, we've had an election. And the new Minister of Justice is not an arsehole:

Incoming Justice Minister Andrew Little has confirmed he will order Teina Pora's $2.5 million compensation to be increased to match inflation.

The outgoing government had reserved the right to appeal against the inflation decision but Mr Little, who will be sworn in with the rest of the government today, confirmed to Morning Report that appeal would not go ahead.

"The High Court was pretty clear that when Cabinet considered it last time they hadn't considered adjusting by inflation as a matter of fairness. The High Court has now said that the government must do that, so we will do that."

Good. Pora deserves full compensation from the government for what they did to him, and now he will finally get it. But it shouldn't have needed a change of government to get there.

Even better, the new government has promised a UK-style Criminal Cases Review Commission to investigate and make recommendations on potential miscarriages of justice. While such a system won't be perfect, it will be an important backstop to the courts, and should reduce the chances of people suffering like Pora in the future. But again, that's an idea which has been banging around Parliament for over a decade (then-National backbencher Richard Worth had a members bill on it in 2006, but it was never drawn). Who knows how many people have been wrongly convicted while politicians have pissed around, refusing to provide proper justice so they can be "tough on crime"?

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

A suspicious delay

Update: As Graeme Edgeler points out, the delay was expected:

So, the judicial process was not perverted for the benefit of a political party. Good to know.

The High Court has finally ruled in the case of Eight Mile Style v New Zealand National Party, finding that National ripped off Eminem in its 2014 campaign ads and awarding damages of $600,000 plus interest. Which raises again the question of the judgement's timing. As the Herald pointed out back in September, the judgement was expected to be delivered in mid-August, right at the start of the election campaign. Instead, its taken an extra two and a half months, being delivered just days after the election result has been definitively established by the formation of a government. Obviously, if it had been delivered during the campaign, or even coalition negotiations, it would have been highly damaging to the National Party. So the question naturally arises whether it was delayed to avoid that.

The judicial process being perverted for the political advantage of the government of the day is not acceptable, and calls the neutrality of the courts into question. And if this isn't what happened, the judge needs to front up and explain the delay. Otherwise, its their own fault if people draw the natural conclusion.

LGOIMA, personal email, and journalists

There's an interesting Ombudsman's ruling out today covering both attempts by officials to circumvent the law by using private email accounts, and requests for communications with journalists. Here's the summary on the first part:

A requester sought access to a Hawke’s Bay Regional Councillor’s email and telephone communications with specified third parties between 8 and 25 August 2016. When the request was refused, the requester made a complaint to the Ombudsman under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987 (LGOIMA).

Most of the communications in question were conducted and stored on the Councillor’s private email account. In the course of the Ombudsman’s investigation, parties suggested that information stored in a personal email account was not official information and therefore was not subject to the LGOIMA. The Ombudsman did not accept this argument.

The question of LGOIMA’s application turned on whether the Councillor had sent or received the communications while acting in his official capacity as a Councillor. The LGOIMA could not be circumvented by conducting or storing those communications on private email accounts or personal devices.

All of which is uncontroversial. The interesting part is the willingness of the Ombudsman to use s19(1) of the Ombudsmen Act to compel production of the relevant material so it could be properly assessed. Its a clear message to politicians: keep your official information on official services, or face having your personal accounts trawled through to find it.

The second part of the ruling is also interesting: one of the "specified third parties" was a journalist. And on that front, the Ombudsman ruled that those communications were subject to an obligation of confidence and could therefore be withheld. Journalistic source protection (which is recognised as important in the Evidence Act) protects officials who provide information to journalists, and LGOIMA (and by extension, the OIA) can't be used to break it. Its an important recognition of the democratic role of the media, and yet it raises potentially troubling questions about accountability for "official" leaks and dirty politics. OTOH, the latter is likely to involve a high public interest in release (there being a higher interest in accountability for smears). And on the gripping hand, if you ask a politician for their communications with a journalist, and they refuse release due to confidentiality, that's effectively a confession, and (unless there are strong reasons to think otherwise), its perfectly reasonable to conclude that they are the source. The only way for politicians to avoid such public inferences is to disclose.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Climate change: A lot of trees

Labour and New Zealand First signed their coalition agreement today, and one item caught my eye: "Planting 100 million trees per year in a Billion Trees Planting Programme." That is a lot of trees. Its also potentially a huge step towards meeting our climate change targets.

At the moment New Zealand plants about 40,000 hectares of trees a year, mostly as replanting of existing plantations. 100 million trees is about 100,000 hectares (assuming a stocking rate of 1,000 trees per hectare; actual numbers vary from 600 to 1,400). As that graph shows, its going to mean a huge increase in the propagation industry, to a level even higher than the mid-90's peak. Its in theory doable, but difficult, and may take a number of years to ramp up.

As for the payoff, once established, a hectare of pine aborbs 25 tons of CO2 a year, every year, for 40 or 50 years. A years planting will soak up 2.5 million tons of CO2 every year. And the government plans to do that for a decade. Which is going to make a huge difference to our emissions profile in the long term.

And we're going to need it. Because all those trees planted in the mid-90's are starting to be cut down. Which means we're going to face a huge peak in our emissions over the next decade. A mass tree-planting programme will smooth that peak, and help stabilise things, buying us a bit of time. But fundamentally, if we are to solve this, we need to cut emissions (including the sacred cow of agricultural emissions), rather than just planting trees.

The same old racist National Party

Over the weekend the media tried to talk up coalition divisions over the proposed Kermadec ocean sanctuary. The Greens supposedly wanted it, but NZ First had killed it over the lack of iwi consultation, but it was still on if iwi agreed. Looking at these stories, its pretty clear that there's not much "disagreement" at all: the Greens and NZ First both agree that they need to reach agreement with iwi before the sanctuary can happen. Despite this, National thinks it is the perfect issue to try and divide them on with a member's bill:

While some media have reported the plan is already a casualty of Labour's coalition agreement with New Zealand First, outgoing environment minister Nick Smith said National would consider introducing a member's bill to get the sanctuary over the line.

The Green Party is adamant the sanctuary should be established, and, because National holds 56 seats in Parliament, only the Greens' support is needed to pass the legislation.

Dr Smith said the Greens would have to support the bill if it was drawn from the ballot, or risk alienating their support base.

Hardly. Because in addition to supporting the environment, the Green Party and its members overwhelmingly support the Treaty of Waitangi and the settlement process. Legislating unilaterally to effectively overturn a Treaty settlement isn't compatible with that, and I think Green supporters would be quite comfortable with their MPs voting down such a bill if it didn't contain appropriate and approved clauses protecting iwi rights.

What this does show us is that this is the same old National Party which advocated for unilateral theft of the foreshore and seabed in 2003, which voted for Don Brash as leader, and ran on a platform of outright racial hatred in 2005. A party which thinks that Maori don't matter, that their views can be ignored, that they have no rights. And that the government can break its word to them whenever it is convenient or advantageous.

I'm glad that that racist party was constrained by the Maori Party when it was in government. And I'm glad they're out of government now.

Friday, October 20, 2017

New Fisk

Vladimir Putin is positioning himself as the main player in the Middle East

A mistake

On October 1st, Catalans marched to the ballot boxes in the face of Spanish police batons, and voted loudly and clearly for independence. This then, there's been an esclating crisis as Spain has lost its shit over people peacefully and democraticly choosing for themselves what they want to do. The Catalan government has tried to de-escalate this, by suspending its declaration of independence in order to allow for negotiations. The Spanish government has rejected that, instead doubling down on repression by jailing independence leaders for "sedition" (a concept which simply has no place in a democracy). And now, they're threatening to suspend Catalonia's regional autonomy and impose direct rule from Madrid:

The Spanish government is to suspend Catalonia’s autonomy and impose direct rule after the region’s president refused to abandon the push for independence that has triggered Spain’s biggest political crisis for 40 years.

The announcement of the unprecedented measure came after the Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, threatened a unilateral declaration of independence if the Spanish government did not agree to talks on the issue.

In a statement on Thursday morning, the Spanish government said Puigdemont had ignored its calls to drop his independence plans and had once again failed to confirm whether independence had actually been declared.

As a result, it said, article 155 of the Spanish constitution would be invoked to begin the process of suspending the region’s self-rule.

And the response will be pretty obvious: the declaration of independence will be unsuspended (or there'll be a formal parliamentary vote), and the thing Spain sought to prevent will undeniably happen. With the overwhelming support of the Catalan people - because Spain's actions throughout this have been seemingly calculated to drive people away rather than win them over.

As for what happens then, who knows? But Spain clearly thinks it can solve this problem by force, beatings and repression. It can't. Or at least, it can't while still remaining a democracy. Sadly, it looks like Spain's non-Catalans don't really care about that.

Thursday, October 19, 2017


So, nearly four weeks after the election, and two weeks after the results, Winston has chosen Labour and the Greens. While I'm not overjoyed at the result, because Winston, its certainly the better outcome of the hand the voters dealt the parties. And while a government saddled with Winston won't be able to achieve everything we want it to, the involvement of the Greens should both push Labour to the left while being a check on Winston's more odious policies. Meanwhile, there's some solid policy the three parties agree on, like building state houses, raising the minimum wage, and even passing a Zero Carbon Act (where NZ First seems to get off is any actual policy to meet the targets such an Act will set). So, I'm hoping that it will turn out OK. I know the Greens at least will be working constructively to make that happen.

The part of Winston's speech that really stood out and signified his direction was this:

Far too many New Zealanders have come to view today’s capitalism, not as their friend, but as their foe.

And they are not all wrong.

That is why we believe that capitalism must regain its responsible - its human face. That perception has influenced our negotiations.

And he's right. Capitalism is broken. Just look at housing, or poverty, or our shitty, low wage employment market - its just not providing for ordinary people (and that's not even getting into the ways it doesn't work around the environment). Whether it can be fixed or not is an open question, but I'm not going to fault people for trying. And if they manage to do something about the awful poverty (and associated cruelty) we tolerate, then maybe Metiria's martyrdom will have been worth it.

New Fisk

After visiting Hitler’s office in Munich, it’s clear to me that there are still lessons to be learned

British spies are sharing data illegally

For years, British spies have been collecting personal information on innocent UKanians, building huge "bulk personal datasets" of personal information on ordinary UK citizens who they admit are of no intelligence interest. That's bad enough, but it also turns out that they're illegally sharing that unlawfully-gathered information with their "allies":

MI5 and MI6 may be circumventing legal safeguards when they share bulk datasets with foreign intelligence services and commercial partners, a court has been told.

Most of the bulk personal datasets relate to UK citizens who are not of “legitimate intelligence interest”, the investigatory powers tribunal (IPT) heard.


While GCHQ has said it insists its partners adopt equivalent standards and safeguards when processing bulk data, Jaffey said, neither MI5 nor MI6 have a similar approach. “The effect will be the circumvention of the UK legal regimes,” he added. “Protections will be avoided.”

The information collected includes "internet usage, telephone call logs, websites visited, online file transfers and others". It gets given to researchers at UK universities, UK government agencies, and foreign intelligence agencies. There's no safeguards on the latter, and this information can potentially be used to abduct and torture people, or target them for drone assassination. Either of those uses would of course be completely contrary to UK law, but if they don't check, then the spies can pretend that they're not criminals.

And of course this raises serious questions about whether New Zealand's intelligence agencies have similar datasets and what information they share about New Zealanders (or others). Some of this may be covered by the still-ongoing IGIS inquiries into cooperation with CIA rendition and torture and interceptions in the South Pacific, but neither of those reports seem like they'll be emerging any time soon.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Farmers are poisoning Canterbury

Thanks to intensive farming, a quarter of Canterbury's wells are close to exceeding safe nitrate limits:

Increased irrigation in Canterbury is putting newborn babies at increased risk from water contamination, a medical officer of health says.

Canterbury Regional Council figures show that for the ten years to the end of 2016, nitrate levels increased in 23 percent of monitored wells.

So far, high nitrate levels in Canterbury were confined to private wells and none of those serving communities had been found to have dangerously high readings.

However, a quarter of council-monitored wells are coming close to exceeding safe limits.

Babies can die from nitrate poisoning, and at least one has (others may have, but had the deaths misclassified as sudden infant deaths). And that's simply not an acceptable risk. Farming is a clear risk to public health, and its the job of the regional council and the government to regulate it so that it is not. And if this regulation means farmers make less money, then so be it - because it is not acceptable for people to profit by murdering children.

New Fisk

Isis has lost Raqqa with the fighting taking much of the city's history too – where will their fighters head to next?

Spain has political prisoners again

Under Franco's dictatorship, Spain had political prisoners. And now, under the Francoist People's party, it has them again, with two Catalans jailed for sedition for organising peaceful protests for independence:

The leaders of two of the main pro-independence civil society organizations have been sent to prison without bail on sedition charges. A Spanish judge decided to imprison Jordi Sànchez, president of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), and Jordi Cuixart, president of Òmnium Cultural, for their role in the October 1 referendum. Both of them will already sleep in jail tonight. The same judge also decided to release without passport the chief of the Catalan police, Josep-Lluís Trapero, accused of not having done enough to stop voters from participating in the independence referendum.

The initial investigation against Trapero, Sánchez and Cuixart focused on demonstrations on September 20 and 21, when fourteen high-ranking officials of the Catalan government were arrested and people protested massively, and peacefully, in the streets. But the case was extended to also include events during the October 1 referendum and the alleged “flagrant inaction” of Catalonia’s police corps, the Mossos d’Esquadra, to stop the vote.

Sánchez and Cuixart lead two of the biggest pro-independence organizations in Catalonia, responsible for organizing the massive pro-Yes demonstrations of the last few years. The prosecutor argues that they mobilized people on referendum day, asking citizens to protest in front of polling stations, thus impeding police officers from closing them down.

They could be facing between 4 and 15 years in jail for peacefully advocating for their political views. In a supposed "democracy". But then, democracies don't blockade polling places and beat people for voting either. If this is the sort of state Spain is, then Catalans are entirely sensible to want to leave it.

Monday, October 16, 2017

We should not be involved in this

In 2015, the National government sent New Zealand troops to Iraq. Their role there was to train the Iraqi army so it could be used to fight "terrorists". Now, the army we helped train is being used to invade Kurdistan:

Iraqi forces were reported to be advancing on Kirkuk after prime minister of Iraq, Haidar al-Abadi, ordered his army to “impose security” on the oil-rich Kurdish city.

Kurdish and Iraqi officials reported that forces began moving at midnight on Sunday towards oil fields and an important air base held by Kurdish forces near the city.

The governor of Kirkuk, Najmaldin Karim, urged the public to come out onto the streets and voiced his confidence that Peshmerga forces would be able to protect the city. “We saw some of the young people who expressed their readiness to help their Peshmerga brothers to defend the land,” he told Rudaw, a Kurdish media network.

The Kurds voted democraticly for independence last month. But rather than negotiate a peaceful divorce, it looks like rump Iraq is going to suppress them with military force - just like Saddam did. And that suppression (the smashing of cities, the murder of civilians) is going to be done by troops trained by kiwis.

This is not something we should be supporting. New Zealand should withdraw its troops from Iraq immediately.

Did Britain manipulate Australia's dismissal?

The British government and its monarch have always denied any responsibility for the 1975 dismissal of an elected government by an unelected governor-general. But it appears they were lying:

Representatives of the British government flew to Australia in the lead-up to the 1975 dismissal of the Whitlam government to meet with the then governor-general, casting further doubt on the accepted narrative that London officials did not play an active role in Australia's most significant constitutional crisis.

Historian Jenny Hocking discovered files in the British archives showing Sir Michael Palliser, the newly appointed permanent under-secretary of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, arrived in Canberra a month before the dismissal and held a joint meeting with Sir John Kerr and the British High Commissioner, Sir Morrice James, just as the Senate was blocking supply.

Sir Michael later reported back to London that Sir John "could be relied upon".

There's an extremely strong suggestion that the British government were interfering in Australian politics and the 1975 election. And combined with their continued secrecy over Kerr's communications with the queen - which are absurdly considered to be private, rather than official communications - it makes them look guilty as hell.

Of course, the easiest way to prevent a foreign monarch from interfering in Australian politics ever again is for Australia to become a republic. Fortunately, that is now looking likely. The question is whether New Zealand will do the same.

Friday, October 13, 2017

New Fisk

We will soon find out what 'unity' really means for the Palestinians
Can Christians stay in the Middle East now that they are being persecuted for their ancient religion?
Clare Hollingworth: Our last interview with the woman who broke WW2

Even the IMF thinks we should tax the rich more

The International Monetary Fund is not what you'd call a left-wing organisation. Instead, they've been one of the major forces pushing NeoLiberalism on the world for the past 40 years. But even they have been forced to admit that we need higher taxes on the rich:

Higher income tax rates for the rich would help reduce inequality without having an adverse impact on growth, the International Monetary Fund has said.

The Washington-based IMF used its influential half-yearly fiscal monitor to demolish the argument that economic growth would suffer if governments in advanced Western countries forced the top 1% of earners to pay more tax.

The IMF said tax theory suggested there should be “significantly higher” tax rates for those on higher incomes but the argument against doing so was that hitting the rich would be bad for growth.

But the influential global institution said: “Empirical results do not support this argument, at least for levels of progressivity that are not excessive.” The IMF added that different types of wealth taxes might also be considered.

...such as land taxes and capital gains taxes. Both things chickenshit Labour has ruled out.

With this coming from the IMF, you'd think the right would be forced to accept reality. They won't, of course; instead they'll just keep parroting the same zombie economics they always have. Because they're not interested in reality or in what's good for everyone, but in serving the interests of the greedy ultrarich who bankroll them.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The world we live in

How scary is the Trump presidency? Scary enough that his senior officials have actually discussed physicly restraining him if he tries to nuke anyone:

New York Magazine contributing editor Gabriel Sherman on Tuesday reported on a remarkable conversation he had with a senior Republican official, who described conversations Donald Trump’s chief of staff Gen. John Kelly and defense secretary James Mattis have had about “physically [restraining] the president” in the event he “[lunges] for the nuclear football.”

Sherman was discussing the growing concern in the West Wing over Trump’s temperament, particularly as the president continues to escalate feuds with prominent Republicans like Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) while simultaneously setting the United States “on the path to World War III.”

“A conversation I had with a very prominent Republican today, who literally was saying that they imagine Gen. Kelly and Secretary Mattis have had conversations that if Trump lunged for the nuclear football, what would they do?” Sherman told NBC’s Chris Hayes. “Would they tackle him? I mean literally, physically restrain him from putting the country at perilous risk.”

“That is the kind of situation we’re in,” Sherman added.

This is of course unconstitutional - as a (thinly-disguised) elected monarch, the president has the exclusive right to use nuclear weapons, just as the absolute monarchs the US rebelled against had the exclusive right to wage war. But when it comes to saving the lives of millions, perhaps hundreds of millions or even billions of people, I'll take unconstitutional any day.

Still, it does invite the question: if his Cabinet really think Trump is that dangerous, why haven't they lawfully removed him under the 25th amendment yet?

Signed and suspended

Last weekend Catalans chose democracy over fascism, marching to the ballot boxes to vote for independence in the face of Spanish truncheons and rubber bullets. While Spanish violence succeeded in keeping the turnout to only 43% (55% if the ballots they stole are considered), support for an independent republic was so overwhelming that it would have been a majority even at the turnout levels of a normal Catalan election.

Since then, Spain has upped its campaign of violence, threatening to suspend Catalonia's regional autonomy and torture and murder its president (just as they did to one of his predecessors). Meanwhile, actual fascists have been marching in Spain's streets demanding Catalonia be suppressed. Calls by the international community for the Spanish government to sit down and negotiate a peaceful and democratic way forward have been ignored.

Today, Catalan President Carles Puigdemont finally addressed the Catalan parliament. As expected, he declared independence - and also called for the declaration to be suspended for a few weeks to allow time for negotiations. Its a reasonable approach: the referendum (and previous elections) provide a clear mandate, but the situation needs to be de-escalated. The EU seems to finally be getting involved, and this gives them time to convince Spain to accept reality: that these issues must be resolved democraticly, as in Scotland, and that if Spanish law prevents that, it is Spanish law which needs to change. The question is whether the Spanish government will recognise that, or whether it thinks Catalans will love them if they are beaten harder.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

10/10: World Day Against the Death Penalty

Today, October 10, is the world day against the death penalty. Out of 195 UN member states, 85 still permit capital punishment. Today is the day we work to change that.

This year's theme is poverty. Unequal justice mans the death penalty is overwhelmingly applied to poor people, either because they cannot afford a proper legal defence or as a result of direct socioeconomic discrimination. This compounds the inherent injustice of state execution.

The good news is that we are slowly winning. Two more countries abolished the death penalty this year: Mongolia and Gambia. The civilised world is gradually growing. Sadly, the USA will probably be one of the last countries to join it.

A dismal failure

Back in 2013 the government and the Auckland Council signed the Auckland Housing Accord. The accord was supposed to fix the Auckland housing market by building an extra 40,000 houses. A huge chunk of those houses were supposed to be "affordable" (for Auckland, which is still insanely unaffordable for real people). So how did it do? It turns out that like everything else National does, it was a dismal failure:

New figures show 98 free-market affordable homes have been built under the government's Auckland Housing Accord.

The chair of Auckland Council planning committee, councillor Chris Darby, has called the Accord a "dismal failure" in addressing affordability.


An analysis by Auckland Council sets out a detailed picture of what the government's SHA legislation has delivered.

Council data shows 3157 homes were completed in SHAs by the end of June, when monitoring ended.

So, it built less than 10% of the houses promised, and only a handful of "affordable" ones - most of which were one-bedroom shoebox apartments. Meanwhile, developers exploited the special housing areas to build unaffordable palazzos, or just flicked the land on to another landbanker without building anything. But then, the policy was never about building houses, let alone "affordable" ones - it was about generating headlines saying that that would happen. And on that level, National probably considers it a success. As for people in Auckland who still can't find a house to live in, national does not and never has cared about them.

Monday, October 09, 2017

A weird way to do electoral reform

When New Zealanders voted for electoral reform in 1993, we knew exactly what we were voting for. A royal commission had looked at the alternatives. An initial referendum had narrowed the choice down to MMP. And Parliament had already passed the law enabling the new electoral system to come into force if people voted for change, so we knew exactly how many MP's we'd be getting and the rough shape of electoral boundaries.

They do things differently in Canada. In 2017, voters in British Colombia elected (under FPP) an NDP-Green coalition government. That government has just announced a referendum on proportional representation, the third in the province's history. But while they've decided everything about the referendum - a postal vote, with 50%-plus-one required for success, and no turnout requirement, they haven't actually decided what form of proportional representation they'll be voting on. The actual referendum question will be decided later, by regulation. And the referendum won't be binding - instead, if it passes, the legislation will have to be passed (and new electoral boundaries decided) before the next election.

This isn't the first time British Colombia has been here. In 2005 and 2009 they voted on adopting STV. In 2005 it won a majority, but the government had strapped the chicken by requiring 60% support, ensuring the continuation of first-past-the-post. In 2009, STV failed, largely because the lack of information of electoral boundaries allowed real fears about representation of rural areas (which would have required multi-member districts larger than some countries). While the current British Colombia government apparently favours MMP - they've been paying attention to how it works in New Zealand - failing to nail down the details of the system could leave them with the same result.

This stinks

In the wake of the Christchurch earthquakes, the government red-zoned a huge swathe of the city and used coercive buyouts to depopulate and demolish it on "safety" grounds. Now, having snapped up those properties cheaply due to the red-zoning, causing enormous losses to the victims, it now plans to re-offer them for residential development at a profit:

New housing has been confirmed as a possibility for Christchurch's red zoned river corridor, after close to 7000 households were cleared off it following the earthquakes.

Crown-council agency Regenerate Christchurch on Friday included residential development on five out of 10 land use options it announced for the 602 hectares.

Regenerate chief executive Ivan Iafeta said their goal was to find out how to make "the biggest contribution to Christchurch and New Zealand's future".

As one former red-zone resident points out, this is unfair. It looks like they've been cleared away for government profit. If the government had acquired this land under the Public Works Act, the former residents would have a right to buy it back. The same should apply to former red zone residents if their land has been deemed safe enough for people to live on.

New Fisk

Is there truth in the conspiracy theories about who killed Russian Lieutenant General Valery Asapov in Syria?

WINZ sucks

Anyone who has ever dealt with WINZ knows that they're a pack of incompetent muppets. But now, thanks to a coroner's ruling, it's official:

Investigators at the Ministry of Social Development had such a lack of understanding about the rules of prosecuting benefit cheats, that they were "not well equipped to make sound and appropriate decisions", a coroner has found.

Coroner Anna Tutton​ released her findings on Monday after the inquest into the 2011 death of Wendy Shoebridge in Lower Hutt, north of Wellington.


In the finding, the coroner stated that the ministry's management was not advised Shoebridge was at risk of suicide.

The ministry had developed training which was unhelpful to staff and "inconsistent with some of the content of the prosecution guidelines", the findings stated.

Inappropriate training and an aggressive attitude towards prosecutions (including prosecution targets for investigators) means people being inappropriately prosecuted. And in this case, it had fatal consequences. The coroner doesn't call it murder, but that's what it was: WINZ hounded this woman to her death. And they and the Minister who set their toxic culture need to be held accountable for it.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Fencing streams is just a PR stunt

Whenever they are criticised over the amount of shit and piss they pump into our rivers, dairy farmers whine about how much money they've spent on fencing streams. Except it turns out that this fencing is utterly ineffective, because the vast majority of pollution enters waterways through streams below the fencing threshold:

More than three quarters of pollution flowing into our freshwater catchments comes through small streams that currently aren't required to be fenced off, a just-published study has shown.

The study's authors say new measures should be investigated to slash the amount of contaminants entering waterways from these streams, while Fish and Game has called for an "urgent and radical rethink" of our current national riparian fencing strategy.


Streams less than a metre wide and 30cm deep, and lying in flat, pasture-dominated pasture, are currently exempt from fencing regulations.

Yet McDowell and his colleagues found it was these very bodies that accounted for an average of 77 per cent of the national contaminant load, varying from 73 per cent of total nitrogen to 84 per cent for dissolved reactive phosphorus.

Which makes perfect sense, because most of the water comes from such streams, before being gathered into larger ones. But it means that we need to look at other policies if we want to reduce pollution. And ultimately, we need to reduce cow numbers to sustainable levels.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Climate change: Australia burning

How badly will climate change affect Australia? They're now looking at regular 50 degree heatwaves in their major cities:

Even if the Paris agreement to limit the global temperature rise to below 2C is met, summer heatwaves in major Australian cities are likely to reach highs of 50C by 2040, a study published on Wednesday warns.

Researchers led by the Australian National University in Canberra used observational data and simulated climate models to assess future extreme weather events in New South Wales and Victoria. They examined what these weather extremes might look like even if the Paris agreement target of limiting climate change to a 2C increase is met.

The lead author of the study, the climate scientist Dr Sophie Lewis, said Sydney and Melbourne could expect unprecedented summer temperatures of 50C under two degrees of global warming.

Australia's climate is bad enough, but 50 degrees in Sydney's humidity is getting into the danger zone where human thermal regulation breaks down and people need air conditioned environments to survive. Its not as bad as the Persian Gulf, where average temperatures on this level combined with humidity means they will no longer be habitable - but Australia is going to see a huge increase in heat-related deaths, as well as heat-related economic disruption. I guess they can blame their coal industry for that.

Bigot nation

Last week, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution condemning the use of the death penalty for consensual same-sex acts. The usual suspects - Saudi Arabia, Iraq, China - opposed it. Appallingly, the United States joined them:

The U.S. on Sept. 29 voted against a U.N. Human Rights Council resolution that condemns the death penalty for those found guilty of committing consensual same-sex sexual acts.

The resolution — which Belgium, Benin, Costa Rica, France, Mexico, Moldova, Mongolia and Switzerland introduced — passed by a 27-13 vote margin.

Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Rwanda, South Africa, Togo, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Albania, Croatia, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Slovenia, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, El Salvador, Panama, Paraguay, Venezuela, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Switzerland and the U.K. supported the resolution. Botswana, Burundi, Egypt, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, China, India, Iraq, Japan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates joined the U.S. in opposing it.

Kenya, Nigeria, Tunisia, Indonesia, the Philippines, South Korea and Cuba abstained.

The resolution specifically condemns “the imposition of the death penalty as a sanction for specific forms of conduct, such as apostasy, blasphemy, adultery and consensual same-sex relations” and expresses “serious concern that the application of the death penalty for adultery is disproportionately imposed on women.” It also notes “poor and economically vulnerable persons and foreign nationals are disproportionately subjected to the death penalty, that laws carrying the death penalty are used against persons exercising their rights to freedom of expression, thought, conscience, religion, and peaceful assembly and association, and that persons belonging to religious or ethnic minorities are disproportionately represented among those sentenced to the death penalty.”

So its now official US foreign policy that gay people should be murdered. Isn't America great?

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

An impossible deal

Today, James Shaw went public and called the talk of a National-Green deal "speculation" and "noise", and ruled out talking to them unless there was no other option. In doing so, he's clearly articulating the views of his party and its voters, who have made it clear that they are not interested in propping up National. And yet, its unlikely to help, because the people spreading this shit - a mix of paid National shills like DPF and Matthew Hooton, and desperate National supporters unhappy with being forced to rely on Winston - have already shown that they're not interested in what the Green Party or its membership thinks. Which is yet another example of why such a deal simply isn't possible: there can be no partnership with such an attitude.

A deal is clearly off the table for this election cycle. So what about the future? Given the Green Party constitution, if National wants any chance of such a deal in future, they need to convince 75% of Green Party members that they're an acceptable partner. And this means ditching their anti-environment policies, their support for irrigation, dirty rivers, mining, drilling, gutting the RMA and destroying the climate, not just as part of a one-off deal because they've been forced into pretending to pay lip-service to the environment, but in the long term. And after a couple of terms of seeing National do that, Green members might just believe them.

Of course, that would require National to stop representing the people it represents: farmers, miners, polluters, developers. And to be honest, that's about as likely as the Green Party stopping representing greens. Given the support bases of the respective parties, such a deal is simply impossible.

Time to ditch the threshold

Over on Stuff, Michael Wright argues that its time to ditch MMP's 5% threshold. But not just for the obvious democratic reasons of making every vote count equally - they also think it would lead to more stable government and a better allocation of power:

The threshold exists to ensure the right mix of stability and proportionality in government. Right now it is providing neither of those things. After last month's election, Parliament is home to four political parties and the rump of a fifth – the lowest-ever total under MMP – and one of those parties is wielding a decidedly disproportionate amount of power.


Which brings us to the second advantage. More smaller parties in Parliament means less chance of one of them holding all the cards after election day, which is exactly what has just happened to New Zealand First. The only reason Winston Peters was able to so cantankerously grandstand at a press conference last week was because National and Labour need him a lot more than he needs them. He is their only realistic option to form the next Government. Greater plurality would help avoid this.

And they're right. More parties means more possible ways of reaching 61 votes, which reduces the necessity and power of any one group. We had a perfect example of this during the 2002-2005 term of Parliament, where the Labour-Progressive government had three possible majorities available to it: with United Future, with New Zealand First, or with the Greens. The three parties effectively acted as a check and balance on each other, preventing either from making excessive demands. And its been a similar situation during National's term, with National being able to turn to either ACT and United Future, or the Maori Party. If you're upset about Winston Peters having "all" the power (or rather, as much as the other parties give him), then the answer is to eliminate the threshold.

Monday, October 02, 2017


How shit is Housing New Zealand? They're wasting a huge proportion of their maintenance budget on testing for P:

Figures released under the Official Information Act by Housing NZ show it spent $51.9 million on testing and remediation of meth on its properties in the last financial year, up from $21 million the previous year. Last year’s spending represented 10 percent of its entire annual maintenance and improvement budget, or the equivalent of an average of $8,000 per property. However, in the 2016 financial year, it spent only $433,623 on the testing and remediation of mould and $639,873 on asbestos.

Housing health and drug experts say a mania about meth has created a scam industry for testing and repairing houses with just trace elements that are less harmful than fly spray. Meanwhile, landlords spend hardly any money to deal with the mould and asbestos that regularly cause bronchiolitis, pneumonia and mesothelioma that can lead to death.

That last paragraph is a damning indictment of Housing New Zealand's priorities. Mouldy houses kill. Mouldy Housing New Zealand properties have killed. But rather than addressing that problem, they're wasting money on a fantasy promoted by a scam industry. And its difficult to avoid the suspicion that they're doing it because it allows them to evict tenants and sell the houses they used to live in.

This isn't good enough. Housing New Zealand should be spending its money on real problems, not fantasies. And they should be building houses, not emptying and selling them.

Catalonia chooses democracy over fascism

I've spent last night and this morning watching the amazing scenes from Catalonia, as Spanish police in full riot gear have beaten and shot voters and seized ballot boxes in an effort to prevent an independence referendum, injuring more than 800 people. And despite all that, the referendum happened, with 90% of the 2.3 million votes counted supporting independence. A further 700,000 votes were seized and were unable to be counted.

Catalans saw graphicly what their choices were today: voting, or fascism. Resolve things democraticly, or by violence. And those of them who were able to vote emphatically chose democracy.

What happens next? The Catalan Parliament will declare independence. And based on today, there will likely be another outrageous spasm of violence from Franco's heirs in Madrid (they've been shipping tanks in). So we're likely to have a European "democracy" and party to the CHR behaving like the Uzbeks or the Chinese (or indeed their fascist forbears) in suppressing dissent. That's not acceptable, and the European Union needs to get involved to stop it.