Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Canterbury's dictatorship fails

When John Key replaced the elected Environment Canterbury with unelected dictators, it was supposedly because it wasn't making enough progress on cleaning up Canterbury's rivers. Five years of dictatorship later, they've actually gone backwards:

The Canterbury Regional Council (Environment Canterbury) has failed to meet its own deadline for cleaning up the region's rivers - and has, in fact, gone backwards.

In the five years since the Government replaced elected councillors with commissioners for their lack of progress in meeting targets, more rivers have become unsafe for swimming.

In 2010, the new council set itself a target of ensuring 80 percent of rivers in the region were safe for swimming. At the time, 74 percent of rivers fell into this category.

Today, the council announced that only 67 percent of rivers were safe to swim in.

So much for "making the trains run on time". But given that the dictatorship's primary policy has been to give more water to farmers, allowing more irrigation and more pollution, its hardly surprising. A regional authority wanting to clean up rivers would be restricting irrigation, not promoting it.

Meanwhile, we have an illegitimate regional dictatorship destroying Canterbury's environment for the enrichment of the few. Its time it went. Its time for elections.

The sheepgate files

The government dumped the documents on Murray McCully's sordid Saudi sheep bribe last night, and its revealed the deal was dodgy from start to finish. Firstly, that "legal advice" the government had which showed that they were exposed to a claim of up to $30 million in damages for refusing to allow live sheep exports? It turns out that it came from the Saudis, not from the government's lawyers. In other words, it was "legal advice", but a try-on. Secondly, the Auditor-General had significant doubts about the legality of the scheme (which is going to be interesting if they now investigate it). As for Treasury, they opposed it from the beginning because it was "not within scope of existing appropriations", violated Cabinet spending guidelines and because it was "not clear from the paper what the $10 million committed is being used to purchase". And when things went wrong and the sheep died, John Key was instructed to lie about it.

So, just to make that clear, Murray McCully spent $10 million outside of his appropriation and possibly unlawfully purchasing fuck knows what from a dodgy Saudi billionaire. It looks like a bribe, it smells like a bribe. When are we sacking him?

43,000 unemployed under National

The latest Household Labour Force Survey was released today, showing that despite Treasury projections of a fall, unemployment had risen for the second quarter in a row. There are now 148,000 people unemployed, 43,000 more than when National took office.

So much for the "recovery" - unemployment bottomed out at 5.5% in September last year, and is now going back up, so it doesn't look like we'll be seeing kiwis back in jobs anytime soon. Instead, unemployment seems to be structurally a full 2% higher under National than under Labour. Which is 40,000 more people out of work, their families scraping to get by on a pittance. As for National's "something special", we blinked and missed it. Unless you're a rich MP owning multiple houses in Auckland, of course, in which case you're rolling in it while the peasants starve...

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Pointless waste

Today's example of the pointless waste of the "war on drugs": a woman jailed for two years for growing her own cannabis:

A leading figure in Kaikohe's arts and business communities has been jailed for two years after being found guilty of possession of cannabis for supply.

Kelly van Gaalen was sentenced in the Kaikohe District Court on Thursday following a jury trial last month. Friends and family in the public gallery, including her three children, wept and called out as the distraught 38-year-old was led away.

Van Gaalen was a member of the Kaikohe-Hokianga Community Board as well as the chair of the Kaikohe Community Arts Council and promotions manager for the Kaikohe Business Association. She has resigned from her positions. A community board by-election will be held in October.

It costs nearly $100,000 a year to keep someone in prison. Can anyone really say that that's money well spent in this case? Can anyone really say that jailing this woman will make us safer, or improve our society? Imprisoning recreational drug users who harm no-one but themselves is simply pointless and wasteful, and the sooner we stop doing it the sooner the police can refocus their resource son real crime.

Why was this a private prosecution?

The CTU has won a private prosecution against an unsafe employer:

The Council of Trade Unions (CTU) has won a private prosecution against a Tokoroa forestry company over the death of a worker, after the government safety regulator declined to prosecute.

In 2013, loader driver Charles Finlay was crushed to death by a log while working in the dark.

WorkSafe investigated but said it could not find enough evidence of wrongdoing to prosecute the 45-year-old's employer, M & A Cross Ltd.

But now M & A Cross Ltd has pleaded guilty in the Rotorua District Court to breaches under the Health and Safety Act.

Its great that the CTU have won this case, but at the same time, they should never have had to bring it in the first place. We have a government agency, WorkSafe, which has the specific job of prosecuting dangerous employers. But whether by underfunding or industry capture, they did nothing - a clear failure of the system. And if they won't prosecute a case where someone died, you really have to wonder how many other cases they're refusing to prosecute, and whether their refusal to enforce the law properly is making our workplaces more dangerous.

Something to go to in Wellington

Jane Kelsey will be speaking about her new book, The FIRE Economy, in Wellington tomorrow night:

The FIRE economy – finance, insurance and real estate – is now the world’s principal source of wealth creation. Its rise has transformed our political, economic and social landscapes. From rising inequality and ballooning household debt to a global financial crisis and fiscal austerity, instability has accompanied this new orthodoxy. Yet it has proven remarkably resilient, even resurgent, in New Zealand and abroad.

The continuing narrative of neoliberalism in New Zealand reveals financial crises to be inherent to the very structure of the FIRE economy. How we respond to New Zealand’s future crises, however, means questioning what responses the failing neoliberal orthodoxy will actually permit. In detailing the barriers the FIRE economy presents to change in New Zealand, Kelsey points towards socially progressive, post-neoliberal futures.

All welcome. If you would llike to attend, please register here. If you know of anyone else who may be interested, please pass this invitation on to them.

when: 17:30, Wednesday 5 August
Where: Lecture Theatre 1, Old Government Buildings, Stout Street, Wellington

Climate change: The US acts

The US is finally acting on greenhouse gas emissions, with new rules under the Clean Air Act requiring states to reduce emissions from power plants by 32% by 2030:

The final rules propose a 32% cut in carbon emissions from power plants by 2030 on 2005 levels, up from the initial proposal of 30%. However states will only have to comply by 2022 rather than 2020 as originally proposed, and will be able submit their plans on meeting the targets by 2018 instead of 2017.

CO2 emissions from power plants fell 15% between 2005 and 2013, meaning the country is halfway to the target.

Monday’s version of the rules also gives an explicit boost to wind and solar power, angering the natural gas industry which will still be a large beneficiary of the switch from coal to gas-fired power plants, which produce much lower emissions.

Which is good, but is also verging on being too little, too late, with a new study showing that we now need net emissions to go negative (either through carbon capture and storage, or extensive reforestation) if we want to limit ourselves to two degrees of global temperature rise. Meanwhile, US republican polluters are naturally planning to sue to try and overturn the law so they can keep on profiting by destroying the global climate. Hopefully they'll lose, but they'll probably delay implementation and snatch a few more years of profits, which is all these sociopaths care about. And then they'll complain that no-one will ensure their beachfront condo against floods or hurricane damage...

Monday, August 03, 2015

Two ideas for open diplomacy legislation

Last week, I called for a democratic foreign policy. With the collapse of TPPA negotiations over the weekend, we've got some time to think about this and about what needs to change. Here's a couple of ideas.

Firstly, we need an Open Diplomacy Act. The essence? That any information which our government provides to other parties in international treaty negotiations, or which they provide to us, must be immediately proactively published. Why? So we can see what the government is doing, obviously. Like the OIA, this will enable participation in decision-making and promote accountability of Ministers and officials. But it will also help put our foreign policy on a more democratic footing, by providing us with the information which would enable us to meaningfully consent to the decisions made (as opposed to today, where being mushroomed means that these decisions cannot be said to have any form of consent or legitimacy).

Note that this applies to material which the negotiating parties have already made public to each other, so it doesn't undermine the government's ability to keep its bottom lines secret in negotiations (unless they tell the other parties, in which case they're no longer secret). What it does prevent is them lying to us about what they're doing, or selling us a pig in a poke then presenting us with a fait accompli.

Secondly, we need some way of providing public consent to highly controversial Investor-State Dispute Settlement clauses, which allow corporations to sue us if we legislate to protect public health or the environment. A recent member's bill from NZ First would have banned them outright; I'm happy enough to permit their approval by referendum (which means the government actually has to convince us of their merits). The decision belongs to the people because it effectively limits the scope of government - and that's a decision for us, not them. As a bonus, this would sidestep the prohibition in Standing Orders forbidding votes on the same issue in the same year, so such a bill could be introduced immediately.

The question is whether the politicians will move on this, or whether they're happy with the current situation of secret deals and no meaningful consent.

Something to go to in Christchurch


[Via NZ Council for Civil Liberties]

New Fisk

Abdullah al-Senussi execution: This perversion of justice suits Western security services just fine

Disappearance to execution?

Remember Khalid Muidh Alzahrani? A Saudi refugee who had fled religious persecution, last year he was kidnapped from his home in Christchurch and flown back to Saudi Arabia by Saudi officials. Now, there are worries that he has been executed:

Friends of a Saudi refugee who left New Zealand in mysterious circumstances fear he may have been put to death.

The police case file reveals no-one has heard from Khalid Muidh Abudulla Alzahrani, 43, since October, when he sent a series of text messages from Saudi Arabia to a friend stating he had been detained by his father, was due to appear in court and needed help from the New Zealand embassy.

The Government has been unable to assist, claiming it can do little for residents or refugees not travelling on a New Zealand passport.

Those who knew Alzahrani fear the worst. They believe he may have been imprisoned and tortured or executed.

So, just to make this clear, the Saudi Arabian government kidnapped a man to whom New Zealand had extended its protection, rendered him overseas, and may have murdered him. And our government simply doesn't want to know. I guess they wouldn't want any concerns about criminal behaviour or human rights from interfering with their precious trade deals.

Meanwhile, I'm still wondering: where were the SIS? We pay them $50 million a year specifically to protect us from stuff like this. Either there was a failure of intelligence around the Saudi government's actions, or they let them happen. Either way, we deserve some answers, so we can make sure this never happens again.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Not as much as it sounds

According to TV3, the police are being inundated with OIA requests:

Police are struggling to cope with the overwhelming number of Official Information Act (OIA) requests which flood their offices every day, and some of their time-saving measures are now prompting concern from the Chief Ombudsman.

Figures released last month show police received 10,582 OIA requests between May 2014 and April 2015, around 28 a day, more than one every hour. A fifth of those aren't being processed on time.

Which sounds like a lot (and they even include an estimate that it would need twn full-time staff to respond to them all). Except that the police are a huge agency. According to their 2013-14 Annual Report [p. 117], they have 11,673 employees. In other words, each police employee has to handle less than one OIA request a year. Its also worth remembering that most of these OIA requests aren't requests for information about police policy, but ordinary disclosure as part of the criminal trial process. Which is a vital part of their job.

To be fair, its not the police complaining about these numbers (though some of their recordkeeping sounds typically shoddy). But keep in mind when you see OIA statistics that both size and role matter. large agencies, and ones which have a direct impact on people's lives, will get more requests. Agencies which have arbitrary power over their "clients" will also get more as a result of disputes. Which is why ACC, Immigration and (more recently) EQC and CERA get so many: because its a core part of people checking whether their treatment was lawful and according to policy.

Journalism isn't treason

Back in February, German news website published stories based on leaked documents showing that the domestic intelligence agency BfV was seeking additional funding to increase online surveillance and monitor social media. The German government's response? Investigate them for treason:

Germany has opened a treason investigation into a news website a broadcaster said had reported on plans to increase state surveillance of online communications.

German media said it was the first time in more than 50 years journalists had faced treason charges, and some denounced the move as an attack on the freedom of the press.

“The federal prosecutor has started an investigation on suspicion of treason into the articles ... published on the internet blog,” a spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office said.

She added the move followed a criminal complaint by Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), over articles about the BfV that appeared on the website on 25 February and 15 April. It said the articles had been based on leaked documents.

So there you have it: in modern "democratic" Germany, any attempt at public oversight of spies or questioning their role (or their budget) is treasonous and punishable by jail. The public are not allowed to question their political masters, the intelligence agencies. Which sounds like exactly the sort of undemocratic attitudes the "Office for the Protection of the Constitution" should be investigating...

The end of the unarmed police force

Since forever, the New Zealand police have been arguing for more and better weapons with which to intimidate the public. And once again, they've got what they want:

New Zealand police will now routinely carry Tasers, it has been announced.

Police Commissioner Mike Bush made the announcement on Friday morning at police headquarters in Wellington.

Bush said all on-duty staff would carry Tasers, a change from the current practice of accessing the weapons from a lockbox in cars.

This is part of an ugly move towards US-style "compliance" policing - you know, the sort that sees black people shot and killed for running away, not running away, putting their hands up, not putting their hands up, lying down while handcuffed... here they'll be using tasers, but the attitude is the same: obey the police immediately, or be subject to brutal electrical torture. Which will fall disproportionately on Maori, the mentally ill, or when police simply want to torture someone for their own convenience or to avoid looking "weak".

And no, this won't reduce police gun use. Fatal shootings by police have increased since they got tasers, because its been paired with increased access to firearms and the US mindset. Its now absolutely routine for New Zealand police to stand around guarding crime scenes with loaded machine guns - and this has a huge impact both on how the public view the police, and on how police view themselves.

The cost of this can be seen in the US: when the police act like a foreign army of occupation on the streets, people treat them as such. Active cooperation, which they need to identify and locate suspects, is replaced with sullen compliance and a refusal to interact unless absolutely necessary (and then, eventually, punishment of collaborators). That's bad for law enforcement, but its not exactly good for us either.

A bad deal

For the past seven years the government has been negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership. All along they've told us that this would be the road to economic nirvana, that the negotiations would deliver a "high quality" free trade agreement which would open the US to New Zealand dairy products and make us (well, polluting dairy farmers) all rich.

The reality turns out to be a little different:

The dairy deal for New Zealand at Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks is looking "disastrous", according to Federated Farmers dairy industry chairman Andrew Hoggard.

Hoggard, who has spoken with New Zealand negotiators in Hawaii, said the United States, Canada and Japan are refusing to open up their protected dairy industries.

Negotiators were concerned the discussions would end on Friday without a good dairy deal.

"It could be a backwards step for the New Zealand dairy industry. It's going to be a disastrous conclusion," Hoggard said.

Not only would it give those protectionist countries access to the same markets as New Zealand, it would be setting a poor precedent for future trade deals.

And in exchange for this remember we'll be gutting Pharmac, accepting US copyright mafia laws, and allowing foreign corporations to sue us and win compensation if we attempt to (or even merely continue to) protect our health or the environment. We give up all that, for nothing.

So why would "our" government ever sign such an obviously shit deal? For the same reasons they refuse to boot Serco or fail down failed charter schools: because having spent seven years and vast amounts of political capital on it, backing out now would be admitting failure. It would be admitting that it was all a waste of time and that they made a mistake trying to pursue an FTA with the USA (which you'd think they would have figured out after the Australian experience). That would be intolerable to them, so instead we will have a bad deal foisted on us to protect their colossal egos. And to add insult to injury, they'll probably award themselves some gongs for their "service".

Thursday, July 30, 2015

National ignores fraud at charter school

So, in addition to ignoring poor attendance, bullying, drug use and management infighting at charter schools, National is also ignoring apparent fraud by staff:

Staff who withdrew $4000 in cash from a school's account and failed to explain what they spent it on will not be investigated, the Ministry of Education says.

A financial audit of Te Pumanawa o te Wairua, a struggling Northland charter school, found staff made the cash withdrawals from ATM machines and a BP station from January last year.

Education minister Hekia Parata last week decided to leave the school open until at least the end of the year, despite the Ministry of Education's reservations and its multiple contract breaches, as she believed it would be best for the 39 children currently attending.

Which is $4,000 being spent on greedy, fraudulent staff rather than on the kids they're supposed to be educating. If this had happened in the state education system, those responsible would have been sacked and prosecuted; here, National seems willing to turn a blind eye to theft of public money because they are incentivised not to admit failure.

New Fisk

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Climate change: Halfway there

In 1992 the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change committed the world to preventing
"dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system". This is generally interpreted as limiting climate change to an increase of no more than 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels. The bad news? We're already halfway there.

IT’S the outcome the world wants to avoid, but we are already halfway there. All but one of the main trackers of global surface temperature are now passing more than 1 °C of warming relative to the second half of the 19th century, according to an exclusive analysis done for New Scientist.


Kevin Cowtan of the University of York, UK, created and still maintains one such record, called “Cowtan & Way version 2.0″. It is based on another record, maintained by the UK Met Office, called HadCRUT4. Cowtan’s version differs because it compensates for missing data from areas with few weather stations, like the Arctic.

The various records also show temperature changes relative to different baselines. For instance, NASA’s GISTEMP record shows warming relative to the 1951 to 1980 average.

At the request of New Scientist, Cowtan adjusted his and other measures to show annual warming relative to the same time frame: the 1850 to 1899 period. All but one set of adjusted figures show that we will have already passed 1 °C before the next round of UN talks on a global climate treaty get under way in December (see graph).

“It looks very likely that all except HadCRUT4 will break 1 °C this year,” says Cowtan. “HadCRUT4 is somewhat dependent on a strong El NiƱo boost.”

And with global CO2 concentrations now over 400 parts per million, we're now pretty much committed to failure. Meanwhile, our government does nothing. Heckuva job our leaders are doing there. But I guess the incentive for action is low when you won't be alive to have to live with the consequences.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015


Back in February, the UK Interception of Communications Commissioner found that police had spied on more than 80 journalists in a gross abuse of power. Since then, media outlets have been seeking further information about which police forces had conducted this spying and on whom. But the UK police have now decided that such questions are "vexatious":

Forty police forces across the country have dismissed as "vexatious" a BBC freedom of information (FOI) application about police monitoring of journalists' communications.

It appears the police have adopted a virtually blanket policy of now rejecting all FOI requests about the use of their surveillance powers to collect communications data on journalists - irrespective of the questions actually asked or how often, if at all, that requester has raised the issue before.

Last month the BBC asked all UK police forces for a copy of their submission to an inquiry by the Interception of Communications Commissioner into police operations relating to the confidential sources of journalists.


Forty forces have now responded in a very similar fashion that the BBC's FOI application does not have to be answered on the basis it is "vexatious", due to the "burden on the authority" and the "unreasonable persistence" of requesters. If an FOI request is vexatious, then the public authority receiving it does not have to consider its substance.

Nearly all the forces have also argued to us that "FOI was never designed to enable applicants to continue a campaign or determined pursuit of information when there are concerns over public authority activities, if these activities have been adjudged to be correct and appropriate".

Except that that is exactly what freedom of information was designed for: to allow public authorities to be held to account by the public, rather than their establishment mates. The fact that the UK police oppose this, and indeed regard it as "vexatious", says a lot about their attitude to public accountability for their abuses of power.

(FWIW, the Information Commissioner has since ruled that such requests are not vexatious so the UK police - probably coordinated by ACPO - are deliberately ignoring the law here)

Correction: removed comment about ignoring the law. This is what happens when I don't check the date on an article I see over Twitter...

Time for a democratic foreign policy

"Our" Trade Minister is currently negotiating the Trans Pacific Partnership, which will supposedly make us (well, foreign pharmaceutical companies and the copyright mafia) all rich. So what does he think of the people that he's supposedly negotiating this agreement for? That we're "breathless children":

It will only be presented to Parliament for a vote once it has been signed, and Mr Groser says the talks can't take place in public.

"This is a moving game, and we need adults to do this – not breathless children to run off at the mouth when the deal is not actually finished."

I can't think of a better example of the undemocratic MFAT / deep state mindset: that they're the adults, and the people in whose name they are acting are just children who should just shut up and accept whatever deal they cut. And this from an elected Minister in a supposedly democratic government...

Well, fuck that. That's is what kings do, not democratic governments. We need a democratic foreign policy, and we need it now.

What does this mean? It means no more secret treaties. It means transparency in diplomatic negotiations. And above all, it means signing only after the approval of Parliament or a referendum, not one autocrat operating in secret. Because deals negotiated under the current system, where Ministers impose secrecy so they can lie to and betray us, simply have no democratic legitimacy. And as a supposed democracy, we simply should not accept it.