Tuesday, January 27, 2015

This is how you deal with spies

Two weeks ago Alberto Nisman, an Argentinian prosecutor, was found dead in his apartment. Nisman had been investigating a government deal to cover up the Iranian bombing of a Jewish community centre in 1994, and was due to testify to parliament about it. The death was posed as a suicide, but was suspicious, and the motive was pretty clear - clear enough that Argentina's president has accepted that her own spies murdered him. Unlike the US, where spies get to torture and murder with impunity, she's doing something about it: dissolving the spy-agency responsible:

Argentina’s president announced a major shakeup of her country’s intelligence network on Monday in her most combative step yet to address the fallout from the death of prosecutor Alberto Nisman.

In her first televised address since the prosecutor’s body was found at his apartment on 18 January, Cristina Fern├índez de Kirchner said she would support a bill to dissolve the existing structure – which employs more than 2,000 people – and replace it with a new federal intelligence agency.

Obviously those responsible need to be found and prosecuted as well (and Kirchner could have dirty hands too - there's almost certainly more to see here). But there's clearly a toxic culture amongst Argentina's spies, which hasn't been stamped out from the era of the dictatorship. Time to get rid of them.

The cost of German-imposed austerity

German-imposed austerity has been a disaster for Greece: 28% unemployment, mass poverty, a public health crisis, a 20% increase in suicides and a 40% increase in infant mortality. Its a foreign-imposed humanitarian crisis, as if they lost a war or had all their food and money stolen by Nazis. The scary thing is that it doesn't have to be that way. In the New York Times, Paul Krugman runs the numbers:

if you follow that through, you find that dropping the [Troika] requirement that Greece run a primary surplus of 4.5 percent of GDP would allow spending to rise by 9 percent of GDP — twice as much — and that this would raise GDP by 12 percent relative to what it would have been otherwise. Unemployment would fall by around 10 percentage points relative to no relief.

Which would obviously be tremendously beneficial for the Greek people. Instead, the bankers are imposing policies that are killing people so they can extract their pound of flesh.

Must-read: Police cover up for Corrections

Today's must read: Roger Brookings. For the past few months he's been poking into the death of Jai Davis, a prisoner who died in 2011 because Corrections didn't want to spend $300 on calling a doctor on a weekend. The inquest into the death last year was scathing, with Police Detective Colin Blackie making it clear that he thought the death was due to neglect, that the prison was dysfunctional, and that corrections failed in its duty of care towards Davis. Today's revelation is something else: Blackie wanted to charge those neglectful Corrections staff, but was pulled off the case by Police management:

No one in the Corrections Department has ever been prosecuted over an ‘unnatural death’ in prison. In what could have been the first case, Detective Senior Sergeant Colin Blackie (right), who conducted the police investigation into the death of Jai Davis, wanted to prosecute prison staff who allowed Davis to die from a drug overdose. Despite a wealth of evidence showing prison managers, officers and nurses all failed in their duty of care, Mr Blackie was taken off the case and no one was prosecuted.

The reason? Police were covering their own arses:
The Police had Davis in their custody for 24 hours before they took him out to the Otago prison and there is no doubt they knew he had drugs on board. Despite this knowledge, no one did anything to help. Numerous Police officers made exactly the same mistake as numerous Corrections officers (and nurses) – they neglected their statutory duty to call a doctor to have Davis examined. What this means is that if police had done their job properly, Davis would never have been sent to Otago prison at all and would, in all probability, still be alive.

Senior Sergeant Colin Blackie wanted to prosecute prison staff. But a public hearing of Corrections ineptitude in court would have exposed similar misconduct by the police. No wonder he was taken off the case – and no one was prosecuted.

So criminals escape justice so the Police can pretend to the public that they're not muppets. This isn't a justice system - its a farce.

Monday, January 26, 2015

A question

If the Prime Minister orders the New Zealand flag lowered to half mast to "honour" a foreign tyrant, is that dishonouring it?

National loves foreign despots

Last week, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia died. Good riddance, you might say - he was a wretched hereditary despot who imprisoned his daughters and declared it was "terrorism" to advocate for human rights and democracy. Under Abdullah's regime, women are subjected to an effective system of gender apartheid, rape victims are flogged, people who video the regime's brutal execution sof the innocent are prosecuted, and bloggers are sentenced to a thousand lashes.

John Key thinks we should publicly honour this man by lowering NZ flags to half-mast today.

Fuck that. Abdullah was a tyrant. And if we're going to lower our flag as a mark of "respect" for him, then we might as well start wiping our arses with it.

Labour: Time to stop being a valet

Politics restarts this week, with duelling state of the nation speeches by John Key and Andrew Little on Wednesday. So who is Little speaking to as his first major speech of the year? The Auckland business elite, of course:

Mr Little, a former union head, has chosen a business audience for his inaugural state of the nation address in an apparent bid to reassure them Labour should not be dismissed as unfriendly to business.

The problem is that the things Labour says it wants to do (and the things its voters want it to do) - raise wages, restore employment rights, end housing speculation and reduce unemployment - are inherently "unfriendly to business". Its a zero-sum game: every dollar workers get is a dollar business-owners don't. "Grow the pie?" Its the same problem on a different level - and business will not accept a reversal of the current situation where they get all the growth and we get nothing. And yet, Labour has made it a political priority to pretend that this is not the case, to try and keep up a charade that they can both be pro-business and pro-ordinary kiwi - and to implicitly promise to betray its voters. Which really makes you wonder whose side they're on.

But apart from being deceitful, this charade is also pointless. As we saw in 2000's "winter of discontent", business will react to the election of a Labour government with absolute hostility. I expect the same will happen next time they're part of a government (and moreso if they're allied to the Greens). It doesn't matter how many arses Little licks - business will not accept the party's agenda. Better to acknowledge that and seek support elsewhere rather than pretend you can have it both ways.

Meanwhile, writing in the Guardian today (about Greece, of course), Zoe Williams talks about the need for left-wing parties to actually stand up to the money men. Along the way, she highlights the central problem of conventional political debate, which casts everything as being about budgets and growth:
Politicians are cast in a fairly minor role by this rationale. They take on a sort of valet position, there to arrange things the way the economy needs them. It is extremely difficult as this kind of politician to make any diagnosis of reality that people might recognise. The last thing you want to do when your hands are tied is to describe a situation – low wages for instance, high housing costs, unliveable lives – that demands action.

We're not at the levels of denial they have in the UK, where (for example) every major political party accepts that PPPs are a disaster but no-one is willing to actually stop shovelling money down the hole. Our Labour Party can diagnose our problems, and is doing a pretty good job of highlighting what's wrong and what needs to change. But they also very clearly think their hands are tied and that they are subservient to capital. Which is going to make it extremely difficult for them to deliver on their promises if elected. A party which didn't view itself as a valet would probably be better able to do so.

What happens if you question our sacred cows

Last week, Fairfax columnist Rachel Stewart published a piece in the Manawatu Standard opposing further regulatory and environmental subsidies for farmers. The response? Misogyny and death threats:

Police are investigating a complaint from controversial columnist Rachel Stewart after a threatening hand-written message was left in her letterbox and her social media account was inundated with abusive posts.

Stewart says she has been subjected to a string of malicious messages this week, including threats to rape and kill her, following the publication of her fortnightly opinion piece in Fairfax papers, among them the Manawatu Standard, on Monday.

This week's article, headlined "That high-pitched whining must stop", talked about irrigation schemes, water quality, the low milk payout, workplace regulations, suicide, stress and farmers complying with the law.

However, the backlash to the article turned sinister, and Stewart says "sexist, standover tactics and personal slurs" were posted from accounts using pen-names and then circulated via Twitter by prominent members of New Zealand's farming community. A hand-written anonymous note saying: "See we not so DumB we Don't No where u live. Bitch.[sic]" was also delivered to Stewart's house, prompting her to lay a complaint and for police to launch an investigation.


Stewart said she was appalled that several prominent members of Federated Farmers and Dairy NZ "favourited" or retweeted crude comments. Dairy NZ did not respond to questions.

This is how our farmers - and their industry bodies - respond to questioning of their sacred cows (and the profits they extract by ruining our waterways): with threats and bullying. And it is unacceptable. I look forward to everyone involved being prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

New Fisk

MI5’s radar should look for the word ‘injustice’ if it wants to protect us
King Abdullah's friends in the West stayed loyal, but revolution is on the horizon in Saudi Arabia

Hope wins in Greece

Greeks went to the polls today in snap elections, and threw out their pro-austerity Quisling government in favour of SYRIZA, the Coalition of the Radical Left. The Greek - and German - establishment warned them that it would be the end of the world if this happened. Clearly, Greeks think the world has already ended, and that after seven years of austerity, 25% unemployment and a 30% cut in living standards (while the rich cheat on their taxes and sail around in private yachts), it can't get any worse. And given a choice between hope for change and more of the same, they've chosen hope.

On current projections, SYRIZA has just fallen short of an absolute majority, so it will need coalition partners to govern. But the Quislings have been definitively ousted, and there will be a definite change in direction away from pointless, vicious austerity in the name of debts that can never be repaid.

The question now is whether Germany and the European Central Bank will accept this outcome, or try and overturn the democratic decision of the Greek people so bankers can get their vig. And the fact that we can even ask this question tells us that there is something deeply wrong with European politics.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Not the end of the world

In 2012 Colorado legalised marijuana. In 2014, after hashing out the details around quality control and taxation, they opened the first pot stores to the public. From the way conservatives talked about it, you'd think the world would end. So did it?


It's been a year since Colorado became the first state in the US to legalise marijuana, and its impact on health, crime, employment and other factors can now be more empirically measured.

So, did it bring about an apocalypse leaving the streets strewn with out-of-work addicts as some Republicans feared?

"We found there hasn't been much of a change of anything," a Denver police officer told CBC this week.

"Basically, officers aren't seeing much of a change in how they do police work."


Impaired driving, property crime and violent crime were all dropping in Denver prior to legalisation, and the trend has only continued. Even drug use among young people is down, the report claims.

In short, legalisation works, if done properly. And if the Americans can do it, so can we - and in the process free up our police to target real crime.

New Fisk

Yemen conflict: An old hand at work in the country's bloody civil war

No press freedom in Australia

One of the distinguishing features of dictatorships is their conflation of "national security" and "treason" with "embarrassing the government" or "showing them to be liars". This has unpleasant consequences for journalism and freedom of the press. Unfortunately, on this scale, Australia seems to be behaving like a dictatorship:

Journalists reporting on the federal government’s asylum-seeker policies have been repeatedly referred to the police in attempts to uncover confidential sources and whistleblowers, a Guardian Australia investigation can reveal.

Over the past 12 months federal government agencies have referred stories by journalists from Guardian Australia, news.com.au and the West Australian to the Australian federal police (AFP) for their reporting on the government’s asylum seeker operations during the time Scott Morrison was immigration minister.

Almost every referral made to the AFP by federal government agencies “for unauthorised disclosure of commonwealth information” since the Coalition took office in September 2013 has been directly related to immigration reporting by journalists.

And all of it has been information which embarrasses the government and shows that they have systematically sought to deceive the public about what they are doing. Invading Indonesia. Committing kidnapping and piracy on the high seas. Sinking refugee boats after evacuating them. None of these revelations threaten Australia's "national security". Instead, it exposes government deceit and wrongdoing. And it speaks volumes that a supposed democracy would investigate journalists and seek to put them in jail for that.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Not worth the price

John Key's justification for sending kiwi troops to die in Iraq for America? It's "the price of the club":

Prime Minister John Key says New Zealand's likely military contribution to the fight against Islamic State "is the price of the club" that New Zealand belongs to with the likes of the United States, Australia, Britain and Canada in the intelligence alliance known as Five Eyes.

In his strongest hint yet that the Cabinet will approve a deployment of troops to train Iraqis alongside Australians, Mr Key in an interview with the BBC drew heavily on New Zealand pulling its weight as part of "a club".

"Ultimately are we going to say we are going to be part of a club like [we] are with Five Eyes intelligence?

"Are we ultimately going to be able to rely on members of those clubs to support us in our moment of need?" he said in an interview with Taranaki-born BBC journalist Lucy Hockings in London.


"Even if the contribution is small - of course it will be proportional - there has to be some contribution," he said.

"It is the price of the club."

So what do we get for that price? Other than ten dead soldiers in Afghanistan? Nothing. The "security" benefits are illusory because no-one wants to invade us. Instead, all it does is expose us to risk as an identifiable US suck-up, while our quisling intelligence services pressure our politicians into turning us into a police state. Oh, and John Key gets to play golf with Barack Obama and feel like he's part of the global "in" crowd.

Fuck that shit. This "club" isn't worth belonging to. And it is not worth placing a single kiwi life at risk to stay in it. Rather than sending our soldiers off to die in another pointless American war, we should keep them at home - and throw the Americans out.

The struggle against terrorism is not a war

Today's must-read: Paul Buchanan on how Fighting terrorism is a matter of law enforcement. Which makes the simple point that regardless of their political objectives, acts of terror are crimes (murder, kidnapping, criminal damage), and should be approached as such. The current approach of waging a "war" on terror doesn't just undermine our freedoms and risk turning us into the sort of society we should rightfully rebel against - it plays right into the hands of terrorists by turning the state into their biggest recruiter. In other words, its not just wrong, its also stupid.

New Fisk

Israel's attack on Hezbollah is a case of shoot first, ask questions later

Gagging Chilcot

What a surprise - the Chilcot Report into how Tony Blair lied the UK into Iraq will be suppressed until after the UK election:

The six-year long British inquiry into the 2003 Iraq invasion and its aftermath will not be published before the general election, prompting an outcry from those demanding that the long overdue reckoning should be put before the voters.

Sir John Chilcot, the chairman of the inquiry, will set out his reasons for the further postponement in an exchange of letters with David Cameron on Wednesday. The inquiry was set up in 2009 and took public evidence from its last witness in 2011.


Tony Blair, the prime minister at the time of the war, has insisted he is not the culprit behind the delay in publication; his allies have suggested the blame lies with the civil service and sensitivities about the relations between the UK and US intelligence agencies.

Blair is a self-serving little weasel and could be lying - but the alternative explanation is plausible. And so accountability is delayed and the public kept in the dark (not to mention denied the opportunity to hold involved politicians responsible at the ballot box), all in the name of a "special relationship" which looks increasingly subservient and boot-licking.

And the British Establishment wonders who no-one has any faith in their inquiries: its because their manipulation and whitewashing is so obvious.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

More harassment of Dotcom

Not content with harassing Kim Dotcom at US behest, our government is now harassing anyone who says they're visiting him:

Welcome to New Zealand - unless you're here to see Kim Dotcom.

That seems to be the message for those arriving in the country after yet another guest visiting the businessman was detained by the Customs Service for hours.

A connection to the accused copyright pirate has been linked on another occasion with a long stay in a detention room - and a lot of strange questions.

Graphic designer Sarah Torrent, 22, spent seven hours being quizzed by officials after landing in New Zealand yesterday and telling border officials she was staying at Dotcom's house.

She had met Dotcom online and he invited her to travel to New Zealand for a holiday.

Dotcom said more than a dozen visitors have been isolated by the Customs Service after declaring his home address for their stay in New Zealand.

A particularly creepy feature: they demanded the passwords to her laptop and phone, allowing them to poke through the most private aspects of her life (and copy and store them for the future amusement of themselves and any partner organisations). Right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure? It doesn't exist if you're an enemy of the (United) State(s).

But this is what happens if you have a government body obsessed with getting "brownie points" with the FBI: people's rights get stomped on, all so some petty manager can big-note. And our international reputation and basic decency get to be collateral damage for US bureaucratic bribery.

Our financial laws mean nothing

Some NZ foreign exchange broker went bust last week, leaving assorted suckers out of pocket. Ordinarily I wouldn't care: the market is a scam, and you play at your own risk. But it turns out that we had a very sleepy watchdog:

The Financial Markets Authority knew bust forex broker Global Brokers NZ was in breach of financial regulations, but appears to have taken no action.

Information provided to Fairfax under the Official Information Act lists Global Brokers NZ among 3892 companies that failed to comply with the Financial Reporting Act as of March 2013.

The act required all subsidiaries of foreign companies to file audited financial statements to the Companies Office or face potential criminal sanction by the Companies Registrar.


Global Brokers NZ has never filed financial statements. Its current owners - Epicus Corporation and XT International Holdings, both registered in the British Virgin Islands – have been shareholders since October 2011.

Under the act, directors failing to file accounts faced infringement fees of $7000 each, as well as fines of up to $100,000 each if prosecuted and convicted.

Or, to put this in English: the Financial Markets Authority knew about almost 4,000 crimes and never bothered to prosecute any of them. Which, regardless of what you think of the market they regulate and the level of protection owed its participants, is a basic case of a government organisation failing to do the job we pay it to do, and in a way which seems designed to enable corporate crime and fraud. Someone really needs to be held accountable for that.

New Fisk

The Gallipoli centenary is a shameful attempt to hide the Armenian Holocaust
Saudi Arabia's history of hypocrisy we choose to ignore
With so many people tweeting before they think, the telegraph can teach us some valuable lessons

GCHQ spies on journalists

According to the spies, their job is protectign the public from "terrorism". Which obviously is why Britain's GCHQ has been capturing email traffic to and from journalists:

GCHQ’s bulk surveillance of electronic communications has scooped up emails to and from journalists working for some of the US and UK’s largest media organisations, analysis of documents released by whistleblower Edward Snowden reveals.

Emails from the BBC, Reuters, the Guardian, the New York Times, Le Monde, the Sun, NBC and the Washington Post were saved by GCHQ and shared on the agency’s intranet as part of a test exercise by the signals intelligence agency.

The disclosure comes as the British government faces intense pressure to protect the confidential communications of reporters, MPs and lawyers from snooping.

The journalists’ communications were among 70,000 emails harvested in the space of less than 10 minutes on one day in November 2008 by one of GCHQ’s numerous taps on the fibre-optic cables that make up the backbone of the internet.

The communications, which were sometimes simple mass-PR emails sent to dozens of journalists but also included correspondence between reporters and editors discussing stories, were retained by GCHQ and were available to all cleared staff on the agency intranet. There is nothing to indicate whether or not the journalists were intentionally targeted.

Even if uninetentional, the threat to press freedom and their ability to do their job of holding those in power to account is obvious. And given that this was a test six years ago, that threat is now almost certainly fully operational.

At this stage its worth remembering that GCHQ considers investigative journalists a "security threat" alongside hackers and terrorists. Two of those groups are really about controlling information released to the public, which really makes you wonder who they're really protecting: us, or themselves?