Monday, July 28, 2014



No deal

Its official: National won't be cutting an electorate deal with the Conservatives this election. I guess they figured out that a Colin Craig - Winston Peters deathmatch in East Coast Bays might not go their way - or that snuggling up to the fundies might drive people away from National.

As for Craig, he now gets to stand or fall on his own merits. Which on current polling means fall. Meanwhile, parties which get fewer votes will enjoy representation. While I don't like the Conservatives or what they stand for, that's unfair and undemocratic. We need to get rid of the threshhold so that our electoral outcomes won't be distorted like this.

Earning that reputation XIV

Another year, and the Remuneration Commission proposes another increase in MP's expenses. But the MPs don't think its enough:

A review of expenses by the Remuneration Authority, which sets MPs' pay, is proposing the amount they are allowed to claim for hotel rooms while in Auckland and Christchurch on business be increased from $180 to $210. Outside of those cities it would rise from $160 to $190 a night.

MPs say the hike isn't enough because it now doesn't include breakfast, internet access or parking. But party whips wanted to keep their views under wraps, refusing to release a submission to the authority or confirm details.

Asked questions about the submission, National Party senior whip Louise Upston said permission would need to be sought from all parties and the authority before she would comment.


Its not the fact that they want a bigger increase that bugs me: MPs should be funded for the actual, reasonable and necessary expenses for them to do their jobs properly. This may include a higher allowance for motels (and the proposed increase in family air travel seems entirely reasonable; MPs shouldn't have to sacrifice their families to serve the public). No, what annoys me is the conspiracy of silence around it. The setting of MP's expenses should be done publicly and transparently. Instead, party whips appear to have reached an explicit deal among themselves to try and keep the public in the dark, and to lobby in secret. And then they wonder why the public thinks they're all thieving scum? Once again, they have no-one to blame but themselves...

More bullying from Nick Smith

This morning Radio New Zealand reported on Nick Smith's crude attempt to bully Fish & Game into silence on water quality:

Dr Smith met the Fish and Game Council in Wellington on 18 July, and four people who attended told Radio New Zealand News he gave councillors a dressing down for their stance on trying to protect water quality in lakes and rivers.

Association of Freshwater Anglers president David Haynes, who was at the meeting, said Dr Smith was bullying the Fish and Game councillors in a clear attempt to stop it carrying out its statutory role to advocate for water quality.

[...]

But Fish and Game chief executive Bryce Johnson said Dr Smith was hostile towards his organisation at the meeting.

The minister implied he would restructure the organisation if it did not tone down its stance on water quality, and Mr Haynes had given an accurate account of what happened at the meeting, Mr Johnson told Nine to Noon.

"He said that he's worried that Fish and Game is losing its way, that Fish and Game struggles with being a Government statutory body and instead is being a rabid NGO," he said.


Smith's response? Threaten to sue for defamation in a further effort to bully those who have blown the whistle into silence. He's also released meeting notes taken by one of his officials, which show that he indeed questioned their role and was "keen to introduce an F + G Amendment Act". Whoops. As for the threat of defamation, its empty: he's a politician, and so virtually impossible to defame in a political context. But he's probably hoping no-one realises that.

I think this shows the sensitivity of the government around water quality. They know their dairy agenda has consequences for our rivers which kiwis are deeply uncomfortable with. But they're hoping to bully their way through to further enrich their farmer-cronies. The only way of stopping it is to vote them out, and vote in a government which will properly protect our waterways from the rapacious, polluting dairy industry.

New Fisk

Eight hundred dead Palestinians. But Israel has impunity
One of the oldest Christian communities in the lands of Christ has been destroyed as the Sunni Caliphate spreads

The male party

Another election, and another National party list packed with men. This time though its getting some attention:

National released its party list yesterday and if it gets 60 MPs into Parliament after the election, just 16 - 27 per cent - will be women.

In its full party list of 75, 21 are women. It currently has 15 women in Parliament - about a quarter of its caucus. That is in contrast to Labour; 43 per cent of its caucus are women.

Mr Goodfellow said there were a number of women in the pipeline who were likely to be future candidates.

"We are working really hard in the party to ensure we have a good representation of women, but National do have a very democratic process for selecting candidates and there are a lot of factors for the list ranking committee to take into account, including the merits of the candidates and gender and cultural diversity."

National's electorate candidates are selected by party members in local electorates rather than National headquarters. Of the 42 electorates it holds, 12 have women candidates. Of the 10 electorates in which the current MP is resigning, only two selected women candidates to replace them.


There's a name for this: institutional sexism. And National's response to it - to shrug its shoulders and say "what can you do?" - reflects its lack of commitment to tackling it in wider public life. There are solutions: all-woman electorate shortlists are a common one overseas, as are requirements for gender balance in the list. And its not as if there's a shortage of talented women to take those spots. But National is the party of the old boy's network, dedicated to preserving existing privilege. An equal list might mean that people like Lindsay Tisch and Tim Macindoe had to make way for people who were better than them, despite their possession of a penis. And that's against everything National stands for.

Friday, July 25, 2014



Dissonance

beach

The Greens revealed their campaign billboards today: images of environmental destruction and the slogan "Love New Zealand". I'm not sure it works. I get that they want to confront people with what they're against - but shouldn't they make it clearer? With, perhaps, a question mark? Or maybe a different slogan suggesting that this is what a vote for them will stop?

OTOH, I'm not a marketing guru, so what would I know.

Inside the US "no-fly" list

The Intercept has leaked and analysed the guidelines the US government uses to place people on its "no-fly" list. Its a long and detailed article (the Guardian has a shorter summary here) and it shows just how arbitrary and baseless the list is.

The basic standard of evidence by which the US denies its citizens the right to travel is "reasonable suspicion" of connection to "terrorism" (which is defined broadly to include property damage and pressuring governments). What's "reasonable suspicion"? Anything they damn well like. Tweets, gait analysis ("he was walking like a terrorist!"), going on Hajj, getting married outside the US, travelling for "no reason" (meaning: acting like a citizen of a free country and not telling the government what you're doing every day of your life), being related to someone they classify as a "terrorist", being a potential informant for the FBI, refusing to be an informant for the FBI. And even that low threshold can be bypassed if they feel like it. As they say, "concrete facts are not necessary". And the result is predictable: they added 468,749 people to the list last year, up from 227,932 in 2009. So there are probably millions of people affected. And there's no formal process for removing the innocent...

The US apparently shares this list with 22 other governments. New Zealand is almost certainly one of them. I'm not aware yet of any kiwi being forbidden to fly by unaccountable US officials, but its probably only a matter of time.

Justice for rendition

After the US launched its war on terror, Poland played host to a CIA "black site". Prisoners were kidnapped by the US, rendered to Poland, and tortured there. Now, the ECHR has found the Polish government guilty of unlawful detention and torture for their collaboration in these crimes:

Poland became the first EU country held to account for its involvement in the CIA's extraordinary rendition programme on Thursday when the European court of human rights found it guilty of the unlawful detention and torture of two men at a secret prison in the north of the country after 9/11.

In two damning judgments, the court also ruled that the Polish government had failed to conduct a proper investigation into the episode, and ordered it to pay €100,000 (£79,000) compensation to each of the men, who are currently held at Guantánamo Bay. The rulings are the first in a series of cases being brought against European states, with Lithuania and Romania also facing accusations that they allowed the CIA to open secret prisons on their territory.

[...]

The two unanimous rulings found that the rendition programme was completely illegal, as its rationale had been "specifically to remove those persons from any legal protection against torture and enforced disappearance and to strip them of any safeguards afforded by both the US constitution and international law".

The court at Strasbourg said it was inconceivable that the rendition aircraft could have landed in Poland, and that the CIA could have operated the prison on Polish territory, without the Polish authorities being aware. "It is also inconceivable that activities of that character and scale, possibly vital for the country's military and political interests, could have been undertaken on Polish territory without Poland's knowledge and without the necessary authorisation being given at the appropriate level of the state authorities."


A finding of government guilt and collaboration is great, but its not enough. The officials responsible for that collaboration must now face trial for conspiracy to torture - as must the torturers themselves.

Coleman lied about Dotcom

Last week, in response to the revelation that the SIS had initially recommended that Kim Dotcom not be granted residency due to an FBI investigation, then-Immigration Minister Jonathan Coleman denied all knowledge. He hadn't been told, he said. He "had absolutely no knowledge of any pending FBI-NZ Police investigation".

He lied:

Government minister Jonathan Coleman knew the FBI was interested in Kim Dotcom before his officials granted the tycoon residency - a revelation which has led to accusations he misled the public.

The accusation comes after Immigration NZ released a statement making it clear they told Dr Coleman about the FBI the day before the criticial residency decision was made.

[...]

[Intelligence Manager Theo] Kuper didn't give the classified briefing to the Immigration NZ officer making the decision but told him of FBI interest in Dotcom because of his Megaupload ownership, the spokesman said.

"This information formed the briefing to the head of Immigration New Zealand, Nigel Bickle, and in turn Mr Bickle's briefing to the then Minister of Immigration, Jonathan Coleman, on 28 October 2010 to tell him under the no surprises policy that residence had been approved in principle."


Back in 2004, then Immigration Minister Lianne Dalziel was sacked for misleading the public in this way. John Key promised us "a higher standard of government"; Coleman should therefore suffer the same fate.

Thursday, July 24, 2014



There's a name for this...

The latest atrocity in the Australian government's war on refugees: covering up the rate of self-harm and attempted suicide:

Harrowing eyewitness accounts from the president of the Australian Human Rights Commission and a team of medical experts say there is a mental health crisis on Christmas Island, confirming multiple suicide attempts and self-harm incidents.

Fairfax Media has obtained a document that describes injuries sustained by at least 11 women on July 7 who used various methods to harm themselves including attempted asphyxiation and poisoning after being told by immigration officials that they would not be settled in Australia.

The document describes how one woman put a bag over her head three times, drank half a bottle of detergent and used a broken mirror to cut herself.

Professor Gillian Triggs, who arrived on the island last week as part of the commission's national inquiry into children in immigration, said there were 13 mothers on suicide watch and their conditions were deteriorating rapidly.


This is what happens when you deprive people of hope. But the Australian government views it as bad PR, so they cover it up. They also don't bother providing proper medical or psychiatric care, so the problem just gets worse and worse and worse.

There's a name for the deliberate infliction of severe mental pain and suffering on someone by public officials: its called torture. And if Australia continues with this policy, those officials may see themselves prosecuted in international courts.

UK police spied on their critics

First, it was the family of Stephen Lawrence. Now we learn that the UK police spied on other people seeking justice from them as well:

Undercover police gathered intelligence on grieving families who were battling the Metropolitan police for justice, including the relatives of Jean Charles de Menezes, Cherry Groce and Ricky Reel.

Police have approached the three families, inviting them to discuss their findings. The meeting with Reel's relatives has already taken place and they were told they had been subject to "inappropriate" surveillance.

Scotland Yard claimed that the families were not the target of the operations but information on them was gathered and wrongly retained as part of the covert infiltration of political groups.


Because there's nothing more "political" than wanting to know why the police killed your son, or why they didn't investigate his murder.

As with the Lawrence spying, this was not about preventing crime, or protecting the public, but about preventing criticism and protecting the jobs and reputations of police officers. This is not what police are for. And those who think it is should be prosecuted for misfeasance in public office.

Another botched execution in the US

Another US execution has gone horribly wrong:

The controversy engulfing the death penalty in the United States escalated on Wednesday when the state of Arizona took almost two hours to kill a prisoner using an experimental concoction of drugs whose provenance it had insisted on keeping secret.

Joseph Wood took an hour and 58 minutes to die after he was injected with a relatively untested combination of the sedative midazolam and painkiller hydromorphone. For more than an hour, he was seen to be “gasping and snorting”, according to an emergency motion to halt the execution, filed by his lawyers.

[...]

One eyewitness, Michael Kiefer of Arizona Republic, counted the prisoner gasping 660 times. Another witness, reporter Troy Hayden, told the same paper that it had been "very disturbing to watch ... like a fish on shore gulping for air."


This is pretty clearly cruel and unusual punishment, and hence unconstitutional. The question now is whether the US judiciary can admit that, or whether America's addiction to judicial murder will outweigh the facts and the law.

A serial offender

So it wasn't just a holiday in Oz Claudette Hauiti tried to stick us with:

Outgoing National MP Claudette Hauiti admits using her parliamentary charge card to buy petrol for her personal car in a further breach of the rules on card use.

But she says she doesn't know how much in total she had to refund because she repaid small amounts repeatedly over the year in which she had spent outside the rules.

Ms Hauiti announced this week she would step down from Parliament, days after revelations she used the charge card for personal spending, including a $200 fee related to flights to Australia.


Again: if people in an employment situation repeatedly violated their expenses rules in this manner, despite being warned, they'd be fired and/or prosecuted. Shouldn't the same apply to MPs? But because they're effectively employing the people who are supposed to watch over them, there's not a hope. So instead we get a full-on coverup, where we're not even allowed to know how much she stole.

This is also a stellar example of why Parliamentary Services needs to be subject to the OIA: so there is transparency and public accountability in these sorts of cases. The public have made it crystal clear that we have no tolerance for thieving, rorting MPs. Every day MPs refuse to take that message to heart and legislate accordingly is a day when they earn their reputation.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014



More stat-juking

There were more allegations in Parliament today that the government is juking the stats, with Andrew Little pointing at a report from the Taranaki Daily News that a Crown prosecutor had claimed:

"There was one occasion in 2012 when it was brought to my attention by another senior Crown prosecutor that a police prosecuting sergeant was telling a uniformed police officer in writing he should not have laid lower level drug charges as well as the class A and B charges my office were dealing with, because of the need to reduce crime by a certain percentage."
But its not just crime statistics. Its also education:
Parents can have little confidence in the Government’s National Standards after an Auckland school was told to manipulate its data so it added up, Labour’s Education spokesperson Chris Hipkins.

“Valley School in Pukekohe was advised in an email from the Ministry of Education to arbitrarily adjust student results from ‘below standard’ to ‘above standard’ to make their data add up.

“How can National Standards provide an accurate basis for measuring student achievement when the Ministry of Education is unilaterally scaling assessment results to produce the outcome it wants

This culture of stat-juking seems to be becoming pervasive. But its what happens when the people who collect the stats get sent a clear message from the top that the stats will improve or they will lose their jobs. But the result is that the stats become meaningless, which in turn means we have no idea at all about the effectiveness of policy, or the state of the world. The politicians love this, because the truth becomes whatever they say it is; they can say "crime is dropping", "educational achievement is rising", "our country is a better place", and there's no way to contradict them. But those of us who have to live in the unchanged reality which is not reflected by their false statistics shouldn't be so happy - because denying problems means denying any possibility of a solution. And when that problem is burglaries, domestic violence, or poor educational achievement, its not something we can afford to ignore for the rhetorical comfort of lying politicians.

Prison hulks

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Britain pioneered a new type of atrocity: the prison hulk. Faced with a shortage of jail space, they turned to imprisoning convicts on former warships. The prisoners were subjected to appalling conditions in an overcrowded environment deprived of natural light. Most of those sentenced to transportation to Australia spent time on a prison hulk before being exiled.

Sadly, it seems the present Australian government has decided to ape its former colonial masters:

Family members among 157 asylum seekers being detained on the high seas in separate rooms on a customs vessel are allowed out for meals and ''approximately three hours'' of daylight a day, according to a document lodged with the High Court on Tuesday.

[...]

A document filed by the government reveals the national security committee of cabinet decided on July 1, two days after the boat was intercepted, that those on board ''should be taken to a place other than Australia''.

The document says the asylum seekers are permitted ''approximately three hours' outside during the day in natural light for meals'', but says it would be unsafe to give them unrestricted movement.


These prisoners are now in limbo. Detained illegally on the high seas after an act of piracy by the Australian government, Australia will not accept them, and India (their port of origin) does not want them back. Meanwhile, the Australian government believes that Australian law does not apply to them, and that they have no right even to procedural fairness. Which tells us how badly Australia needs a Bill of Rights...

Challenging Britain's panopticon

Last week, the British establishment rammed through new "emergency" surveillance and data retention laws, with the collusion of all three major parties. Now those laws are being challenged in the courts:

Two leading Westminster civil liberties campaigners, David Davis and Tom Watson, are to mount a high court legal challenge to the government's new "emergency" surveillance law, which was rushed through parliament last week.

The application for a judicial review of the new legislation, which was passed with support from the three main parties, is to be mounted by the human rights organisation Liberty on behalf of the two backbench MPs.

[...]

Liberty is to argue on behalf of Davis and Watson that the new legislation is incompatible with article 8 of the European convention on human rights, which includes the right to respect for private and family life, and article 7 of the European charter of fundamental rights – respect for private and family life and protection of personal data.

The Drip Act requires internet and phone companies to collect their customers' personal communication data, tracking their phone and internet use, and store it for 12 months to give access to the police, security services and up to 600 public bodies on request.

Liberty argues that such communications data can provide a very intimate picture of a person's life by detailing who they have been in contact with, by what means, for how long, and from where.


They're on solid ground here. The EU Data Retention Directive, which DRIP replaces, was declared invalid for precisely this reason. Mass-surveillance without particularised suspicion is standing breach of the ECHR. Which is one of the reasons why the Tories want to leave it: because it is doing its job in protecting the rights of the UK's citizens against its authoritarian, spying government.

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day, the last of the Parliamentary term. But thanks to government filibustering over the past few months, instead of seeing the third reading of Sue Moroney's Parental Leave and Employment Protection (Six Months' Paid Leave) Amendment Bill, the excitement has been stripped from it. Instead, we'll have 90 minutes of valedictories from failed politicians, to be followed by the third reading of a bill about laser pointers.

The next member's day won't be until after Parliament is recalled, and the political landscape will have changed. The exact arrangement is in the hands of the voters, but I'm hoping that the next government won't have such easy majority options, so that member's days become meaningful again and Parliament gets to act as an independent branch of government rather than a rubberstamp for the executive.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014



Manufacturing dissent

So, it turns out that almost all US "domestic terrorists" are created and directly incited by the US government:

Nearly all of the highest-profile domestic terrorism plots in the United States since 9/11 featured the "direct involvement" of government agents or informants, a new report says.

Some of the controversial "sting" operations "were proposed or led by informants", bordering on entrapment by law enforcement. Yet the courtroom obstacles to proving entrapment are significant, one of the reasons the stings persist.

The lengthy report, released on Monday by Human Rights Watch, raises questions about the US criminal justice system's ability to respect civil rights and due process in post-9/11 terrorism cases. It portrays a system that features not just the sting operations but secret evidence, anonymous juries, extensive pretrial detentions and convictions significantly removed from actual plots.

"In some cases the FBI may have created terrorists out of law-abiding individuals by suggesting the idea of taking terrorist action or encouraging the target to act," the report alleges.


And these manufactured "terrorists" are then used to justify more powers and greater budgets for enforcement agencies. Its a vicious circle, which alienates target communities, while keeping the public in a constant state of fear. And it really makes you wonder who the real enemy is...

Saved

The Basin Reserve has been saved:

Controversial plans to build a flyover next to the Basin Reserve in Wellington have been killed off by a board of inquiry.

In a stunning move today, four commissioners declined resource consent for the New Zealand Transport Agency’s proposed $90 million project.

It means the agency’s plans to build a 265-metre elevated highway 20 metres north of the historic cricket ground are now all but dead in the water.


Good. And now possibly Wellington can get on with designing a city for people, not cars.

Not serious

That's John Key's assessment of his government's failure in the Tania Billingsley case:

"I don't make apologies unless there's a serious reason for me to do that."

Except apparently it is serious enough to justify an independent inquiry (though one which won't inquire into Murray McCully's role), and so serious that Key's MFAT scapegoat must resign. Which is more than a small contradiction. Its therefore hard to see it as anything other than a calculated insult towards Billingsley, who refused to collude in the government's silence.

But it's also another example of how Key's government isn't serious about sexual violence. Sure, they'll push "tough on crime" headline-generating policies like eliminating the right to silence, but the reality is that they'll let attempted rapists flee the country, shut down rape crisis centres, and gratuitously insult victims who dare to speak out. Which tells us exactly how "serious" they are.