Monday, May 25, 2015



Britain now opposes freedom of thought

Earlier in the month, UK Prime Minister David Cameron reminded us all of what an illiberal place Britain had become, with the super-villain-esque statement that "for too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens: as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone". And now its got worse, with a senior police officer demanding that the UK polices the "private space" - meaning thoughts and beliefs - of Muslims:

Islamist propaganda is so potent it is influencing children as young as five and should be countered with intensified monitoring to detect the earliest signs of anti-western sentiment, Britain’s most senior Muslim police chief has warned.

Scotland Yard commander Mak Chishty said children aged five had voiced opposition to marking Christmas, branding it as “haram” – forbidden by Islam. He also warned that there was no end in sight to the parade of British Muslims, some 700 so far, being lured from their bedrooms to Syria by Islamic State (Isis) propaganda.

In an interview with the Guardian, Chishty said there was now a need for “a move into the private space” of Muslims to spot views that could show the beginning of radicalisation far earlier. He said this could be shown by subtle changes in behaviour, such as shunning certain shops, citing the example of Marks & Spencer, which could be because the store is sometimes mistakenly perceived to be Jewish-owned.


Note that this isn't targeting extremist behaviour - its targeting extremist belief, victimising people not for their actions, but for their thoughts (unless they're white, of course, in which case these beliefs are considered harmless). And it pretty obviously violates the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion affirmed by the ECHR and in the UK Human Rights Act - not to mention the anti-discrimination clause (because only Muslims will be targeted for these beliefs). Bluntly, whether people celebrate christmas or approve of certain shops is no business of the state - and only a tyranny would believe otherwise.

But its also fruitless, because while the state can persecute and victimise and make people mouth the words and pretend conformity, it can't actually change what they believe. Meanwhile, that persecution and victimisation will further erode its legitimacy and make it clear that if people want the simple dignity of being left alone, they will have to overthrow the state. And to be honest, they'd be right to. A state which seeks to open windows into men's souls is a tyranny, and deserves to be overthrown.

Left behind

Ireland voted for marriage equality over the weekend, becoming the first state to approve it by referendum. Its a sign of how the cultural tide has shifted in the former theocracy, but its also putting pressure on other countries to make progress. Close to home, Australians are asking that if the Irish can do it, why can't they? And just over the border, Northern Ireland faces the shame of being the only country in Western Europe to still deny marriage equality. A look at the map shows that that's not entirely true - isn't Germany "western"? Aren't Britain's wretched, tax-cheating dependencies as much "countries" as Northern Ireland, a part of the UK? Ditto Greenland, a dependency of Denmark? But there's still a powerful sense that Northern Ireland has been left behind as a result of fundamentalist protestant bigotry - and something the Northern Irish will need to deal with if they want to pretend to be part of the modern world.

New Fisk

Suddenly it looks like we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive

Training an army that doesn't want to fight

Last week the Iraqi city of Ramadi fell to ISIS. The reason? Iraqi forces fled rather than fighting:

US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter has said the rout of Iraqi forces at the city of Ramadi showed they lacked the will to fight against Islamic State.

Mr Carter told CNN's State of the Union the Iraqis "vastly outnumbered" the IS forces but chose to withdraw.


Which kindof blows the whole argument for New Zealand's involvement out of the water. The theory is that we'll train the Iraqis to defend themselves. But if Iraqis don't believe in their state enough to fight for it, why should kiwis put their lives on the line to train them? What's the point in training an army that doesn't want to fight?

There's a similar argument against the call today by the British military (through the usual channel of a retired mouthpiece) for "boots on the ground" to fight ISIS. If the Iraqis don't believe in their state enough to fight for it, why should anyone else? Who benefits, other than bloated militaries and the profiteering arms industry?

Friday, May 22, 2015



The price of rotten cops IV

Remember the Nelson Red Devils case? Back in 2012, drugs and firearms charges against 28 alleged gang members were thrown out because police abused the court process by forging a search warrant and an arrest warrant to build the credibility of a police spy. The police appealed, the Court of Appeal ruled that it had to be reconsidered, and it has been - with the same result. last week the High Court excluded all evidence against all but the most serious charges, on the basis that to allow it was disproportionate and a violation of the Evidence Act. And yesterday, Justice Collins issued a stay of proceedings on those serious charges because to allow them to proceed would be a gross abuse of the court process. And in case anyone was in any doubt, the full decision is absolutely damning. It suggests that the police committed multiple criminal offences by forging a court document, perjuring themselves, and (ironicly) failing to answer bail. They may also have perverted the course of justice (naturally, none of the police responsible for these offences have ever been charged - the law is for us, not for them). It goes on:

allowing the trial to continue invites the community to believe that the Courts implicitly condone the police misconduct in this case. Nothing could be further from the truth. Allowing the Crown to continue with this trial in circumstances where the significant misconduct of the police would be a focal point of the trial would diminish the Court’s ability to maintain public confidence in the criminal justice system. There is a real risk that anything other than a significant response risks being seen as weak rhetoric.

Fourth, maintaining the integrity of the criminal justice system, even at the cost of staying the remaining serious charges that post-date 1 June 2010, is a proportionate and appropriate measure that is required to uphold public confidence in the administration of justice. This Court must protect the criminal justice system from being “degraded” and “misused”.


And I agree. Its misconduct so outrageous that the charges have to be dropped. But the result is that 21 defendants walk free on 148 charges, which included not just drug dealing (which honestly I don't give a shit about), but conspiracy to commit arson, conspiracy to commit grievous bodily harm, and various firearms offences. And that's the price of rotten cops right there: criminals go free. if the police don't want it to happen, they need to behave honestly, rather than breaking the law to get arrests.

Meanwhile, it raises the obvious question: how many other times have the police used a false warrant and false arrest under forged court documents to bolster the stories of their undercover spies? And how many people are currently sitting in jail because of such criminal misconduct?

An abuse of the OIA

In the wake of revelations that Prime Minister John Key had systematically and repeatedly bullied, sexually harassed and assaulted a cafe waitress, the New Zealand Herald published a piece exposing the victim. It seemed like retribution, and the involvement of dirty politics operative Rachel Glucina added to that impression. But the Prime Minister denied any involvement. Oddly, though, when asked about it under the Official Information Act, he clammed up, refusing to release any information because

It is not the practice of the media team or the Prime Minister to divulge details of the communications with journalists. This would also extend to any communications the Prime Minister or the media team has had with Rachel Glucina. Therefore, any information relevant to the scope of your request is withheld under the following grounds of the Official Information Act: [s9(2)(a) and s9(2)(ba)]

The problem? Neither of those sections is applicable here. Section 9(2)(a) protects the privacy of natural persons. It covers personal information - usually names and phone numbers of public servants, but also more detailed information where its held. If the Prime Minister disclosed personal information about his victim to a journalist, then it could be withheld under this ground - but the rest of the conversation, including the fact that it could be disclosed, could not be. There's no privacy interest in the official acts of government ministers - and by refusing the request on these grounds and implicitly accepting that the information withheld was official information, the prime Minister has admitted that any leak to his pet smearer was an official act.

As for confidentiality, the Ombudsman's guidelines are crystal clear on this: this clause (and related ones) exist to protect information given to the government. It simply does not apply to information given by them. A government agency simply cannot exempt itself from the OIA by claiming that its actions are "confidential", and to allow it to do so would make a mockery of the law. (And no, journalistic privilege does not apply - that applies to journalists, not sources).

The requester should complain to the Ombudsman. meanwhile, I've had some ideas for other ways of getting to the bottom of this.

Australia's "don't ask, don't tell" policy on torture

The prohibition against torture is one of the cast-iron features of international law. You're not allowed to torture people, and you're not allowed to return or extradite people to a country where there are substantial grounds to believe they will be tortured. The latter is one of the few guaranteed paths to refugee status: if you turn up somewhere, and you've been tortured, they can't send you back. But racist Australia doesn't want refugees, even ones who are victims of torture. So they have a simple solution: stop asking about it:

Asylum seekers will no longer be immediately asked by Australian officials if they have been tortured or suffer from trauma under new screening guidelines.

Documents lodged with the Senate have revealed the question was scrapped from the initial public health screening questionnaire in March.

It means asylum seekers will no longer be asked the question during their first contact with immigration officials and will instead have to wait until they proceed to another stage of screening.

Advocates fear it could also see asylum seekers potentially turned back to other countries before they have been given the option to formally declare themselves as victims of torture.


And according to a former member of the Immigration Health Advisory Group, the question was dropped explicitly because "there is a moral and ethical responsibility to respond to it".

This is the sort of country Australia is now: a country which refuses to ask about torture so that it doesn't have to respond to it. They have not a single shred of human decency left in them, and the sooner the entire country burns down in a bushfire, the better.

Fiji: Removing the opposition

Last year, Nauru's government abused its parliamentary majority to suspend the opposition from Parliament on a spurious privilege motion. Its a disease which is spreading: last night, Fiji's "democratic" regime did the same, suspending an opposition MP for making a derogatory reference to the Speaker during a constituency meeting:

Fiji opposition MP Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu has been suspended from the House of Representatives for the next two years.

FBC reports that late last night, parliament passed a motion to suspend Ratu Naiqama based on the recommendation of the Priviledges Committee.

He is not allowed to enter Parliament precincts including the Opposition Office until the suspension expires.

Ratu Naiqama uttered a slur against the Speaker Jiko Luveni last week.


In New Zealand we understand that the purpose of parliament's power to discipline its own members exists solely for the purpose of maintaining the order of the house, and ends at the chamber door (or at least at the edge of the parliamentary precinct). If an NZ MP calls the Speaker a biased National Party crony or worse outside the house, its a matter for defamation law, not the privileges committee. But even if you think that forcing MPs to pretend to respect the Speaker outside the house as well as in it is a matter of parliamentary order, the penalty is still grossly disproportionate to the offence.
Throw in the violation of natural justice - Lalabalavu's accuser got to sit and vote on the committee judging him - and it just looks like a tawdry stitch-up designed to remove an unwelcome voice of opposition from parliament. Which given that the purported purpose was to ensure respect for the institution of Fiji's parliament, seems to be an own goal.

Thursday, May 21, 2015



One good thing

Today's budget is a dismal affair, as the government shuffles money around and announces new spending while conveniently forgetting to mention that its a sub-inflation rise and that health and education are going backwards - as they have every year under National (Education has even been cut in nominal terms, falling from $11.5 billion in 2009 to $10.8 billion today). But amongst all the nipping and tucking and trying desperately to pretend that they're actually doing something to earn those fat Ministerial salaries and expense accounts, National has actually done one decent thing: they've raised benefits for the first time in nearly 40 years:

A $790 million package to lift children out of poverty will see benefits rise beyond inflation for the first time in 30 years, but it won't come for free.

The Government also imposing stricter work obligations.

The package, announced in the Governnment's Budget on Thursday, will give families on benefits with children a $25-a-week boost to their incomes, while-low income working families will get at least $12.50 a week extra.

The increase to benefits is the first, beyond inflation, since 1977.


Its not enough to restore living standards to the levels they were pre-Richardson, of course, let alone provide the decent support every kiwi needs, and its tied to more work obligations, which means that the increase will be eaten by childcare and transport costs. But its something. And its more than Labour ever did. As with housing, they're doing as little as they possibly can - but it looks like the left have won the argument on child poverty and benefit levels as well. The question is whether Labour will recognise this, or still remain committed to shitting on the poor in an effort to win the votes of the selfish rich.

Fuck TV3

TV3 has announced that they will be shitcanning Campbell Live. Oh, there'll still be a programme - but it won't have John Campbell, it'll only be four days a week, and it will almost certainly turn into the sort of fluffy bullshit you see on Seven Sharp.

Naturally, they announced this the moment the Budget embargo was lifted, in the hope that people wouldn't notice.

Campbell Live was about the only thing I continue to watch on broadcast TV. Unlike most other shows, it does real journalism, campaigning journalism. It has changed public opinion and government policy on child poverty, on housing, and in other areas. Which is why the government's friends on the Mediaworks board decided to get rid of it. But without it, there's just no reason to watch anymore. I get my new from the internet, and seeing stale news recited by talking heads doesn't meet my needs. I get my entertainment from the internet too, so I can watch what I want, when I want, and without ads. Campbell Live was the only new and interesting content TV3 offered. Without it, there's just no reason to watch them at all.

Transparency on MP's expenses in the UK

In New Zealand, information about MP's expenses is limited to an empty summary, despite them spending on average over $50,000 a year each of public money. In the UK, you can now get receipts:

Up to 1m receipts and invoices submitted by MPs since 2010 are to be released on demand by the parliamentary expenses watchdog.

It follows a decision by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) to drop a £187,000 legal fight to keep the documents out of the public domain.

Ipsa already releases summaries of MPs’ expenses in spreadsheet form. A spokeswoman said on Wednesday it would now release copies of MPs’ invoices and receipts in redacted form if requested through the Freedom of Information Act.


This is the same level of detail that we have for our Ministers. In that case, release of receipts has tamed spending; knowledge that it will become public has resulted in Ministers no longer splurging on expensive dinners or luxury hotels on the public's tab. It would be nice if our MPs were similarly restrained.

A lot of devils in those details

3News had a scoop tonight, with a slip-up revealing a major Budget initiative to open up government land in Auckland for affordable housing. At first glance, its superficially attractive: the government has the land, private developers have the capital, stick the two together with an easy credit arrangement and houses get built. But the devil is in the details, and the more you think about it, the more devils appear. And some of them have very sharp pitchforks.

Firstly, there's the land they're targeting:

Dr Smith is talking about land owned by universities, schools, tertiary institutions, health boards, defence, Housing New Zealand, the New Zealand Transport Agency and Department of Conservation reserves.

In the case of central government agencies, that's no problem - the Minister can simply direct them to hand over the land, and its done. But the Minister has no power to direct universities, and DoC reserves require an Act of Parliament to declassify. As for schools, the Minister can simply declare land no longer required for educational purposes, but then it must be disposed of under the Public Works Act.
which brings us to the second problem: much of that land will have been acquired for public purposes under the Public Works Act, and the moment it is no longer required for the purpose for which it was acquired, must immediately be returned to its former owners. In the case of Auckland, some of those former owners will be Maori. The idea of the government taking land off iwi for a public purpose, then changing their mind and using it to feed Auckland's greedy property developers, where it will be subdivided, sold for private profit, and forever alienated from the Treaty claims process? That's just not going to fly. It'd be Paraparaumu Airport all over again.

(In retrospect, many of these issues also applied to Labour's "KiwiBuild" policy...)

Which brings us to the next problem: corruption. When the government is alienating public land, there's a suspicion that they're a) selling it to their mates; and b) selling it cheap. This has been the case in all previous privatizations, and there's no reason to suspect the corrupt, business-oriented National government will suddenly change its behaviour. They didn't over SOEs, and they're unlikely to now. The provision to let developers build first and pay later raises also raises all sorts of questions about who benefits from value increases - and base don this government's past performance, its unlikely to be the government.

And that's without even getting into the question of how they will ensure that the houses are in fact affordable rather than just more (higher-profit) palazzos for the rich, how they will ensure they are brought by first-home buyers rather than foreigners or greedy Boomer speculators looking for a new rental property, and whether they'll actually build enough of them to burst the bubble (which will make a lot of Auckland voters very unhappy as their paper wealth disappears) rather than helping their mates ride it (KiwiBuild at least seemed to get this end of things right, with the government doing the development and sale, and reaping the rewards, and properties being built specifically as first homes).

But maybe we'll be lucky. Maybe National will choose the land carefully, not pillage any reserves or sell school playgrounds and sports fields, deprive universities of their long-term expansion space for a short-term kick in the polls. Maybe they'll also avoid using land which was compulsorily acquired, or just outright stolen, and avoid creating further injustices to Maori by alienating their land. Maybe the sale process, unlike every other privatization programme in New Zealand history, won't be a wealth transfer to the government's mates. And maybe they'll actually build enough houses to burst the bubble, rather than feeding it to the benefit of those same mates. But base don their past performance, I doubt it.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015



I wonder if this will make Hansard?

Today in Parliament, Ron Mark told another MP to "shut the fuck up". The comments are clearly audible on the IntheHouse feed at 4:04:


Under Parliament's Standing orders, showing video of MPs making asses of themselves is apparently a breach of privilege, so I expect they'll be censoring that video soon. But given the behaviour of Members, you wonder how they can show question time at all some days.

Poor leadership on freedom of information

In an interview on Nine To Noon this morning, Ombudsman Beverley Wakem publicly called out the Prime Minister over his leadership on the OIA [14m 10s in]:

Ryan: I hate to say this, but it was the Prime Minister last year who admitted on Radio New Zealand that the government sometimes waits till the end of a timeframe if its in our best interests to do that. That may be within the letter of the law but not the spirit.

Wakem: For a Prime Minister to say that and openly really admitting to breaking the law... its certainly an issue that I'll be taking up. That is about leadership. If the Prime Minister is saying that, what are his Chief Executives or his other Ministerial colleagues going to say if he tacitly endorses it?

And she's right to question this. The body politic rots from the head. Our Prime Minister has publicly advocated breaking the law, and effectively told public servants they can get away with doing it too. And that's a very bad message to be sending, and one he needs to be held accountable for.

Looking the other way on bribery

The government is currently in the process of passing the Organised Crime and Anti-corruption Legislation Bill, which will supposedly strengthen our laws against bribery. The problem? It still endorses the petty bribery of foreign officials:

Transparency International New Zealand is asking MP's to legislate to make bribes no matter how small - illegal whether paid in NZ or overseas.

The Law and Order Select Committee's report on the Organised Crime and Anti-corruption Legislation Bill continues to allow facilitation payments related to overseas transactions. Facilitation payments are small bribes and these are illegal in many jurisdictions, including in the UK under the UK Bribery Act.

Both Transparency International NZ and the Victoria University's Institute for Governance and Policy Studies made submissions to the Law and Order Select Committee on the grounds that allowing even small cases of bribery undermines New Zealand's strong reputation for being corruption free.

Transparency International New Zealand Chair Suzanne Snively, says the decision by the majority of the Select Committee not to deal with facilitation payments was a bitter blow, especially as the new legislation has been moving in such a positive direction.

"There is no dressing this up. Facilitation payments are bribes and by failing to address them, we are enshrining bribery in New Zealand Law", Suzanne Snively says.


The problem is in section 105C of the Crimes Act, which explicitly permits "small-scale" bribery to expedite "routine government actions". Such as, oh, bribing someone to give you a passport. Or citizenship. Or vote a particular way on legislation. Or not arrest you for murder. Providing its part of the official's job, and they're cheap, then its legal. The law is an explicit recognition and endorsement of corruption, and its one we should not have on our books.

McDonald's: Tax cheats

McDonald's has ripped off the Australian government to the tune of half a billion dollars:

International fast-food giant McDonald's avoided paying half a billion dollars of tax in Australia over a five-year period by shifting profits through the low-tax nation of Singapore, a new report by a global coalition of trade unions says.

The report, which has been funded and commissioned by a coalition of global trade unions including the Public Services International (PSI), the International Union of Foodworkers (IUF) and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), looks at how McDonald's has used "aggressive" tax strategies to avoid billions of dollars in taxes every year.

[...]

"McDonald's uses royalty payments from franchisees and foreign subsidiaries in major markets to route profits to tax havens," the report states. "These strategies may have allowed it to avoid up to US$1.8 billion (NZ$2.4m) in tax in those markets in the years between 2009 and 2013, including €1 billion (NZ$1.5b) across Europe and A$497 million (NZ$535m) in Australia."


That's half a billion dollars which could have gone to better public services for Australians, and instead flows into the pockets of McDonald's greedy and sociopathic shareholders. Of course, its all perfectly legal - and the fact that it is tells you that Australia's tax laws are inadequate.

Meanwhile, it poses the obvious question: is McDonald's doing this here? And if so, how much are they ripping us off by?

The full report on McDonald's tax cheating is here.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015



A failure

I think John Key's campaign to change the New Zealand flag can now be officially described as a failure:

The first meeting in a $27.5 million project to chose a national flag has flopped.

It was reported that fewer than 10 people showed up to the first consultation meeting in Christchurch on Sunday.

The 12-strong Flag Consideration Panel outnumbered those in attendance.

While I want the flag changed and will vote for that, its pretty clear that there's no public enthusiasm for it. Even those opposed don't care enough to turn up and say "no". And under these circumstances, I can't see the second referendum succeeding.

Thanks, John Key. Treating this as your personal vanity project, a chance to literally "make your mark" on the country, has doomed it to defeat.

The problem with Labour

The New Zealand Labour Party says it stands for fairness and equality for all people being entitled to dignity and respect and equal access to our society. Naturally, its activists take this seriously - which is why they've passed (or, apparently, reconfirmed) a policy of free gender reassignment surgery. Which is now being attacked by Labour's MPs:

Labour MPs polled on their way to Caucus on Tuesday weren't overly keen on the idea and didn't think Labour voters would see it as a priority.

Napier MP Stuart Nash was at a regional conference where it was raised but he said he voted against it because he didn't think it was an important issue for New Zealanders.

"To be honest, never once in Napier has anyone ever said they're not going to vote for Labour because we're not funding gender reassignment surgery."

[...]

Mt Albert MP David Shearer wasn't entirely sure what the remit was but didn't think it sounded like "hardcore Labour policy".

[...]

Shearer doubted it was something that was the "main thrust" of what the party is doing at the moment.


Like IVF, gender reassignment is a procedure with limited need which makes a huge difference to the lives and happiness of those affected. Of course we should fund it. You can quibble the prioritisation of resources within limited health budgets (which Labour supposedly wants to expand), but not the principle here. Except that that's exactly what Labour's right wing - including its own leader - are doing.

This is the problem with Labour: it treats its young activists as serfs. Their role is to wave signs, knock on doors and hand out leaflets at election time - but to STFU about Labour's ideals between election. But people don't want to be serfs. Which is why young left-wing activists are voting with their feet for the Greens...

But its also a problem for Labour - because in addition to being its electoral workforce, those young, left-wing activists are the party's future. They're its future organisers and its future candidates. And if they go elsewhere, the party doesn't have a future.

MPs like Nash, Shearer and Little might want to think about that before they open their mouths.

Acquitted

John Banks has been acquitted on appeal of filing a false electoral return. This doesn't mean that he didn't accept two $25,000 donations from Kim Dotcom which he subsequently misdeclared as "anonymous", but that the evidence presented against him did not meet the required standard to prove that he did so knowingly, and therefore he could not be convicted of it. So, having taken over an important private prosecution, Crown Law indeed fucked it up. Heckuva job you're doing there guys. The integrity of our electoral system against corrupt politicians is safe with you.

Meanwhile, Banks is acting as if he's been vindicated and is innocent. Legally, that's certainly the case. But morally? Not so much. His evidence in court made it clear that he had structured his affairs so he could pretend that donations were anonymous when he knew damn well where they came from. While the prosecution failed to prove that knowledge in this specific case, his own words should condemn him, and rule him out from any future political career.

Finally, now that the legal process is over, perhaps we can see the report on the police handling of the case that the Independent Police Conduct Authority promised us?

Priorities

Two news stories today highlight National's priorities. Firstly, they're going to let Relationships Aotearoa, which provides counseling to victims of rape and domestic abuse, fold. And then there's this:

John Key has hinted that New Zealand's spy agencies will get more funding in the Budget, but signalled it would not be the same boost as in Australia.

As part of the May 12 Budget the Australian Government announced that they would be allocating another A$450 million (NZ$487.5m) would be allocated to federal police and spy agencies, to help collect information and identify security threats.

On Tuesday morning Key told reporters that there could be some more funding in Thursday's Budget, to cover increased workload, but signalled that the level would disappoint the spies.


So, no money to help domestic violence victims, but more money for spies. No resources for real problems, but buckets of cash for fake ones.