Friday, March 31, 2017



Good riddance to Serco

Serco has finally been evicted from Mt Eden Prison:

Serco will end its management of Mt Eden Prison today after four years riddled with allegations of fight clubs, poor supervision and understaffing.

The government handed over management of the prison to the UK-based company in 2011 but took it back in 2015 after the allegations were made public.

Since then Serco has only been involved in a labour supply agreement, which finishes today, leaving Corrections back in control.


Good. Our prisons should never have been privatised, and what happened to Mt Eden prisoners under Serco's management proves that conclusively. But while they're no longer sucking money from us for mismanaging mt Eden, they're still mismanaging Wiri. The quicker we can kick them out of there, the better.

New Fisk

Can reconciliation ever heal a country with conflict wounds as deep as Syria?

The obvious question

The US has designated a kiwi as a "global terrorist":

An expat New Zealander who has spent years fighting for Islamic State (Isis) has been declared a "global terrorist" by the US government.

Mark John Taylor, 42, is known as the "bumbling jihadi" after accidentally revealing his locations in the Middle East on social media during at least three years involved with Isis.

Taylor, originally from Hamilton, is believed to now be in Raqqa, Syria. He has previously urged Kiwis to carry out terrorist attacks.

On Friday morning (NZ time), the US State Department declared him a "Specially Designated Global Terrorist" alongside four other men.


Which raise the obvious question: is he on a US kill-list? And if so, is the New Zealand government going to stand by and let one of our "allies" extrajudicially murder a New Zealand citizen?

It also raises questions about what information the New Zealand government has provided to the US about him, and whether by doing so they have violated Taylor's right not to be deprived of life. If he is murdered by a US drone strike, the question of their collusion is going to become a serious issue.

When it comes to spies, refusal to deny is an admission of guilt

According the Newstalk ZB, the SIS is refusing to confirm or deny whether it has spied on journalists:

The Security Intelligence Service can neither confirm nor deny whether it's sought domestic intelligence warrants for the surveillance of New Zealand journalists and authors.

Newstalk ZB sought clarification from the spy agency after its Australian counterpart, ASIO, confirmed in Parliamentary hearings earlier this year that it had sought, and been granted journalist information warrants to access reporters' metadata.

However the SIS won't give any details beyond the basic information disclosed in its annual reports.

Director Rebecca Kitteridge said the agency doesn't release other information about intelligence warrants, as it could potentially jeopardise investigations.


How could it "jeopardise investigations"? Spies like to play up the need for secrecy and the idea that giving any idea of what they do or don't do gives information to their imaginary "enemies". But the real reason is more obvious than that: if they told us they had been spying on journalists, there would be public outrage at their anti-democratic actions and an immediate push to limit their powers and functions to prevent them from ever doing it again. Excessive secrecy is thus a defence against proper democratic oversight.

Yes, this assumes they have been spying on journalists. This is an allegation so damaging to their social licence to operate that the SIS would deny it publicly if they possibly could. Their refusal to do so effectively tells us that they have been - and we can all think of two obvious targets who are in the news right now.

Thursday, March 30, 2017



Even Wayne Mapp thinks we need an inquiry

Wayne Mapp, who was Defence Minister at the time, thinks we need an inquiry into their actions:

The man who as Defence Minister approved SAS raids in Afghanistan says further investigation is needed to find out if civilians died and to acknowledge those deaths properly if they are confirmed.

[...]

In a lengthy post on the Pundit website today, Mapp said he had no doubt New Zealand soldiers acted to the highest ethical standards.

However, from briefings provided to him after the 2010 raids he knew the operation, called Operation Burnham, had not achieved its stated aims of arresting or "otherwise dealing with" the insurgents leading Taliban operations against the provincial reconstruction team.


He also claims that he "also knew that other people had been killed", but that he had been told by NZDF that they had been "acting as insurgents" (which is American for "being a civilian in a country the US invades"). But even if you take that at face value, its hard to reconcile with reports that a 3 year old girl was killed, and Mapp is rightly upset about that - hence the call for an inquiry.

When the Minister at the time calls for an inquiry into what went on, that seems like a good reason to hold one. And it makes NZDF's refusal even more untenable. The natural conclusion is that they - or rather, the mafia of ex-SAS officers who currently run it - have something to hide.

New Fisk

In northern Syria, defeated Isis fighters leave behind only scorched earth, trenches – and a crucifixion stand

Climate change: America's climate censorship

How bad is the Trump regime's climate denialism? They've just banned the Energy Department's climate office from even talking about it:

A supervisor at the Energy Department's international climate office told staff this week not to use the phrases "climate change," "emissions reduction" or "Paris Agreement" in written memos, briefings or other written communication, sources have told POLITICO.

Employees of DOE’s Office of International Climate and Clean Energy learned of the ban at a meeting Tuesday, the same day President Donald Trump signed an executive order at EPA headquarters to reverse most of former President Barack Obama's climate regulatory initiatives. Officials at the State Department and in other DOE offices said they had not been given a banned words list, but they had started avoiding climate-related terms in their memos and briefings given the new administration's direction on climate change.


But while censorship may bring peace of mind to Donald Trump and his fellow deniers, who will no longer have to hear about climate change, it won't actually solve the problem. The climate will still change, even if rich Americans refuse to talk about it. But what they are making clear is that they are now effectively waging war on the rest of the world, with a conscious policy of destroying the global climate - and everyone's food supply - for the profit of a tiny American elite. I'm wondering how long the rest of the world will put up with that.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017



Climate change: The US walks away

The Trump regime has effectively walked away from the Paris Agreement by repealing Obama's emissions reduction policies:

Donald Trump launched an all-out assault on Barack Obama’s climate change legacy on Tuesday with a sweeping executive order that undermines America’s commitment to the Paris agreement.

Watched by coalminers at a ceremony at the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, the president signed an order to trigger a review of the clean power plan, Obama’s flagship policy to curb carbon emissions, and rescind a moratorium on the sale of coalmining leases on federal lands.

But the move was swiftly condemned by environmentalists as a “dangerous” and “embarrassing” attempt to turn back the clock that would do little to revive the US coal industry while threatening cooperation with major polluters such as China and India.


The latter is important: China and India agreed to cut emissions because the US acted. Now the US has welched and the agreement has been broken. And while China has strong domestic reasons to reduce coal use (its people don't like air pollution - something US politicians may soon have to re-learn), politically its going to have consequences far beyond climate change policy. After all, if the US can't be trusted to keep its word on emissions reduction, it can't be trusted to keep it on trade, disarmament, or anything else.

New Fisk

Syria: Final evacuation of Homs begins under close Russian supervision

The first step on the road to Scoxit

The Scottish Parliament has formally voted to request powers to hold a second independence referendum:

Nicola Sturgeon has won a key Holyrood vote on her plans for a second independence referendum, triggering accusations from UK ministers that her demands are premature.

Sturgeon won by a 10-vote majority after the Scottish Greens backed her proposals to formally request from the UK government the powers to stage a fresh independence vote at around the time Britain leaves the EU, in spring 2019.

She is due to write to Theresa May later this week, asking for Westminster to hand Holyrood the temporary powers to stage the referendum under a section 30 order. She said she would avoid writing until the prime minister had invoked article 50 to trigger the Brexit process, which she is expected to do on Wednesday.


Its basicly unconstitutional for Westminster to refuse such a request, but the Tories will try. But by doing so, they'll make it crystal clear that they think England should be in charge of Scotland, strengthening the case for independence even further.

Monday, March 27, 2017



New Fisk

Tanks, suicide bombs and bayonets: On the front line in the battles around Damascus
'We see them as monsters. At least Israel makes normal, typical war': As Isis caliphate shrinks, Syrian anger grows

Tripling down on war crimes

So, NZDF's response to the allegations in Hit and Run that SAS soldiers committed war crimes in Afghanistan is that none of it happened and that they were blowing up a completely different (but nearby) village at the time, guv. And based on this, Bill English has decided that there will be no inquiry. And if you believe either, then I have a round building in Wellington to sell you. Instead, it seems like NZDF is producing yet more self-serving lies to continue its coverup - and compounding its crimes by lying to its political masters. When that's exposed, there'll be a bureaucratic bloodbath at Defence Force HQ, because it is simply not acceptable for soldiers to lie to Ministers.

Meanwhile, the Herald this morning has a piece about NZDF's suppression of an internal report into their failures in Afghanistan, which shows how such coverups happen:

Inquiries by the Herald have found the commander who shelved the report was in part criticised in its findings.

[...]

The Commander Joint Forces until March 2014 was Air Vice-Marshal Kevin Short, currently Vice Chief of Defence Force, commander of Crib 9 of the PRT in Bamiyan from July 2006 for six months.

His experience there would have given him a keen understanding of the issues raised in the report but also placed him directly in the command structure criticised by it.

He was succeeded by the current Commander Joint Forces, Major-General Tim Gall, who was the Land Component Commander at the time the review was "drafted" and directly responsible for our deployment to Bamiyan.


Yes, its all about personal arse-covering from the people who failed. In the case of the report, it led them to bury a report, then ignore a recommendation from the Ombudsman to release it - something which should result in instant dismissal. In the case of the SAS, it has led to a systematic coverup of war crimes and repeated lies to Ministers. That too should result in instant dismissal.

Finally, Graeme Edgeler points out that its not an inquory we need, but a criminal investigation, potentially leading to prosecutions. The core problem here is that the police are no more capable of conducting such an investigation properly than they are of investigating electoral offences by political parties - they know who they work for and will produce the result which pleases their masters. But on the gripping hand, when the police inevitably fail, the International Criminal Court can step in and maybe then get some real justice - from The Hague, not Wellington.

Friday, March 24, 2017



Places to go, people to be

Nothing from me today - I'm off to Hydra, Wellington's annual larp convention.

Normal bloggage should resume on Monday, unless I am eaten by Shoggoths.

Thursday, March 23, 2017



Drawn

A ballot for three member's bills was held today, and the following bills were drawn:

  • Ombudsmen (Cost Recovery) Amendment Bill (David Parker)
  • Equal Pay Amendment Bill (Jan Logie)
  • Crown Minerals (Protecting World Heritage Sites) Amendment Bill (Ruth Dyson)
That's a pretty good lineup, and all three of them deserve to pass. And hopefully we'll see National forced to support at least two of them by public opinion. A full list of the bills is here.

New Fisk

It is President Erdogan's Turkey, not humane Germany, that is guilty of 'Nazi practices'

We need an inquiry

I read Hit & Run last night. And having read it, I'm deeply disturbed. Several of Hager and Stephenson's SAS sources openly admit perpetrating war crimes - specifically, the destruction of civilian property for no military purpose. No-one admits to being responsible for the murder of civilians, but there's serious questions about who ordered the US helicopters to fire on the village and villagers, who fired the shots that killed Islamuddin and Abdul Qayoom, and why the SAS troops refused to provided medical care to obviously injured civilians. And while people can claim that all that happened "in the heat of battle" (as if that justifies anything), there's no such excuse for the subsequent raid ten days later which seemed to have the sole purpose of demolishing the houses of those the SAS believed to be insurgents. This was planned, pre-meditated, and had no military purpose. Again, Hager and Stephenson's SAS sources admit it was done purely for revenge.

And then there's the torture. Not just turning over a man to the Afghan NDS, but beating him first. The SAS need to answer questions about that too.

And the coverup. The SAS and NZDF appear to have lied systematicly about the raids, both to the New Zealand public and seemingly their Minister. They knew within 48 hours that civilians, including a child, had been killed. But Wayne Mapp, who was Defence Minister at the time, is saying that he only found out about it when he saw Stephenson's Collateral Damage documentary in 2014. There are real questions about who bullshat who here - did NZDF bullshit the Minister, or did SAS bullshit their superiors? - which only an inquiry can get to the bottom of.

Finally, there's the matter of the SAS itself. A secret military organisation which effectively runs its own foreign policy, lobbying foreign governments to get involved in other people's wars so they can prove how important and vital they are, is not acceptable in a democracy. Neither, obviously, is one that systematically lies to the public and to its superiors. The SAS needs to be inquired into and tamed, and its disproportionate influence on the wider NZDF tamed.

We can not trust NZDF to do any of this. They've proven repeatedly that they're a closed shop, hostile to civilian oversight. We need a truly independent inquiry to get to the bottom of things. And if the government refuses to provide such an inquiry, we should elect one that will.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017



Member's Day

Unless the government calls urgency, today is a Member's Day. First up is Gareth Hughes' Student Loan Scheme (First Home Repayment Diversion) Amendment Bill. After a short break in which former Prime Minister John Key will pretend he had nothing to do with SAS war crimes, the House will move on to Scott Simpson's Employment Relations (Allowing Higher Earners to Contract Out of Personal Grievance Provisions) Amendment Bill and James Shaw's Public Finance (Sustainable Development Indicators) Amendment Bill, before making a start on Clayton Mitchell's Broadcasting (Games of National Significance) Amendment Bill. If all goes well, there should be a ballot for three bills tomorrow.

Ashley Peacock to be freed?

Ashley Peacock has been tortured by Capital Coast District Health Board for the past five years. Now, finally, they're going to stop:

Ashley Peacock's family say he is set to be released back into the community after a decade controversially locked up in a mental health facility - but there's plenty of work yet to be done to make it happen.

The autistic, severely mentally ill, intellectually disabled man has been in a secure psychiatric unit in Porirua for about a decade. His care costs about $1 million a year.

His treatment has been widely criticised by the Ombudsman calling the use of seclusion in his case degrading.

Ashley's parents, Dave and Marlena Peacock, told a parliamentary health select committee the news on Wednesday in an emotional hearing, as they presented a petition to them calling for the Health Minister to intervene in his case.

Ashley has not been told of his impending freedom yet, the committee was told - as it would take about six months and they wanted to fully prepare him.


CCDHB has lied about plans for Peacock's release before, so I don't think this can be believed until he's actually released. Still, its potentially a positive sign.

Unfortunately, there's no word yet on whether those responsible for his torture will be prosecuted yet.

A conspiracy against democracy

That's the only way to describe the latest revelations about the UK police's campaign of spying on peaceful protestors:

The police watchdog is investigating allegations that a secretive Scotland Yard unit used hackers to illegally access the private emails of hundreds of political campaigners and journalists.

The allegations were made by an anonymous individual who says the unit worked with Indian police, who in turn used hackers to illegally obtain the passwords of the email accounts of the campaigners, and some reporters and press photographers.

The person, who says he or she previously worked for the intelligence unit that monitors the activities of political campaigners, detailed their concerns in a letter to the Green party peer Jenny Jones. The peer passed on the allegations to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), which is investigating.

Hacked passwords were passed to the Metropolitan police unit, according to the writer of the letter, which then regularly checked the emails of the campaigners and the media to gather information. The letter to Jones listed the passwords of environmental campaigners, four of whom were from Greenpeace. Several confirmed they matched the ones they had used to open their emails.


The UK has laws against computer hacking and unauthorised account access, and it appears that the police have been colluding with foreign counterparts to systematiclaly violate them for anti-democratic purposes. This isn't acceptable, and those responsible for this crime need to be exposed and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

Of course, this is Britain, so they won't be.

A bad idea

While news of SAS war crimes is brekaing at home, Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee has been in Iraq, and is signalling yet more involvement for NZ troops and spies there:

Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee has just left Iraq after a secret visit to hold high-level defence meetings in Baghdad and to meet New Zealand trainers at Camp Taji north of the capital.

While there, he hinted there was a role for New Zealand in the reconstruction of Iraq.

And he suggested there could be a move to extend the mandate of the Kiwis at Taji to work on intelligence beyond any immediate threats to the camp.

[...]

Brownlee hinted that intelligence work, although still done at Taji, could extend to a wider area.

"What we are going to need to know is, as cities like Mosul fall, as pressure on some of the smaller towns that may harbour the last of the [Isis] fighters grows then they will run somewhere," Brownlee said.

"We need to be in the loop in an intelligence sense, knowing where they are going because we don't want them coming our way.


The obvious problem is that in Iraq "intelligence" inevitably means a) torture and b) drone strikes. And these are things we don't want NZDF to have anything to do with. The use of intelligence obtained by torture is prohibited under international law, and both the SIS and GCSB are now prohibited by law from handling such material (and from helping with drone strikes). With NZDF already tainted by torture and war crimes, we don't want them further tainted by torture and murder in Iraq. Instead, they should just come home.

New Fisk

Martin McGuinness dies: The 'super-terrorist who became a super-statesman – like so many others

Doubling down on war crimes

Last night, investigative reporters Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson revealed that NZ SAS troops may have committed war crimes in Afghanistan, and that the NZDF covered them up. There is an obvious natural response to such serious and well-supported allegations: announce an independent inquiry. Instead, the government has doubled down on denial:

Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett says there's nothing she's seen that "disturbs" her in a book claiming elite New Zealand troops in Afghanistan may have been guilty of war crimes, including the death of a 3-year-old girl.

[...]


"I've seen the statement from Defence and I think they have our best interests at heart and have huge integrity and I'm backing them," Bennett said.

Asked whether anything in the statements and reports she'd read about the book disturbed her, she said, "not at this stage, no".

[...]

Bennett said she hadn't read the book and described Hager as a "left-wing conspiracist" who was "very good at putting his views through".

"You're asking me to pick a left-wing conspiracist, someone who's written a book, puts it out at 5pm at night, gives no one a chance to read it and put their views so it's reported the next morning like it is now without us having a chance to go through it and make sure we're able to respond in the right way," she said.


Its the usual stuff we see from governments about Hager's work, and its worth remembering: nothing substantive he has published has ever been proven wrong. Its also worth remembering that Jon Stephenson won a substantial defamation suit from NZDF after they attacked his integrity like this over his previous work on Afghanistan. These are people of unimpeached credibility, and I would believe them over NZDF any day.

Meanwhile, by responding in this way, Bennett has essentially joined the coverup. And when war crimes and the murder of civilians (including a child) are at stake, that is... not a good look. And by tying themselves so closely to the NZDF's cover-up, they're implicitly asking to be judged by voters when it is inevitably proven to be false.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017



War criminals must be punished

Tonight, Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson launched Hit & Run: The New Zealand SAS in Afghanistan and the meaning of honour, about the SAS's "revenge" raid in Afghanistan. At the time, the NZDF said that the raid killed only "insurgents". They lied. In fact, the raid killed and injured only civilians; the insurgents they were targeting were nowhere near the area.

It gets worse. The SAS deliberately demolished civilian houses as revenge for the death of one of their comrades. That's a war crime. They refused to provide medical care to the wounded, resulting in some of them dying a slow, lingering, and completely unnecessary death. That's a war crime too. And when they finally captured one of the people they were looking for, they turned him over to the Afghans to be tortured. That's a war crime as well, not to mention straight out conspiracy to torture.

So who's responsible for these crimes? According to Hager and Stephenson's Q&A:

Most of all, people in the SAS. They gathered the intelligence, planned the raid and commanded and led the operation. The authors believe that the deaths and injuries of 21 civilians, the destruction of homes, and the beating and torture of a detainee were due in large part to their actions and inactions, and that they led the efforts to keep it quiet afterwards. Next there are officers in the defence force who were responsible for overseeing the SAS and who should have investigated more responsibly when news of civilian casualties emerged. This includes the then-chief of defence force Lieutenant-General Jerry Mateparae, who was in Afghanistan at the time, and who watched on the screens at the SAS operations room in Kabul as the operation unfolded. Then there are the political leaders. Most government decisions are made by individual ministers or by Cabinet as a whole. However in this case, as Chapter 2 describes, the prime minister John Key was briefed by phone from the SAS compound in Kabul and personally gave his approval for the raid.

Yes, John Key is a fucking war criminal. And he made one of his co-conspirators in those war crimes Governor-General.

These people need to go to jail. All of them. We should not tolerate war crimes by our defence forces, and we should not tolerate the authorisation of war crimes by our politicians. And the solution to it is to charge them, try them, and if convicted, jail them for a very long time, so that there will be some justice for the dead and so that all future soldiers and politicians will know that we will not tolerate that. Anything less - resignations, excuses - is just bullshit. We need prosecutions, and (if the evidence supports them), convictions.

And as a general comment: this is what happens when we involve ourselves in American wars. If we don't wage war, our soldiers don't commit war crimes. So don't wage war, except in immediate self-defence. Duh.

Liar!

When allegations emerged that National MP Todd Barclay had illegally bugged his electorate office staff, he assured the New Zealand public that he would cooperate fully. But he lied:

National MP Todd Barclay refused to co-operate with detectives carrying out an investigation into allegations he had secretly recorded staff in his electorate office, according to documents released from the official police investigation.

Instead, Barclay did not return phone messages left for him by lead detective on the inquiry and had a lawyer contact police to say he would not be making a statement.


Obviously Barclay has a right to silence. At the same time, the public are fully entitled to judge him and his party at the ballot box on his deceit - and they should.

Climate change: Uncharted territory

That's where the World Meterological Organisation thinks we are due to climate change:

The record-breaking heat that made 2016 the hottest year ever recorded has continued into 2017, pushing the world into “truly uncharted territory”, according to the World Meteorological Organisation.

The WMO’s assessment of the climate in 2016, published on Tuesday, reports unprecedented heat across the globe, exceptionally low ice at both poles and surging sea-level rise.

Global warming is largely being driven by emissions from human activities, but a strong El Niño – a natural climate cycle – added to the heat in 2016. The El Niño is now waning, but the extremes continue to be seen, with temperature records tumbling in the US in February and polar heatwaves pushing ice cover to new lows.

“Even without a strong El Niño in 2017, we are seeing other remarkable changes across the planet that are challenging the limits of our understanding of the climate system. We are now in truly uncharted territory,” said David Carlson, director of the WMO’s world climate research programme.


Those who still deny climate change are simply denying reality. It's here, its a threat to human civilization, and we need to deal with it or face some serious consequences (like flood, famine, and war).

A bold move

In the past Maori and Mana Party candidates have argued that giving them electorate votes gets voters "two for one": a Maori Party or Mana MP in the electorate, and a Labour MP on the list. Now the Labour Party is countering that by announcing that all its candidates in Maori seats will be electorate only and will not be on the party list:

In a surprise move Labour's Maori seat MPs have opted to stand as electorate MPs only, and not go on the party list.

Labour Leader Andrew Little said the party was backing a request from its Maori electorate MPs in a move that was "a direct challenge by the Maori MPs to the Maori Party".

"We're confident our outstanding Maori electorate MPs will win their seats.

"We take nothing for granted and our MPs will be working hard to win the trust of voters. But we're very confident they'll make the case this coming election given the strength of our plans and Labour's record of delivering for Maori in government," he said in a statement.


Its a bold move, and it will be interesting to see whether it pays off. If it doesn't, it could be a disaster for Maori representation in Labour, and play directly into the Maori and Mana Party's hands.

Climate change: Getting there from here

If we're to meet the challenge of climate change, we need to radically decarbonise our economy and significantly reduce our emissions - quite possibly, to zero in order to allow the atmosphere to recover. But how can we get there, and what would a zero-emissions New Zealand look like? GLOBE-NZ, a cross-party group of MPs, has produced a report giving us a glimpse:

Slashing pastoral stock numbers by up to 35 per cent has been suggested among ways to push New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions down to zero by 2100.

[...]

Under the first scenario, the country would further slash the emissions intensity of its economic activity through technological advances, such as cost reductions in electric vehicles for freight, electric heating technologies for high temperature applications and a vaccine to reduce methane emissions from pastoral agriculture.

This would be accompanied by a structural shift away from pastoral agriculture - with animal numbers around 20 to 35 per cent lower than today - to less emissions-intensive activity.

The country would instead support a diverse range of land uses, including horticulture and crops, alongside extensive planting of forests, covering an extra million hectares of land by 2050.

This scenario could result in a 70 to 80 per cent reduction in net emissions compared with current levels, however the authors said this option still relied upon breakthroughs like high-grade heat and non-passenger transport, along with extra tech in the agriculture sector.

Under a second scenario, an extra 1.6 million hectares of forest planted by 2050 would "substantially reduce emissions" - a 65 to 75 per cent reduction - and provide opportunities in a significantly enhanced forest products industry.

There's a lot that has to go right for the first strategy to happen, including that methane vaccine. But there's a common feature of both that is going to have to happen regardless: rural New Zealand will have to change. If we want to beat climate change, the dirty economic strategy of destroying our rivers to make bulk milk powder for export is going to have to end, in favour of other uses and higher-value products. And that's entirely reasonable: agriculture produces 50% of our emissions. If we're to reduce overall emissions, the 15% of the population in rural New Zealand which produces and profits from those emissions needs to do their share, rather than leaving it to the rest of us to carry the costs of their pollution.

Interestingly, this report is backed by 35 MP's from across the political spectrum, representing all parties other than United Future (because no-one cares about them) and ACT (because they don't care about the climate). Which suggests that the ground is shifting away from the current foot-dragging and towards a recognition of the radical action we need to take. It's a hopeful sign, and one which suggests that we might finally see some progress. Hopefully it won't be too late.

The full report can be read here.

Not too hard after all

Bill English thinks charging for water is "too hard". Fortunately Andrew Little is up for the challenge:

Labour wants to introduce a charge on water exports and says the Government is "kicking the can down the road" by not addressing it before the election.

[...]

Labour leader Andrew Little said the issue of putting a price on the country's water was a "real issue now", and Kiwis were concerned about it.

"This is just another example of this government kicking the can down the road. We've seen it with superannuation - coming up with an idea but nothing's going to happen until after the election," he told Radio NZ.

Little said Labour would put an "appropriate levy" on water use, but couldn't say what that might be.

"I'm not an expert and specialist in this area but most people would say if you're coming here taking this water untreated, untouched ... then fairness dictates you should give something back."


And that's the key point here. When companies extract our gold, silver, oil and gas, they have to pay a royalty on it. The same should be true of water. Of course, that immediately introduces a Treaty issue, because like the oil and gold, ultimately that water belongs to Maori. But that's not insurmountable. Its simply a question of government priorities and will.

Little doesn't want to charge farmers, our biggest water profiteers. But even a charge levelled only on water bottlers is a start, and establishes the principle that those who profiteer from public resources should pay for it.

Monday, March 20, 2017



UKanians support higher taxes

For decades, UK governments have cut taxes on the rich in order to "encourage growth" (of rich people's bank balances). But it turns out that that is completely the opposite of what voters want:

Increased taxes on wealthy individuals and businesses in order to balance the country’s books have the overwhelming support of the British public, a new poll reveals.

According to a survey by ComRes for The Independent, restoring the income tax rate for those earning more than £150,000 a year from 45p to 50p has the support of 77 per cent of the public, including 76 per cent of Conservative respondents.

[...]

Increased rates of corporation tax on the profits of firms from the current rate of 20 per cent to 25 per cent are also supported by 60 per cent of those surveyed. Just 26 per cent disagreed while 16 per cent registered “don’t know”.

Despite this, from 2020, Britain will have one of the lowest rates of corporation taxes in the G20 as the Government intends to cut the tax rate to 17 per cent.


So how do they do get away with this? A political establishment tightly connected to the wealthy, coupled with an unfair electoral system to prevent anyone actually representing the people from gaining power. And so the UK is governed by and for the interests of the ultra-rich, and the views of the majority are ignored.

Meanwhile I'm wondering whether there's any similar polling in New Zealand. And if not, surely the labour Party shoudl be doing some?

Fined

The UK Conservative party has been fined £70,000 for lying about its election expenses:

The Electoral Commission has fined the Conservative Party £70,000 over campaign spending.

The independent watchdog said the party had made “numerous failures” in reporting its expenses for the 2015 general election and three by-elections in 2014.

[...]

The investigation found the party’s spending return for the 2015 general election was missing payments worth at least £104,765.

Separately, payments worth up to £118,124 were either not reported to the commission or were incorrectly reported.

In addition, the Tories did not include invoices or receipts for 81 payments worth £52,924 and failed to maintain records explaining the amounts it invoiced to candidates in three 2014 by-elections for work on their campaigns, meaning the accuracy of the sums could not be verified.


In addition, there's been a referral to police, and at least a dozen more from electorate-level investigations. The Conservative Party is looking less like a democratic party and more like a criminal conspiracy.

But while its nice to see them fined, £70,000 is nothing to them. And that's the real problem here: clearly, the sanctions in place in the UK are insufficient to discourage this kind of electoral fraud. And that will remain the case until party officials and MPs face a real prospect of ending up in jail if they try to cheat the system.

Apple: Tax cheats

More stellar work from the Herald's Matt Nippert has shown us that Apple hasn't paid a cent of tax in New Zealand for the past decade:

Consumer electronics giant Apple paid no income tax to Inland Revenue over the past decade despite selling billions of dollars worth of iPhones and iPads to New Zealanders.

[...]

According to figures compiled by industry analysts IDC, Apple sold 221,000 phones here in the three months to December.

Over the past decade, mostly thanks to the iPhone revolutionising the mobile phone, Apple grew to become the world's largest and most profitable company. According to financial statements for the company's local subsidiary, Apple Sales New Zealand, record total sales here since 2007 were $4.2 billion.

The accounts also show apparent income tax payments of $37 million - but a close reading shows this sum was paid to Inland Revenue but was actually sent abroad to the Australian Tax Office, an arrangement that has been in place since at least 2007.

Had Apple reported the same healthy profit margin in New Zealand as it did for its operations globally it would have paid $356m in taxes over the period.


As the article points out, this is perfectly legal: the law enables massive multinational slike Apple to welch on their obligations to society. But its also very clearly immoral. And its a perfect example of why we need a diverted profits tax: to make leeches like Apple pay their fair share.

New Fisk

On the 40th anniversary of Kamal Jumblatt's death, is trouble brewing again in Lebanon?

"Too hard"

That's what Prime Minister Bill English thinks of the issue of charging profiteers for water:

There will be no price put on the country's water before the election because it's "too hard" to work out who owns it, says Prime Minister Bill English.

While Environment Minister Nick Smith has called any move to charge bottled water companies or put a ban on them exporting water "farcical" - English's response has been a bit more watered down.

"In New Zealand for a long long time it's been the case that no one owns the water. You'd be disrupting 100 years of practice and we've had a system in New Zealand where it's first come first served," he told Newshub.

"You'd have to work out pretty basic things like who owns it? What would you charge them? Who else would you charge?

"Because other people make money out of water, including the tourist boats that float on it...If there was a simple, easy answer here it would already be in place."

"Right now, it is too hard," said English.


Sure, it's hard. But too hard? Not really. Unlike Bill English, I don't think its beyond the wit of the government's policy analysts to craft a solution here, or of their Treaty negotiators to settle the immediate Treaty issues that it raises (because lets be honest: like the rest of New Zealand, its stolen property, and Maori deserve to be compensated for it). In fact the last bit seems particularly easy; based on past precedent around fisheries and aquaculture, the government would just end up paying 20% of such charges to local iwi.

The real barrier to National (and therefore English) acting on this is because that "no-one owns water, first come, first served" policy disproportionately benefits one group and allows them to profiteer from a public resource while destroying its value to others. That group is farmers - and they donate to the National Party. Again, I don't believe its beyond the wit of MfE's policy analysts to devise a charging scheme which differentiated between low-value uses like farming and high-value ones like water-bottling while ensuring free use for public purposes like town supply, but it would mean farmers having to finally pay for that public resource they are stealing from us. And that will never happen as long as National is in government.

Friday, March 17, 2017



The government owes us answers on this

In 1977 when enacting the Citizenship Act, Parliament gave the government an "out" clause by allowing the Minister to grant citizenship where there are "exceptional circumstances of a humanitarian or other nature". So what proportion of the grants made under this clause are actually for humanitarian reasons? Fewer than half:

There is cause for fresh doubt over whether New Zealand has been selling citizenship.

Internal Affairs acknowledged today that fewer than half of the 138 people granted citizenship in "exceptional circumstances" by the Government since 2008 were approved on humanitarian grounds.

The statement comes in the wake of controversy over a citizenship grant to United States billionaire libertarian Peter Thiel, who helped fund US President Donald Trump's election campaign and was granted New Zealand citizenship in 2011.

[...]

But Internal Affairs spokesman Steve Corbett said "humanitarian reasons are less used than others".

He confirmed fewer than half of the grants had been on humanitarian grounds.


Apparently Internal Affairs can't give a detailed breakdown of the reasons for the other half because its too much work. They need to pull their finger out of their arses and provide this information. Because on its face, it looks as if the Minister (and Internal Affairs) are ignoring the clear intent of Parliament that this clause be primarily used for humanitarian reasons, and it creates a suspicion that it is being used to effectively sell citizenship to those who do not otherwise meet the criteria.

Meanwhile, we've also learned that the circumstances of peter Thiel's citizenship grant were practically unique and have not been repeated. Despite this, then-Internal Affairs Minister Nathan Guy claims not to remember a thing about it. Which is so convenient that it suggests very strongly that he has something to hide.

The government owes us answers on this - and if they don't provide them, we're fully entitled to assume the worst: that they are corrupt, and that New Zealand citizenship is for sale.

The best way to an independent Scotland

Have an English Tory Prime Minister who reminds everyone of Margaret Thatcher say they can't do it:

Theresa May has moved to block a new Scottish independence referendum by saying "now is not the time" for another vote.

The Prime Minister said a repeat of the 2014 referendum was not appropriate because the country was already going through a huge change in terms of Brexit, and that Scottish people needed a fuller picture before taking any decision on the future.

But her move to block another vote for now creates an intense political stand-off with SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon, who will next week ask Scottish MSPs to approve her plans for a second referendum.


And that is that, I think. May can fulminate all she wants, but by making it clearly an issue of liberal Scotland vs Tory London, and claiming to have a veto on the aspirations of the Scottish people, she's basicly ensured that when a referendum happens, London will lose it.

Thursday, March 16, 2017



"Stood the test of time"?

Last week, Prime Minister Bill English told New Zealand that our abortion law, which effectively requires women to declare themselves mentally ill to access a basic medical procedure, didn't need to be changed because it had "stood the test of time". Today, the Abortion Supervisory Committee, which oversees and administers that law, called bullshit on that:

Current wording in New Zealand's abortion law is offensive and not updating it is an "indictment", a Government-appointed committee has told MPs.

The strong criticism of aspects of abortion law comes amidst increasing political debate about the issue, with Labour, the Green Party and Act Party all calling for change.

The Abortion Supervisory Committee (ASC) made its annual appearance at Parliament's justice and electoral committee today, when it reports on how abortion law has been managed.

While calling for the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act, passed in 1977, to be updated, the ASC made clear the larger issue of more significant changes was a question for the public and Parliament.

However, the outdated wording in the current legislation was creating problems for health officials and allowing anti-abortion groups to launch legal challenges.


Basicly, the law is a 40-year old sexist mess in desperate need of updating. That hasn't happened because of the cowardice of politicians - they simply don't want to deal with the backlash from New Zealand's tiny fundamentalist community. Instead, they sacrifice the fundamental right of women to control their own body so they can have a little peace of mind.

That's simply not acceptable. This law needs to change. And politicians who don't want to do that, or don't want to think about it or risk upsetting the fundies? We should vote them out and get better ones.

Israel is an apartheid state

That's the official conclusion of a report by the United Nations:

A new United Nations report accuses Israel of having established "an apartheid regime that oppresses and dominates the Palestinian people as a whole".

The publication comes amid renewed debate about whether, through its settlement policy and rejection of Palestinian self-determination, the Israeli government is creating - or even has already created - a de facto "one-state", which critics warn would constitute a form of apartheid.

It urged governments to "support boycott, divestment and sanctions [BDS] activities and respond positively to calls for such initiatives".

The report - Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid - was commissioned and published by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) and launched in Beirut.


Israel and their US supporters are upset, of course - but what else do you call it where one people are systematically discriminated against by the government, subject to arbitrary land confiscations, expulsions and home demolitions, and subject to a completely different set of laws?

This is not something the world should tolerate. It is illegal under international law and constitutes a crime against humanity under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. We didn't tolerate it from South Africa, and we should place Israel under the same sort of sanctions regime until it changes its mind and respects the human rights of all its citizens.

We need to protect our water

Another day, more water being sold to foreigners:

Questions are being asked after a lucrative water consent attached to a former wool scouring plant in Christchurch went on the market.

Newshub reported tonight the Kaputone wool scouring plant in Belfast is about to be sold off and, with it, a water consent allowing the extraction of more than 4.3 million litres of water a day - the equivalent of 50 one-litre bottles a second.

The only cost is $100 - if inspected - and the consent does not expire until 2032.

[...]

Meanwhile, Newshub reported those behind the sale of Kaputone - owner Cavalier Carpets and its shareholder Direct Capital - would not reveal who the prospective buyers are.

Several workers told the broadcaster they believed Chinese interests are involved.

The site is under five hectares and not considered sensitive land so it is unlikely the sale will need to go through the Overseas Investment Office.


Bottled water is one of the highest-value uses of water there is. Economicly, its worth far more and would be far better than pumping the same water through cows and then into the rivers as shit. But its value also highlights the fundamental unfairness at the heart of our current water law: this resource consent, to extract over 1.5 billion litres of water a year, is basicly a licence to print money. Even assuming that its the cheapest bottled water on the market and a 1000% markup from production to retail, it is still worth over $1.6 billion (NPV @4% interest). And we are giving it away essentially for free.

That's not acceptable. When someone extracts a profit from a public resource, the public deserves a return. We need to price water, so that the public gets its share, rather than it essentially being privatised by stealth.

Secondly, the fact that none of this requires OIO approval points to a very real hole in the Overseas Investment Act. Sensitive land and business assets are covered, but water isn't? That needs to be fixed. Fortunately, that looks pretty easy, and there's probably an MP working on a member's bill to plug it right now.

Will the UK Conservatives be prosecuted for overspending?

Last year the UK Conservative party admitted that it evaded national spending limits by failing to declare tens of thousands of pounds of spending in key marginal seats. Now, twelve police agencies have forwarded files on the matter for prosecution:

Twelve police forces around the country have sent files to the Crown Prosecution Service relating to general election expenses as an investigation into a Tory ‘battle bus’ scheme enters a new phase.

Officers have been looking into the Conservative Party’s battle bus campaign at the 2015 election to determine whether the party broke spending limits in target seats key to the party winning its narrow parliamentary majority.

[...]

A spokesperson for the Crown Prosecution Service said it had received files from Avon & Somerset, Cumbria, Derbyshire, Devon & Cornwall, Gloucestershire, Greater Manchester, Lincolnshire, the Metropolitan, Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire and West Yorkshire police forces.

A spokesperson for Staffordshire Police said they had also provided files to the CPS.

Two dozen Conservatives are understood to be under investigation over claims that they did not include battle bus spending in their local campaign returns. The Electoral Commission is also investigating the allegations in parallel to the police.


This is good if it goes anywhere - election laws need to be enforced, and the evasion of local spending limits is something that should result in prosecution (and, if convicted, ejection from Parliament). OTOH, this is basicly the British establishment being asked to police itself - and we all know how that turns out.

A day of backdowns

It appears to be a day of government backdowns, with the government agreeing to exempt sexual violence support agencies from its creepy demands for client data and from its pointlessly antagonistic efforts to remove the "whanau-first" clause from child protection law. Which is good news on the face of it, but not as good as it seems when you look closely.

On data collection, sexual violence agencies clearly have a very strong case for privacy. But its not just them at risk from the government's policy. As this article in the ODT highlights, the same concerns arise in a wide range of social agencies. People who use mental health, addiction support, parental support, suicide prevention, and family violence services all have very real and legitimate fears about what the government might do with their data and who might look at it. And if they believe e.g. WINZ will get their data and use it to cut benefits or steal children, then they won't interact with the service. MSD probably regards that as a success: lower demand means better PR and spending less money. But if people are afraid to seek help, that is a serious failure.

On child protection, the Māori Party had credibly threatened to withdraw its support from the government over this, so a backdown was inevitable. But while the media is reporting that the status quo will prevail and Maori children will be placed with their extended family where possible, Anne Tolley seems to be contradicting that on Twitter:



Which really doesn't suggest that the government is dealing with the Māori Party in good faith on this. In which case they'll likely find their bill voted down, and their budget along with it.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017



Priorities

Last year, the government announced it wanted to spend $20 billion on new toys for the defence force. Now, Labour is suggesting that that money could be put to other purposes:

A $20 billion Defence Force upgrade already underway could not be guaranteed under a Labour-led government.

Labour leader Andrew Little has refused to commit to following through on the 15-year modernisation plan if he became prime minister, saying spending on housing and education would always take priority.

[...]

"That's an area we'd have to look at and see what the commitment is about that $20bn.

"But I have to tell you when it comes down to a choice between doing stuff that's going to give people a chance to either get a roof over their head, get the kids set up for opportunities for the future, then that's got to come first," Mr Little said.


Good. As I pointed out last year, NZDF's gold-plated shopping list is aimed at status weapons, outdated cold war thinking, and "interoperability" - AKA "fighting other people's wars". And its doing that at the cost of just under a billion dollars a year - which is basicly a full year of paid parental leave, the elimination of student fees, a massive state house-building programme, or a reversal of National's stealth health cuts. And when you put it like that, it's crystal clear that Little is right and this money is better spent elsewhere.

Useless

John Key is leaving Parliament the moment he is able to without causing a by-election. But don't worry - because Labour is letting him do it without affecting the government's majority:

Former Prime Minister John Key will quit Parliament on April 14 after delivering his farewell speech next week.

The timing will allow Parliament to avoid a by-election in his Helensville seat, which can be left vacant if he leaves within six months of the September 23 general election.

Meanwhile Labour's David Cunliffe has also announced he is leaving early, with a final day of April 23
[during a recess - I/S] - ensuring the relative strengths of the Government and Opposition are preserved.

I have one question: why? Why would an opposition possibly want to do this? Especially when there's important legislation like the gutting of the RMA on the table? Why would an opposition want to let the government keep its ability to legislate at will, rather than gaining the ability to advance the aims of its members via an effective veto on government legislation?

I understand that Labour can't stop Cunliffe from resigning if he wants to. But this move, echoing the old FPP practice of pairing, seems to be sacrificing a real opportunity for diddly-squat. Its a reminder that when push comes to shove, Labour is just a bit useless really - and that's not a good message to be sending in an election year.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017



No sunlight, no disinfectant

Newstalk ZB's Felix Marwick writes about the failure of his efforts to uncover the details of John Key's "briefings to bloggers" using the Official Information Act:

The Office of the Prime Minister has consistently refused to release any of the details I have sought. Its position, via Chief of Staff Wayne Eagleson, has been the information sought fell under the Prime Minister’s position as Leader of the National Party so the information was not subject to the Official Information Act. Mr Eagleson’s position has also been that to provide the information, in the case of interactions with blogger and party pollster David Farrar, it would require the searching of a large volume of correspondence. In a nutshell, any information the Prime Minister’s office held, it was not willing to disclose.

On this point the Ombudsmen have accepted the view of the Prime Minister’s Office with Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier’s view that the threshold for him to check the communications in question has not been met.

Matters have also been further complicated by John Key’s departure from the office of Prime Minister. The Chief Ombudsman did approach Mr English’s office last December to see if he adopted the position of his predecessor. Mr English, via his chief of staff Wayne Eagleson, backed the position of his predecessor and also made the point that given Mr Key’s departure, and that of many of his staff, he couldn’t be certain in what capacity Mr Key made the communications and whether they were official information or not.

Add to this the fact that when a Minister or official ceases office, information that they alone hold stops being official information at that point, and it becomes immediately apparent any formal attempt to use the OIA to elicit details is a lost cause.

I'd made the same request, with the same results. If you're curious about the details, the Ombudsman's most recent letter is here. The core problem with the process though is simply how long it took: the requests were filed in July 2014, and yet the Ombudsman's Office didn't bother to act on them until 1 September 2016, two years after the complaints were received. If they'd acted sooner, then it would have happened before Key resigned, he would not have been able to play the hat game (because information is official by default), and there likely would have been some form of answer. Instead, the slow action on the complain has let him get away with it.

Marwick's conclusions are clear: firstly, that the OIA is fundamentally useless for getting information which politicians don't want to give you, and that real stories are going to come from leaks. And secondly: "the most senior politician in the land probably had something to hide".

England and Wales to decriminalise abortion?

Abortion law is back in the news, thanks to Bill English's claim that our 40-year old law, which criminalises abortion and effectively requires women to declare themselves mentally ill to access a basic medical procedure, has "stood the test of time". But looking overseas, it seems that not everyone thinks that. England and Wales have a near-identical law, which is a decade older. And there, MP's have just voted to decriminalise abortion:

MPs have voted to decriminalise abortion in England and Wales.

MPs have backed a bill by 172 votes in favour, versus 142 against.

The bill, which was introduced as a Ten-Minute rule bill, will now go to a second reading on 24th March, before it can be passed into law.


There are other stages too, and the majority for change is only 10% of the number of MP's who didn't bother to turn up (again, England's "democracy" is broken), but its a good start, and a good sign that change is coming. And England isn't even a particularly fast mover on this - the Australian state of Victoria completely reformed its abortion regime nearly a decade ago. We should follow suit.

Scotxit is on

The UK Parliament is currently playing ping-pong between the Lords and the Commons over a Brexit enabling act. Meanwhile Brexit pre-negotiations are already turning into a mess, with the EU demanding that the UK accept freedom of movement as a condition of market entry, and Theresa May threatening to walk away from a "bad" deal (i.e. one which doesn't let her have a racist immigration policy). Faced with the very real prospect of being stuck in a lifeboat with cannibalistic England, the Scottish government has taken the obvious course, and has demanded another independence referendum:

Nicola Sturgeon has triggered a fresh constitutional battle over Scotland’s future after announcing plans to stage a second independence referendum within two years.

Accusing Theresa May of thwarting Scotland’s desire for a special deal with Europe, the first minister confirmed she plans to hold the vote between autumn 2018 and spring 2019 unless the UK government offers substantial last-minute concessions.

Sturgeon said the prime minister’s refusal to discuss full Scottish access to the single market and to threaten heavy restrictions on the new powers for Scotland after Brexit made a second referendum all but inevitable.


The latter is particularly important - Westminster is trying to use Brexit to undermine Scotland's autonomy and seize back devolved powers. And faced with that sort of bullshit, who wouldn't leave? Better to be master of your own destiny than slave to London.

There will now be the usual fight about whether Scotland is "allowed" to have a referendum (of course they are, and it would be unconstitutional for Westminster to refuse), and about timing. Westminster will of course fight tooth and nail on them - and in the process they'll probably make the case for independence even stronger. Because every time some Westminster Tory says "no", or sneers at the idea of an independent Scotland, they make it clearer and clearer what this is about: respect. London does not respect other parts of the UK and treats them as peasants. Fortunately, Scotland is in a position to actually do something about it and leave.

Monday, March 13, 2017



Britain funds concentration camps in Libya

Britain's racist, anti-refugee government is bankrolling refugee concentration camps in Libya:

British-funded refugee camps in Libya are implementing the indiscriminate and indefinite detention of asylum seekers in the conflict-riven country, the UK government’s official aid watchdog has warned.

In a report published on Friday, the UK’s Independent Commission for Aid Impact expresses concern that UK aid to Libya risks causing unintended harm to migrants and could prevent them from reaching a place of safety. It also criticises ministers for apparently decided on the funding plan without studying the human rights implications in a country struggling to contain its long-running civil war.

“In Libya, where the operating environment severely constrains choices, the UK has identified some programming options with the potential to improve some of the conditions for migrants in detention,” it finds. “However, we are concerned about the risk that UK aid is contributing to a system that prevents refugees from reaching a place of safe asylum.”

[...]

“While reducing the number of deaths at sea is vital, we are concerned that the programme delivers migrants back to a system that leads to indiscriminate and indefinite detention and denies refugees their right to asylum,” the report says.


The latter is the point. The UK - and other racist EU nations - do not want to fulfil their obligations under the Refugee Convention. But they can't publicly repudiate it without damaging their reputations, so instead they quietly fund people in other countries to run concentration camps on their behalf. Its immoral and hypocritical. But that's what the UK (and EU) apparently stand for now.

About time

Industrial dairying has destroyed the Selwyn River sucked it dry. So finally ECan is looking at restricting farmer's irrigation takes:

Measures to restrict, suspend or revoke water take consents in a catchment which feeds the ailing Selwyn/Waikirikiri River will be investigated.

The river has had record low flows this summer and has dried up along large stretches, including at once popular swimming spots such as Coes Ford.

Environment Canterbury will look into two possible options to help address the situation and report back to the Selwyn Waihora Zone Committee.


The best option is to do both: a water shortage direction, renewed indefinitely to allow the river to recover, coupled with a longer-term review of all water takes in the vicinity to reduce them to sustainable levels. But as ECan is gerrymandered in favour of farmers by government-appointed dictators, I suspect they'll simply go for a review while letting the river die completely. Because we couldn't possibly interfere with the "right" of farmers to make money by using public water and destroying a public river, could we?

The doctors win

Junior doctors have won their industrial action for safer hours:

Doctors are crediting public support for helping them strike a new deal on working hours.

After more than a year of negotiations, including strike action, resident doctors and District Health Boards have agreed on a change to working conditions.

The new agreement includes doctors not having to work more than 10 days in a row, and having a total of four days off in a fortnight.

They won't be rostered to work more than four 10-hour night shifts in a row, and will be given recovery time after night shifts.

A new provision will mean doctors could work back-to-back weekends, but to make up for it, rostered days off will be attached to other weekends to allow meaningful time off.


This is very definitely progress, but its still pretty bad. Doctors make life or death decisions, and contract conditions which require long hours and limit rest are not going to help with that. While they've reduced the shift time to "only" ten hours and allowed recovery time, that's still a long day (or night) and could result in impaired judgement. But I guess returning to an 8-hour day is a fight for another time.

The other thing is that this won't take effect until February next year. Long hours are a pressing safety problem which potentially costs lives, and the most the DHB's will do is fix it next year? Clearly they're putting their budgets (and the government's tax cuts) ahead of people's lives here, and we should vote them out for it.

If we want better abortion laws we need to change the government

In its latest report, the Abortion Supervisory Committee - the statutory body tasked with overseeing our abortion laws - called for the law to be updated to reflect modern healthcare methods and modern society. But the (Catholic) Prime Minister is clear: not on his watch:

Any review of abortion law is code for "liberalising it", says Prime Minister Bill English, and that's not going to happen on his watch.

The Abortion Advisory Committee is calling for an update of New Zealand's abortion laws, which are still part of the Crimes Act 1961.

But the committee's recommendations are unlikely to make any headway under a National government, as staunchly Catholic English says it's a "law that's stood the test of time".


I disagree. The law is an absurd relic which effectively requires women to declare themselves mentally ill to access a basic medical procedure. It fails to respect the fundamental right of women to control their own bodies. It was never fit for purpose even in the illiberal 70's, let alone now.

This law needs to change. If Bill English says his government won't do it, then we need to change the government. Alternatively, someone needs to bring a member's bill - but Labour has shown that it is too chickenshit to do so (notably by demanding Steve Chadwick pull her bill on the subject). Hopefully the Greens will put their ballot spaces where their mouth is.

Friday, March 10, 2017



Ending a sham collaboration III

Earlier this week Forest & Bird quit the government's sham "Land and Water Forum". Now another environmental group has bailed as well:

Another group that promotes improving water quality has resigned from the government's Land and Water Forum.

The Federated Mountain Clubs, which has 20,000 members, has written to the Environment Minister Nick Smith saying it is pulling out.

Forest and Bird quit the forum this week and Fish and Game left in 2015, along with Environment and Conservation Organisations of Aotearoa New Zealand (ECO).

Forest & Bird said it was leaving the forum after its recommendations had been largely ignored by government, and Fish and Game said it was being muzzled and stopped from speaking out on environmental issues.


So who does that leave? Whitewater NZ and the Environmental Defence Society, apparently. And their days are probably numbered too.

Far from being a collaborative body, the Land And Water Forum is a PR scam aimed at enhancing the legitimacy of the government's pollution plans while suborning and silencing critics. Environmental groups should refuse to legitimise such a body by their participation.

New Fisk

Trump has opened his arms to immigrants, but only if they’re white Canadians

EPA head denies climate change

Trump's new head of the Environmental Protection Agency thinks carbon dioxide doesn't cause climate change:

Scott Pruitt, Donald Trump’s head of the US Environmental Protection Agency, has dismissed a basic scientific understanding of climate change by denying that carbon dioxide emissions are a primary cause of global warming.

Pruitt said on Thursday that he did not believe that the release of CO2, a heat-trapping gas, was pushing global temperatures upwards.

“I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see,” he told CNBC.

“But we don’t know that yet ... We need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis.”


Actually, we do know that. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a collection of the world's top climate scientists, found in its Fifth Assessment Report that carbon dioxide levels were increasing as a result of human activity and that
Total radiative forcing is positive, and has led to an uptake of energy by the climate system. The largest contribution to total radiative forcing is caused by the increase in the atmospheric concentration of CO2 since 1750

In English, that's "we're getting hotter because we're burning too much coal and oil". Pruitt is simply wrong. But hey, what would scientists know?

Thursday, March 09, 2017



Will they be prosecuted?

The Independent Police Conduct Authority has found that a police officer unlawfully used a taser:

A Counties Manukau police sergeant's use of a taser on a mentally unwell man while he was held down was "excessive and unjustified", the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) has found.

The IPCA said the tasering of the man while he was in a small cubicle at the Counties Manukau Police station was contrary to policy, which said that a taser must only be used on a person who is assaultive.

[...]

At the station, he refused to be strip-searched and was in a tear-resistant gown, so police attempted to cut his clothes off him.

During this attempt, a sergeant entered the cubicle and used his taser twice on the man while he was being held down by two officers and had his back turned to the sergeant.

IPCA chair Judge Sir David Carruthers said the man's behaviour had not met the threshold needed for use of a taser.

"There were other, less violent, options available to the officers. They could have continued communicating with the man or have asked the officers who were outside the cubicle for assistance," Sir David said.


Police are allowed to use reasonable force to make an arrest or to search someone on arrest. But this force was unreasonable, which makes it assault (with a weapon, no less). Which leads to the obvious question: will the police officer who needlessly assaulted someone with an electrical torture device be prosecuted?

Sadly, I think we all know the answer.

Intergenerational warfare II

On Monday, Bill English announced superannuation cuts for everyone under 45. Meanwhile, according to the Herald's Claire Trevett, he's gearing up to offer election-bribe tax-cuts:

So the tax cuts will be the exception to the Not Today philosophy.

Yes - the same taxes that could have been put aside to pay for Gen X to have jam tomorrow will instead be used to provide jam today.

The tax cuts will be National's self-saucing pudding and they will be hoping voters have forgotten all about the plate of offal by the election day.

Some of that pudding may come in the Budget. National has hinted at 'family packages' aimed at lower and middle income familes.

We may see further changes to Working for Families and benefits targeting struggling families - changes that will also effectively bind Labour because it could hardly unravel them having declared poverty and struggling Auckland families as its own priority.

But Middle New Zealand may not be sated until a bit later if National opts to hold its main tax cuts programme over for the election campaign.


If she's right, we're going to see the spectre - again - of National cutting taxes now to reduce services later. And where will the generational benefit of the bulk of those tax cuts fall? Squarely on the Boomers. So they'll get tax cuts, and we'll get screwed - again.

Drawn

A ballot for three member's bills was held today and the following bills were drawn:

  • Education (Teachers’ Code of Ethics) Amendment Bill (Ruth Dyson)
  • Arbitration Amendment Bill (Paul Foster-Bell)
  • Youth Employment Training and Education Bill (Darroch Ball)
So, nothing especially interesting. There were 72 bills in the ballot this morning. The full list can be found here.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017



Spies are a threat to our security

Wikileaks strikes again!

WikiLeaks has published a huge trove of what appear to be CIA spying secrets.

The files are the most comprehensive release of US spying files ever made public, according to Julian Assange. In all, there are 8,761 documents that account for "the entire hacking capacity of the CIA", Mr Assange claimed in a release, and the trove is just the first of a series of "Vault 7" leaks.

[...]

In publishing the documents, WikiLeaks had ensured that the CIA had "lost control of its arsenal", he claimed. That included a range of software and exploits that if real could allow unparalleled control of computers around the world.


On the one hand, the Snowden files already made clear that the NSA and other intelligence agencies are actively pursuing and hoarding security flaws to achieve their covert aims. But by dumping them en-masse, Wikileaks has both ensured that they will be publicised and patch rapidly, and crystalised the core problem with this sort of activity. Spies are supposed to "keep us safe". But by hoarding these security flaws and ensuring they go unpatched, they in fact endanger us all. Because its not just the spies who know of and use these flaws, and the longer something is left unpatched, the greater the chance it will be used by criminals, hostile corporations, other states, or even the illusory (but highly lucrative for spies) "cyber-terrorists".

An agency responsible for keeping us safe would be immediately notifying software developers of these flaws so they can be patched, not keeping them secret for future exploitation. And we need to make sure our spies do exactly that. There's a spy bill currently going through the House, and an easy SOP that could be done to require the GCSB to notify companies of any security flaws it identifies or learns of. Is there an MP willing to stand up to our deep state and push it?

Hungary to set up concentration camps

Hungary's authoritarian nationalist government (in coalition with actual fascists) has just voted to detain all refugees in concentration camps:

Human rights groups have heavily criticised a vote by the Hungarian parliament to force all asylum seekers into detention camps as the country’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, called migration “a Trojan horse for terrorism”.

The asylum seekers will be kept in converted shipping containers while they wait for their cases to be heard via video-link as part of measures Orbán said were designed to save Europe. He considers the migrants, many of whom are Muslims, as a threat to European Christian identity and culture.


And so they'll be echoing Australia: detaining them in concentration camps and psychologically (and sometimes physically) torturing them until they "choose" to return to persecution. Its a gross violation of both the Refugee Convention and EU law, and arguably a crime against humanity. The question is whether the European Union will stand up for human rights, or whether it will allow concentration camps in Europe again.

The rebellion begins

Last year the Ministry of Social Development started imposing new contracts on community agencies requiring them to hand over highly personal information on their clients in exchange for funding. Now, Rape Crisis has said "no":

Rape Crisis will not accept funding contracts from the Ministry of Social Development if it is required to hand over clients' private details, the service says.

More than 800 social services will have to provide client names, birthdates, ethnicities and the personal details of any dependents under contracts taking effect from July.

Rape Crisis spokesperson Andrea Black said victims were telling the service they would no longer come to it for support if they knew their private information was being handed over to the government.

Ms Black told Nine to Noon her organisation was concerned the new policy would compromise people who already struggled to seek help, and so it would not accept ministry contracts if clients' private details were required in return.


Good. Rape Crisis is on solid ground here about the effects of the policy, and they're standing up for their clients. And its not as if the government can refuse to fund them - just think of the optics. More generally, the government depends on these agencies to deliver vital social services. If they all refuse to do so - go on strike, if you will - unless they can protect the privacy of their clients, then the government will have to either see those services go undelivered, or back down. Because having gutted their own capabilities, they're hardly in a position to do it all in-house.

If the social services sector wants to stand up for itself and force a better deal for their clients, an election year when the government is hyper-sensitive to bad news is the perfect time to do it.

Member's Day

Today is the first Member's Day of the new Parliamentary year, and it promises to deliver the government a defeat. After Alastair Scott's Crimes (Increased Penalty for Providing Explosive to Commit Crime) Amendment Bill - a government spam bill - the House will debate the first reading of Jan Logie's Domestic Violence—Victims’ Protection Bill, which the government has been forced to back. Which means the bill will apparently now pass its first reading with unanimous support, unless ACT decides to go full regressive on it.

Following the main event there's Kelvin Davis' Housing Corporation (Affordable Housing Development) Amendment Bill and Gareth Hughes' Student Loan Scheme (First Home Repayment Diversion) Amendment Bill. If things go quickly then the House should make a start on Scott Simpson's Employment Relations (Allowing Higher Earners to Contract Out of Personal Grievance Provisions) Amendment Bill. There should be a ballot for at least three bills tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017



Bowing to the inevitable

The government has announced that they will support Jan Logie's Domestic Violence—Victims’ Protection Bill:

The Government says it will back a Green Party proposal to give domestic violence victims extra leave from work.

In a reversal of its previous position, National said it would support the bill in the name of Green MP Jan Logie at its first reading tomorrow.

Justice Minister Amy Adams said the bill "needed work", and did not commit to supporting it into law. But she said it was an issue worth discussing.

If passed into law, the bill would allow victims of abuse to get up to 10 extra days' leave a year and would classify family violence as a workplace hazard.


Note that National isn't doing this because they actually support the bill or helping victims of domestic violence. Instead, its because NZ First announced this morning that they would support it, meaning the government does not have the numbers to vote it down. So, rather than standing by their principles, they're supporting it, simply to prevent a headline saying "government loses vote". A classic case of doing the right thing for entirely the wrong reason.

Not in the same boat

The Herald reports that National's under-45 Cabinet ministers Nikki Kaye and Simon Bridges support the government's plans to increase the retirement age for the young. Of course they do. One of our basic constitutional principles is Cabinet collective responsibility, under which Cabinet Ministers agree to support Cabinet decisions. Its entirely unsurprising that Cabinet Ministers follow this principle, regardless of their age. And if they didn't, they'd be sacked - which would cost them ~$100,000 a year. Which is also 100,000 reasons to keep silent.

But its also worth pointing out that simply by virtue of being Cabinet Ministers Kaye and Bridges will have a very different perspective on this from their victims. They're paid over $250,000 a year. They have gold-plated superannuation schemes thanks to a generous parliamentary subsidy. Plus they have the possibility of crony jobs and sinecures, or simply using public office as a stepping stone to a private sector influence-peddling position. On any issue involving pay and public services Ministers are simply in a completely different boat from us. They're members of the 1%, they'll never have to rely on public superannuation, and they'll never feel the consequences of their decisions. Its no wonder then that they're so comfortable fucking us over for the benefit of their fellow one-percenters.