Friday, April 21, 2017



Places to go, people to be

Nothing from me today - I'm off to Dunedin to attend its first ever larp convention. Normal service will return on Tuesday.

Thursday, April 20, 2017



100% renewable electricity is achieveable

The Greens have launched a new electricity policy today, and the key component is a target for 100% renewable electricity generation (under average hydrological conditions) by 2030. The obvious question is "is it achieveable"? The good news is that the answer is "yes".

That answer is in MBIE's Electricity Demand and Supply Generation Scenarios 2016 (see sheet 13), which show that almost all of our current thermal generation capacity is scheduled to be decommissioned due to age between 2020 and 2027 (the exception is the relatively new Huntly E3P plant, but that seems fine as a dry year backup). The challenge for meeting the target then isn't how to shut the existing generation down, but how to ensure that it is replaced by renewables rather than thermal generation. The Greens don't actually say how, but the obvious answer is to restore the thermal ban passed in 2008. With flat demand, plenty of already-consented wind waiting to be built, and untapped geothermal resources, it seems perfectly achieveable, at minimal cost. We're going to be replacing this generation anyway, so we might as well be clean rather than dirty.

What if demand isn't flat? The long-term risk here is electric cars, which will mean that the energy they currently get from burning petrol will have to come from the electricity grid. Over the term of this policy that's not a big effect - there are currently only 2000 electric vehicles in New Zealand and while the government wants that to double every year, we'd just build extra wind. In the long run, we seem to be heading for cheaper photovoltaics and battery storage which will allow them to be charged from daytime peak, so policy is a matter of positioning to enable that future. On the other side, if Tiwai Point shuts down, then those thermal plants will close earlier, and we'll chieve the target that much faster.

Basicly, its do-able, and with climate change getting worse, seems like its worth doing. we're not going to make things better by continuing to burn coal and gas.

(There's also some other stuff in the policy: a "winter warm up" payment for low-income households to ease winter electricity costs. Funded by government electricity SOE dividends, but should have significant health benefits. And the usual tinkering with electricity market structures and regulation, but that's less interesting than the headline target).

Wednesday, April 19, 2017



The company they keep

"PM announces Sir Edmund Hillary Fellowship", NZ Government, 30 June 2011:

Prime Minister John Key announced today that Indian businessman and Member of Parliament Vijay Mallya will be the next recipient of the Sir Edmund Hillary Fellowship.

Mr Key made the announcement in Mumbai while on a four day state visit to India.

[...]

Mr Key says, "Vijay Mallya is an outstanding businessman with a great affection for New Zealand. He is a worthy recipient of the Fellowship and will be a great asset in strengthening the longstanding and friendly ties between the two countries."


"Force India F1 team boss Vijay Mallya arrested in London", Guardian, 18 April 2017:
Vijay Mallya, the multimillionaire co-owner of the Force India Formula One team, has been arrested in London on behalf of Indian authorities investigating allegations of fraud in connection with the collapse of Kingfisher Airlines.

Scotland Yard said Mallya, who fled to the UK from India to avoid arrest in relation to £1bn of unpaid debts, was arrested on an extradition warrant on Tuesday. Mallya was “arrested on behalf of the Indian authorities in relation to accusations of fraud”, the police said.


Well, that's embarassing. sadly, Key has now resigned, so we don't get to ask him about his poor character judgement, or what exactly New Zealand (or the National Party) got out of this.

So much for fixed-term parliaments in the UK

Back in 2011, the UK passed the Fixed-term Parliaments Act. While born of distrust between the then-government's coalition partners, it for once moved the UK's constitution in a more democratic direction, by stripping the Prime Minister of the prerogarive power to call an election whenever they felt the polls were in their favour. But naturally, it had an escape clause: an election can be called if a government votes itself out of office, or if Parliament votes to hold one by a two-thirds majority. And just five years after being enacted, that clause is being abused to allow the government to call an early election when the polls are in its favour...

Theresa May has stunned Westminster by demanding a snap general election on 8 June that she hopes will turn her party’s clear lead in the opinion polls into a healthy parliamentary majority and secure her Conservative vision for Brexit.

The prime minister made an unscheduled statement on Tuesday morning from behind a lectern outside 10 Downing Street, in which she recanted her repeated promise not to go to the polls before 2020.


Supposedly this is about Brexit. Bullshit. Its the dirty old trick of calling a snap election when the opposition is on the rocks, in the hope of gaining a few more years. But regardless of the reason, it has also made it clear that British governments can not be trusted to behave constitutionally, and that establishment promises of better democracy are simply lies. Again, if you're a UK voter who believes in democracy, I suggest that you get out, while you still can.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017



New Fisk

Lebanon’s efficient security services are stepping up their watch over Islamist supporters in Beirut and beyond
If Trump cares so much about Syrian babies, why is he not condemning the rebels who slaughtered children?

A victory for women

In 2014 Kristine Bartlett won a huge victory in the Court of Appeal over pay equity. Now, it looks like that victory is about to pay off, with the government about to approve a huge pay settlement for underpaid women:

A historic pay equity settlement could lead to hefty pay rises for about 55,000 low-paid, mainly female workers as part of a deal between unions and the Government.

Cabinet will discuss the settlement later on Tuesday, with Prime Minister Bill English saying ministers do not want to leave the issue for the courts to decide.

NZME reported the deal would lead to significant pay increases from July for workers in aged residential care, home support, and disability services, all state-funded service sectors with low pay rates and predominantly female employees.

Kristine Bartlett, the aged care worker whose court case kickstarted the pay equity negotiations, would have her salary increase from about $16 an hour to about $23 an hour.


This is great news. And while progress might be slower than if it was gained by a court order, its more certain. Government agencies introducing equal pay should also put more pressure on the private sector to provide it and help drag wages up across the board. And if not, the changes negotiated to the Equal Pay and Employment Relations Acts will allow women to fight for equality and win.

Thursday, April 13, 2017



Secret court hearings violate the right to justice

Over the past decade we've seen a push by governments around the world to allow them to present "classified information" (AKA the paranoid ravings of spies) to the courts in secret while denying the opposing parties the right to contest it, or even know what is being claimed. We saw this procedure used in the persecution of Ahmed Zaoui, and since then its been encoded in law in the Passports Act 1992, Immigration Act 2009 and even the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015. More generally, National wants to allow this procedure to be used in all civil and criminal trials, just in case the government wants to put its finger on the scales of justice.

Meanwhile, in a decision on judicial review of a passport cancellation, the High Court has just ruled that such provisions violate the Bill of Rights Act:

A statutory provision that material and potentially decisive evidence in a court proceeding is to be presented to the Court and considered in the absence of the party adversely affected is as flagrant a breach of the fundamental right recognised in s27 of NZBORA as could be contemplated...

The whole of our common law tradition, as bolstered by the rights and protections recognised by NZBORA, render the procedure under s29AB an anathema to the fundamental concepts of fairness. However, the reality is that Parliament has recognised the justification for the use of that procedure in defined circumstances.


And because Parliament is supreme, rather than the Bill of Rights Act, they get to get away with this violation.

In passing, the court also criticises the Attorney-General's apparent failure to warn Parliament of what it was doing, citing the lack of a s7 report on the provisions when they were passed. Which doesn't build confidence in Parliament as the guardian of our human rights. As with National's Anadarko Amendment and prisoner voting restrictions, it instead suggests that its time we took the job off them, and gave it to a body which can be trusted to do the job properly: the courts.

The same question

Another month, another formal finding from the Independent Police Conduct Authority that a police officer unjustifiably used a taser to "induce compliance" (torture someone into obeying them):

A police officer's second use of a Taser on a Christchurch man was unjustified, the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) has found.

[...]

The IPCA found the officer's first use of the Taser was justified, but that the weapon could not be used on an uncooperative, non-aggressive person to induce compliance.

Authority chairman Judge Sir David Carruthers said the second Taser use "when the man was on the ground and clearly still affected by the first use" was unjustified.

"While the man did not immediately roll over, there was no immediate threat of harm to anybody.

"The second use of the Taser was for compliance and should not have been used. It amounted to a breach of police policy, was disproportionate in the circumstances and an unjustified use of force."


There's a name for "unjustified use of force": assault (in this case, with a weapon). And I'm left asking the same question as I was last month: will this officer be prosecuted? And if not, why not?

New Fisk

Donald Trump, who doesn't read books, is ignorant of history – and so is his pet chump Sean Spicer

Drawn

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

  • Friendly Societies and Credit Unions (Regulatory Improvements) Amendment Bill (Stuart Smith)
  • Electoral (Registration by Special Vote) Amendment Bill (Meka Whaitiri)
  • International Transparent Treaties Bill (Fletcher Tabuteau)
  • Marriage (Court Consent to Marriage of Minors) Amendment Bill (Joanne Hayes)
So, a couple of National spam-bills, a useful change to our electoral administration, and a bill to require that Parliament vote on the signing (rather than implementation) of treaties. That ought to shake things up a bit. There were 70 bills in the ballot this time, a decrease from the last few ballots. The full list can be viewed here.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017



Utterly vexatious

That's the only way to describe Lani Hagaman's decision to continue her vindictive defamation suit against Labour leader Andrew Little. But I guess that's what happens when National feels it can't beat a Labour leader at the ballot box: their get their wealthy proxies to try and bankrupt them instead.

But if the aim is to defend dying Earl Hagaman's reputation, it has backfired. Since the original decision, a number of voices (including Stuff and Andrew Geddis) have spoken up strongly in defence of the right of politicians to raise concerns about apparently corrupt behaviour (and, prior the Auditor-General's report, the coincidence of a political donation and the award of a contract looked exactly that). By continuing the suit, the Hagamans now look not only like vindictive tools, but anti-democratic defenders of corruption.

Climate change: The UK drags its feet

Earlier this week, Generation Zero proposed a "Zero Carbon Act", an ambitious plan to force the government to set emissions reductions targets and meet them. The proposal is based on the UK Climate Change Act, which has so far worked rather well. But now it seems the UK government is violating its own law, and is on the verge of being sued to force it to comply:

ClientEarth – the team of environmental lawyers that has twice taken Ministers to court and won – has given the Government 21 days to explain why it has failed to produce a plan setting out how the UK will fight climate change as required by law.

Under the terms of Britain’s Climate Change Act, the Government must come up with a way to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 57 per cent by 2032.

[...]

The Government’s Emissions Reduction Plan is supposed to set out how this will be achieved and was due to be published at the end of last year, but has been repeatedly delayed.

It is thought further significant cuts could involve policies that are too radical for the current Government, particularly during the upheaval caused by Brexit. For example, as part of its efforts, Norway has pledged to ban petrol-powered cars by 2025. Such a move is not considered likely in the UK.


The Tories are full of climate change deniers, and they now seem to want to "scale down" their climate change obligations to promote trade in the wake of the self-inflicted disaster of Brexit. But the law's the law. If they don't want to obey it, then the correct thing to do is repeal it (and face the public and international opprobium for doign so), not to simply ignore it.

But what this does point out is another benefit of a "Zero Carbon Act" in New Zealand: legal enforceability. A New Zealand government which similarly ignored the law could likewise be sued to force it to obey. Which would be a useful check on the denier-stuffed National party in the future.

Past the tipping point

How bad are our rivers and lakes? Past the tipping point, according to the Prime Minister's chief scientist:

The state of some of the country's waterways have gone beyond a tipping point, according to a report from the Prime Minister's chief scientist.

Some will take more than 50 years to recover, and even then they will never get back to their original state.

The report said the science was clear: New Zealand's fresh waters were under stress because of what we did in and around them.


There's more in the Herald, and the big culprits are urban expansion (from stormwater and industrial waste), and intensive agriculture (from cowshit and fertiliser runoff). Given that agriculture employs only 6% of the workforce, I think its clear who is having a disproportionate effect here.

We need to clean up our rivers. Towns and cities have a role to play, but the primary cause of contamination is farmers, and that's where the burden should lie. And if it drives dirty farmers out of business, so much the better for our environment.

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day, though a relatively boring one. First up is the vote on Clayton Mitchell's Broadcasting (Games of National Significance) Amendment Bill, which apparently didn't happen last time. Following that there's a succession of minor bills: Jami-Lee Ross' Land Transport (Vehicle User Safety) Amendment Bill (which bans washing cars on the road), Steffan Browning's Consumers’ Right to Know (Country of Origin of Food) Bill (does what it says on the label, and its inexplicible why anyone would oppose it), Ruth Dyson's Education (Teachers’ Code of Ethics) Amendment Bill, and Paul Foster-Bell's Arbitration Amendment Bill (another National spam-bill). There will likely be a ballot for four bills tomorrow, which should give a chance for something more interesting to be drawn.

A betrayal of public service values

Back in January, The Press reported that three former CERA staff had been running a property development business on the side in an apparent effort to profit from their jobs. Yesterday the State Services Commissioner reported back on an investigation into them, and made it clear that their actions were completely unacceptable:

Mr Gallagher and Mr Nikoloff were found to have been using a private company (PIML) to attempt to participate in a business deal for personal gain, relating to the same property (273 Manchester St) and with the same parties they were engaging with in their public capacity as CERA employees. They did not disclose their personal interest to parties involved in the potential transaction or to their employer.

This created a clear conflict of interest which they were aware of and should have disclosed to CERA, however they did not do so.

“I consider their actions to be serious misconduct that is unacceptable in the New Zealand Public Service,” Mr Hughes said.

“If these two individuals were still employed by CERA I believe there would be strong grounds for terminating their employment,” he said.

“I am unable to direct State sector employers when making employment decisions, however based on what I have seen in Mr Heron’s report, if it were up to me I would not employ these individuals,” Mr Hughes said.


This behaviour apparently continued when they moved to Otakaro Ltd, National's secret, corporatised development company. They've been referred to the Serious Fraud Office as a result, presumably on charges of corrupt use of official information. And apparently they're now looking at another group of CERA employees for similar behaviour. The rot appears to go deep.

One of the three, Murray Cleverley, wasn't involved in the apparent corruption around PIML, but the report makes it clear that he had behaved unacceptably in his position as chair of the Canterbury DHB by refusing to properly manage a conflict of interest around leasing them property. He's resigned as a result, and good riddance. While less serious than his friends, he too has betrayed the core values of the New Zealand public service.

Gallagher and Nikoloff appear completely unrepenant and have sought to minimise their behaviour. They've also tried to explain it because they come from a business background. And that is exactly the problem: the corrupt values of the New Zealand business community are completely at odds with those expected from public servants. If we want a clean public service, we shouldn't hire from business.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017



New Fisk

Isis has finally reached central Egypt – but that's not even al-Sisi's biggest problem

Bullying the Ombudsman

In December last year the Ombudsman's Quarterly Review mentioned that DPMC was planning a discussion on revising the rules around withholding "free and frank" advice. Naturally, I fired off an OIA, and learned that the discussion was confined to the government - they were talking to themselves about secrecy and how much we should be allowed to know, with no input for the OIA's users. I received the followup to that request yesterday, with more information. Naturally, DPMC has withheld their actual views as "free and frank" - apparently, they can only talk about secrecy in secret, presumably for fear of public outrage. But what they have released is bad enough.

It turns out that in September last year, Gerry Brownlee called the Ombudsman into his office to "better explain this Office's project on proper compliance with the [OIA]". From the Ombudsman's email summarising the meeting, Brownlee was concerned about the Ombudsman's defence of transparency and had

a genuine perception that the rules have changed and that we are pushing for a wider range of Ministerial advice and briefings to be released.

Or, to put it another way: Gerry Brownlee tried to bully the Ombudsman about transparency. Which is absolutely outrageous.

It gets worse. Because in response to this bullying and as part of these secret discussions about secrecy, the Office of the Ombudsman is "revising" its guidance on sections 9(2)(f)(iv) and 9(2)(g)(i) covering confidential and "free and frank" advice to Ministers. So, Brownlee may get what he wants. And if he does, we all lose.

Denying the obvious

Currently we have a housing crisis, with homes becoming unaffordable to young New Zealanders. Labour says it wants to do something about this - but not if it results in lower property prices in Auckland:

Labour wants to see more affordable houses built, but is steering clear of suggesting it would welcome a fall in prices, even in Auckland.

After a week focused on his successful defence of a defamation claim, Labour leader Andrew Little was back on message today with a 20 minute press conference dominated by housing issues and Labour's plan to build houses and crack down on speculators.

[...]

But asked if he welcomed signs Auckland house prices were falling, Little said no.

"Falling house prices doesn't add a single extra house to a market that is at least 60,000 houses short," he said.

"Just trying to manipulate the prices of existing houses isn't going to provide the 60,000 houses needed. There is only one answer to the housing crisis and that is build more bloody houses and that's what we are going to do."


Except that building more houses would reduce prices - its simply supply and demand. More generally, if the problem is unaffordable houses there are only two ways of making them more affordable: lower prices or raise incomes. And given the huge disparity between incomes and prices, the latter is not a credible option. Which means the only real solution to the housing crisis is to crash prices with capital gains taxes, limits on speculation, and a massive government house-building program with sales restricted to first-home buyers.

This will obviously make wealthy Boomers in Auckland worse off, as their paper wealth evaporates. Fuck them. Speculators who have leveraged that wealth in an effort to bleed us even more will go to the wall. Fuck them too. There will be some real victims - young Aucklanders who paid too much for houses during the bubble who will be left with negative equity. I'd welcome policies to ameliorate that, but I'm more interested in making houses affordable for all than in the handful of young home buyers featured on the front page of the Herald.

As for Labour, this is not a thing you can finesse away. Either you want to solve this problem, or you don't. And if you don't, people can and should vote for someone who will, rather than a party which talks big but in the end wants to defend the inequalities of the status quo.

National's New Zealand

What does National mean for New Zealand? Families sleeping in cars over winter:

Emergency housing providers are predicting more families will sleep rough this winter because of a lack of affordable accommodation.

The issue is further complicated by tens of thousands of players and supporters due to descend on Auckland later this month for the World Masters Games.

The Games, combined with another mass arrival in June and July for the Lions Rugby Tour, means even motels currently being used by the Government to house the homeless will be chocker with overseas guests.

[...]

Currently about 370 families a week rely on motels for emergency housing in Auckland.

Mangere Budgeting Services spokesman Darryl Evans told TVNZ a number of people will end up in cars this winter and some will end up in shipping containers.


This is simply indecent. Making sure everyone has a roof over their heada is a core purpose of government in this country, and National isn't doing it. Instead of fixing this crisis, they're simply making it worse by flogging off state houses.

Clearly, we're not going to get a solution from National. If we want everyone to have a home, we have to vote for a party which will deliver it. Fortunately we'll get a chance to do that in September.

Monday, April 10, 2017



National's proxy attack fails

The jury has come back in the Little-Hagaman defamation case, with a majority verdict that Little did not defame Lani Hagaman, a majority verdict that he might have defamed Earl Hagaman on one occasion, but a hung jury on whether he had a defence of qualified immunity. The jury was also undecided on whether other statements about Earl Hagaman were defamatory. Which means a) that Little is entitled to costs from Lani Hagaman; and b) that any real motivation for a retrial on the undecided issues will be ended by Hagaman's inevitable death (he is reportedly on his deathbed). At this stage, it looks like a win for Little: the case will probably end, and if it doesn't, it will be clear that it is a purely political exercise, aimed at distracting and possibly bankrupting Little in an election year.

Chipping away at legal privilege

I had an email from the Ombudsman today, announcing that they would be requiring the Ministry of Primary Industries to release a summary of the (flawed) legal advice which led to a refusal to prosecute over Operation Achilles. I haven't got the summary itself yet, but it'll be coming, likely in the next two weeks.

Its a victory for freedom of information, but its also a sign of the changing view around legal professional privilege and the application of s9(2)(h). Once legal advice was sacrosanct and you would never get it. Agencies treated it like a conclusive withholding ground rather than one which had to be matched against the public interest. But in the last few years a series of decisions has chipped away at that. We now have a right to know what the government thinks the law means so we can understand it. And in cases where there is significant public interest in accountability, such as contentious decisions on prosecution, we now effectively have a right to a summary. The MPI decision simply confirms this trend.

New Fisk

The US air strikes say more about the Vladimir Putin-Donald Trump relationship than the Middle East

Climate change: Breaking our cycle of failure



The picture above shows New Zealand's cycle of failure on climate change. For the past 30 years the government has been talking about action, and yet never seems to actually get there. National's "50% by 2050" target is simply the latest example of this: while they have a target, they have no plan to meet it, and no policies which seem like they might get us there. Instead of action, we get half-measures and wheel-spinning, policies designed to produce the appearance of action (though headlines) while actually changing nothing. And meanwhile, the planet burns...

Generation Zero, the youth movement against climate change, wants to change that. They've released a proposal for a Zero Carbon Act, aimed at breaking that cycle of failure. The proposal follows the model of the UK Climate Change Act: a legislated long-term target (in this case net zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 or earlier), a pathway of five-yearly carbon budgets set by an independent Climate Commission to get us there, and a requirement for the government to produce plans to meet them. The whole thing is backed by independent reporting, so the success or failure of those plans will be publicly announced - providing a strong incentive for the politicians to aim for actual emissions reductions rather than just the appearance of action.

In the UK, this model has produced significant reductions in emissions. Apparently, if you watch the politicians like hawks, they actually do the job. Who'd have thunk it?

There's some new features. The Act would set seperate budgets and targets for long-lived and short-lived greenhouse cases - meaning that we would simply have to reduce methane emissions to a "sustainable" level. And it applies only to domestic emissions, meaning no cheating with fraudulent Ukranian credits. I'm not sure about the first, in that it seems to provide too much wiggle-room for farmers; OTOH we may find that a sustainable level of methane is a lot lower than they think. The second is obviously a good idea. While international carbon trading is great in theory, in practice its just fraud and bullshit, and we're better off without encouraging that.

Generation Zero has a petition in support of the Act here. Please sign it, and send a message to the politicians that you want real action on New Zealand's greatest threat.

Friday, April 07, 2017



A problem of privatisation

For decades, successive New Zealand governments have used privatisation to cut costs in the social services sector, contracting out services then grinding down contracts to demand more and more for less and less. It works, for the government, but there's a big risk: that the contractor might decide its had enough and simply walk away. This has just happened with IDEA Services over disability support - and the Minister is not taking it well:

Disability Issues Minister Nicky Wagner has strongly condemned a national disability support provider over a contract dispute - saying Idea Services has been "totally irresponsible" and let down vulnerable clients.

Wagner was responding to questions from Labour MP Poto Williams in question time today. Williams tabled a letter from Idea, the operational arm of IHC New Zealand, informing families they were unable to provide any Autism Spectrum Disorder services because of underfunding.

Wagner, also Associate Health Minister, said she had been told by the Ministry of Health that it was only advised last week that Idea did not intend to renew its contract, after the service had previously indicated they would renew.


Firstly, reading the story, it appears that the Ministry has misinformed their Minister. IDEA Services have been discussing their systematic underfunding and trying to negotiate a transition arrangement for months. But the Ministry has refused to budge, which is why they have this problem.

But more importantly, the Minister seems to be under the delusion that contractors are under some sort of obligation to accept the governments shitty contracts and accept perpetual losses. They're not, any more than Wagner is required to accept my money if I offer her twenty bucks to eat a plate of dogshit. That's inherent in the contracting out model. But when you're contracting out a vital service, its a serious problem.

To point out the obvious: this problem doesn't occur if you don't contract out. But then I guess the government would have to pay what these services really cost, rather than expecting other people to effectively subsidise them out of the goodness of their hearts.

New Fisk

Assad has forced his secret police into the army to fight for Syria – and it will bring him closer to Trump

Israel is turning into a tyranny

That's the diagnosis of two former heads of their intelligence service:

Two former heads of Israel’s powerful domestic intelligence service, the Shin Bet, have made an impassioned and powerful intervention ahead of events to mark the 50th anniversary of the country’s occupation of the Palestinian territories in June.

One of the pair warned that the country’s political system was sunk in the process of “incremental tyranny”.

Ami Ayalon and Carmi Gillon were speaking ahead of a public meeting at a Jerusalem gallery which is threatened with closure for hosting a meeting organised by the military whistleblowing group Breaking the Silence, one of the main targets of the rightwing government of Benjamin Netanyahu.

[...]

“Incremental tyranny [is a process] which means you live in a democracy and suddenly you understand it is not a democracy any more,” Ayalon told a small group of journalists, including the Guardian, ahead of the event. “This is what we are seeing in Israel. The tragedy of this process is that you only know it when it is too late.”

Ayalon cited recent moves by ministers in the Netanyahu government to change the laws to hit groups such as Breaking the Silence by banning them from events in schools and targeting their funding, while also taking aim at the country’s supreme court and independence of the media.


Israel likes to call itself "the only democracy in the Middle East". That is fast ceasing to be true. They may retain the trappings, but when they criminalise opposition to the government and its apartheid policies, they cease to be democratic. Hopefully they'll pull themselves back from the brink. If not, well, a tyranny is not exactly the sort of country anyone wants to call a friend - or give a shit about when it has trouble.

Thursday, April 06, 2017



Climate change: You're soaking in it

As I write this New Zealand is recovering from a storm which has caused slips and flooding nationwide, and Edgecumbe is underwater. And of course, its the result of climate change:

This week's extreme weather is just a small taste of things to come as the intensity of storms increases because of climate change, a scientist says.

Victoria University climate scientist Professor James Renwick said heavy rain events like cyclone Debbie and last month's 'Tasman tempest', which brought flooding in Auckland, had a clear human footprint.

The risk of seeing such storms was increasing as time went on, he said.


Bigger storms. More moisture. More fires. Worse droughts. Scientists have been warning us about these consequences for decades, so its not like we weren't warned. But successive governments have decided to dump the costs of emissions on the wider public, rather than where they belong: on polluters. And now we're all paying for it.

Illusory wealth

Good news! The government says we have a $1.4 billion surplus! Roll out the tax-cuts!

Except of course we still have 295,000 children in poverty, a homelessness crisis, huge unmet health needs, and schools forced to discriminate against disabled kids due to underfunding. And in that context, the "surplus" isn't. Instead, its illusory wealth, constructed out of service cuts and the suffering of the poor. Its nothing to celebrate; instead its a $1.4 billion reminder of the services the government should be providing, but isn't. And the idea of using it for tax cuts - effectively, sacrificing those vital government services for the needy so a handful of rich pricks can enjoy another holiday and add more to their overflowing money piles - is simply obscene.

Coal is dead

Two good-news stories about coal today. Firstly, most of the EU has committed to no more new coal plants:

Europe’s energy utilities have rung a death knell for coal, with a historic pledge that no new coal-fired plants will be built in the EU after 2020.

[...]

A press release from Eurelectric, which represents 3,500 utilities with a combined value of over €200bn, reaffirmed a pledge to deliver on the Paris climate agreement, and vowed a moratorium on new investments in coal plants after 2020.

“26 of 28 member states have stated that they will not invest in new coal plants after 2020” said Kristian Ruby, Eurelectric’s secretary-general. “History will judge this message we are bringing here today. It is a clear message that speaks for itself, and should be seen in close relation to the Paris agreement and our commitment to provide 100% carbon-neutral electricity by 2050.”


Greece and Poland are the only holdouts. But I expect they'll eventually come round. So we're looking at a coal-free Europe in the long-term.

Secondly, the USA is going coal-free, despite the Trump regime's best efforts to destroy the planet:
When President Donald Trump signed an executive order last week to sweep away Obama-era climate change regulations, he said it would end America's “war on coal”, usher in a new era of energy production and put miners back to work.

But the biggest consumers of US coal - power generating companies - remain unconvinced.

Reuters surveyed 32 utilities with operations in the 26 states that sued former President Barack Obama's administration to block its Clean Power Plan, the main target of Trump's executive order. The bulk of them have no plans to alter their multi-billion dollar, years-long shift away from coal, suggesting demand for the fuel will keep falling despite Trump's efforts.


While some companies simply don't believe Trump's policies will last, the key reason is that coal has simply become uneconomic compared to gas and renewables. And when that happens, no amount of presidential posturing can save it.

Of course, there's still a long lag on this - coal plants have a long lifetime, and letting them be built for the next 3 years means they could still be running as late as 2050 or 2060. But it does mean that it is going to be phased out, and that old plants will be replaced with cleaner alternatives. And that's a vital way of reducing emissions and stopping us all from melting.

An unnecessary intrusion

That's the Privacy Commissioner's view of the Ministry of Social Development's plan to require community agencies to hand over highly personal information on their clients in exchange for funding:

The Government's policy of requiring community groups to give up data about their clients if they want state funding is excessive and breaches privacy rules, the Privacy Commissioner says.

The commissioner John Edwards said today there was a risk that the new funding arrangement between the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) and non-government organisations (NGO) could deter some people who were in need of support.

"Not only could that put those people further at risk, and increases pressure on the NGOs, the ultimate result could be that those individuals become 'invisible' to Government and policy-makers," he said.


Reading through the full report, they find that it is not clear that universal collection meets the necessity test of privacy principle 1, and that unclear purposes for collection threaten serious problems for both agencies and WINZ around informed consent, accuracy, and future use. From the policy development trail they give, its clear that WINZ has no real idea what they want to use this for (except maybe budget cuts) or who they will share it with, and seems to regard big data as magic: if they collect everything and throw it in a pile, then somehow policy solutions will magically emerge. Its also clear that they don't give a shit about the privacy of their victims: they never completed a privacy impact assessment of the policy, and still haven't, despite serious concerns being raised.

Given the serious problems identified by the Privacy Commissioner, this is not a policy that should continue. WINZ needs to end it, now. If they want proper data to enhance their policies, they should go back to the drawing board and find some way to get it legally and without deterring people from accessing services, rather than creeping on people with intrusive data surveillance.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017



Headdesk

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. The decision had massive privacy implications. So did they consult the Privacy Commissioner first to ensure they weren't violating the Privacy Act? Of course not:

CARMEL SEPULONI to the Minister for Social Development: What advice did she receive from the Privacy Commissioner during the development of the private client data-sharing requirements for contracted social services?

Anne Tolley: I did not directly receive any advice from the Privacy Commissioner during the development of the proposal to collect individual, client-level data. I did however receive a letter from the Privacy Commissioner on the 10th of March this year regarding his provisional conclusion of his inquiry into the proposal to collect individual, client-level data...


In other words, she only talked to the Privacy Commissioner six months after the decision had been made, once it was being investigated as a complaint.

This is a serious and basic failure of governance at MSD. The decision obviously had serious privacy implications, and that means that they should have checked whether it was OK. I'd ask how it happened, except we already know: WINZ's systematic dehumanisation on beneficiaries and attitude that they have no rights. This attitude is completely inappropriate for a government department (or indeed, a decent human being), and it needs to be stamped out.

NYPD spied on peaceful protestors

In 2014 NYPD officers murdered Eric Garner. People took to the streets to protest both the killing and subsequent decisions not to prosecute the killers. And naturally, the NYPD was spying on them:

Undercover officers in the New York police department infiltrated small groups of Black Lives Matter activists and gained access to their text messages, according to newly released NYPD documents obtained by the Guardian.

The records, produced in response to a freedom of information lawsuit led by New York law firm Stecklow & Thompson, provide the most detailed picture yet of the sweeping scope of NYPD surveillance during mass protests over the death of Eric Garner in 2014 and 2015. Lawyers said the new documents raised questions about NYPD compliance with city rules.

[...]

Emails show that undercover officers were able to pose as protesters even within small groups, giving them extensive access to details about protesters’ whereabouts and plans. In one email, an official notes that an undercover officer is embedded within a group of seven protesters on their way to Grand Central Station. This intimate access appears to have helped police pass as trusted organizers and extract information about demonstrations. In other emails, officers share the locations of individual protesters at particular times. The NYPD emails also include pictures of organizers’ group text exchanges with information about protests, suggesting that undercover officials were either trusted enough to be allowed to take photos of activists’ phones or were themselves members of a private planning group text.


Spying on peaceful protesters is grossly anti-democratic. Police spying on people peacefully protesting against an abuse of police power is itself an abuse of power. But I guess that's just what America is now: a state that lets its police run amok and abuse their power to ensure they can keep doing so.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017



National's creepy eugenics plan fails

Back in 2012, the National government decided that right-wing extremists fantasies of the poor "breeding for business" were a sound basis for policy, and decided to use WINZ to do something about it, by making free long-term contraception available to beneficiaries. At the time I called this "creepy eugenics", as it was about enabling state control of fertility than enabling people to control their own. The good news is that it the policy is a complete failure:

When introducing the fund, the Government estimated that up to 16,000 women would access the grant, and $500,000 was budgeted for the first four years of the fund.

But in briefing documents released under the Official Information Act, the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) show only 795 grants were made from the fund in its first four years.

In total, just $143,325 was spent over that time, at an annual cost of $35,000.


The report cites a number of barriers to adoption, including WINZ's controlling bureaucracy and a reluctance of doctors to impose long-term contraception on teenagers, but its hard to escape the conclusion that people just didn't want their fertility controlled by WINZ (or indeed, for WINZ to know anything about it. Because really, who the fuck wants to talk about that with them?)

As noted in my earlier post, contraception is a great thing, and it lets people control their own lives. And it should be freely available to all via the public health system, rather than pushed by WINZ to stop some people (but not others) from having kids.

A victory for clean rivers

Last year, we learned that the Manawatu-Whanganui Regional Council had been colluding with farmers to enable them to evade regional plan restrictions on nitrogen leeching. In response, Fish & Game took them to court to force the regional plan to be enforced properly. And today, they won:

Fish & Game and EDS have welcomed the release of the Environment Court’s favourable decision on implementation of the Horizons Regional Council’s One Plan.

[...]

“The Court has agreed with our concerns and its findings in issuing the declarations confirm that Horizons has not been interpreting and implementing its One Plan in conformity with the law. The Council has not been working within freshwater limits.”

[...]

“The Court found that Horizons’ implementation has been unlawful and its decisions fundamentally deficient and that raises questions about what it is going to do about it,” continued Mr Johnson.


Hopefully this means the unlawful consents will be reviewed and those farmers forced to clean up their acts. And hopefully it will also dissuade other regional councils from pulling similar stunts. If a council passes a regional plan for cleaner rivers, they have to enforce it - regardless of special pleading from the dirty dairying lobby.

The OpenOwnership Project

A year ago the Panama Papers were released, giving us the ugly truth about how lawyers and accountants play corporate shell games to hide money for criminals, terrorists, tax evaders, and corrupt officials. In the wake of it, there's been a push for open-access beneficial ownership registers, so that we can see who really owns a particular company. Open-access is vital because the public has more eyeballs than the government, and it enables NGOs to monitor things that the government might not want to (e.g. who really owns the companies getting government contracts).

Today, a group of NGOs has launched the OpenOwnership Project, an attempt to make a global beneficial ownership register. Currently it has information on nearly 2 million companies, sourced from national registers, development bodies, and sector-specific transparency projects such as the Extractives Industry Transparency Initiative. And they expect it to grow. There's a push to use the Open Government Partnership to open up beneficial ownership information and to enable it to be shared. There's a similar push to open up government procurement information as well. Link the two, and the scope for government corrption narrows dramatically.

The New Zealand government is considering setting up a beneficial ownership register. I hope they will, and that they'll link it with OpenOwnership so that it can be examined globally. While I expect there's few New Zealand officials using corporate shells for corruption, we're a well-known link in the global dirty money laundromat, and that's not a business we should want to be in as a country. A public beneficial ownership register would help us put these crooks out of business and restore our reputation as a good global citizen. And surely that's something we want?

Monday, April 03, 2017



The coverup continues

So, Bill English has ruled out an inquiry into SAS war crimes. I'm disappointed, but not surprised. At noted in Hit & Run, NZDF is a closed shop, hostile to civilian oversight - and the SAS even more so. They were always going to oppose any investigation into what had really happened.

The question is why the Prime Minister listened solely to them. Shouldn't he also have consulted Crown Law and MFAT, or indeed his own lawyer, before ruling anything out? After all, New Zealand is a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which permits investigation and prosecution of New Zealand troops and officials if our own government fails to do so. And by collaborating in NZDF's coverup, English has effectively just made himself a party to the crime, and opened himself up to prosecution in The Hague...

A conflict of interest

We've known for a while that the Ministry of Primary Industries has been captured by the industries it is supposed to regulate. But how bad is it? They effectively allow the fishing industry to "monitor" itself:

Greenpeace will take a complaint to the Auditor General after discovering the company responsible for monitoring large chunks of the fishing industry is wholly owned by the industry's biggest lobby group.

The company, named FishServe, has been contracted by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) for the past 20 years to monitor overfishing, take catch reports, manage quotas and decide on licences.

A Greenpeace investigation found the company is not only owned by the industry group Seafood New Zealand, but it operates from the same office and shares staff.

[...]

Greenpeace New Zealand executive director Russel Norman said he believed the situation was an example of "regulatory capture", borne from a "web of complex relationships" between MPI and industry.

"What it means in practice is that, in order to prosecute fishing companies for legal breaches, the government regulator, MPI, has to rely on data collected and provided by a company owned by the fishing companies themselves, FishServe," he said.

It gets worse: FishServe also has regulatory powers around licensing and overfishing - which MPI has effectively devolved to the industry's largest lobby group.

This is an obvious conflict-of-interest and it needs to be ended immediately. MPI should do its fucking job of regulating the fishing industry. And if they're unwilling to do that, we should sack them and get people who are.

New Fisk

Revealed: How Isis turns normal towns and villages into theatres and factories of death

A good problem to have

The Green released their preliminary party list over the weekend, pending rearrangement by the members. It looks pretty good, but the commentary around it is whether they've made enough space for new blood in the expected "winnable" spots. They haven't done too badly at that, but they're in a bind because of their underlying problem: as a party they simply have too many talented people.

Seriously. When I look at the Parliamentary caucuses, the Greens have the star lineup. They have active and vocal spokespeople who are able to effectively push their policy arguments and put Labour to shame. There's only one who I think isn't quite up to it, and they're retiring; one more who is merely as hard-working as the average major-party backbencher. The rest are effectively the front-bench of a major party, crammed into one a third the size. Throw in a flood of high-profile, talented candidates wanting to represent the party, and they were always going to have tough decisions. And that's a good problem to have - far better than Labour's one of dealing with back-biting, treacherous, talentless time-servers in safe electorate seats, let alone NZ First's one of pointless non-entities.

(Labour of course has some excellent people. But hell do they have a useless tail dragging on them...)

In the case of the Greens, those hard decisions are ultimately going to be up to the members. It'd be nice if they pushed Chloe Swarbrick or Golriz Ghahraman up a few notches, just to cement that brand as the party of young talent and make sure they get more new blood in if the party polls badly on election day. But that's up to them. And if you really care, I guess you can always just join them and vote...