Wednesday, May 24, 2017

New Fisk

Donald Trump is trying to stick to the script – but he's about to really mess up in the Middle East

English lied about blasphemy repeal

Earlier in the month, after Ireland investigated Stephen Fry for blasphemy, Prime Minister Bill English said that it was time for the law to go. So you would have expected that when Chris Hipkins' amendment to add Blasphemous Libel to the Statutes Repeal Bill came before the House last night, National would have voted for it and condemned this archaic law to the dustbin of history, right?

Wrong. They voted against it, along with the Maori Party - and as a result blasphemous libel is still illegal in New Zealand.

The Statutes Repeal Bill process was reportedly supported by both National and Labour, but it had been questioned by some who thought that the change should go to select committee. That's a perfectly defensible position, but its not why National opposed repeal. Instead, they reverted to the "let sleeping dogs lie" position and decided to leave the law on the books because it wasn't being used - despite the past example of sedition which showed that such laws could be revived in an instant by an over-enthusiastic police force. And in the process, they made a liar out of their Prime Minister.

Hopefully we'll see a member's bill on the subject in the next ballot (and if anyone needs one, there's a bill to do it here). But based on last night's performance, I'm not sure that National will support it. Which means that if we want to repeal this archaic, ridiculous, theocratic law, we need to change the government.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Intentional discrimination

The Secular Education Network is currently taking the Ministry of Education to the Human Rights Review Tribunal over religious indoctrination in schools. SEN argues that this is discriminatory against non-christians. And it turns out, the Ministry has known this for a long, long time:

The Ministry of Education identified that religious instruction in state schools might be discriminatory more than 16 years ago, but chose to take no action.

The identification was included in a 2001 confidential internal report to then Education Minister Trevor Mallard, on inconsistencies between the Human Rights Act and Education Act.

The ministry fought for nearly two years to keep parts of the report referring to religious instruction secret, citing legal privilege, but was forced to release the full version by the Ombudsman.

Forcing atheist and non-Christian students to either attend classes that were against their beliefs, or exclude themselves, could be "indirect discrimination", the ministry's legal department said in the report.

The ministry could argue there was "good reason" for indirect discrimination, the report said, but that defence would not work if someone was to argue "direct discrimination".

When you're told that something is discriminatory and you keep doing it, that makes it intentional. The idea that the Ministry knowingly discriminated on the basis of religion for years after being warned is simply sickening - not to mention a flagrant violation of their obligations under the Bill of Rights Act. And hopefully they'll be taken to the cleaners for it.

White, male privilege

You compete for a position. You're new and inexperienced, with no track record and no idea how it works. So you get a trial spot, somewhere you can prove yourself and work your way up. So naturally, you throw a hissy fit and quit because you weren't given the top spot on the first day:

Being a "white, middle-class male" meant Rohan Lord had no future in the Labour Party, the former East Coast Bays candidate says.

Mr Lord withdrew from the race yesterday, after being placed 72 on the party list.

He told Morning Report he was very appreciative Labour considered him and he fully supported the party's platform and policy, but the message he got from his 72nd placement was that he was probably not for them.

"Wrapping it all up really, there's probably limited future prospects."

"I'm white, middle class, male, I couldn't really see a long term future."

Lord is a perfect illustration of white, male privilege in action - imagine, having to actually work for a top spot rather than just having it handed to you! The horror! The insult! But he's also a perfect illustration of the sort of person political parties - and most organisations - are simply better off without: entitled arseholes. Labour is well rid of him.

Corrections cooks the books on privatisation

When National started privatising prisons, they wanted the policy to appear to be successful. So, they set deliberately soft targets, allowing private prisons to "succeed" where a publicly-owned prison would fail. But even that wasn't enough - now it appears that Corrections actually cooked the books to award Serco a pass mark:

The Corrections Department broke its own rules by giving high marks to private prison operator Serco shortly after a near-fatal attack on an inmate in Mt Eden jail.

Guards left Benjamin Lightbody lying in his cell with brain injuries while they filed paperwork and ate afternoon tea in mid-2013.

Corrections' inspectors failed the prison for security and safety, but the department then gave it a pass.

It has refused to explain why.

Corrections owes us an explanation on this, and its hard to see how there can be a good one. The least disturbing - that the people rating prisons weren't paying any attention to inspector's reports - paints them as complete muppets who shouldn't have a job. But its also easy to see how Ministerial pressure over a flagship policy could have played a role. And either way, it suggests that prison rating is something that shouldn't be done in-house, but by an independent, external body.

Climate change: The cost of inaction

For the past nine years National has dragged its feet on climate change, gutting the ETS, letting farmers off the hook, and generally doing everything possible to avoid domestic emissions reductions. But now, the bill for that is coming due:

Newshub can reveal the cost to the New Zealand economy to meet Paris Agreement targets will be $1 billion every year for a decade

But that money won't be spent on reducing New Zealand's domestic emissions, it’ll go towards paying other countries to reduce their emissions.

In documents released under the Official Information Act, a briefing to Judith Collins on her first day as energy minister says the cost to the economy of buying international carbon units to offset our own emissions will be $14.2 billion over ten years.


In the documents, officials say "this represents a significant transfer of wealth overseas", and also warn “ an over reliance on overseas purchasing at the expense of domestic reductions could also leave New Zealand exposed in the face of increasing global carbon prices beyond 2030”.

(Unmentioned is the risk that the units National has committed us to buying will turn out to be as dodgy and fraudulent as those we used to "pay" our Kyoto bill...)

$1.4 billion a year is just a tad under what we spend annually on police. Or its twice what we spend on the courts, or three times what we spend on conservation. In policy terms, its paid parental leave, a massive state house-building program, or the elimination of child poverty. If you're on the right, it's your tax cuts. And National has effectively committed us to pissing this money away because when faced with the biggest policy challenge our government has ever seen, they protected established interests rather than the public.

Obviously, the more we manage to reduce emissions, the less we will actually have to pay. A sensible government would be pushing that hard, making polluters pay to reduce public liability and effective subsidy for emissions. But on this issue, National simply isn't sensible.

Monday, May 22, 2017

NZ Navy looking the other way on fraud?

The US Navy is currently prosecuting over twenty officers over a corruption scandal which saw them overpaying for port services in exchange for bribes and prostitutes. But there's a local angle on this: the New Zealand Navy used the same firm that was overcharging the Americans. But despite having been informed of the US corruption cases, they have no plans to investigate to see whether they were also overcharged:

The Royal New Zealand Navy paid hundreds of thousands of dollars over four years to a ship services company run by a man now imprisoned in the US for an enormous corruption and sex scandal, the Guardian has learned.

US prosecutors say Leonard Glenn Francis, known as Fat Leonard for his wide girth, had cheated its navy out of nearly US $34m — mostly through overcharging port services and providing gifts to personnel, including arranging sex parties.

The New Zealand navy has told the Guardian it paid a total of NZ$710,235.04 (around £370,000) to Francis’ company, Glenn Defence Marine Asia (GDMA), between May 2007 to December 2011 “for specific ship visits in South East Asia.”

The navy told the Guardian in previous correspondence that it had used a “range of services” in Singapore from bus hire to tug provision.

Responding to a freedom of information request, it added it had “not conducted an investigation into its relationship with GDMA based on the results of the US corruption investigation, nor is there an intention to do so.”

Of course not. Because if they investigated, they might find something, and that might damage the navy's reputation. Better to just stick their head in the sand. After all, its only public money at stake...

This attitude is simply negligent. It is also shameful. The New Zealand Navy has an obligation to the public to obey the law and be good custodians of public money. And that includes investigating where there is a suspicion of corruption and fraud. By refusing to investigate, they're telling us clearly that they're putting their interests ahead of ours. And that is simply not acceptable.

New Fisk

US air strikes in Syria: Why America really attacked pro-Assad militia convoy
Rouhani’s victory is good news for Iran, but bad news for Trump and his Sunni allies
Donald Trump’s speech to the Muslim world was filled with hypocrisy and condescension

Spy city

Wellington's latest plan to stamp out beggars: spy on everyone:

A 'big brother' camera and sensor network, used to tackle begging on Wellington's Cuba St, is set to be rolled out across the city.


The project focused on begging, rough sleeping, alcohol and psychoactive substance abuse.

An analytics platform collected data from new sensor technology and combined it with data held by agencies such as police, fire, emergency departments, ACC and the council.

This was then fed into a computer system that created a map with insights into day-to-day street level trends and patterns.

It also highlighted hotspots and provided real-time information to alert agencies to respond.

Video and acoustic sensors were used to count instances of begging, particularity at ATMs on Cuba St.

The information was fed to agencies that sent someone to remove and help beggars with social issues they may also have.

"Acoustic sensors" are what real people call "microphones". So what they're proposing is eavesdropping on street conversation, then having a computer pick out the conversations of interest. It's ECHELON for facespace! And while in this case the target conversations happen to be people asking for or giving money, it could equally be people complaining about politicians, or talking about their private lives, or discussing financial information - the platform allows all of that. And of course, because the system exists, then its accessible to the police in case they want to use it for investigative purposes as well (next step: using it to find drug users maybe?)

The idea that whereever you go in Wellington the council will be listening is simply creepy. And setting up their own total surveillance network (and providing guinea-pigs for foreign companies who probably want to onsell this tech to oppressive regimes) is well outside what most kiwis think local government is for.

Meanwhile, there are a limited number of homeless people and beggars in Wellington. The $125,000 they spent on the trial system would have made a huge difference to their lives. The fully operational system would make an even bigger one. But instead of actually helping these people, the council would waste money on spying on them (and on everyone else). Typical.

We are being ripped off on water

How badly are kiwis being ripped off on water? This badly:

Water bottling companies are paying an average 500 times less than ratepayers for each litre of water they're allowed to use.

A Herald investigation into water fees set by every regional council around the country found bottlers were charged an average $0.003 - or one third of a cent - per cubic metre of water.

Comparatively, in Auckland, Watercare charges $1.40 per cubic metre (1000 litres) for water piped to houses, while the rest of the country paid an average $1.60 per cubic metre.

This is, as the article points out, grossly unfair. A resource we get charged for is provided to foreign-owned bottling companies for free (unmentioned: farmers get it even cheaper). Who then sell it back to us for 300,000 times what they pay for it. I don't think we can get a clearer demonstration of how badly we are being ripped off than that.

This isn't acceptable. And the obvious solution is to charge commercial water users exactly what residential ones pay. Its not as if they can't afford it, or that it would destroy their business - paying the residential price for water would add all of 0.2 cents to a 1.5 litre bottle, which would be unnoticeable to the end user. But the revenue it would bring in to local councils and iwi would make a huge difference.

But the last thing National wants is for farmers to have to actually pay their way rather than freeloading on the rest of us. And so water companies will be able to continue ripping us off and price gouging for something they got for free as long as this government is in office.

Friday, May 19, 2017

A fundamental failure in the duty of care

Serco prison guards fundamentally failed to exercise a proper duty of care towards a prisoner, according to a report from the prison inspector. First, they didn't notice a serious assault for two hours. And then they ignored it:

A guard then checked on Mr Lightbody and found him totally unresponsive despite shaking him and shouting at him.

Both guards did nothing else initially. They sat at their base for 20 minutes, with one continuing to file while the other made himself a hot drink and ate a sandwich.

During this time, the prison wing's manager and supervisor left the unit. The supervisor told the guards that he was off for the next week and that it was up to them to "sort it out", the report said.

The supervisor denied being told of the assault.

Nurses were finally called, but the first arrived without an emergency first aid kit.

An ambulance was eventually called at 5.02pm, more than 2 hours 30 minutes after the attack, arriving 11 minutes later.

The victim ended up with brain damage and is suing Corrections for failing to exercise a proper duty of care. I think they've got a good case. But the report is also clear in blaming Serco's understaffing for the incident, and I'd hope that they're required to pay any eventual damages.

Meanwhile, its also a warning against the dangers or prison privatisation. Privatised prisons are inherently understaffed - its how they make their profits - and combined with prisons' inherent culture of neglect towards prisoners, its basicly a recipe for this sort of failure.

New Fisk

This is the aim of Donald Trump's visit to Saudi Arabia – and it isn't good for Shia communities

Wellington City Council's LGOIMA fail

Wellington City Council is so bad at handling requests under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act that it has been ordered by the Ombudsman to review its processes:

An independent public watchdog has ordered Wellington's mayor to review his council's procedures for sharing information with ratepayers.

This week, Ombudsman Leo Donnelly told Wellington City Council to review the way it responded to requests for information made under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act (LGOIMA), and to remind its staff of their obligations.

The Ombudsman's ruling coincides with the council's formal review into its LGOIMA resources, which Wellington Mayor Justin Lester is keen to see.

The review comes after repeated failures to comply with the law and complaints that they were ignoring requests. Hopefully it will result in WCC getting its act together and treating LGOIMA as a fundamental obligation rather than "non-core business" or an irritant.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

This is what happens when you invite dictators to your country

Turkish dictator Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is currently visiting the USA. This being the USA, Land Of Free Speech, naturally there are protests. Which get suppressed brutally by Erdoğan's security detail:

The United States has said it was voicing its “strongest possible” concern to Turkey over a street brawl that erupted between protesters and Turkish security personnel during Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to Washington.

Police said the fighting outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence on Tuesday injured 11 people, including a Washington police officer, and led to two arrests for assault. At least one of those arrested was a protester.

“We are communicating our concern to the Turkish government in the strongest possible terms,” state department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

Video of the incident showed men in dark suits chasing anti-government protesters and punching and kicking them as police intervened. Two men were bloodied from head wounds as bystanders assisted dazed protesters.


Turkey’s official Anadolu state news agency reported that protesters were chanting anti-Erdoğan slogans as the president entered the residence after meeting Donald Trump to discuss the fight against Islamic State militants.

“Police did not heed Turkish demands to intervene,” the news agency said, and Erdoğan’s security team and Turkish citizens moved in and “dispersed them”.

Which is exactly what would happen in Turkey (or some shitty post-Soviet kleptocracy). But the US isn't Turkey, and people there still (in theory) have rights. Erdoğan's thugs appear to have committed a number of crimes, and they need to be arrested and prosecuted for them. If they have diplomatic immunity, they need to be deported immediately. Either way, the USA needs to send a clear message that visiting dictators can't behave like they do at home.

Harsh treatment

Australia's entire refugee policy is predicated on harsh treatment. By imprisoning refugees indefinitely and torturing them in island camps, they hope to deter others from seeking refuge in Australia. But the same mindset applies within the camps as well, with the Australian government deliberately imposing harsh living conditions in its Manus Island gulag in an attempt to force refugees to leave:

For more than a year, camp managers and security staff have waged a campaign to make Australia’s detention centre for refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island as inhospitable as possible, leaked documents reveal.

A plan drafted in early 2016 outlines moves to coerce those recognised as refugees into leaving the detention centre and accepting resettlement in Papua New Guinea, while pushing asylum seekers to abandon their protection claims and return home.


One plan mooted was to forcibly remove refugees and asylum seekers from the detention centre into the transit centre in a single day.

Planning documents that proposed “moving residents into accommodation with less amenity than they currently have” forecast the forced removal raised an “extreme” risk of violence and protests, and warned of the potentially “catastrophic consequences” of using the PNG police, whom Australian authorities describe as “not trained” for the relevant tasks.

The Australian government seems to be on the verge on implementing those plans. And the result will likely be a riot. The core problem is that the refugees do not feel safe in Papua New Guinea. Those who have left the camp have been beaten and assaulted by locals. The camp has been stormed and shot at. Refugees have been murdered. Against that background, Australia's plan to just throw people out by force looks like a deliberate policy to expose people in its care to ongoing persecution and endanger their lives. And that is simply immoral.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

A self-inflicted "shortage"

The Bus and Coach Association is concerned about the lack of bus drivers:

There's concern a shortage of bus drivers across the country is set to reach an all-time high.

The Bus and Coach Association says it's struggling to find drivers, and it's meaning managers and workshop staff are getting behind the wheel.

Ritchies transport director Andrew Ritchie is normally behind the desk, but even he's been getting behind the wheel.

"At the moment it's sort of starting to hit a peak, it's just getting very very difficult," Mr Ritchie says.

Hmm. I wonder if this has anything to do with it? Or this? Driving a bus is badly paid and has poor conditions - and its getting worse due to the grasping bus companies underbidding on contracts and keeping their profits by driving down wages. Which hardly encourages people to become drivers.

In short, this is a "shortage" entirely of the bus companies' own making. They have the power to fix it themselves, and they should, rather than whining about it.

How it works in America

We think National's Alfred Ngaro is bad for openly threatening to cut funding if NGOs criticise the government? Here's how it works in the country National wants us to imitate, the USA: if the opposition opposes, the government cuts funding to public services in their electorates:

N.C. Senate Republicans were visibly upset with Democrats for prolonging the budget debate with amendments during an after-midnight session Friday morning.

As the clock approached 1 a.m., Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue was summoned to the front of the chamber to talk privately with Senate leader Phil Berger. The Senate had rejected five amendments from Democrats to fund their spending priorities, but each time one proposal was shot down, another one was filed.

Senate Rules Chairman Bill Rabon abruptly called for a recess, stopping the proceedings for nearly two hours. GOP leaders headed to a conference room with legislative budget staff, while Democrats – some surprised by the lengthy delay – passed the time with an impromptu dance party in the hall.

The session finally resumed around 3 a.m., and Republican Sen. Brent Jackson introduced a new budget amendment that he explained would fund more pilot programs combating the opioid epidemic. He cited “a great deal of discussion” about the need for more opioid treatment funding.

Jackson didn’t mention where the additional $1 million would come from: directly from education programs in Senate Democrats’ districts and other initiatives the minority party sought.

This is pretty obviously a gross abuse of state power. But that's just how it is in the USA, where government is a political weapon to be used by one party against another.

New Fisk

Even when wars end in the Middle East, superbugs and aggressive cancers caused by conflict attack

A bad deal

Bill English is in Japan at the moment to talk about reviving the TPPA. Meanwhile, his government has confirmed the worst: that they want to revive the deal-as-signed, complete with US IP bullshit:

The Government has confirmed that countries not signed up to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, including the United States, will be able to reap the benefit of concessions New Zealand has made on pharmaceuticals.

Yet New Zealand will not benefit from better access to the US market in return, because president Donald Trump pulled it out of the pact.

Ironically, the concessions on the way drug agency Pharmac operates were made to make the 12-nation trade deal more palatable to the US.

So, we pay all of the costs, and get none of the benefits, of a deal that was pretty marginal to begin with. So why are we doing this? It makes no sense at all. This is a bad deal, and one we should be rejecting.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The usual story

National is finally promising to tackle the housing crisis by building some houses, with plans to "build 34,000 new Auckland houses". Except that when you scratch the surface, its not all its cracked up to be. Firstly, those houses are being built by demolishing 8,300 existing homes, so the total is only 26,000. Secondly, it includes already announced and underway (and in some cases, built) projects in Tamaki, Northcote and Point England - so they're back to re-announcing old news to get a new headline. Thirdly, two thirds of those houses will be sold to speculators rather than being state houses - so we're looking at a program to bulldoze and sell off state homes. And finally, its over ten years, with a deadline on the never-never so National can avoid accountability - just as with their climate change, renewable electricity, and water quality promises. In short, its the usual story: PR as a substitute for policy, spin as a substitute for action. Because the goal isn't to fix the bloody problem, but simply to generate positive headlines.

And all of that said: every little bit helps, even National's pathetic spin-based half-measures. And by announcing this and conceding the principle that the government must build houses, they've enabled other parties to announce that they will build more of them, and keep them under state ownership. So its not a bad announcement - just too little, and too bloody late.