Wednesday, September 20, 2017



This is how civil wars start

As I write this, Spanish police are raiding Catalan government offices and arresting government officials in an effort to prevent Catalans from voting in a referendum on independence:

Spanish police officers have raided three Catalan regional government departments and arrested 12 senior officials as Madrid steps up its battle to stop an independence referendum being held in less than two weeks’ time.

On Wednesday morning, a spokesman for the regional government said Guardia Civil officers were searching the Barcelona offices of the presidency and the ministries of economic affairs and foreign relations.

He also confirmed that Josep Maria JovĂ©, the secretary general of economic affairs and an aide to the Catalan vice-president, was among those detained – apparently in connection with the launch of web pages related to the referendum. Catalan ministers are due to hold an emergency meeting.


They've also attacked the Catalan domain name registry in an effort to censor pro-referendum sites, and seized polling materials. The message is clear: Spain's government (the ideological and literal descendents of Franco's fascists) is willing to use force to prevent Catalans from deciding their own future. Its both grossly undemocratic and horrificly stupid. At best, forbidding Catalans from voting invites the Catalan government to unilaterally declare independence. And at worst, using force means its only a matter of time before someone, either the Catalan government or just the 70% of Catalans who want to decide this democraticly, decides to defend themselves with force. And what happens then?

Spain is supposed to be a modern state, committed to democratic ideals. It is part of the European Union, which is similarly committed to democracy. The idea that such a state should behave in this manner is as absurd as it is obscene.

Questions like this should not be resolved by force. They should be resolved democraticly. Let Catalans vote! And if they vote for independence after today, then Spain only has itself to blame.

Kiwis support a water tax

The prospect of making farmers and water bottlers pay for their use of public water has been a big issue this election campaign. Irrigation-dependent dairy farmers hate the idea, of course - they're freeloaders who don't want to pay their fair share. The rest of New Zealand, OTOH, recognises that a resource rental on water is simply fair:

The results of a new Water New Zealand survey show the vast majority of Kiwis want commercial water users to be charged, and are concerned about the quality of waterways.

Seventy seven per cent of those surveyed said agriculture and horticulture users should pay for water, as did 77 per cent of participants living in rural communities.

Fifty nine per cent of respondents said that all water users should pay, and 42 per cent of respondents thought they were already paying for water use.

A clear majority, 89 per cent, thought bottled water companies and similar industries should pay.

"Interestingly, these responses are consistent across city, regional and rural regions," Water New Zealand said in the survey report, released on Wednesday.


Yes, even people in the country recognise that if you profit from the effective privatisation of a public resource, you should be paying for it, just like you do for gold, silver, and oil. Sadly, there seems to be a strong culture among farmers that their profits and lifestyle should be subsidised by the rest of us. But with this sort of support, that culture simply can't last. Farmers are going to have to pay their own way, so they'd better start getting used to the idea.

National censors NZTA

Last month, when the National Party announced ten expensive new roads as the core of its election campaign, the Greater Auckland blog noticed something interesting: the business case for one of them, Whangarei to Wellsford, had disappeared from NZTA's website. Google's cache also suggested why: because the business case found that the road "perform[ed] poorly from an economic efficiency perspective" and should not be built.

The natural suspicion was that the government had ordered the business case removed because it undermined its election promise. And thanks to the OIA, we now know that that is exactly what happened:

NZTA-missing-BC-OIA-Reply-Email-1

Interestingly, Transport Minister Simon Bridges had denied giving any such orders. So either he was outright lying in response to an OIA request, or doesn't know what his own staff are doing. Either way, its not acceptable, and NZTA should not be censoring public information to help with the Minister's election campaign.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017



How WINZ got social housing costs so wrong

Last year, National bowed to public pressure over homelessness and replaced emergency housing loans - under which the homeless were saddled with odious debt to be put up in price-gouging motels - with a grant. Their initial budget for these grants was a mere $2 million, but demand was so high that they burned through that in the first month. Currently, WINZ is on track to spend $50 million on these grants, 2500% of their budget. So how did they get it so wrong? Someone used FYI, the public OIA request site, to ask. The result is a depressing insight into the paucity of WINZ's thinking on the issue.

WINZ released 9 MB of documents, but the money quote is buried at the back:

The cost of the SNG has been estimated on the basis of supporting 750 single people and 1,250 families at 7 days each at the maximum SNG rate. Once implemented, the SNG will be demand-driven but an estimate of expected cost still needs to be provided as this is a policy change

So, 2,000 grants at $1,000 each. According to the cover letter, the number of grants was estimated from the number of households with "insecure housing" on WINZ's (severely restricted) social housing register (~800 - 950), and the number of households listed in the 2013 census as lacking habitable accommodation (4,200). In other words, they deliberately estimated that only 40% of those eligible would be given a grant - either because they wouldn't apply, or because WINZ would unlawfully refuse it. They also assumed that families would be given such a grant for only 7 days, after which they would miraculously find an affordable home to live in.

The reality, according to MSD's Social Housing Report, is a little different: MSD gave out 11,446 grants totalling $12.6 million to 3,108 individual clients in the March quarter alone. The average grant wasn't just higher - $1,100 instead of $1,000 - but there were significantly more of them. Partly this is because there were more clients, but the biggest factor is that each client received almost a month of support rather than the expected week. And price-gouging by the motels WINZ was hiring didn't exactly help either.

In retrospect, this should have been obvious to WINZ. People don't just find an affordable home in a week, and given that WINZ itself was organising a big chunk of those homes via its social housing programmes, it should have known how long it would take. But like everything from National, the policy seems to have been designed as a PR stunt, so they could claim that something was being done, not as something designed to actually make a difference.

The scary thing is, it could have been worse. WINZ's first budget estimate, in August 2015, was for 750 grants, at $500 each - a mere $375,000. Clearly the organisation responsible for preventing homelessness had no idea of either the scale of the problem, or the cost of fixing it. And there's little evidence that they've learned anything since.

Climate change: This is going to cost us

For the past six months, National have been suppressing Ministry for the Environment guidance on coastal hazards, which show that sea level rise and the resulting storm surges threaten $19 billion of coastal property. This government malfeasance isn't just bad froma transparency point of view - it has real consequences. Consequences like this:

The Thames-Coromandel District Council recently gave its consent to a 72 lot extension of the Whitianga Waterways canal housing project, and relied on a “least drama” IPCC projection for sea level rise of 1.06 m out to 2120. That 1m projection complies with nine-year-old 2008 Ministry for the Environment guidelines. But was this good resource and risk management practice? If the Council had instead taken account of high-impact but relatively low-probability projections, as has been proposed by the latest 2017 Draft Ministry guidelines and other 2017 reports from the USA, it would have been forced to conclude that both the subdivision itself and most of Whitianga township will be submerged by rising seas.

Instead, people are going to build houses there, and those houses are going to be underwater in 80 years. And long before then, the council will be forced to redzone them, and the owners will sue the council for deliberately and knowingly consenting them when they shouldn't have. Whoever ends up carrying the can, it is going to be hugely expensive, and hugely wasteful, not to mention ruining people's lives. And all because some property developer wanted to to find a greater fool to realise their asset before it became valueless, and the council was too stupid or too corrupt to say "no".

When that happens, we should send the bill to Paula Bennett, whose suppression of bad news has allowed this decision to be made.

Suffrage Day

Kate_Sheppard

Today, September 19th, is Suffrage Day. 124 years ago today, women gained the right to vote in New Zealand. Its one of our greatest achievements as a nation, and yet its not one we publicly mark. That needs to change: Suffrage Day should be a public holiday. Its certainly better than celebrating a dead religion, a foreign monarchy, or their odious wars.

This year, Suffrage Day has fallen in the middle of an election campaign, so its a particularly appropriate day to advance vote. If you're not sure where to do that, just select your electorate from the list here.

Australia tries to deport Rohingya to persecution

Myanmar is currently waging a campaign of ethnic cleansing against its Rohingya minority. So naturally, the racist Australian government is trying to force Rohingya detained in its concentration camps to return to persecution:

Australia is promising thousands of dollars to Rohingya refugees who agree to return to Myanmar, a country that has been accused of ethnic cleansing against the Muslim minority.

Asylum seekers in the Australian-run detention centre on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island, have been pressured by officials to return to their home countries, even if they face violence.

[...]

Returning Rohingya to their country could put their lives at risk. Myanmar does not recognise the ethnic minority and has conducted military operations in Rohingya villages that the United Nations’ top human rights official branded “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.

Close to 400,000 Rohingya have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh, many with bullet wounds and stories of mass killings, as their villages burn.


This is simply monstrous. But its the ultimate endpoint of Australia's racist, anti-refugee policies: sending people back to be murdered. And the parallels with the shameful treatment of Jews fleeing Nazi Germany - treatment which the Refugee Convention was created to prevent any repeat of - couldn't be any clearer.

National's New Zealand

The latest manifestation of National's social deficit? Malnourished kids:

Malnutrition is putting twice as many kids in hospital compared with 10 years ago, as food prices continue to bite into household incomes.

Child hospitalisation data shows around 120 children a year now have overnight stays due to nutritional deficiencies and anaemia, compared to an average 60 a decade ago.

Doctors say poor nutrition is also a factor in a significant proportion of the rest of the 40,000 annual child hospitalisations linked to poverty - and that vitamin deficiencies are more common in New Zealand compared to similar countries.

"Housing, stress and nutrition - it's all tied together," said pediatrician Dr Nikki Turner, from the Child Poverty Action Group. "If you want to eat nutritiously on a low-income it's difficult, and that means you're more likely to get sick and stay sick for longer."


National has allowed a housing bubble to grow while neglecting poverty and homelessness. And this is the result. And its not simply indecent - it will also cost us later in health, education, and reduced life chances for these children. But I guess National's "answer" to that would simply be to build another road...

Monday, September 18, 2017



Its going to be a short election night

Advance voting has really taken off this year, with enormous numbers exercising their right to vote early, parties campaigning specifically for advance votes, and queues at some advance polling booths. As of Sunday, 445,000 people had advance voted - more than did so in the whole 2011 election. The number of advance votes look like it will easily surpass the 2014 election as well - but by how many?

Looking at the Electoral Commission's graphs, there's a rough pattern. In 2011, roughly 70,000 people had advance voted a week out from the election, versus a final tally of 334,000. In 2014, the week out number was 179,000 versus a final tally of 717,000. So, the final number is somewhere between 4 and 5 times the week out figure. Applying the lower estimate to Friday's tally of 312,000 gives an estimate of roughly 1.25 million advance votes - or about half the total expected to be cast. And it could be even higher.

Those votes are counted early, starting on election afternoon, and announced shortly after the polls close on election night. Which means that from pretty much the moment the election specials start, we're going to already know the rough shape of the result, and have an idea which of the rival polling houses' models is correct. And with fewer votes to count, the rest of the results should be counted much quicker, giving us a final result much earlier. In other words, unless something goes catastrophically wrong somewhere, it is going to be a very short election night.

Too many cows

Waikato's dairy farmers - the dirtiest in the country - are protesting in Morrinsville today to defend their "right" to keep pumping their shit into our rivers and their piss into our wells. Meanwhile, to get an idea of how obscene this is, farmers are just 1% of the population. They produce 50% of greenhouse gas emissions. And their cows use as much water as 60 million people:

Dairy farms in New Zealand use water equivalent to the combined populations of London, New York, Tokyo, Los Angeles, and Rio de Janeiro, experts say.

[...]

Fraser and Dewes, using Dairy NZ figures, said there were 12,000 dairy herds in New Zealand consuming 4.8b cubic metres of water.

An average person - based on figures from Wellington, although water use varies nationwide - uses around 80 cubic metres of water, meaning dairy farms alone use the equivalent of around 58.2 million people.

Almost all of the water is used by about 2000 farms, primarily in dry areas such as Canterbury and Otago.


And that's why our rivers are so dirty: because we have the equivalent of five global megalopolises sucking them dry, and spewing their shit back, untreated. And this massively disproportionate use of environmental resources is done by and for the benefit of a tiny clique of rural landowners, while fucking up and threatening the lives of the rest of us.

This has to stop. The number of cows has to decrease, and their water use needs to be reduced to a sustainable level. People running dairy farms in areas of the country like Canterbury where its just not environmentally sustainable need to switch to farming something else. Part of the solution to that is to cut the environmental subsidy and make farmers pay for their profiteering from a public resource. But as we've seen with the ETS, market mechanisms alone are insufficient. Ultimately, we need to regulate unsustainable dairying out of existence. And those persist in illegally pumping shit into our environment need to start going to jail for it.

Friday, September 15, 2017



National: climate freeloaders

Climate change is the greatest threat humanity has ever faced. Globally, it promises famine, disease, death, and war. Within New Zealand, it promises to destroy our agricultural industry and drown our coastal communities. Labour and the Greens are taking this threat seriously, promising to set a target of carbon neutrality by 2050 to push us down the pathway towards a greener economy. National, OTOH, doesn't care:

Both Labour and Greens, likely coalition partners, have committed to a carbon-neutral country by 2050 - but National won't commit to one of its own - and the party doesn't think it's possible within the next century.

"It certainly won't happen by 2050, it might happen by 2100," he said in the Young Voters' Debate hosted by 1 News.

[...]

"We don't have a stated policy goal of carbon neutrality. Our goal is to meet our international commitments, take climate change seriously, invest in the stuff that actually makes a difference which is the science around agricultural emissions reductions," Mr Bishop said.

"This might not be a popular view, but whether or not New Zealand becomes carbon neutral by 2050, will not stop hurricanes and sea level rise in New Zealand. We are 0.16 percent of global emissions."


And yet National somehow expect other, poorer, countries to make sacrifices that they are unwilling to make, to save their dirty farmer cronies from being driven off the land. Faced with the biggest crisis the world has ever seen, National's policy is simply to freeload off the efforts of others, while doing nothing ourselves, so that their cronies can make money for a little while longer.

That's not the kiwi way. We can and must do better than National's pathetic inaction.

New Fisk

If Nikki Haley doesn't drop her nonsensical pro-Israeli propaganda line at the UN, she could cause real problems for Lebanon

A bribe predicated on a fantasy

When Murray McCully wanted to bribe a pair of corrupt Saudi businessmen, he got it past Cabinet by telling them that the money would prevent a lawsuit. He then told the New Zealand public during a TV interview that he had been advised by MFAT that there was a real threat of such a suit. Naturally, he lied: MFAT never gave him any such advice:

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade did not provide legal advice to the government on the risk of being sued by a disgruntled Saudi Arabian businessman, documents reveal.

The admission that no legal advice on the lawsuit threat ever existed directly contradicts comments in 2015 by then-Foreign Minister Murray McCully that the ministry had taken advice on the issue.


McCully lied to the public and he lied to Cabinet in order to corruptly spend millions of dollars of our money. If he was still a Minister, he should be sacked. Sadly, his retirement means he will escape any accountability for this. But at least he's out of politics for good.

Thursday, September 14, 2017



Labour's tax back-down

So, faced with a campaign of fear, uncertainty and doubt from National, Labour has backed away from any plans to introduce a capital gains tax if elected, and instead punted such decisions until 2020:

Labour will wait until a second term before any tax changes from their working group will be introduced.

It made the u-turn after sustained attacks from the National Party over the vagueness of its tax plans.

Other than their already announced polices - such as cancelling National's planned tax cuts, extending the bright line test to five years, and introducing water and tourist levies - no new taxes or changes will kick in before the next election, Labour said on Thursday.


Its Labour in a nutshell. Promise change, do nothing to make it happen. Talk big about benefitting the many, not the few, then promise to preserve the status quo. And by doing so, rob themselves of any ability to actually effect meaningful change.

And this is why I can never support Labour: they have no courage of their convictions, and stand for nothing beyond their own Ministerial salaries. All they offer is the same old shit, with a different bunch of arseholes at the top. As someone who thinks the status quo is rotten to the core, why would I vote for someone who promises not to fix it?

This should have happened a long time ago

In 2010 the National Party suspended Cantabrians' democratic right to elect their local government, and imposed a dictatorship to give their water away to farmers. Now, the people of Canterbury are symbolicly taking their democracy back:

Around 100 water activists have stormed the offices of Environment Canterbury (Ecan) in Christchurch on Thursday morning.

The group is demanding that local democracy be returned to the people of Canterbury so they can get on with saving the region's ailing rivers.

"We are standing up for our rivers and we are taking our democracy back," says Greenpeace campaigner Gen Toop.

"We will not to be silenced and we will not stand aside and let our rivers continue to be destroyed by too many cows."


This should have happened a long time ago. National's dictatorship in Canterbury has allowed farmers to continue to suck the rivers dry and fill them with shit. This isn't just bad for the environment - it threatens to poison Christchurch's water supply and poses a widespread threat to public health. And it happens because the voters of Canterbury are prevented by the government from electing a regional council which will protect them from farmers.

The Canterbury dictatorship has to go. Full elections now!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017



Toxic politics

So, apparently National MP Jian Yang is a Chinese spy. Or went to university in China. Or is Chinese. Or something. Apparently, this is something we should all Care Deeply About because National Security and Agent of Influence and Yellow Peril and so on. Except I can't, because raising it during an election campaign just makes it seem like a nasty smear of an MP based on their national origin, designed to whip up fear of the Other.

I have no idea if the allegations are true or not. I'd be uncomfortable if they were, in the same way I'd be uncomfortable if a former member of the CIA or MI6 were a member of our government, because our MP's should work for us, not for other people (also, spying is an inherently unethical profession, so anyone who has ever worked for a spy agency fails the sniff test). But the problem is that we can never know one way or another. Calling someone a spy is pretty much irrefutable. It's like calling someone a meat-suit-wearing demon or a witch: any evidence to the contrary can (and will) just be viewed as another layer of deception. There's just no way of ever overcoming it.

(And on the flip side: if the SIS called a press conference tonight and announced that they'd been investigating Yang for years and were planning on arresting and charging him with espionage, given their past record of paranoia, delusion, and outright fantasy, I don't think we could take that as any evidence whatsoever. If the SIS said the Prime Minister had once defrauded the NZ taxpayer of $32,000 by lying about where he lived, I'd have to check, because they probably just read it on the internet somewhere, put the worst possible slant on it, then presented it as irrefutable truth. In fact, they're probably going "Jian Yang is a spy" right now, based solely on these media reports...)

But while I'd be uncomfortable if the allegation was true, what makes me even more uncomfortable is that it is being made at all, and especially during an election campaign. It's a sort of toxic, paranoid politics seen in xenophobic places like Australia and the US who are obsessed with Foreign Enemies (you know, things NZ doesn't have, because we want to get along with everyone). We've been here before with Muldoon calling people "communists", smearing people as foreign agents based on their political beliefs. Here, we're invited to do it on the colour of someone's skin, with an implicit premise that any kiwi born in a foreign country (or at least, a foreign country blighted with a repressive government) is untrustworthy and Not A Real Kiwi. But if the cost of "national security" is accepting premises like that, then I'd rather disband NZDF, SIS, GCSB and the rest of their corrupting apparatus, and be done with the whole vile idea.

Supporting students

A fortnight ago, Labour announced its bid for the student vote, with a plan to boost student allowances by $50 a week and gradually make tertiary study free. Today the Greens have responded with their own student support package which builds on Labour's. They're suggesting a smaller overall boost to allowances - 20% (so about $40) rather than a flat $50. But the counter to that is the introduction of a universal (and higher) student allowance for post-graduate students. They'd also remove National's unfair lifetime borrowing and allowance limits, which prevent people from continuing study at a time when qualification inflation and rapid changes in employment have made it necessary.

The policy is definitely compatible with Labour's, and the differences are primarily a matter of which problem gets addressed first. Meanwhile, all National is offering students is poverty and debt and workplace exploitation. I guess they just don't want the votes of any students whose parents aren't already filthy rich.

Do the right thing for Rohingya refugees

Sam Neill has called on the government to immediately take in Rohingya refugees fleeing Myanma ethnic cleansing:

Actor Sam Neill has called on Bill English to immediately take in Rohingya refugees who are fleeing worsening bloodshed in Myanmar.

Neill has tweeted English urging him to take in "many" refugees from "the most desperate circumstances", adding, "do the right thing Bill".

That plea comes after the Green Party in Australia called on the Turnbull government to take in 20,000 Rohingya refugees in an emergency intake similar to that set up after the violence in Syria.


Neill is right. What's happening in Myanmar is terrible, a classic case of ethnic cleansing. There's very little we at the bottom of the world can do to directly help, beyond supporting UN sanctions, peacekeepers, and an eventual criminal process against the perpetrators (including Nobel peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi). But one thing we can do is help the victims, by giving some of them a new home here. Its the least we can do.

When National refused to increase the refugee quota to 1500 a year, their excuse was that they needed spare capacity to handle an emergency influx in a crisis. Well, that crisis is here now, so its time for that emergency influx. Or was National lying to us all along?

Tuesday, September 12, 2017



Party vote: left

Now that advance voting has opened, things have got real. Who should you vote for? If you read this blog, you probably want a progressive, left-wing government which will reduce inequality, save our rivers, bring our emissions under control, and make houses more affordable. You probably want a Labour-led government, working with the Greens (and possibly the Maori Party) rather than Winston. How do we get that? Simple: give your party vote to one of the components of the coalition you prefer.

That could be Labour, it could be the Greens, it could be the Maori Party - a party vote for any of these three will help. IMHO there are sound tactical reasons for supporting one of the smaller options: to ensure the Greens make it into Parliament (and thus that a left coalition is a real option, rather than Labour being forced into the arms of Winston), and to get the progressive voices in the Maori Party in too (Marama Fox seems pretty solid and very inclined to work with Labour and the Greens, but they need ~2% of the party vote to get her in). If neither of those floats your boat, then vote for Labour. Don't vote for Winston unless you're a racist. And don't bother about TOP, because they're cat-hating arseholes who won't make it over the threshold, so votes for them are simply wasted.

Note that this is a recommendation for your party vote, because that's what determines the overall shape of Parliament and therefore who will be in government. It doesn't really matter what you do with your electorate vote (though if you live in Ohariu, please don't vote for the fascist).

Every party vote counts. If you want change, make sure you vote for it, by party-voting left.

The police should not be above the law

The IPCA has found yet another case of unjustified taser use by police. But was the officer prosecuted? Of course not:

A police officer was not justified in using a taser on a prisoner in custody at Hamilton District Court, an independent inquiry has found.

[...]

[Waikato district commander Superintendent Bruce] Bird agreed that the officer's use of the taser was contrary to policy and not justified.

"Our staff face an array of challenges when dealing with aggressive members of the public and policing prisoners in court cells can be very challenging.

"It is important that when under pressure, our officers make the right decisions regarding how best to respond.

"We have discussed this incident thoroughly with the officer involved and learnt from the mistake that was made," Bird said.


If you or I used a lethal weapon in this way, we would be charged with assault with a weapon and prosecuted. But no matter how many times the IPCA finds the police acted unlawfully, there are never charges. Its almost as if police are abusing their prosecutorial discretion to protect their own or something. But by doing so, they undermine respect for the police, and for the law itself.

Either the law applies to all, or it is meaningless. This officer should be prosecuted. The police should not be above the law.