Friday, July 31, 2015

Not as much as it sounds

According to TV3, the police are being inundated with OIA requests:

Police are struggling to cope with the overwhelming number of Official Information Act (OIA) requests which flood their offices every day, and some of their time-saving measures are now prompting concern from the Chief Ombudsman.

Figures released last month show police received 10,582 OIA requests between May 2014 and April 2015, around 28 a day, more than one every hour. A fifth of those aren't being processed on time.

Which sounds like a lot (and they even include an estimate that it would need twn full-time staff to respond to them all). Except that the police are a huge agency. According to their 2013-14 Annual Report [p. 117], they have 11,673 employees. In other words, each police employee has to handle less than one OIA request a year. Its also worth remembering that most of these OIA requests aren't requests for information about police policy, but ordinary disclosure as part of the criminal trial process. Which is a vital part of their job.

To be fair, its not the police complaining about these numbers (though some of their recordkeeping sounds typically shoddy). But keep in mind when you see OIA statistics that both size and role matter. large agencies, and ones which have a direct impact on people's lives, will get more requests. Agencies which have arbitrary power over their "clients" will also get more as a result of disputes. Which is why ACC, Immigration and (more recently) EQC and CERA get so many: because its a core part of people checking whether their treatment was lawful and according to policy.

Journalism isn't treason

Back in February, German news website published stories based on leaked documents showing that the domestic intelligence agency BfV was seeking additional funding to increase online surveillance and monitor social media. The German government's response? Investigate them for treason:

Germany has opened a treason investigation into a news website a broadcaster said had reported on plans to increase state surveillance of online communications.

German media said it was the first time in more than 50 years journalists had faced treason charges, and some denounced the move as an attack on the freedom of the press.

“The federal prosecutor has started an investigation on suspicion of treason into the articles ... published on the internet blog,” a spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office said.

She added the move followed a criminal complaint by Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), over articles about the BfV that appeared on the website on 25 February and 15 April. It said the articles had been based on leaked documents.

So there you have it: in modern "democratic" Germany, any attempt at public oversight of spies or questioning their role (or their budget) is treasonous and punishable by jail. The public are not allowed to question their political masters, the intelligence agencies. Which sounds like exactly the sort of undemocratic attitudes the "Office for the Protection of the Constitution" should be investigating...

The end of the unarmed police force

Since forever, the New Zealand police have been arguing for more and better weapons with which to intimidate the public. And once again, they've got what they want:

New Zealand police will now routinely carry Tasers, it has been announced.

Police Commissioner Mike Bush made the announcement on Friday morning at police headquarters in Wellington.

Bush said all on-duty staff would carry Tasers, a change from the current practice of accessing the weapons from a lockbox in cars.

This is part of an ugly move towards US-style "compliance" policing - you know, the sort that sees black people shot and killed for running away, not running away, putting their hands up, not putting their hands up, lying down while handcuffed... here they'll be using tasers, but the attitude is the same: obey the police immediately, or be subject to brutal electrical torture. Which will fall disproportionately on Maori, the mentally ill, or when police simply want to torture someone for their own convenience or to avoid looking "weak".

And no, this won't reduce police gun use. Fatal shootings by police have increased since they got tasers, because its been paired with increased access to firearms and the US mindset. Its now absolutely routine for New Zealand police to stand around guarding crime scenes with loaded machine guns - and this has a huge impact both on how the public view the police, and on how police view themselves.

The cost of this can be seen in the US: when the police act like a foreign army of occupation on the streets, people treat them as such. Active cooperation, which they need to identify and locate suspects, is replaced with sullen compliance and a refusal to interact unless absolutely necessary (and then, eventually, punishment of collaborators). That's bad for law enforcement, but its not exactly good for us either.

A bad deal

For the past seven years the government has been negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership. All along they've told us that this would be the road to economic nirvana, that the negotiations would deliver a "high quality" free trade agreement which would open the US to New Zealand dairy products and make us (well, polluting dairy farmers) all rich.

The reality turns out to be a little different:

The dairy deal for New Zealand at Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks is looking "disastrous", according to Federated Farmers dairy industry chairman Andrew Hoggard.

Hoggard, who has spoken with New Zealand negotiators in Hawaii, said the United States, Canada and Japan are refusing to open up their protected dairy industries.

Negotiators were concerned the discussions would end on Friday without a good dairy deal.

"It could be a backwards step for the New Zealand dairy industry. It's going to be a disastrous conclusion," Hoggard said.

Not only would it give those protectionist countries access to the same markets as New Zealand, it would be setting a poor precedent for future trade deals.

And in exchange for this remember we'll be gutting Pharmac, accepting US copyright mafia laws, and allowing foreign corporations to sue us and win compensation if we attempt to (or even merely continue to) protect our health or the environment. We give up all that, for nothing.

So why would "our" government ever sign such an obviously shit deal? For the same reasons they refuse to boot Serco or fail down failed charter schools: because having spent seven years and vast amounts of political capital on it, backing out now would be admitting failure. It would be admitting that it was all a waste of time and that they made a mistake trying to pursue an FTA with the USA (which you'd think they would have figured out after the Australian experience). That would be intolerable to them, so instead we will have a bad deal foisted on us to protect their colossal egos. And to add insult to injury, they'll probably award themselves some gongs for their "service".

Thursday, July 30, 2015

National ignores fraud at charter school

So, in addition to ignoring poor attendance, bullying, drug use and management infighting at charter schools, National is also ignoring apparent fraud by staff:

Staff who withdrew $4000 in cash from a school's account and failed to explain what they spent it on will not be investigated, the Ministry of Education says.

A financial audit of Te Pumanawa o te Wairua, a struggling Northland charter school, found staff made the cash withdrawals from ATM machines and a BP station from January last year.

Education minister Hekia Parata last week decided to leave the school open until at least the end of the year, despite the Ministry of Education's reservations and its multiple contract breaches, as she believed it would be best for the 39 children currently attending.

Which is $4,000 being spent on greedy, fraudulent staff rather than on the kids they're supposed to be educating. If this had happened in the state education system, those responsible would have been sacked and prosecuted; here, National seems willing to turn a blind eye to theft of public money because they are incentivised not to admit failure.

New Fisk

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Climate change: Halfway there

In 1992 the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change committed the world to preventing
"dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system". This is generally interpreted as limiting climate change to an increase of no more than 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels. The bad news? We're already halfway there.

IT’S the outcome the world wants to avoid, but we are already halfway there. All but one of the main trackers of global surface temperature are now passing more than 1 °C of warming relative to the second half of the 19th century, according to an exclusive analysis done for New Scientist.


Kevin Cowtan of the University of York, UK, created and still maintains one such record, called “Cowtan & Way version 2.0″. It is based on another record, maintained by the UK Met Office, called HadCRUT4. Cowtan’s version differs because it compensates for missing data from areas with few weather stations, like the Arctic.

The various records also show temperature changes relative to different baselines. For instance, NASA’s GISTEMP record shows warming relative to the 1951 to 1980 average.

At the request of New Scientist, Cowtan adjusted his and other measures to show annual warming relative to the same time frame: the 1850 to 1899 period. All but one set of adjusted figures show that we will have already passed 1 °C before the next round of UN talks on a global climate treaty get under way in December (see graph).

“It looks very likely that all except HadCRUT4 will break 1 °C this year,” says Cowtan. “HadCRUT4 is somewhat dependent on a strong El NiƱo boost.”

And with global CO2 concentrations now over 400 parts per million, we're now pretty much committed to failure. Meanwhile, our government does nothing. Heckuva job our leaders are doing there. But I guess the incentive for action is low when you won't be alive to have to live with the consequences.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015


Back in February, the UK Interception of Communications Commissioner found that police had spied on more than 80 journalists in a gross abuse of power. Since then, media outlets have been seeking further information about which police forces had conducted this spying and on whom. But the UK police have now decided that such questions are "vexatious":

Forty police forces across the country have dismissed as "vexatious" a BBC freedom of information (FOI) application about police monitoring of journalists' communications.

It appears the police have adopted a virtually blanket policy of now rejecting all FOI requests about the use of their surveillance powers to collect communications data on journalists - irrespective of the questions actually asked or how often, if at all, that requester has raised the issue before.

Last month the BBC asked all UK police forces for a copy of their submission to an inquiry by the Interception of Communications Commissioner into police operations relating to the confidential sources of journalists.


Forty forces have now responded in a very similar fashion that the BBC's FOI application does not have to be answered on the basis it is "vexatious", due to the "burden on the authority" and the "unreasonable persistence" of requesters. If an FOI request is vexatious, then the public authority receiving it does not have to consider its substance.

Nearly all the forces have also argued to us that "FOI was never designed to enable applicants to continue a campaign or determined pursuit of information when there are concerns over public authority activities, if these activities have been adjudged to be correct and appropriate".

Except that that is exactly what freedom of information was designed for: to allow public authorities to be held to account by the public, rather than their establishment mates. The fact that the UK police oppose this, and indeed regard it as "vexatious", says a lot about their attitude to public accountability for their abuses of power.

(FWIW, the Information Commissioner has since ruled that such requests are not vexatious so the UK police - probably coordinated by ACPO - are deliberately ignoring the law here)

Correction: removed comment about ignoring the law. This is what happens when I don't check the date on an article I see over Twitter...

Time for a democratic foreign policy

"Our" Trade Minister is currently negotiating the Trans Pacific Partnership, which will supposedly make us (well, foreign pharmaceutical companies and the copyright mafia) all rich. So what does he think of the people that he's supposedly negotiating this agreement for? That we're "breathless children":

It will only be presented to Parliament for a vote once it has been signed, and Mr Groser says the talks can't take place in public.

"This is a moving game, and we need adults to do this – not breathless children to run off at the mouth when the deal is not actually finished."

I can't think of a better example of the undemocratic MFAT / deep state mindset: that they're the adults, and the people in whose name they are acting are just children who should just shut up and accept whatever deal they cut. And this from an elected Minister in a supposedly democratic government...

Well, fuck that. That's is what kings do, not democratic governments. We need a democratic foreign policy, and we need it now.

What does this mean? It means no more secret treaties. It means transparency in diplomatic negotiations. And above all, it means signing only after the approval of Parliament or a referendum, not one autocrat operating in secret. Because deals negotiated under the current system, where Ministers impose secrecy so they can lie to and betray us, simply have no democratic legitimacy. And as a supposed democracy, we simply should not accept it.

Dissolve the people and elect another

Now there's a surprise: now that the "wrong" person might win the UK Labour leadership, the Blairites want to cancel the election:

Labour should suspend its leadership race over fears it is being warped by a wave of hard-Left 'infiltrators', two MPs said yesterday.

Tens of thousands more activists are now eligible to vote than before the General Election, with indications that many of them have signed up just to back Jeremy Corbyn.

The Communist Party of Great Britain is among the groups that have urged supporters to join Labour and endorse the Islington North MP. Under new rules, they can pay just £3 and take part in the ballot.

Backbencher John Mann said the contest was 'totally out of control', and insisted acting leader Harriet Harman should step in so proper checks can be conducted.

'It should be halted,' he told The Sunday Times. 'It is becoming a farce with long-standing members in danger of getting trumped by people who have opposed the Labour Party and want to break it up – some of it is the Militant Tendency types coming back in.'

Of course, there are a few dicks, including a Tory town councillor. But the real explanation for this mass influx of members - 20,000 since nominations closed, plus a surge in registered supporters and affiliates as well - is that faced with a genuine contest and a real choice of direction, UK Labour supporters are taking the opportunity to sign up and get involved. But real choice in politics is exactly what the Blairites are opposed to. And faced with people demanding it, their natural response is to dissolve the people and elect another...

Australia now covering up rape

The Australian government appears to be covering up a rape in its PNG refugee gulag:

The police commander on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island says he is relying on immigration authorities to help return three expats accused of a sexual assault two weeks ago.

Alex N'Drasal says a local woman working at Australia's asylum seeker detention centre was raped, and the suspects, three expatriate guards, were flown out of PNG before their inquiry was finished.

Mr N'Drasal says he has asked the immigration departments of both PNG and Australia to help return the suspects to Manus Island.

Flying your people home so they can evade justice isn't the sort of thing a decent country does. But it is the sort of thing a country ashamed of its actions and desperately wanting to keep the public in the dark about what it is doing does. Australia should return these men to stand trial - but more importantly, it should shut down the gulags and put refugees where they belong: in the community.

Meanwhile, I'm wondering: what sort of a scumbag goes to work as a gulag-guard anyway?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

How many kiwis is John Key willing to kill for the TPP?

There's an unpleasant implication no-one seems to be following up on from John Key's admission this morning that the TPP would mean higher pharmaceutical prices: people will die. How? Its pretty obvious: absent recreational misuse, people take pharmaceuticals for a reason: to stop them from dying. Any reduction in availability therefore means a statistical rise in deaths.

Increased pharmaceutical costs due to the imposition of US drug laws necessarily means a reduction in availability. For drugs outside the Pharmac system, its a direct consequence: higher costs means fewer people can afford treatment. For subsidised drugs, its because Pharmac's budget is effectively capped and has been for years, so if they're paying more, they have to provide less. But either way: lower availability, statistically higher deaths due to illness. And while National could increase Pharmac's budget to compensate, with them hellbent on austerity and teasing tax cuts for the 2017 election, that seems unlikely (and even if they do, it will just result in their ripping funding from somewhere else, like road safety or state housing. Meaning more deaths, but on a different budget).

These deaths are completely avoidable. They are purely a consequence of signing this "trade" deal, and the effective cut in core government services it requires. Which invites the question: how many will there be? Has the government even bothered to count? And most importantly, how many kiwis is John Key willing to kill to make this deal?

This sort of statistical murder is sadly not criminal - but it should be. When a government makes decisions which they know will result in people dying, the decision-makers should be held responsible in a court of law, and jailed if convicted. Because murder is murder, whether you do it with a gun, a knife, or a budget cut.

Why are we signing this again?

The government is currently "negotiating" (meaning "accepting whatever other countries demand, because we have nothing to offer them") on the Trans Pacific Partnership. They've insisted that it will be a good deal for New Zealand, but this morning John Key was forced to admit what we all knew: that it would mean more expensive medicines:

The Government will face a higher medicine bill under the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, Prime Minister John Key warns.

Talks on the 12 nation deal are in their final stages in Hawaii this week and a successful outcome would likely see patent protection for some drugs extended beyond the current period - effectively about five years from introduction to the market - pushing up the cost.

"It's possible and in fact highly probably that patents will run for a little bit longer and that means the Government will have to pay for the original drug as opposed to the generic for a little bit longer," Key said on Tuesday.

But he said patients would not have to pay more for prescriptions as a result.

Which in turn means either higher taxes, or reduced services, in health or elsewhere, to pay for it. And the reason? Because greedy pharmaceutical companies want to make higher profits for longer and can lobby the US government to turn a "free trade" deal into one which extends their regulatory monopoly and forbids us from parallel importing around it.

This doesn't sound like a good deal for New Zealand at all. Why are we signing it again?

New Fisk

Turkey conflict: Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise


In 2004 the then-Labour government wanted to reduce sexism in the public sector, so it set itself a target that 50% of new board and committee appointments would be women. In 2010, National decided that that was too hard, and lowered the target to 45%. So how well has it been doing? The Herald crunched the numbers, and the answer is "appallingly". Only seven Ministers were actually meeting their target. Meanwhile, most lagged in the 30-percent range (when the target was set women were 41% of board members), and six of them were appointing women to fewer than a third of places:

Mr McCully and Mr Bridges appointed less than a quarter board position to women. Mr McCully appointed 23.63 per cent women to boards in 2014 and Mr Bridges appointed 24.56 per cent.

Mr Brownlee appointed 26 per cent of positions to women and Mr Smith appointed 27.84 per cent of positions to women.

Prime Minister John Key appointed 29.17 per cent of board positions to women.

But of course, when asked about this, they claim to appoint on "merit". I guess they use a special dictionary in which that word is a synonym for "penis". Meanwhile, to the rest of us, its pretty clear what is going on: bad, old-fashioned sexism. The message is clear; National hates women, and thinks their place is in the home (or in low-paid professions such as cleaning) rather than in the boardroom. Isn't it time we had a government which tried to fix this problem, rather than exacerbating it?

Monday, July 27, 2015

A declaration of inconsistency

Back in 2010, Parliament passed the Electoral (Disqualification of Sentenced Prisoners) Amendment Act. The Act was passed despite a clear warning from the Attorney-General that it was inconsistent with the Bill of Rights Act, after a "debate" which was so shallow that it brought the entire parliamentary process into disrepute and undermined its legitimacy as our lawmaking body. In short, our government ignored its duty under the Bill of Rights Act and passed legislation which pissed on the right to vote, simply in order to grub for votes from vicious, vindictive sadists by kicking prisoners. It was a tawdry display which invited the courts to correct Parliament by formally declaring the law to be inconsistent with the BORA. And now the High Court has done exactly that:

An Auckland prisoner says he is rapt with a court ruling that a law banning all prisoners from voting breaches their human rights.

In the High Court, Justice Heath issued a formal declaration that the law, passed in 2010, is inconsistent with the Bill of Rights and is unjustified.

The ruling is a victory for career criminal Arthur Taylor, who has been fighting the ban in court for about a year.

The full judgement is here. Its very clear, and the short version is "if we couldn't issue a declaration of inconsistency for this, its hard to see what we could issue one for". Because it has hard to spot a more blatant and unjustifiable violation of the BORA than this.

In practical terms, it means very little, as section 4 of the BORA explicitly says that laws remain valid despite formal findings of inconsistency. Politically and morally, its explosive. The court has just told Parliament for the first time that they think that they did not do their job properly and that the law should not have been passed. And Parliament will have to respond. The sensible thing to do would be to accept the finding, repeal the law and restore it to what it was pre-2010. The question is whether National will accept that, or whether they'll throw a temper-tantrum and try and legislate to gag the courts from commenting on the legislation they pass. What they do will probably establish a constitutional norm, so I hope they choose carefully.

Meanwhile, this suggests that we now need a formal method of responding when the courts make such a declaration. The Human Rights Act requires the responsible Minister to report to parliament on the declaration and the government's proposed response. While a weak response, that would be a good start.

GCHQ spies on the UK's devolved assemblies

UK MPs are currently challenging GCHQ mass-surveillance in the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, on the basis that it violates the Wilson doctrine which outlaws spying on MPs. While the case is still being argued, we've already learned something important: GCHQ has recently decided for itself that it is allowed to spy on Members of the Scottish Parliament and other devolved assemblies:

David Cameron is under pressure to justify a secret decision by spy chiefs at GCHQ that authorises eavesdropping on politicians from the devolved legislatures in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish first minister, and other Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish politicians on Friday urged the prime minister to protect the privacy of parliamentarians from the three nations, after it emerged that GCHQ had introduced new internal guidelines to allow the monitoring of communications by members of the legislatures, even though those rules bar the agency from monitoring MPs at Westminster.

In a letter to Cameron, Sturgeon said she accepted spying on MSPs could take place but only in “truly exceptional circumstances involving national security”. In the vast majority of cases “the confidentiality of communications between parliamentarians and their constituents is of the utmost importance”, she told the prime minister.


Sturgeon said there was no justification for treating MSPs any differently from MPs. She also asked the prime minister to confirm or deny that MSPs had ever been spied on by British agencies. She asked him: “Will you give an assurance that, with respect to the Wilson doctrine, MSPs will in future be treated equally to MPs by all of the intelligence agencies?”

Spying on MPs is an attack on democracy which inhibits their ability to represent their constituents and raises real questions about democratic control and oversight of spy agencies. The potential for such spying to be abused is obvious, and its simply not acceptable for an intelligence agency to do it without serious justification. Its certainly not acceptable for them to decide to do it themselves. That sort of decision is one for elected Ministers, not unelected bureaucrats. But if the English government has decided that its fine to spy on the representatives of the Scottish and Welsh people - effectively that Scotland and Wales are hostile foreign powers - then I suspect the Scottish people at least will want to have a vote on that to make it official.

New Fisk

The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis, but history suggests otherwise
Iran – the land where some 700 souls were executed last year

Privatisation and political incentives

The theory behind privatising government services is that private providers will perform better than government ones because they have better incentives to do so. On the positive side, more efficient service delivery will result in higher profits. And on the negative side, there's the threat of losing the contract and going out of business if a private provider fails to meet expectations. Which sounds great in theory to ivory-tower economists, but in practice, it turns out a little differently:

Education Minister Hekia Parata says she has given Te Pumanawa o te Wairua in Northland a chance to continue operating because of her concerns about finding other educational opportunities for its students.

Her decision follows a special audit of the Whangaruru school which raised issues about its financial performance, administration and governance.

Ms Parata says the audit findings provided grounds to terminate the partnership agreement with the school, but she has opted not to do so because of her concerns about the school’s students.

And its a similar story with Serco, who will have the management of Mt Eden temporarily taken off them and penalised under their contract - but won't have their contract stripped, despite clear evidence of breach and fraud. And the reason in both cases is because the incentives on the other party to the contract - the Ministers - are not to admit failure. Which means they will bend over backwards not to cancel contracts or punish providers, no matter how poorly the latter perform. Which in turn removes any incentive for better performance, and instead turns this sort of privatisation into a giant scam for rent-seeking and guaranteed profits from the public purse.

As for why Ministers do this, clearly it is because their boss, the Prime Minister, fails to punish them if they do. Which is a similar tale of poor incentives: sacking a Minister, even for obvious failure, would involve the PM tacitly admitting failures in selection and oversight, so it doesn't happen either. The only way it does happen is if there is a credible threat from the public to punish incompetence, and a credible opposition waiting in the wings threatening to be an alternative government. Absent that, we get poor governance and muppetry all the way down.

Friday, July 24, 2015

D-day for privatisation

It looks like D-day for National's privatisation plans, with two providers facing termination. First, there's Whangaruru school:

A decision on whether a troubled Northland charter school will close is being announced by the Education Minister on Friday.

Whangaruru school, which recently changed its name to Te Pumanawa o te Wairua, has been plagued with problems since it opened last year, including poor attendance, bullying, drug use and management infighting.

With only about 40 students left on the school roll there was plenty of uncertainty as to how the school could continue to function given the severity of the issues it faced.

This came on the back of its former curriculum director Natasha Sadler being made redundant despite being a driver of the school's establishment.

The government has thrown more than $3 million at this school in "establishment costs", and there's no guarantee they'll be able to reclaim any of it. Its highly likely that the net effect of this charter "school" has been to buy the operators a farm. Which suggests that the level of contract oversight and of security for the government's interest in the contract are low to non-existent. Heckuva job there, Hekia.

And then there's Serco:
Corrections chief executive Ray Smith says he will announce action against Serco this afternoon, amid mounting allegations of assaults at Mt Eden Prison.

Mr Smith issued a statement last night saying was considering legal advice and looking at a "full range of options" after allegations of a third serious incident came to light this week.


He wouldn't answer questions on whether that could include cancelling the company's contract, although there are a number of other options available to him, including a "step-in" - where the Government takes temporary control of the prison.

...while no doubt paying Serco for the privilege, because private prison contracts are probably written with as much protection for the public interest as those for charter schools. But that's not enough. Serco appears to be dumping prisoners on other institutions in order to avoid fines for injuries, and has helped cover up a murder. That's fraud and perversion of the course of justice. They shouldn't just be having their contract cancelled - they should be looking at the inside of a jail cell themselves!

But the problem with both of these cases is that despite clear evidence of failure, the government has invested too much politically in their success to be able to admit it. So we'll get bullshit half-measures to paper over failure and sweep it under the carpet, simply to protect the egos of Ministers. So rather than solving the Principal-Agent problem of effective service delivery (where goals are subverted by the self-interested actions of bureaucrats), National's privatisation has simply replaced it with another (in which goals are subverted by the self-interested actions of Ministers). But at least with public delivery we had clear lines of accountability and responsibility. National's model seems to involve neither. And we, the public, are the losers.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Climate change: Ignoring the problem

Climate change is the biggest challenge facing humanity at the moment. It is the biggest long-term challenge facing New Zealand at the moment. While the headlines are full of noise about falling dairy prices, climate change may mean that we do not have a dairy industry in future. It is that serious. So you'd expect policy-makers to be paying attention to it, and assessing government policy for its effects on both emissions and adaptation, right?


Official documents reveal the Government ignored advice to take the impact of climate change into account whenever it developed new policy.

A Treasury paper shows the Government was also encouraged to establish an independent agency to advise it on greenhouse gas reduction target levels.

The Treasury advice was given to the Government last year as part of the lead up to the United Nations climate change discussions in Paris in December.

This is short-sighted muppetry from the government, which ensures continued failure. It ensures short-term targets which bear no relation to long-term ones, and policies which make things worse rather than better. And their reason?
"It's just getting a bit carried away with bureaucratic process and won't make any difference - having bureaucrats guess what impact a policy might have."

Except that bureaucrats "guess" about policy impacts all the time. That's their job. We have an entire process to "guess" the impacts of policy before introduction, so Ministers can know what the hell they're doing. And we have statutory and convention-based reporting requirements for impacts on human rights, women, people with disabilities, and Maori. Bill English knows all this, and in fact is even responsible for a bill to strengthen this scrutiny. So why doesn't he want climate change impacts analysed and reported? Its to escape the conclusion that its because he doesn't think its a real problem. And we are all going to pay for that short-sightedness and denial.

An admission of guilt

The UK government is aware of plans (or possibly itself planning) to assassinate Wikileaks' Julian Assange. That's the only conclusion which can be drawn from their response to a Freedom of Information Act request about the subject:

The FCO can neither confirm nor deny whether it holds any information that would meet the terms of your request, in reliance on the exemption contained in section 27(4). Section 27 relates to international relations. Section 27(4) is a qualified exemption under which we have no obligation to confirm or deny whether information is held where to do so would or would be likely to

(a) prejudice relations between the United Kingdom and any other State or
(b) prejudice the interests of the United Kingdom abroad.

[Emphasis added]

But given the explosive nature of the request (for any and all records held by FCO "which concern current or previous plots to assassinate Julian Assange, including those generated by UK and US security agencies such as MI5, MI6 and the CIA"), I'd expect them to deny it if they possibly could. The fact that they haven't suggests strongly that they are aware of at least one such plot. Whether they're withholding it to protect the reputations of their murderous "friends" (who would be upset if the UK spilled the beans on their past or present murder plans), or to protect their own reputation is unclear, but either way: they're actively covering up for would-be murderers.


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

So its a clean sweep for Labour, but also a political victory. Paid parental leave extension was defeated just five months ago on a tied vote, but now there's a majority for its passage. It'll take a while, but the bill will pass, unless the government tries to use its unconstitutional spending veto (and if it does, the result may then be to see that veto consigned to the dustbin of history where it belongs).

I'm also pleased to see Adrian Rurawhe's bill to bring Parliamentary Under-Secretaries under the OIA drawn. This ought to be absolutely non-controversial; they're performing Ministerial functions, so any information held in the performance of those functions should be official information. Sadly, I expect National to vote against it.

Covering up a murder

So, it seems that Corrections and Serco have been covering up a murder:

Corrections bosses and their minister were told weeks ago a prison inmate may have been murdered but nothing was passed on to police.


Questioned over that failure, Lotu-Iiga said that was Corrections' call. But he indicated that they were awaiting the outcome of a coroner's inquiry as the cause of death was still unknown.

He would be asking his officials, however, why none of them made a note at the select committee to follow up the accusation.

So, a person dies in suspicious circumstances after being transferred from a Serco-run prison, and Corrections doesn't notify the police? They must really want their Minister's pet privatisation project to succeed. But its simply wrong, and not the standard we expect from New Zealand public servants. Heads need to roll for it - starting with the Minister's. He knew, but he did nothing. He can't simply blame his underlings for his failure to act.

Meanwhile, its apparently not the only thing they're covering up - they also allegedly helped cover up a riot, again because it would have led to Serco being financially penalised and the privatisation project labelled a failure. But this shows the lie behind National's claims that private prisons will be more efficient because of the financial incentive on operators. After all, if the Minister can't enforce those financial incentives without admitting failure themselves, then there's no control or incentive at all.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Climate change: Carbon pricing worked in Australia

In 2012, the Australian government introduced a carbon tax on major industrial polluters on A$23 / ton. In July 2014 the Abbott government repealed it. The problem? It was actually working. Greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector dropped more than 10%, and emissions intensity - how much carbon you need per gigajoule - dropped by more than 5%. Both of these changes were immediately reversed on repeal:

Making polluters pay for carbon shifted generation away from lignite and towards hydro. Some of the hydro effect was short-term, driven by expectations of repeal (they mined their supplies to profit while they could); you need stable policy to affect investment decisions (alternatively, the right sort of uncertainty, creating a risk of paying rather than an expectation of not paying). Unfortunately we've made the same mistake in New Zealand, gutting the ETS and increasing pollution subsidies, leading polluters to expect they won't have to pay.

But its also worth noting that the effect of carbon pricing was rather modest (10% is good, but not enough).

Fourth, and following from the three preceding conclusions, achieving larger and faster emissions reductions will require a wide range of policies, all working in the same direction. A price on emissions, whether through an emissions trading scheme or a tax, will be a key component of such a suite, but only one component.
This is the approach being taken by all of the many countries and sub-national jurisdictions that have introduced emissions pricing.

Campaigners for the return of Australian carbon pricing shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that other policies will be needed too.

This is something we're ignoring in New Zealand too. Even if the ETS wasn't broken, we'd need more than just a market price signal to achieve the sorts of emissions reductions we need. Unfortunately, with policy still in the grip of market fundamentalists, serious policy seems unlikely.

A people's review of the spies

Don't like the government's rubberstamp "review" of the spy agencies and their powers? The NZ Council for Civil Liberties is organising a people's review, with public meetings in Auckland and Wellington:

To help compensate for the lack of public consultation, the NZ Council for Civil Liberties is hosting public meetings in Wellington (July 29th) and Auckland (August 6th). They are inviting people to go along to have their say about what should happen to the GCSB, the SIS, and New Zealand’s participation in the Five Eyes spy network.

Wellington: Wednesday, 29 July, 6pm, St John's Hall (Dixon/Willis St)
Auckland: Thursday, 6 August, 6:30pm, Grey Lynn Library Hall (474 Gt North Rd)

Go along, speak up, and let the government know that you want the spies shut down.

Relationship recognition is a human right

How far has the battle for marriage equality come? The European Court of Human Rights has just ruled that Italy's failure to provide any legal recognition for same sex relationships violates the right to privacy and family life:

Italy violates human rights by not offering adequate legal protection and recognition to same-sex couples, a European court has ruled.


The European court ruling on Tuesday said gay couples were essentially forced to live double lives in Italy: they could live openly in their relationships, but they did not receive any official recognition of their status as a family.

Specifically the court ruled that Italy was in violation of article eight of the European convention on human rights, which provides for the right to respect for privacy and family life.

The case was brought by three gay couples – all men – who do not have the right to marry or enter into a civil union and described the challenges the lack of recognition posed in their daily lives. The legal move was led by Enrico Oliari, president of a gay rights group called GayLib.

“We are delighted,” Oliari said in a statement. “We arrived at this conclusion at the end of a battle that began 18 years ago with our association and an eight-year fight in the courtroom.”

The court awarded damages and costs to the complainants, and urged Italy to legislate to recognise same sex relationships. Italy's NeoLiberal Prime Minister has promised to do that, but has never bothered to actually act on it. Hopefully this ruling - and the threat of future damages claims - will force him to do so. Meanwhile, its also a clear challenge to Eastern European bigot states like Poland and Slovakia, which have passed Texas-style constitutional amendments against marriage equality and refuse any recognition at all to same sex couples. The ECHR has basicly just said that that position is illegal and will have to change. Hopefully they'll get the message and act soon.

The full judgement is here.

Member's Day

Today is a member's day, and the floodgates have finally opened with a pile of first readings. First up is Meka Whaitiri's Environmental Protection Authority (Protection of Environment) Amendment Bill, which would amend the EPA's purpose to match its name. Then we have Tracey Martin's New Zealand International Convention Centre Act 2013 Repeal Bill, which would repeal National's SkyCity crony legislation; it will be interesting to see if ACT, which purports to oppose subsidies and cronyism, will support that one. This is followed by Phil Goff's Overseas Investment (Owning our Own Rural Land) Amendment Bill which would tighten restrictions on foreigners buying farms. Finally there's Fletcher Tabuteau's Fighting Foreign Corporate Control Bill, which would outlaw investor-state dispute clauses in future "free trade" agreements. This will effectively be a dry run for TPP ratification, so it will be interesting to see which way Labour votes on it. If the House moves quickly it might get to David Parker's Minimum Wage (Contractor Remuneration) Amendment Bill, which is perhaps the first of these bills with any real chance of passing. Which means a ballot for three or four new bills tomorrow morning. Hopefully David Seymour will get his act together and get his death with dignity bill in sometime.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Freedom of Information under threat in the UK

On Friday the UK government announced that it would be reviewing that country's Freedom of Information Act:

Ministers have launched a cross-party review of the Freedom of Information Act that is likely to be viewed as an attempt to curb public access to government documents. The move comes just hours after papers released on Friday under FOI disclosed that British pilots have been involved in bombing in Syria.

Matthew Hancock, the Cabinet Office minister, laid a statement before parliament outlining details about the five-person commission that will be asked to decide whether the act is too expensive and overly intrusive. Members will include Jack Straw, the former foreign secretary, who is already on the record calling for the act to be rewritten. Straw is still the subject of FOI requests over the rendition of a terror suspect during his time in office.

Lord Carlile of Berriew will also sit on the commission. He accused the Guardian of “a criminal act” when it published stories using National Security Agency material leaked by Edward Snowden. The committee’s other members will be Michael Howard and Dame Patricia Hodgson, and it will be chaired by Lord Burns.

Hancock wrote that the review was intended to make sure that the act is working effectively, 15 years after it was introduced by Labour. “[The commission will] consider whether there is an appropriate public interest balance between transparency, accountability and the need for sensitive information to have robust protection,” he wrote. “And whether the operation of the act adequately recognises the need for a ‘safe space’ for policy development and implementation and frank advice.”

So, a commission stacked with enemies of transparency, some of whom want to cover up their crimes, with an explict mandate to limit access to (embarrassing) policy advice. Yes, I'm sure this will be a neutral and unbiased review of the law rather than the usual establishment hatchet-job.

Meanwhile, its worth remembering what we've learned through the UK FOIA: MP's expenses. Charles Windsor's "black spider memos". Endless failures of government policy. And this transparency has allowed government failure and wrongdoing to be exposed, allowing politicians to be held accountable. Which is precisely why they want to nobble it.

New Fisk

David Cameron extremism speech: The PM's Churchillian posturing over Syria is misguided

Policy creep

National's state house sales policy was originally about shrinking the size of the portfolio and reducing the capacity of the government to assist people with housing - effectively one of a slow exit from a core government responsibility. But according to Treasury advice, its now gone beyond that, into selling all of the state houses in some cities to create regional private monopolies:

Treasury has revealed that all of the houses in each city - 370 in Invercargill and 1250 in Tauranga - could be sold to a single buyer. At a minimum, Treasury would look at selling at least 100 houses to each buyer because of the cost of transactions.

"Our current thinking is that we will transact at scale, the upper end being the entire portfolios in each region and the lower end potentially being one or two hundred," Treasury told potential buyers.

The Government would be prepared to have a single charity operating all of the social housing, as the scale may be a greater advantage than the lack of competition.

"It may not be feasible to have a traditional market with competition in each regional market due to the size of these markets," Treasury said, saying that in Invercargill "it is possible that a transfer of the whole portfolio may bring benefits that outweigh the need for competition".

So, monopoly state provision is bad, but monopoly private provision is good. No, I don't understand that either. But it seems that the policy isn't being driven by the needs of state house tenants, or people who need housing assistance, but by the desire of the private sector - which now means banks and foreign investors - to insert itself leech-like into a guaranteed government funding stream. And if they make their profits by underproviding the service they're being paid to provide, well, its not as if any of their victims, the tenants, will be in a position to complain about it, or seek a better service elsewhere. And meanwhile, politicians will be able to dodge responsibility for any problems by blaming the provider (while of course continuing to shovel money at them in income-related rent subsidies). The politicians and their cronies win - but its the public who will lose.

Monday, July 20, 2015


What does impunity look like? This:

Not a single staff member accused of abusing a child asylum seeker at Nauru has been charged for an offence and the centre's operator cannot guarantee the safety of the detainees, a Senate inquiry has heard.

It also emerged on Monday that on-the-job staff drug testing is not conducted at Nauru, despite allegations of guards trading marijuana for sexual favours from female detainees.

Transfield Services, which runs the detention centre at Nauru, says there have been 67 child abuse allegations at the facility - 30 against staff and 37 against asylum seekers.


Transfield Services Commercial & Strategy Manager Erin O'Sullivan said of the 67 allegations, 12 were referred to police. Six staff members were dismissed, two were removed from the site and one was suspended. Ms O'Sullivan said she was not aware of a staff member being charged over any allegation.

A Transfield director, Angela Williams, could also not guarantee that the staff members had been permanently dismissed from the centre, saying they may have been reassigned to a different section or stood down pending investigation.

They also conveniently don't say how many of the referrals to police were staff and how many were refugees. But either way, this is dismal. Guards who abuse refugee kids in Australia's gulags won't be prosecuted, and the odds are good that they won't even be sacked. Instead, its people who blow the whistle on this abuse who will go to jail.

And that's modern Australia in a nutshell: where they imprison kids and abuse them for being born in the wrong country, and jail anyone who complains about it. Its absolutely sickening.


In the wake of their election loss, UK Labour is having the usual post-election leadership competition, with the usual parade of Blairites competing to be king (or queen) of a dying party. But one of the contenders isn't a Blairite. Jeremy Corbyn is instead pushing for Uk Labour to return to its roots as a left party rather than being Thatcher-wannabes. He even uses the "s"-word! Socialism! In a Labour party! Worse, this is capturing the imaginations of the party's membership, who get a vote now. But the Blairites have a solution: a post-election leadership coup:

Labour MPs are plotting to mount a coup against Jeremy Corbyn before Christmas, if he wins the leadership in September.

The left-wing MP for Islington North has staged a stunning raid on support among constituency labour party (CLP) organisations in the past week, prompting panic among supporters of the three mainstream candidates, Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall. Two internal polls also suggested a surge in support for Mr Corbyn, with one even suggesting he could win on 12 September.

Although this result is still seen as a long shot, MPs said in the event of a Corbyn victory they would immediately start gathering the 47 names needed to trigger a coup. One said: “We cannot just allow our party, a credible party of government, to be hijacked in this summer of madness. There would be no problem in getting names. We could do this before Christmas.”

"Hijacked". I can't think of a worse word to describe a democratic decision of a party's membership. But it is deeply illuminating about the mindset of Blairites, and the modern political class as a whole (and sadly, we have more than a few such people here in New Zealand). These people don't see politics as involving voters, and the only role they have for party members is as a disposable source of free labour come election time. Which makes you wonder who the fuck they think they're representing - because it sure as hell isn't their members.

New Fisk

What a choice for Egypt – a megalomaniac president or the madness of Isis
Yemen crisis: With the Iran nuclear deal done, John Kerry must now sort out the Saudis

Facilitating tax cheats

Just before the budget the government announced new rules for real estate transactions aimed at cracking down on tax cheats and speculators. So naturally, we now have real estate agents trying to rush sales through before those rules come into effect:

Kevin Liu of Barfoot & Thompson's Onehunga office sent a letter out to home owners in his area, asking them to get in touch if they were thinking of selling.

This is because there was steep demand from "some groups of buyers" which he said would be affected by a new law due to come into effect from October 1.

To get around new tax and banking restrictions, those buyers now wanted places, he indicated.

But the only reason to want to do that is to cheat on your taxes, either in New Zealand or overseas (overseas buyers might also be wanting to hide corruptly-acquired money from their own governments). But Barfoot & Thompson don't seem to care about that; all they want is their commission, and they seem to be knowingly willing to facilitate tax cheating and money laundering to get it.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Are fossil fuels really an industry we want to promote?

The Herald this morning has a piece about one aspect of the government's subsidy of the fossil fuel industries over renewables:

Government spends up to 20 times more money on wooing oil and gas companies to New Zealand than it does on promoting renewable energy, newly released figures show.

The disproportionate funding was justified, Government officials said, because of the large royalties paid by petroleum companies. The Green Party said it further confirmed the Government's misplaced priorities.


Officials said the amount of taxpayer money spent on attracting petroleum and mineral exploration was small compared to the returns. "For example, the 15 petroleum exploration permits granted [in 2014] had $110 million in committed work programme expenditure. In the year to June 2014 the Crown received $389 million in petroleum and minerals royalties and levies."

Which sounds good, but of course it ignores something: the cost of carbon. According to the 2013 ETS Annual Report, mining of coal produced 1,574,162.2 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, while mining of natural gas produced 8,039,823.9 (there is no figure for mining of oil, but I assume its in the natural gas figure), for a total of 9.614 million tons of CO2. Note that that's just from the mining, not the carbon contained in the fuel dug up. Carbon prices are artificially low at the moment, at ~$7 / ton, due the legacy of the government's disastrous policy of allowing bullshit credits into our market, but even at that rate the carbon from mining costs us $67.3 million, nearly 20% of the total value. At the more realistic social cost of $25 / ton, we're looking at $240 million, over 60% of the total (the difference, $173 million, is basicly a subsidy we're paying for the oil industry in fire and flood). And if the social cost of carbon goes over $40 a ton - something Treasury assumes will happen by 2020 - then we're looking at the carbon cost outstripping the royalties.

Theoreticly this isn't a problem provided the mining industry is actually paying that social cost. But when that social cost is already a significant fraction of total revenue (and is arguably much higher and being artificially subsidised by a denier-government) then we should really be asking ourselves whether this is an industry we actually want to promote, or whether we should cease promotion and let it fend for itself because the social costs - which the government will have to pay for - are outweighing the benefits.

Watching the state

Back in March, the Herald reported that the police were routinely demanding personal information from New Zealand companies - and receiving it - without any form of warrant or statutory authorisation. Now, the Privacy Commissioner has started tracking these demands:

The number of times agencies such as the Police and Inland Revenue receive personal data from a range of companies is to be revealed.

Companies that hand over the information - often without a warrant or the knowledge of the customer - will now be asked to provide a record of requests to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, which will publish a record.


Mr Edwards said his office has been working on a pilot transparency reporting project, and had found an initial group of agencies and stakeholders generally supportive.

"This year we intend to trial asking companies to keep a standardised record of requests for information from law enforcement agencies and to report this information to us. We will then publish this information."

But while this is good news, and it will give some idea of who the police's biggest targets are, it seems like a clumsy way to gather this information. Why not go to the source and ask the police? The obvious conclusion is because they have refused to cooperate. Secondly, while its great to have data on these demands for information, its not enough. To point out two examples, police can demand extremely intrusive personal information, such as phone and internet metadata, or even the content of messages themselves, using a production order, while Customs can seize your phone or laptop at the border, snarf its contents, and go through literally every aspect of your life. And neither even bothers to count how often these powers are used, let alone keep statistics on who they target and how often such searches are successful. If the Privacy Commissioner wants to start keeping tabs on state invasions of privacy, tracking the use of these two search powers would be a great start.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The problem with (UK) Labour

The UK's youngest MP, the SNP's Mhairi Black, gave her opening speech to the house of Common syesterday, and highlighted UK Labour's central problem: betrayal of its core values:

“Like so many SNP members I come from a traditional socialist, Labour family. Like so many, I feel that it is the Labour party that left me, not the other way about,” she said.

“The SNP did not triumph on a wave of nationalism – it triumphed on a wave of hope – hope that we could have an alternative to the wave of Thatcherite neoliberal policies from this chamber, hope that representatives could genuinely give a voice to those that don’t have them. …

“I mention it in order to hold a mirror to the face of a party that seems to have forgotten the very people they’re supposed to represent – the very things they’re supposed to fight for.

UK Labour will apparently respond by voting for Tory austerity. Because that's who they are now: just another pack of NeoLiberals in suits, unwilling to present any alternative. And then they wonder why people don't vote...

...or why people don't vote for them. Because in the part of the UK with functioning proportional representation (sorry, Wales, I do not regard your intentionally cripped and disproportionate version of MMP as functioning), they're now hemmoraghing votes to the Greens:
The Green Party is on course to take ten seats from Labour in next year’s Scottish Parliament elections, a new poll shows.

The left-wing environmentalists will increase their MSP count six-fold from two to 12 if a new poll conducted by Survation is repeated on 5 May.

The Greens are polling 11 per cent in the proportional representation list vote for the parliament, up from 4 per cent at the last round of elections in 2011. They are fighting for third place with the Conservatives, who are on 12 per cent.

Labour are just ahead of the two parties of 19 per cent, down from 26 in the previous round of elections. The SNP are far ahead on 45 per cent.

So that's 25% of the Scottish Labour vote, gone in one election to a party willing to present a green and left alternative, rather than more NeoLiberalism. And the only thing that's stopping the same thing from happening at Westminster is the UK's unfair electoral system.

Stop the spies in Wellington tonight

New Zealand's spies are currently gathering at the NZ Institute of Intelligence Professionals conference in Wellington. And the newly-formed "Stop the Spies" campaign will be there tonight to protest against them:

When: 17:30, wednesday 15 July
Where: Rydges Hotel, Featherston St, Wellington

"Stop the Spies" wants three things: the abolition of the SIS, the abolition of the GCSB, and withdrawal from the US "Five Eyes" alliance. I support all three. Our spies are a threat to our democracy, as are their links with the US. And since they cannot be reformed, they must be destroyed.

Trickle-down doesn't work

Up until this year, the government's chief "plan" to address poverty and inequality has been to do nothing, tell the poor to get jobs (while deliberately keeping unemployment high to keep interest rates low) and pretend that economic growth would help. The problem? It doesn't work, and they know it:

In the paper dated 1 February 2013, officials wrote that the Government had a credible and wide ranging programme to address poverty which targeted a number of its causes and effects.

"The Government's primary approach for addressing child poverty is to promote social mobility through paid employment driven by economic growth, clear work expectations and improved educational performance while ensuring that New Zealand's social security safety net continues to support people who cannot support themselves."

In last year's release the following paragraph was deleted, but this time it has been included.

It reads: "However, in the short- to medium-term this programme is not likely to result in a large reduction in measured child poverty using an incomes or material deprivation basis. Recent experience with the Working for Families package has shown that it is possible to achieve significant direct reduction in poverty, but doing so requires significant additional investment."

But despite being told that their policy was ineffective, the government refused to change it. Instead, they kept up the same failed policy until John Campbell forced child poverty onto the political agenda. Then, they did the least they thought they could get away with (which was, to be fair, vastly better than anything Labour had done or planned to do). You'd almost get the impression that they just didn't care about the poor at all, except insofar as it might affect their polling...

Meanwhile, this also shows us how the OIA's protection of "free and frank expressions of opinion" is routinely abused by Ministers. Advice of a policy's drawbacks and failures is redacted, while advantages and successes are released. The result is to turn official information into just another propaganda tool for Ministers. This is not the purpose of the Act, and it further calls National's implementation of it into question.

New Fisk

Iran nuclear deal: However the great and good represent it, America has now taken the Shia side in the Middle East's sectarian war

Greece, quislings and onerous debt

On Monday, we learned that Greece's SYRIZA government, elected on a platform of opposing austerity and backed by a referendum reinforcing that message, had turned quisling, agreeing to a humiliating and vindictive continuation of austerity in exchange for the possibility that the EU might give them more money to give to Germany's bankers. Its a terrible deal which will make things worse in Greece rather than better, and not just economicly - SYRIZA having joined PASOK and New Democracy as quislings, Greeks who want a government which works for them rather than German bankers really only have Golden Dawn, who are actual Nazis, to turn to. Meanwhile, it has also utterly discredited the European Union as a democratic institution, and made it clear that is is instead a tool for the economic domination and subjugation of other countries by Germany. If Germany doesn't like your government or its policies, they will economicly carpet-bomb you, then get the ECB to trigger a bank run to force regime change. No sane or democratic country should belong to this institution, and voters who want to actually control their own countries and pursue policies other than NeoLiberalism should be voting to get out ASAP.

And then today we learn that the IMF doesn't think the deal will work anyway:

The International Monetary Fund has warned that Greece will require far more generous debt relief than is currently on offer from its creditors, as MPs in Athens prepare for a crucial vote on Wednesday on a new bailout plan. An IMF report leaked to Reuters shows that Greece’s public debt is likely to peak at 200% of its national income within the next two years, with the risk that the actual outcome could be even worse.


The report highlights the IMF’s scepticism about Greece’s ability to meet the ultra-tough budget targets insisted upon by its European creditors, and suggests that Athens should receive a 30-year grace period before it has to start paying off its debts.

Putting into question the fund’s involvement in the bailout, the report paints a far darker picture of Greece’s public finances than that contained in the blueprint released at the end of the marathon eurozone leaders’ summit on Monday. “The dramatic deterioration in debt sustainability points to the need for debt relief on a scale that would need to go well beyond what has been under consideration to date – and what has been proposed by the ESM,” the IMF said, referring to the European stability mechanism bailout fund, which will be used to bankroll the Greek bailout.

But as Germany opposes actual debt forgiveness (because a) it means admitting that the money is lost; and b) it reduces political control for them to get their quisling NeoLiberal friends back in power), its not going to happen. So the upshot of the IMF's message is that Greece would have been better off walking away, repudiating this onerous debt, and making a new start. And that would probably have saved them from Nazis too.

Monday, July 13, 2015

This is wrong

The median Auckland house "earned" more than a backbench MP last year:

New Zealand house sales and median prices rose in June, with Auckland's median house price rising a record 26 per cent to $755,000 over the past year, amid signs that supply shortages and surging prices in the country's largest city may be prompting buyers to look elsewhere.

The number of houses sold nationwide increased 29 per cent to 7,426 in June compared with the same month a year earlier, according to the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand.

This is what a bubble looks like: when your house "earns" a top-end salary just by existing. And its a perfect example of why we need a capital gains tax. If it had been earned honestly, that $156,000 would be taxed at the appropriate marginal rate (meaning 33% for most of it). The failure to plug this loophole allows wealthy property-owners to reap enormous incomes without paying a cent of tax on them. And that is simply wrong.

Meanwhile, those MPs with multiple Auckland properties are probably laughing all the way to the bank.

Climate change: Inadequate

That's Climate Tracker's verdict on National's 2030 emissions reduction target:

New Zealand is far from doing its “fair share” of climate action, with its climate plans, submitted this week to the UN, and rated as “inadequate” by an independent international analysis: the Climate Action Tracker.


New Zealand’s “inadequate” rating indicates that its commitment is not in line with any interpretations of a “fair” approach to reach a 2°C pathway: if most other countries were to follow New Zealand’s approach, global warming would exceed 3–4°C, a world that would see oceans acidifying, coral reefs dissolving, sea levels rising rapidly, and more than 40% species extinction.

“New Zealand’s climate target shows it’s far from doing its ‘fair share,’ and is anything but ambitious,” said Bill Hare, CEO and Senior Scientist at Climate Analytics.

“While most other governments intend cutting emissions, New Zealand appears to be increasing emissions, and hiding this through creative accounting. It may not have to take any action at all to meet either its 2020 or 2030 targets.”

And that last bit is the problem in a nutshell: National doesn't want to do anything. So they've set a "target" that can be met without doing anything, and then changed the baseline to make it sound more ambitious. This isn't a policy, its a snooze button - and one which will make it vastly more difficult to take real action later.

New Fisk

First rule of refugees – don’t be a Muslim if you want help

Sounds like racism

Over the weekend, Labour unveiled its new political direction: racism:

Real-estate figures leaked to the Labour Party, which cover almost 4,000 house sales by one unidentified firm from February to April, indicate that people of Chinese descent [identified by whether their name "sounded Chinese" - I/S] accounted for 39.5 per cent of the transactions in the city in that period.

Yet Census 2013 data shows ethnic Chinese who are New Zealand residents or citizens account for just 9 per cent of Auckland's population.

Labour's conclusion (as obligingly passed on by the Herald): OMG! Foreigners are buying up all our houses and leaving decent honest white folk unable to buy their first home! Which might be true, but this data doesn't show it. Because even if you accept that a "Chinese sounding" name indicates Chinese ethnicity, and ignore some stuff about name diversity which could distort the results, you're still left with the fact, as the Herald puts it, that
It is not known if the Chinese buyers were based here or overseas.

Because what your name "sounds like" doesn't indicate anything at all about your residency or citizenship. And to be very clear, New Zealand citizens or permanent residents are kiwis, regardless of what their name "sounds like". Kiwis with "Chinese sounding" names are just as entitled to buy a house as anyone else. And foreign speculators are foreign speculators regardless of what their name "sounds like". By tarring a specific ethnicity (or at least something that "sounds like" it), Labour's point just ends up sounding like an ugly racist megaphone.

And I assume that its deliberate. Its obvious enough and revolting enough that anyone looking at it would say "hey, this sounds like racism!" even in a party as talentless and dysfunctional as Labour. I guess they've decided that Winston really is heading for the exit, and are trying to position themselves to grab his 200,000 dead white racist voters, and bugger their supposed party values. But if this is the direction our largest "centre left" party is heading in, I don't see why any decent person would want to support it.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Facebook cheats on its taxes again

Once again, Facebook paid virtually no tax in New Zealand last year:

Facebook paid just $43,000 of tax in New Zealand last year, according to financial statements filed with the Companies Office.

The social media behemoth reported its New Zealand income rose 41 per cent to $1.2 million for the 2014 calendar year.

However, substantial expenses meant the company was able to claim a loss.

It paid $43,261 of tax, or about the same amount as a mid-range doctor or lawyer would.

Those "expenses" were almost certainly charged by another part of Facebook, as part of its global tax evasion strategies. All perfectly legal, of course, but the net result is that we get robbed, other countries get robbed, while Facebook piles up cash in Caribbean tax havens and lobbies the US government for a tax holiday so it can repatriate it to its shareholders tax free. Isn't it time they paid their fair share, here and everywhere else?

New Fisk

Macedonia's uniformed border thugs await war-weary Arab migrants arriving at Europe's doorstep

A massive increase in digital device seizures

Last year, in the face of media interest in digital border searches and device seizures prompted by some pretty obvious cases of political bullying and admissions they were harassing people for the FBI for "brownie points", Customs was forced to release some statistics. They said that 2014, they seized 845 devices at the border. Earlier statistics suggested that roughly 50% of these seizures were for copyright. Today, Customs released some more statistics to an FYI requester, apparently showing a massive increase in digital searches:

Records show that Customs intercepted 187 prohibited items from digital devices between 1 and 14 January 2015 from entering New Zealand. 137 items breached Intellectual Property Rights, five items were deemed objectionable material, and 45 items were categorised as "other" in Customs' database.

Assuming that "items" equals "devices seized" (which seems to be the case from previous data), 187 items in two weeks represents a massive increase in searches. Even allowing for the fact that January is a busy month, applying the same rate of seizures per visitor to other months implies that Customs carried out over 3500 digital seizures in 2014, more than four times as many as in 2013. And at this stage its worth noting that these are seizures. As Customs says,
The number of devices searched at the border would be significantly larger than the number of devices detained at the border by Customs for forensic examination.

And again, almost three-quarters of those seizures were for intellectual property. This is what Customs wants your password for: because you're watching TV.

While I don't think too many people would be upset at them seizing legally objectionable material such as child pornography at the border, when 97% of seizures - and a massively higher proportion of searches - finds no such thing, it suggests they are being over-vigorous.

But what really stinks is that after a year, they still don't have data on this. They're exercising a highly intrusive search power, enabling them to trawl through almost every aspect of someone's life, and they don't even bother to count how many times they are doing it. And that is simply unacceptable. We count search warrants. We count strip searches. We count surveillance warrants. We do this because we understand that intrusive search powers need to be combined with statutory monitoring so we can assess their effectiveness and whether they are being abused. Customs don't want to count their searches, but what data they have released strongly suggests that they do too many of them and find too litle - i.e. that those powers are being applied arbitrarily and abusively. And that is unacceptable.

(The information for this post came from FYI, New Zealand's online OIA request site).

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Why are we detaining a mentally ill man arbitrarily?

New Zealand is not supposed to engage in arbitrary detention. Our Bill of Rights Act states very clearly that everyone has the right not to be arbitrarily arrested or detained. But according to the UN, that's exactly what we're doing:

The United Nations Human Rights Committee says a sex offender with an intellectual disability who has been locked up in psychiatric hospitals and prisons for 45 years should be released and paid compensation.

In a decision sent to the Government two weeks ago and given to the man's lawyer today, the committee's working group on arbitrary detention said the man should have been moved to a care facility after his minimum non-parole term ended in 2004.

The man's lawyer, Tony Ellis, said his client, known only as Mr A, is now 58 and was sent to a mental hospital at the age of 12, released for a year when he was 38, and has been in prison ever since.

The UN working group has found the man had been unlawfully detained for the past 11 years, and discriminated against because of his intellectual disability.

This isn't enforceable, but it is likely to be persuasive in the inevitable domestic BORA action. The mentally ill need help, not punishment; detaining them effectively indefinitely and denying them treatment is both discriminatory and simply fucking stupid.

One of the reasons the UN reached this finding is because the government didn't even bother to respond to their inquiry. Yes, a major UN human rights body told them it was examining a case, and the government did nothing. I'm not sure whether its arrogance or utter stupidity, but it suggests something is very wrong at MFAT and Corrections.

No customers for Ruataniwha

For the past couple of years the government and Hawke's Bay Regional Council have been pushing the Ruataniwha Dam and its associated irrigation scheme. The government has silenced dissent and gagged DoC in an effort to force the schem through, while HBRC has thrown money at it and is trying to pretend that recent resource consent restrictions which limit farm nitrogen output in the area don't mean anything. But meanwhile, farmers don't actually want to buy the water:

Farmers in the footprint of the proposed $600 million Ruataniwha water storage project in Hawke's Bay say they will not buy the water because it is too expensive and it would make their farms unprofitable.

The Hawke's Bay Regional Council is developing the dam, which will hold 96 million m³, but for construction to begin it must pre-sell at least 40 million m³ of water.

But the chairman Fenton Wilson said the council's investment company HBRIC has sold only about half that amount.

Radio New Zealand News visited six farmers in area that will receive water from the proposed water storage scheme, and all said they were not signing up to buy the water because it was not financially viable.

None wanted to be named because they feared a backlash from the Central Hawke's Bay community for being perceived to be anti-dam. All supported water storage, but said the numbers did not stack up.

HBRC was warned that the dam was fundamentally uneconomic back in January, but kept on throwing cash at it. And its hard to escape the view that the entire thing has been a huge waste of ratepayer's money.

Winning the argument on rental standards

It looks like the opposition has won the argument on standards for rental homes and has forced the government to require insulation:

“The new law will require retrofitting of ceiling and underfloor insulation in rental homes over the next four years. The requirement applies from 1 July 2016 for social housing that is heavily subsidised by Government, and from 1 July 2019 for other rental housing, including boarding houses. There will be exemptions, such as where it is physically impractical to retrofit insulation due to limited space underfloor or inaccessible raked ceilings.

“There will also be a new requirement from 1 July 2016 for all landlords to state in tenancy agreements the level of ceiling, underfloor and wall insulation to help better inform tenants. These new insulation requirements in our tenancy laws are the logical next step following our programme to retrofit insulation in 53,000 state houses and the 280,000 grants from the Warm Up New Zealand scheme.


“The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment will have new powers to investigate and prosecute landlords for breaking tenancy laws as part of these reforms, particularly where there is risk to the health and safety of tenants. The changes will also ensure tenants can take concerns to the Tenancy Tribunal without fear of being evicted for doing so.

Its not a warrant of fitness scheme, but it probably does the job, at least if landlords obey. A lot will depend on whether increased risk of illness is considered a risk to health and safety, and on whether the penalties are enough to force compliance. It will also be interesting to see who is legally responsible for state houses: the chief executive, or the Minister.

Meanwhile, its another great example of how the opposition can force policy change by leading on an issue. Maybe Labour could learn a lesson from that on other issues?

More spying on their allies

The NSA supposedly protects the USA from its enemies. Instead, its been spying on Germany, a close US ally, for decades:

The US National Security Agency tapped phone calls involving German chancellor Angela Merkel and her closest advisers for years and spied on the staff of her predecessors, according to WikiLeaks.

A report released by the group on Wednesday suggested NSA spying on Merkel and her staff had gone on far longer and more widely than previously realised. WikiLeaks said the NSA targeted 125 phone numbers of top German officials for long-term surveillance .


WikiLeaks published what it said were three NSA intercepts of Merkel’s conversations, and data it said listed telephone numbers for the chancellor, her aides, her office and even her fax machine.

“The names associated with some of the targets indicate that spying on the Chancellery predates Angela Merkel as it includes staff of former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder (in office 1998-2002), and his predecessor Helmut Kohl,” WikiLeaks added in a statement.

Barack Obama recently called Germany an "inseparable" ally. The actions of his spy agency may be about to test that - because nobody likes it when a supposed friend is just a two-faced spy.


Silvio Berlusconi has been convicted of bribery:

Former Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi has been found guilty of bribing a senator in 2006 in an attempt to bring down the then centre-left government.

A Naples court sentenced Berlusconi to three years in jail and banned him from holding public office for five years.


The billionaire was accused of giving 3m euros (£2.5m; $4m) in 2006 to Sergio De Gregorio, then a senator from the anti-corruption Italy of Values party, to switch to Berlusconi's People of Freedom party and thus undermine the government of the time.

Unfortunately he won't actually be going to jail because Italy's crazy statute of limitations law will kick in before the appeal period expires, effectively halting the trial. So he'll be convicted, but not punished. And then Italy wonders why it has a corruption problem...