Friday, October 20, 2017



New Fisk

Vladimir Putin is positioning himself as the main player in the Middle East

A mistake

On October 1st, Catalans marched to the ballot boxes in the face of Spanish police batons, and voted loudly and clearly for independence. This then, there's been an esclating crisis as Spain has lost its shit over people peacefully and democraticly choosing for themselves what they want to do. The Catalan government has tried to de-escalate this, by suspending its declaration of independence in order to allow for negotiations. The Spanish government has rejected that, instead doubling down on repression by jailing independence leaders for "sedition" (a concept which simply has no place in a democracy). And now, they're threatening to suspend Catalonia's regional autonomy and impose direct rule from Madrid:

The Spanish government is to suspend Catalonia’s autonomy and impose direct rule after the region’s president refused to abandon the push for independence that has triggered Spain’s biggest political crisis for 40 years.

The announcement of the unprecedented measure came after the Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, threatened a unilateral declaration of independence if the Spanish government did not agree to talks on the issue.

In a statement on Thursday morning, the Spanish government said Puigdemont had ignored its calls to drop his independence plans and had once again failed to confirm whether independence had actually been declared.

As a result, it said, article 155 of the Spanish constitution would be invoked to begin the process of suspending the region’s self-rule.


And the response will be pretty obvious: the declaration of independence will be unsuspended (or there'll be a formal parliamentary vote), and the thing Spain sought to prevent will undeniably happen. With the overwhelming support of the Catalan people - because Spain's actions throughout this have been seemingly calculated to drive people away rather than win them over.

As for what happens then, who knows? But Spain clearly thinks it can solve this problem by force, beatings and repression. It can't. Or at least, it can't while still remaining a democracy. Sadly, it looks like Spain's non-Catalans don't really care about that.

Thursday, October 19, 2017



Change

So, nearly four weeks after the election, and two weeks after the results, Winston has chosen Labour and the Greens. While I'm not overjoyed at the result, because Winston, its certainly the better outcome of the hand the voters dealt the parties. And while a government saddled with Winston won't be able to achieve everything we want it to, the involvement of the Greens should both push Labour to the left while being a check on Winston's more odious policies. Meanwhile, there's some solid policy the three parties agree on, like building state houses, raising the minimum wage, and even passing a Zero Carbon Act (where NZ First seems to get off is any actual policy to meet the targets such an Act will set). So, I'm hoping that it will turn out OK. I know the Greens at least will be working constructively to make that happen.

The part of Winston's speech that really stood out and signified his direction was this:

Far too many New Zealanders have come to view today’s capitalism, not as their friend, but as their foe.

And they are not all wrong.

That is why we believe that capitalism must regain its responsible - its human face. That perception has influenced our negotiations.


And he's right. Capitalism is broken. Just look at housing, or poverty, or our shitty, low wage employment market - its just not providing for ordinary people (and that's not even getting into the ways it doesn't work around the environment). Whether it can be fixed or not is an open question, but I'm not going to fault people for trying. And if they manage to do something about the awful poverty (and associated cruelty) we tolerate, then maybe Metiria's martyrdom will have been worth it.

New Fisk

After visiting Hitler’s office in Munich, it’s clear to me that there are still lessons to be learned

British spies are sharing data illegally

For years, British spies have been collecting personal information on innocent UKanians, building huge "bulk personal datasets" of personal information on ordinary UK citizens who they admit are of no intelligence interest. That's bad enough, but it also turns out that they're illegally sharing that unlawfully-gathered information with their "allies":

MI5 and MI6 may be circumventing legal safeguards when they share bulk datasets with foreign intelligence services and commercial partners, a court has been told.

Most of the bulk personal datasets relate to UK citizens who are not of “legitimate intelligence interest”, the investigatory powers tribunal (IPT) heard.

[...]

While GCHQ has said it insists its partners adopt equivalent standards and safeguards when processing bulk data, Jaffey said, neither MI5 nor MI6 have a similar approach. “The effect will be the circumvention of the UK legal regimes,” he added. “Protections will be avoided.”


The information collected includes "internet usage, telephone call logs, websites visited, online file transfers and others". It gets given to researchers at UK universities, UK government agencies, and foreign intelligence agencies. There's no safeguards on the latter, and this information can potentially be used to abduct and torture people, or target them for drone assassination. Either of those uses would of course be completely contrary to UK law, but if they don't check, then the spies can pretend that they're not criminals.

And of course this raises serious questions about whether New Zealand's intelligence agencies have similar datasets and what information they share about New Zealanders (or others). Some of this may be covered by the still-ongoing IGIS inquiries into cooperation with CIA rendition and torture and interceptions in the South Pacific, but neither of those reports seem like they'll be emerging any time soon.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017



Farmers are poisoning Canterbury

Thanks to intensive farming, a quarter of Canterbury's wells are close to exceeding safe nitrate limits:

Increased irrigation in Canterbury is putting newborn babies at increased risk from water contamination, a medical officer of health says.

Canterbury Regional Council figures show that for the ten years to the end of 2016, nitrate levels increased in 23 percent of monitored wells.

So far, high nitrate levels in Canterbury were confined to private wells and none of those serving communities had been found to have dangerously high readings.

However, a quarter of council-monitored wells are coming close to exceeding safe limits.


Babies can die from nitrate poisoning, and at least one has (others may have, but had the deaths misclassified as sudden infant deaths). And that's simply not an acceptable risk. Farming is a clear risk to public health, and its the job of the regional council and the government to regulate it so that it is not. And if this regulation means farmers make less money, then so be it - because it is not acceptable for people to profit by murdering children.

New Fisk

Isis has lost Raqqa with the fighting taking much of the city's history too – where will their fighters head to next?

Spain has political prisoners again

Under Franco's dictatorship, Spain had political prisoners. And now, under the Francoist People's party, it has them again, with two Catalans jailed for sedition for organising peaceful protests for independence:

The leaders of two of the main pro-independence civil society organizations have been sent to prison without bail on sedition charges. A Spanish judge decided to imprison Jordi Sànchez, president of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), and Jordi Cuixart, president of Òmnium Cultural, for their role in the October 1 referendum. Both of them will already sleep in jail tonight. The same judge also decided to release without passport the chief of the Catalan police, Josep-Lluís Trapero, accused of not having done enough to stop voters from participating in the independence referendum.

The initial investigation against Trapero, Sánchez and Cuixart focused on demonstrations on September 20 and 21, when fourteen high-ranking officials of the Catalan government were arrested and people protested massively, and peacefully, in the streets. But the case was extended to also include events during the October 1 referendum and the alleged “flagrant inaction” of Catalonia’s police corps, the Mossos d’Esquadra, to stop the vote.

Sánchez and Cuixart lead two of the biggest pro-independence organizations in Catalonia, responsible for organizing the massive pro-Yes demonstrations of the last few years. The prosecutor argues that they mobilized people on referendum day, asking citizens to protest in front of polling stations, thus impeding police officers from closing them down.


They could be facing between 4 and 15 years in jail for peacefully advocating for their political views. In a supposed "democracy". But then, democracies don't blockade polling places and beat people for voting either. If this is the sort of state Spain is, then Catalans are entirely sensible to want to leave it.

Monday, October 16, 2017



We should not be involved in this

In 2015, the National government sent New Zealand troops to Iraq. Their role there was to train the Iraqi army so it could be used to fight "terrorists". Now, the army we helped train is being used to invade Kurdistan:

Iraqi forces were reported to be advancing on Kirkuk after prime minister of Iraq, Haidar al-Abadi, ordered his army to “impose security” on the oil-rich Kurdish city.

Kurdish and Iraqi officials reported that forces began moving at midnight on Sunday towards oil fields and an important air base held by Kurdish forces near the city.

The governor of Kirkuk, Najmaldin Karim, urged the public to come out onto the streets and voiced his confidence that Peshmerga forces would be able to protect the city. “We saw some of the young people who expressed their readiness to help their Peshmerga brothers to defend the land,” he told Rudaw, a Kurdish media network.


The Kurds voted democraticly for independence last month. But rather than negotiate a peaceful divorce, it looks like rump Iraq is going to suppress them with military force - just like Saddam did. And that suppression (the smashing of cities, the murder of civilians) is going to be done by troops trained by kiwis.

This is not something we should be supporting. New Zealand should withdraw its troops from Iraq immediately.

Did Britain manipulate Australia's dismissal?

The British government and its monarch have always denied any responsibility for the 1975 dismissal of an elected government by an unelected governor-general. But it appears they were lying:

Representatives of the British government flew to Australia in the lead-up to the 1975 dismissal of the Whitlam government to meet with the then governor-general, casting further doubt on the accepted narrative that London officials did not play an active role in Australia's most significant constitutional crisis.

Historian Jenny Hocking discovered files in the British archives showing Sir Michael Palliser, the newly appointed permanent under-secretary of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, arrived in Canberra a month before the dismissal and held a joint meeting with Sir John Kerr and the British High Commissioner, Sir Morrice James, just as the Senate was blocking supply.

Sir Michael later reported back to London that Sir John "could be relied upon".


There's an extremely strong suggestion that the British government were interfering in Australian politics and the 1975 election. And combined with their continued secrecy over Kerr's communications with the queen - which are absurdly considered to be private, rather than official communications - it makes them look guilty as hell.

Of course, the easiest way to prevent a foreign monarch from interfering in Australian politics ever again is for Australia to become a republic. Fortunately, that is now looking likely. The question is whether New Zealand will do the same.

Friday, October 13, 2017



New Fisk

We will soon find out what 'unity' really means for the Palestinians
Can Christians stay in the Middle East now that they are being persecuted for their ancient religion?
Clare Hollingworth: Our last interview with the woman who broke WW2

Even the IMF thinks we should tax the rich more

The International Monetary Fund is not what you'd call a left-wing organisation. Instead, they've been one of the major forces pushing NeoLiberalism on the world for the past 40 years. But even they have been forced to admit that we need higher taxes on the rich:

Higher income tax rates for the rich would help reduce inequality without having an adverse impact on growth, the International Monetary Fund has said.

The Washington-based IMF used its influential half-yearly fiscal monitor to demolish the argument that economic growth would suffer if governments in advanced Western countries forced the top 1% of earners to pay more tax.

The IMF said tax theory suggested there should be “significantly higher” tax rates for those on higher incomes but the argument against doing so was that hitting the rich would be bad for growth.

But the influential global institution said: “Empirical results do not support this argument, at least for levels of progressivity that are not excessive.” The IMF added that different types of wealth taxes might also be considered.


...such as land taxes and capital gains taxes. Both things chickenshit Labour has ruled out.

With this coming from the IMF, you'd think the right would be forced to accept reality. They won't, of course; instead they'll just keep parroting the same zombie economics they always have. Because they're not interested in reality or in what's good for everyone, but in serving the interests of the greedy ultrarich who bankroll them.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017



The world we live in

How scary is the Trump presidency? Scary enough that his senior officials have actually discussed physicly restraining him if he tries to nuke anyone:

New York Magazine contributing editor Gabriel Sherman on Tuesday reported on a remarkable conversation he had with a senior Republican official, who described conversations Donald Trump’s chief of staff Gen. John Kelly and defense secretary James Mattis have had about “physically [restraining] the president” in the event he “[lunges] for the nuclear football.”

Sherman was discussing the growing concern in the West Wing over Trump’s temperament, particularly as the president continues to escalate feuds with prominent Republicans like Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) while simultaneously setting the United States “on the path to World War III.”

“A conversation I had with a very prominent Republican today, who literally was saying that they imagine Gen. Kelly and Secretary Mattis have had conversations that if Trump lunged for the nuclear football, what would they do?” Sherman told NBC’s Chris Hayes. “Would they tackle him? I mean literally, physically restrain him from putting the country at perilous risk.”

“That is the kind of situation we’re in,” Sherman added.


This is of course unconstitutional - as a (thinly-disguised) elected monarch, the president has the exclusive right to use nuclear weapons, just as the absolute monarchs the US rebelled against had the exclusive right to wage war. But when it comes to saving the lives of millions, perhaps hundreds of millions or even billions of people, I'll take unconstitutional any day.

Still, it does invite the question: if his Cabinet really think Trump is that dangerous, why haven't they lawfully removed him under the 25th amendment yet?

Signed and suspended

Last weekend Catalans chose democracy over fascism, marching to the ballot boxes to vote for independence in the face of Spanish truncheons and rubber bullets. While Spanish violence succeeded in keeping the turnout to only 43% (55% if the ballots they stole are considered), support for an independent republic was so overwhelming that it would have been a majority even at the turnout levels of a normal Catalan election.

Since then, Spain has upped its campaign of violence, threatening to suspend Catalonia's regional autonomy and torture and murder its president (just as they did to one of his predecessors). Meanwhile, actual fascists have been marching in Spain's streets demanding Catalonia be suppressed. Calls by the international community for the Spanish government to sit down and negotiate a peaceful and democratic way forward have been ignored.

Today, Catalan President Carles Puigdemont finally addressed the Catalan parliament. As expected, he declared independence - and also called for the declaration to be suspended for a few weeks to allow time for negotiations. Its a reasonable approach: the referendum (and previous elections) provide a clear mandate, but the situation needs to be de-escalated. The EU seems to finally be getting involved, and this gives them time to convince Spain to accept reality: that these issues must be resolved democraticly, as in Scotland, and that if Spanish law prevents that, it is Spanish law which needs to change. The question is whether the Spanish government will recognise that, or whether it thinks Catalans will love them if they are beaten harder.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017



10/10: World Day Against the Death Penalty

WorldDay2017
Today, October 10, is the world day against the death penalty. Out of 195 UN member states, 85 still permit capital punishment. Today is the day we work to change that.

This year's theme is poverty. Unequal justice mans the death penalty is overwhelmingly applied to poor people, either because they cannot afford a proper legal defence or as a result of direct socioeconomic discrimination. This compounds the inherent injustice of state execution.

The good news is that we are slowly winning. Two more countries abolished the death penalty this year: Mongolia and Gambia. The civilised world is gradually growing. Sadly, the USA will probably be one of the last countries to join it.

A dismal failure

Back in 2013 the government and the Auckland Council signed the Auckland Housing Accord. The accord was supposed to fix the Auckland housing market by building an extra 40,000 houses. A huge chunk of those houses were supposed to be "affordable" (for Auckland, which is still insanely unaffordable for real people). So how did it do? It turns out that like everything else National does, it was a dismal failure:

New figures show 98 free-market affordable homes have been built under the government's Auckland Housing Accord.

The chair of Auckland Council planning committee, councillor Chris Darby, has called the Accord a "dismal failure" in addressing affordability.

[...]

An analysis by Auckland Council sets out a detailed picture of what the government's SHA legislation has delivered.

Council data shows 3157 homes were completed in SHAs by the end of June, when monitoring ended.


So, it built less than 10% of the houses promised, and only a handful of "affordable" ones - most of which were one-bedroom shoebox apartments. Meanwhile, developers exploited the special housing areas to build unaffordable palazzos, or just flicked the land on to another landbanker without building anything. But then, the policy was never about building houses, let alone "affordable" ones - it was about generating headlines saying that that would happen. And on that level, National probably considers it a success. As for people in Auckland who still can't find a house to live in, national does not and never has cared about them.

Monday, October 09, 2017



A weird way to do electoral reform

When New Zealanders voted for electoral reform in 1993, we knew exactly what we were voting for. A royal commission had looked at the alternatives. An initial referendum had narrowed the choice down to MMP. And Parliament had already passed the law enabling the new electoral system to come into force if people voted for change, so we knew exactly how many MP's we'd be getting and the rough shape of electoral boundaries.

They do things differently in Canada. In 2017, voters in British Colombia elected (under FPP) an NDP-Green coalition government. That government has just announced a referendum on proportional representation, the third in the province's history. But while they've decided everything about the referendum - a postal vote, with 50%-plus-one required for success, and no turnout requirement, they haven't actually decided what form of proportional representation they'll be voting on. The actual referendum question will be decided later, by regulation. And the referendum won't be binding - instead, if it passes, the legislation will have to be passed (and new electoral boundaries decided) before the next election.

This isn't the first time British Colombia has been here. In 2005 and 2009 they voted on adopting STV. In 2005 it won a majority, but the government had strapped the chicken by requiring 60% support, ensuring the continuation of first-past-the-post. In 2009, STV failed, largely because the lack of information of electoral boundaries allowed real fears about representation of rural areas (which would have required multi-member districts larger than some countries). While the current British Colombia government apparently favours MMP - they've been paying attention to how it works in New Zealand - failing to nail down the details of the system could leave them with the same result.

This stinks

In the wake of the Christchurch earthquakes, the government red-zoned a huge swathe of the city and used coercive buyouts to depopulate and demolish it on "safety" grounds. Now, having snapped up those properties cheaply due to the red-zoning, causing enormous losses to the victims, it now plans to re-offer them for residential development at a profit:

New housing has been confirmed as a possibility for Christchurch's red zoned river corridor, after close to 7000 households were cleared off it following the earthquakes.

Crown-council agency Regenerate Christchurch on Friday included residential development on five out of 10 land use options it announced for the 602 hectares.

Regenerate chief executive Ivan Iafeta said their goal was to find out how to make "the biggest contribution to Christchurch and New Zealand's future".


As one former red-zone resident points out, this is unfair. It looks like they've been cleared away for government profit. If the government had acquired this land under the Public Works Act, the former residents would have a right to buy it back. The same should apply to former red zone residents if their land has been deemed safe enough for people to live on.

New Fisk

Is there truth in the conspiracy theories about who killed Russian Lieutenant General Valery Asapov in Syria?

WINZ sucks

Anyone who has ever dealt with WINZ knows that they're a pack of incompetent muppets. But now, thanks to a coroner's ruling, it's official:

Investigators at the Ministry of Social Development had such a lack of understanding about the rules of prosecuting benefit cheats, that they were "not well equipped to make sound and appropriate decisions", a coroner has found.

Coroner Anna Tutton​ released her findings on Monday after the inquest into the 2011 death of Wendy Shoebridge in Lower Hutt, north of Wellington.

[...]

In the finding, the coroner stated that the ministry's management was not advised Shoebridge was at risk of suicide.

The ministry had developed training which was unhelpful to staff and "inconsistent with some of the content of the prosecution guidelines", the findings stated.


Inappropriate training and an aggressive attitude towards prosecutions (including prosecution targets for investigators) means people being inappropriately prosecuted. And in this case, it had fatal consequences. The coroner doesn't call it murder, but that's what it was: WINZ hounded this woman to her death. And they and the Minister who set their toxic culture need to be held accountable for it.

Thursday, October 05, 2017



Fencing streams is just a PR stunt

Whenever they are criticised over the amount of shit and piss they pump into our rivers, dairy farmers whine about how much money they've spent on fencing streams. Except it turns out that this fencing is utterly ineffective, because the vast majority of pollution enters waterways through streams below the fencing threshold:

More than three quarters of pollution flowing into our freshwater catchments comes through small streams that currently aren't required to be fenced off, a just-published study has shown.

The study's authors say new measures should be investigated to slash the amount of contaminants entering waterways from these streams, while Fish and Game has called for an "urgent and radical rethink" of our current national riparian fencing strategy.

[...]

Streams less than a metre wide and 30cm deep, and lying in flat, pasture-dominated pasture, are currently exempt from fencing regulations.

Yet McDowell and his colleagues found it was these very bodies that accounted for an average of 77 per cent of the national contaminant load, varying from 73 per cent of total nitrogen to 84 per cent for dissolved reactive phosphorus.


Which makes perfect sense, because most of the water comes from such streams, before being gathered into larger ones. But it means that we need to look at other policies if we want to reduce pollution. And ultimately, we need to reduce cow numbers to sustainable levels.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017



Climate change: Australia burning

How badly will climate change affect Australia? They're now looking at regular 50 degree heatwaves in their major cities:

Even if the Paris agreement to limit the global temperature rise to below 2C is met, summer heatwaves in major Australian cities are likely to reach highs of 50C by 2040, a study published on Wednesday warns.

Researchers led by the Australian National University in Canberra used observational data and simulated climate models to assess future extreme weather events in New South Wales and Victoria. They examined what these weather extremes might look like even if the Paris agreement target of limiting climate change to a 2C increase is met.

The lead author of the study, the climate scientist Dr Sophie Lewis, said Sydney and Melbourne could expect unprecedented summer temperatures of 50C under two degrees of global warming.


Australia's climate is bad enough, but 50 degrees in Sydney's humidity is getting into the danger zone where human thermal regulation breaks down and people need air conditioned environments to survive. Its not as bad as the Persian Gulf, where average temperatures on this level combined with humidity means they will no longer be habitable - but Australia is going to see a huge increase in heat-related deaths, as well as heat-related economic disruption. I guess they can blame their coal industry for that.

Bigot nation

Last week, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution condemning the use of the death penalty for consensual same-sex acts. The usual suspects - Saudi Arabia, Iraq, China - opposed it. Appallingly, the United States joined them:

The U.S. on Sept. 29 voted against a U.N. Human Rights Council resolution that condemns the death penalty for those found guilty of committing consensual same-sex sexual acts.

The resolution — which Belgium, Benin, Costa Rica, France, Mexico, Moldova, Mongolia and Switzerland introduced — passed by a 27-13 vote margin.

Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Rwanda, South Africa, Togo, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Albania, Croatia, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Slovenia, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, El Salvador, Panama, Paraguay, Venezuela, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Switzerland and the U.K. supported the resolution. Botswana, Burundi, Egypt, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, China, India, Iraq, Japan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates joined the U.S. in opposing it.

Kenya, Nigeria, Tunisia, Indonesia, the Philippines, South Korea and Cuba abstained.

The resolution specifically condemns “the imposition of the death penalty as a sanction for specific forms of conduct, such as apostasy, blasphemy, adultery and consensual same-sex relations” and expresses “serious concern that the application of the death penalty for adultery is disproportionately imposed on women.” It also notes “poor and economically vulnerable persons and foreign nationals are disproportionately subjected to the death penalty, that laws carrying the death penalty are used against persons exercising their rights to freedom of expression, thought, conscience, religion, and peaceful assembly and association, and that persons belonging to religious or ethnic minorities are disproportionately represented among those sentenced to the death penalty.”


So its now official US foreign policy that gay people should be murdered. Isn't America great?

Tuesday, October 03, 2017



An impossible deal

Today, James Shaw went public and called the talk of a National-Green deal "speculation" and "noise", and ruled out talking to them unless there was no other option. In doing so, he's clearly articulating the views of his party and its voters, who have made it clear that they are not interested in propping up National. And yet, its unlikely to help, because the people spreading this shit - a mix of paid National shills like DPF and Matthew Hooton, and desperate National supporters unhappy with being forced to rely on Winston - have already shown that they're not interested in what the Green Party or its membership thinks. Which is yet another example of why such a deal simply isn't possible: there can be no partnership with such an attitude.

A deal is clearly off the table for this election cycle. So what about the future? Given the Green Party constitution, if National wants any chance of such a deal in future, they need to convince 75% of Green Party members that they're an acceptable partner. And this means ditching their anti-environment policies, their support for irrigation, dirty rivers, mining, drilling, gutting the RMA and destroying the climate, not just as part of a one-off deal because they've been forced into pretending to pay lip-service to the environment, but in the long term. And after a couple of terms of seeing National do that, Green members might just believe them.

Of course, that would require National to stop representing the people it represents: farmers, miners, polluters, developers. And to be honest, that's about as likely as the Green Party stopping representing greens. Given the support bases of the respective parties, such a deal is simply impossible.

Time to ditch the threshold

Over on Stuff, Michael Wright argues that its time to ditch MMP's 5% threshold. But not just for the obvious democratic reasons of making every vote count equally - they also think it would lead to more stable government and a better allocation of power:

The threshold exists to ensure the right mix of stability and proportionality in government. Right now it is providing neither of those things. After last month's election, Parliament is home to four political parties and the rump of a fifth – the lowest-ever total under MMP – and one of those parties is wielding a decidedly disproportionate amount of power.

[...]

Which brings us to the second advantage. More smaller parties in Parliament means less chance of one of them holding all the cards after election day, which is exactly what has just happened to New Zealand First. The only reason Winston Peters was able to so cantankerously grandstand at a press conference last week was because National and Labour need him a lot more than he needs them. He is their only realistic option to form the next Government. Greater plurality would help avoid this.


And they're right. More parties means more possible ways of reaching 61 votes, which reduces the necessity and power of any one group. We had a perfect example of this during the 2002-2005 term of Parliament, where the Labour-Progressive government had three possible majorities available to it: with United Future, with New Zealand First, or with the Greens. The three parties effectively acted as a check and balance on each other, preventing either from making excessive demands. And its been a similar situation during National's term, with National being able to turn to either ACT and United Future, or the Maori Party. If you're upset about Winston Peters having "all" the power (or rather, as much as the other parties give him), then the answer is to eliminate the threshold.

Monday, October 02, 2017



Priorities

How shit is Housing New Zealand? They're wasting a huge proportion of their maintenance budget on testing for P:

Figures released under the Official Information Act by Housing NZ show it spent $51.9 million on testing and remediation of meth on its properties in the last financial year, up from $21 million the previous year. Last year’s spending represented 10 percent of its entire annual maintenance and improvement budget, or the equivalent of an average of $8,000 per property. However, in the 2016 financial year, it spent only $433,623 on the testing and remediation of mould and $639,873 on asbestos.

Housing health and drug experts say a mania about meth has created a scam industry for testing and repairing houses with just trace elements that are less harmful than fly spray. Meanwhile, landlords spend hardly any money to deal with the mould and asbestos that regularly cause bronchiolitis, pneumonia and mesothelioma that can lead to death.


That last paragraph is a damning indictment of Housing New Zealand's priorities. Mouldy houses kill. Mouldy Housing New Zealand properties have killed. But rather than addressing that problem, they're wasting money on a fantasy promoted by a scam industry. And its difficult to avoid the suspicion that they're doing it because it allows them to evict tenants and sell the houses they used to live in.

This isn't good enough. Housing New Zealand should be spending its money on real problems, not fantasies. And they should be building houses, not emptying and selling them.

Catalonia chooses democracy over fascism

I've spent last night and this morning watching the amazing scenes from Catalonia, as Spanish police in full riot gear have beaten and shot voters and seized ballot boxes in an effort to prevent an independence referendum, injuring more than 800 people. And despite all that, the referendum happened, with 90% of the 2.3 million votes counted supporting independence. A further 700,000 votes were seized and were unable to be counted.

Catalans saw graphicly what their choices were today: voting, or fascism. Resolve things democraticly, or by violence. And those of them who were able to vote emphatically chose democracy.

What happens next? The Catalan Parliament will declare independence. And based on today, there will likely be another outrageous spasm of violence from Franco's heirs in Madrid (they've been shipping tanks in). So we're likely to have a European "democracy" and party to the CHR behaving like the Uzbeks or the Chinese (or indeed their fascist forbears) in suppressing dissent. That's not acceptable, and the European Union needs to get involved to stop it.

Friday, September 29, 2017



This is not what phone taps are for

Yesterday I ranted about the police spying on People Against Prisons Aotearoa. That rant was mostly predicated on the idea that the police had gained a production order for "call associated data" - call records, text messages, and voicemails - from the protesters. But the case has been covered in international media today, including parts of the police statement to the court. And that statement implies that the police didn't obtain a production order, but a full surveillance device warrant:

A police statement to the court, obtained by VICE, said the phone calls and text messages of those members were continually monitored and recorded, and accessible by the direct investigation staff.
1506635656627-Screen-Shot-2017-09-29-at-104546-AM.png
That's right: the police tapped people's phones and recorded their calls in a trespass case. One which was so serious that when it went to trial, it resulted in a discharge without conviction.

Supposedly, surveillance warrants are only available for serious crimes - either those with a penalty of 7 years or more in prison, or certain drug and firearms offences. It is difficult to see how a political protest could possibly fall into either category, and therefore how the police could legally have obtained this warrant. And these are certainly not the circumstances which Parliament or the people of New Zealand expected or permitted these spying powers to be used. It is a gross abuse of power, and one which directly threatens our democracy. We should not tolerate it. The police - and the judge who granted this odious, abusive warrant - must be held to account.

Update: This gets worse. I've obtained the police statement, and there's no mention of a warrant at all - just a "consent", given by a police officer, to tap the phones of other people:
ProtestWiretap

This may be internal police bureaucratese, but you'd expect a statement to a court about an interception to state the legal basis under which it was carried out. None is included, leaving only this "consent". Which is obviously a nonsense - a police officer can no more "consent" to tap your phone as you can "consent" to tap theirs. So I really am wondering what the hell went on here. Its outrageous enough if the spying was legal - but if it was illegal, it makes it orders of magnitude worse. And either way, this is not what police, or interception powers, are for.

New Fisk

I'm all for war crimes trials in The Hague – so long as we agree to prosecute every possible war criminal

Climate change: Good news for once

Some good news about climate change for once: emissions have stalled again:

Global emissions of climate-warming carbon dioxide remained static in 2016, a welcome sign that the world is making at least some progress in the battle against global warming by halting the long-term rising trend.

All of the world’s biggest emitting nations, except India, saw falling or static carbon emissions due to less coal burning and increasing renewable energy, according to data published on Thursday by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (NEAA). However other mainly developing nations, including Indonesia, still have rising rates of CO2 emissions.

Stalled global emissions still means huge amounts of CO2 are being added to the atmosphere every year – more than 35bn tonnes in 2016 – driving up global temperatures and increasing the risk of damaging, extreme weather. Furthermore, other heat-trapping greenhouse gases, mainly methane from cattle and leaks from oil and gas exploration, are still rising and went up by 1% in 2016.


And even flat emissions are easily enough to cook the planet. We're already seeing the results, with heatwaves, hurricanes, and droughts. And if we want to avoid them getting much, much worse, we need emissions to seriously reduce, not just stay static.

As for what the New Zealand government is doing, the answer is of course nothing. National has committed us to high emissions in the name of protecting trucking and dairy industry profits, apparently in the belief that they can just buy their way out of this. But money doesn't stop tropical cyclones, and it doesn't stop the east coast from drying up and blowing away. If we want to stop those things, we need to actually do our bit, so others will do theirs too.

Thursday, September 28, 2017



More police spying

Apparently the police "wiretapped" members of human rights group People Against Prisons Aotearoa over a protest in 2016 in which they occupied a Department of Corrections office. Its unclear whether the wiretapping was of live phone calls (requiring an interception warrant, in theory only available for offences with a penalty of seven years imprisonment or longer), or of text messages under a production order (which has a much lower threshold). But even if it is the latter, it is highly disturbing. Spying on people's private communications should require a high threshold. Here, the police are using it for trespass. Which isn't exactly what most people consider to be serious crime. Instead, it looks as if the police used the excuse of the protest to pillage the communications of their critics to gather intelligence - aided and abetted by their phone companies (who obligingly retain messages and call data for three to six months just in case the police want them).

The Bill of Rights Act is supposed to protect us against unreasonable search and seizure. This seems to be the very definition of "unreasonable". It is neither necessary nor proportionate to the offence for the police to be able to snoop through all your private messages in such circumstances. And they need to be stopped from doing so. A requirement restricting the use of production orders to crimes carrying a penalty of a year or more in prison would be a good start.

New Fisk

Saudi Arabia lifting the driving ban is little more than a glitzy distraction from its continued geopolitical problems

An opportunity for fixed-term Parliaments

Post-election, we've had days of feverish speculation about coalition alignments and bottom lines, as political journalists desperate to make wordcount interview their keyboards rather than kicking back and taking the opportunity for a holiday. But in all that speculation, one thing that hasn't cropped up yet is how Winston will protect himself from whoever he chooses as a coalition partner. Because an obvious nasty strategy for the big parties is to wait until NZ First's popularity drops, then call an early election, resulting in their being eliminated from Parliament (and in the case of National, likely winning 3 years of single-party government).

There's an easy solution to this, of course: fix the date of elections. This disarms the Prime Minister and makes it clear the public expect the politicians to play the hand we deal them, rather than being able to roll the dice to get another one. Germany does this, with its Basic Law requiring that elections be held between 46 and 48 months of the beginning of the legislative session (and prohibiting early ones unless the government votes itself out of office). And the UK passed the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 in an effort to prevent the Tories screwing over their then coalition partners (but coalition did that quite nicely by itself). Given that both the German and UK provisions have been abused, I think that we'd want stronger ones: a fixed election date (the first Saturday after September 19 every three years has been suggested), and a requirement for a two-thirds majority to call an early election. This would allow Parliament to be dissolved early if in absolute deadlock, while preventing a government voting itself out of office for electoral advantage.

The only question is whether Winston trusts National and Labour, or whether he wants to protect himself (and us) against their potential abuse of power. Personally, I'm hoping for the latter.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017



Something to go to in Wellington

Tomorrow is Right to Know Day, and the Ombudsman and Privacy Commissioner are celebrating it with a livestreamed discussion of transparency and privacy rights:

Ombudsman Leo Donnelly, former Assistant Privacy Commissioner Katrine Evans, and Bryce Edwards from Transparency International will discuss the importance of the right to access information. The forum will be chaired by Radio New Zealand News Director and former political editor Brent Edwards.

‘The Privacy Act and the Official Information Act are among New Zealand’s most important pieces of legislation’, Leo Donnelly said, ‘giving New Zealanders the right to request personal information that organisations hold about them or that affects them, and to complain if the information is withheld’.


The discussion will be held from 12:00 - 13:00 in the Mokopuna Room, Te Wharewaka o Poneke Function Centre, Wellington Waterfront. If you want to attend in person, register here. Otherwise, it'll be livestreamed on Periscope and you'll be able to watch it on YouTube.

A democracy does not do this

Spain has ordered police to blockade polling places to prevent Catalonia from voting on independence:

Police will be deployed at polling stations to prevent people from voting in the Catalan independence referendum, the Spanish government has confirmed.

Although the Catalonia regional government has insisted the unilateral poll will go ahead on Sunday, the Spanish government has vowed to stop the vote, which it says is a clear violation of the constitution. Spain’s constitutional court has suspended the legislation underpinning the referendum while it rules on its legality.

A spokesman for the Spanish government’s Catalan delegation said on Tuesday that the region’s prosecutor had ordered the Mossos d’Esquadra, Catalonia’s police force, to take control of polling booths and identify those in charge.

“The order has been conveyed and it will be executed with all normality,” he said.


The Spanish government has already seized the ballot papers, so the point may be rather moot. At the same time, its a democratic outrage. This is not how democracies behave. Instead, it seems like Spain is regressing back to its days of fascism and cultural suppression (not helped by the fact that its current government are the unapologetic heirs of Franco).

But as well as being outrageous, it is hugely counter-productive. 70% of Catalans support a referendum. That number is likely to increase. And faced with this sort of oppression, support for independence is likely to increase as well. If Spain wants to radicalise the Catalan population and drive them towards unilateral secession, they couldn't have picked a better strategy for doing so.

This is MMP working, not failing

Writing in Stuff, Julian Lee argues that MMP has failed because so few minor parties were elected to Parliament this election. I share the disappointment at the lack of diverse representation and the apparent narrowing of our political sphere, but that isn't due to any failure of MMP. With a Gallagher Index of 2.7, this election wasn't especially unrepresentative in terms of votes equating to seats. MMP seems to have done a better job at ensuring that seats reflected public support than it did last time (when the Gallagher Index was 3.82), or in 2008 (when it was 3.84). Instead, the reason there are so few minor parties represented in Parliament this time is because people didn't vote for them. And that's not the fault of MMP - or at least, no more so than in any previous MMP election.

So whose fault is it? Minor parties can fairly point the finger at the media, who excluded them from debates and whose horse-race style of journalism implicitly stacked the deck against them. And they can point the finger at the election broadcasting rules, which seem designed to lock in a big party duopoly by preventing other parties from buying advertising. But that's the unfair game they've had to play for the last 21 years. They've done better at that game in the past, so fundamentally they have no-one to blame but themselves for their worse performance this time.

That's not to argue that MMP is perfect. As Lee notes, many countries use no-threshold electoral systems, and this would have produced a much more proportional result (and TOP would probably be showing us right now whether their plan of supporting environmental vandals to save the environment would work). As I've argued before, the 5% threshold is an arbitrary and undemocratic barrier to political competition, and it needs to go. But even without it, the blunt truth remains: if parties want to be represented, they need to persuade people to vote for them. And if they can't, they have no-one to blame but themselves.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017



Renationalisation in the UK?

In the UK, successive governments under Thatcher and Blair privatised everything they possibly could, hocking off public assets at bargain-basement prices to donors and cronies. Those privatisations were (naturally) a disaster, with railways, water companies, and even the royal mail gutted and falling into ruin as the new owners looted them for dividends rather than providing the services they were supposed to. And now, UK Labour has had enough, with Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell promising to take it all back:

The Shadow Chancellor also vowed to press ahead with Labour’s nationalisation programme, saying: “Rail, water, energy, Royal Mail – we’re taking them back.”

Earlier, he hinted Labour would deny shareholders full compensation if the private firms currently running key utilities have behaved badly.

Politicians would decide if full market value would be awarded when were taken back into public ownership, with the price affected by “perceived behaviour”.


They're also promising to unravel corrupt PFI (public-private partnership) contracts as well, to cut the bankers and looters out of government services.

We need to do the same here with the strategic assets that National has stolen from us (or at least the ones worth keeping). Meridian Energy, Mighty River Power, Air New Zealand, we need them back in public ownership (fossil-fuel-powered Genesis OTOH can simply be regulated into oblivion with the rest of that industry). Our electricity sector is too important to be left to private sector mismanagement.

Monday, September 25, 2017



It could be worse

While New Zealand's post-election negotiations look unpleasant, they could be worse. Germans voted today in federal elections, and dealt their parties a really shit hand:

Germany is braced for a period of fraught and protracted coalition talks after Sunday’s elections left an unprecedented number of parties jostling for influence in the next parliament.

With Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, the centre-left Social Democratic party (SPD), rightwing populist Alternative für Deutschland, pro-business FDP, leftwing Die Linke and the Green party, six parties will crowd into the Bundestag’s plenary chamber, a first since the introduction of a 5% hurdle for parliamentary seats in 1953.

Having gained the largest percentage of the vote despite her party suffering its worst result since 1949, Merkel’s CDU will still need to find one or more coalition partners in order to find a governing majority, or pursue a minority government.


AfD are Nazis, and everyone has ruled out working with them. The CDU won't work with the Left, and vice-versa. The SDP has already refused to sign up for another suicidal grand coalition. So the only viable government seems to be the Christian Democrat / Free Democrat / Green "Jamaica" coalition. In NZ terms, that's National-ACT-Green, which gives you an idea of how likely it is. And yet, this is the hand the politicians have been dealt, and they need to find some way of making it work. And in Germany they can't just call another election in the hope of getting a better deal...

Now there's a surprise

ECan is saying that it is failing to meet its water-quality targets, while meeting its irrigation ones:

Canterbury is behind on its regional water quality targets, but is making strong progress on irrigation goals.

[...]

The report showed nitrate levels were increasing in about 25 per cent of monitored wells, and decreasing in about 4 per cent.

The target is to show "a demonstrable decrease in nitrate concentrations in shallow groundwater in priority areas" by 2020.

It was a poor result, said Canterbury medical officer of health Dr Alistair Humphrey.


This isn't that surprising, because irrigation means more cows, which in turn means more nitrates. So the targets are in direct opposition to each other. Canterbury has to choose between more irrigation, or safe water. And the only reason they haven't been able to choose the latter is because National has suspended their local democracy.

The only way is Winston

So, the election happened. And rather than seeing the stunning Jacindamania victory we were hoping for, instead we're left with an uncomfortable situation for everyone. National has clearly lost its mandate: their vote dropped, despite sucking up the 4% bigot vote from the Conservatives, and their coalition partners were eliminated. But Labour hasn't won one either, even in combination with the Greens. While the special votes will probably shift a few seats around, that overall outcome won't change. The Greens have already said that they won't support National, and despite the verbage from pundits desperate to make word-count, they're not going to change their mind (hint: its in the name. They're Greens, so supporting dolphin-murdering, river-poisoning, National-Park-mining environmental vandals is off the table, even if you ignore the commitment to social justice). So its basicly a question of who Winston decides to support.

If he supports National in a Black-Blue government, its pretty much a re-run of 1996: tough on crime, shitting on immigrants and beneficiaries. No more privatisation, and no increase in the pension age, but it will also mean broadly the status quo with added nastiness. Especially to Maori. Winston wants to eliminate the Maori seats, and English has refused to rule it out. Which tells us that the big difference between English and John Key is that English is a racist, just like Don Brash.

If he supports Labour, then things get messier, because it will also need to involve the Greens. There's significant common ground there over housing, worker's rights and economic justice, but also significant differences around climate change and fresh water. While a Red-Black-Green "Kenya" or "Afghan" coalition with all three parties in Cabinet is possible, the differences (and Winston's hostility to the Greens) may mean that one party sits out and simply provides confidence and supply. And TBH, given how government with Winston usually goes, I think the Greens should take that option: demand one big concession for confidence and supply, but promise nothing else, and effectively sit on the cross-benches to keep Winston honest. They'd lose the ability to push the government in a greener direction, but TBH I think the extra power to veto stuff is more important - and more likely to appeal to their supporters. Being in Cabinet with Winston when he shits on immigrants and refugees is probably not a place the Greens want to be.

Regardless, I expect whatever government which emerges to be unstable. Winston will throw a tantrum and walk out, or he'll want to retire to a corrupt sinecure appointment in London or Washington. And if he goes left, there's the added danger of National encouraging waka-jumpers. On current numbers, they only need to bribe two junior NZFirst MPs with Ministerial salaries to have a majority, and as we've seen from 1997, they're not above that. Its not going to be a comfortable term. But it will probably be an exciting one.

Friday, September 22, 2017



National's New Zealand

How bad is National's New Zealand? Whole families are homeless and sleeping in doorways:

A homeless family-of-eight are among those sleeping rough on the streets of south Auckland.

The couple and their six children were recently found lying in the entry of the Manurewa Citizens Advice Bureau by its board chairman Gordon Myer when he arrived for work two mornings in a row.

"They lay matting in the area and set their beds up in the foyer," he says.

"There's another group of people who sleep around the back. There's about seven or eight of them."


This is simply indecent, reminscent of the Victorian cities many of our ancestors fled here to escape. And we should not tolerate a government which permits it, which allows families to be left homeless and on the street and without support. Instead, we should take our opportunity tomorrow to vote to end this indecency.

New Fisk

A year on from the murder of Christian writer Nahed Hattar in Jordan, many questions remain unanswered

Last day to enrol

Today is the last day on which you can advance vote. It is also the last day you can enrol to vote - for some odd reason we don't allow enrolment on election day. So, if you're not enrolled, get along to an advance voting station and do it. Likewise if you think you might be busy tomorrow (and don't want your two hours paid time off to vote), or just want the whole thing to be over, get out there and vote! The polls are tight, so no matter who you support, every vote is going to matter.

The Electoral Commission has a list of advance voting locations here.

Thursday, September 21, 2017



WINZ steals from the poorest

Hot on the heels of yesterday's news of WINZ lawlessness, we learn that WINZ has been illegally underpaying the poorest beneficiaries:

More than 7000 of New Zealand's most-desperate beneficiaries have been short-changed by the Government - and they're about to get payback.

A Ministry of Social Development report has found 7148 people on Special Benefits have been underpaid by the Government since 2006, and they have known about it for two years. MSD have estimated the amount could be up to $9.5 million.

In 2015, MSD was advised that it needed to offer the Temporary Additional Support (TAS) to beneficiaries if they were better off on it.


And the short version is, they didn't. Instead, they deliberately kept people on the lower benefit and didn't inform them of their entitlement to the higher one, in order to keep benefit costs low. The good news is that they're going to have to pay it all back - but you can guarantee that they will make that process as slow and difficult as possible to ensure they don't have to. Because that's just how WINZ are: lawless, and focused on cost-cutting rather than helping people.

This agency needs a complete culture change. And that change needs to start by sacking the entire senior management who have allowed this toxic culture to grow and fester. And its lawless chief executive needs to be the first to go...

Suspicious

Remember National's court case with Eminem? A decision was supposed to be issued within three months of the trial ending in May. But strangely, its late:

Justice Helen Cull reserved her decision on May 12 - noting at the time that decisions were usually delivered within three months.

That three-month deadline was reached on August 12, not long before Parliament was dissolved and the election campaign period began on August 22.

It is now more than four months since the decision was reserved.

The Herald has formally asked the High Court if the verdict has been delayed because of its political sensitivity in the election period.

There has been no response so far.


I think the court owes us an explanation for this, because it certainly looks suspicious. As the article points out, 90% of court decisions are delivered on time. If there's a reason for the delay, then we deserve to hear it. Otherwise, the judiciary has only themselves to blame if people believe the worst of them.

New Fisk

If Donald Trump is going to use WW2 to justify his UN speech, it would be good if he got his facts right

A positive sign

While Donald Trump seems trying to start nuclear wars with both North Korea and Iran, there's abeen a positive sign: the UN has outlawed nuclear weapons. And New Zealand was one of the first countries to sign up to the ban:

Dozens of countries, including New Zealand, have signed a treaty to ban nuclear weapons amid tensions over North Korea's nuclear and missile tests.

The US, Britain, France and others, including Australia, boycotted the event at the annual United Nations gathering of world leaders.

The treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons will enter into force 90 days after 50 countries have ratified it. Only a few states were due to deposit their ratification on Wednesday.


No nuclear states are signing - but the treaty effectively criminalises them in international law and declares them to be outlaw regimes, providing a solid basis for international justice if they ever use the things. Assuming there's still people left to care, that is. And while a treaty without the nuclear powers doesn't sound like much of a step forward, its a start towards a safer world.

Rotten to the core

How rotten is WINZ? So rotten that they use false names for those serving on their internal Benefit Review Committees, and present them as truthful to their statutory appeal body. As if that's not bad enough, they then continued to do it, even after promising not to:

Decisions by the Ministry of Social Development's benefits review committees have been issued under fake names and signatures, in breach of the chief executive's personal undertaking.

The deception was exposed when a woman appealed against seven decisions on her case, and a MSD manager disclosed the falsity to the Social Security Appeal Authority that was to hear them.

The woman's lawyer, Tony Ellis, called it "extraordinary misbehaviour".


Except its worse than that, because the false identities were disclosed in an ex patre attempt to influence the Appeal Authority against the victim.

The Appeal Authority's full decision on the falsification is here. Its worth reading, both so you can see how thoroughly rotten WINZ is, but also for its robust defence of the principles of open justice. To put it simply, we're not a shitty despotism, and we just don't do that sort of shit here. In New Zealand, a democratic state under the rule of law, decisions are made in open court, by people whose identities are known. And that's vital to ensuring that both the parties and the public can have confidence in the system. In the case of WINZ decisions, its especially important, because of the enormous disparity in power between the parties. To counteract this, WINZ has a statutory duty of full and complete disclosure to appellants in SSAA cases. Its chief executive has knowingly and repeatedly shat all over that duty.

As for the solution, at the least MSD chief executive Brendan Boyle should resign. He has systematicly violated his statutory duties and fundamentally undermined the integrity of his entire department (and by doing so, endangered his staff). He needs to go for it. He should also be prosecuted for fabricating evidence before the SSAA. This is not something we as a country should tolerate, and we need heads on spikes for it. As for State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes, he needs to go too. A country under the rule of law can not tolerate senior public servants who support this judicial fraud.

Of course, we all know this will never happen, because our "justice" system works for those in power against those without. Official crimes are never punished, and those in power are never held to account. Is it any wonder then that WINZ's victims take matters into their own hands?

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 Jové, 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?