Tuesday, January 31, 2017

"A government of laws, not of men" II

Today the Acting US Attorney-General Sally Yates instructed the Department of Justice not to defend Donald Trump's Muslim ban as she was not convinced it was lawful.

Trump just sacked her:

Donald Trump has fired his acting attorney general after she told justice department lawyers not to defend his executive order banning travel for people from seven Muslim-majority countries.

The White House said on Monday that Sally Yates had “betrayed” the department by refusing to enforce a legal order “designed to protect the citizens of the United States”.

She will be replaced by Dana Boente, US attorney for the eastern district of Virginia, to serve as acting attorney general until Senator Jeff Sessions – an anti-immigration hardliner accused of failing to defend civil rights – is confirmed by the Senate.

And there we have it: the US's highest law officer sacked for defending the constitution she was sworn to uphold. Its another step on the road to tyranny, and it really makes you wonder what Trump is going to do to the judges who have ruled against him...

OIA statistics

As promised, the Office of the Ombudsman and the SSC have published OIA statistics. SSC has statistics on requests received and timeliness, while the Ombudsman has information on complaints received and completed as well as their outcomes. As expected, most agencies perform well, but there are a few shockers - Hawke's Bay DHB has only a 38.7% timeliness rate, while a few others are down in the 60's, while TPK is the worst core department, with only 65.9% of requests handled on time. There's no data for Ministers, of course, because they're outside SSC's jurisdiction - which is probably lucky for them as they were the worst performers.

The complaints data is interesting. As expected, large departments which deal with the public a lot like Police and Corrections attract the most complaints. The Ombudsman comments that complaint rates are generally low - but 5% of MSD's gross requests are challenged. That suggests something is very wrong. And its clear from the combination of the data sets that people have simply given up on complaining about timeliness, because with the Ombudsman's current timeframes it is unlikely to do any good.

Overall, its a good effort, but it would be useful to have more data. The UK manages to produce statistics on outcomes - requests refused vs granted etc - which would be far more useful in helping to understand where problems lie. This simply requires agencies to code outcomes when tracking them, which can't be that hard, surely?

Monday, January 30, 2017


Australia persecutes refugees by imprisoning them indefinitely in Pacific concentration camps. And now that has led to the obvious next step: someone has escaped one and claimed refugee status on the basis of that persecution:

A young Iranian refugee who was held on Manus Island for more than three years has fled to Fiji, where he is seeking asylum on the grounds he fears persecution if he goes back to Papua New Guinea.

"This is the end for me," said Loghman Sawari, whose time in PNG has been punctuated by beatings, bullying, imprisonment, illness, suicide attempts and living on the street in Lae, one of the country's most dangerous cities.

The 21-year-old Ahwazi Arab managed to board a plane under a false name after he said he was threatened by a PNG immigration official and lost hope of being resettled in the United States under President Donald Trump.

He has a good case: the UN has found that the camps constitute torture, while it is clear that refugees face ongoing persecution from an overwhelmingly hostile Papuan population. Legally, that should be enough for refugee status. Which is embarrassing for Australia that they're now the sort of country people can credibly claim asylum from.

Its time we ended this, by rescuing these people from Australian torture. Australia doesn't want them, PNG doesn't want them. We should take them and show them the basic humanity our neighbours are refusing to.

(And remember: until Australia reverses its racist anti-refugee policies, don't buy Australian).

New Fisk

Donald Trump's arbitrary, cruel ban on refugees from Muslim countries sets a chilling precedent
This is how Theresa May should have reacted to Donald Trump’s travel ban – for the sake of British Muslims

"A government of laws, not of men"

This weekend has shown us both the worst and the best of America, with Trump's racist Muslim-ban, followed by mass-protests at major airports and cities against it and lawyer flash-mobs to help its victims, and US courts stepping in to bar the deportation of those detained so far. But its also shown us just how tenuous the rule of law is in the USA - because when push comes to shove, Trump's border guards are ignoring those court orders:

Customs and Border Protection agents defied the orders of federal judges regarding Donald Trump’s travel bans on Sunday, according to attorneys who rallied popular protests around the country in support of detained refugees and travellers from seven Muslim-majority countries.

“Rogue customs and Border Patrol agents continue to try to get people on to planes,” Becca Heller, director of the International Refugee Assistance Project, told reporters on Sunday. “A lot of people have been handcuffed, a lot of people who don’t speak English are being coerced into taking involuntary departures.”


“We continue to face Border Patrol’s noncompliance and chaos at airports around the country,” said Marielena Hincapie, director of the National Immigration Law Center. Officials, she said, were “kafkaesque” in their confused responses, and Trump’s order “has already caused irrevocable harm, it has already caused chaos”.

At its birth, the USA proudly proclaimed itself to be "a government of laws, not of men" - that the law was more important than the will of the king. Clearly that is no longer true anymore. The "world's greatest democracy" is fast turning into the world's biggest despotism.

Friday, January 27, 2017

New Fisk

This is the one thing Donald Trump, Syria's Bashar al-Assad and President al-Sisi in Egypt have in common

Abolishing lese majeste in Germany

Lese majeste - the "crime" of insulting rulers - is a holdover from feudalism and antithetical to democracy. Germany has finally recognised that and is planning to abolish its lese majeste law:

Germany has decided to abolish a law which defends the honour of foreign leaders.

International heads of state will no longer be able to ask the German government to prosecute people deemed to have offended them under an obscure passage of German law.

The decision comes just days after Donald Trump's inauguration as US President and a year after Angela Merkel authorised the investigation of a TV comic who wrote a crude poem about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

It also comes five years after the European Court of Human Rights effectively gutted lese majeste laws in Otegi Mondragon v. Spain. Which really makes you ask "what took them so long"?

We should not let an animal abuser export live cattle

Sheik Hamood Al-Ali Al-Khalaf, of Saudi sheep-farm fame, is back! And this time, he wants to export live cattle to China:

More than 5000 New Zealand dairy cows are due to be shipped to China by a Saudi businessman.

RNZ reported the Ministry for Primary Industries has received an export application for 5300 dairy breeding cattle, however an export certificate had not yet been issued.

It reported the businessman was Sheik Hamood Al-Ali Al-Khalaf, who was involved in 2015's Saudi sheep scandal, where the New Zealand Government made a multi-million dollar deal with Al-Khalaf and set up an agribusiness hub in the desert.

Worth noting is the fact that nearly all the lambs of the sheep Murray McCully bribed him with died. More importantly, his previous live animals exports from New Zealand led to 5300 sheep dying in appalling conditions - which is why we banned the practice. Al-Khalaf is basicly an animal abuser; we should not let him be involved in this trade.

And while we're at this: while the export of live animals for slaughter is banned, the penalty for doing so is derisory: a mere $10,000 fine. That seems to be... insufficient, especially compared to the potential profits involved. A higher penalty would require actual legislation, rather than merely a regulatory ban, but that seems entirely justified.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Farming poisons another river

Farming has poisoned the Wairarapa's Waipoua River:

Toxic algae in Masterton’s Waipoua River is likely caused by farming and may be impacting stream life, according to an agricultural scientist.

Mark Heath, an environmental scientist from Wellington Regional Council, was commenting on an outbreak of cyanobacteria, which is commonly known as toxic algae or algal bloom.


The material can be dangerous and even fatal to dogs and cause skin irritation for swimmers. Warning notices have been placed along the Waipoua River bank jointly by Greater Wellington Regional Council, Masterton District Council and Regional Public Health.

And so public health and people's recreation are sacrificed to the profits of rapacious, polluting farmers. How long are we going to let this go on? Its time we regulated farmers to stop them poisoning our rivers.

There is no corruption in New Zealand

Transparency International has rated us the least-corrupt country on the planet. Ironicly, they did this on the same day the news about Peter Thiel's special citizenship deal dropped, which raised questions about whether the government was secretly selling citizenship. In light of that news, TI's ranking looks utterly divorced from reality.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister is defending the secret citizenship grant as business-as-usual, while of course withholding all information which would allow us to see whether that was actually the case. And he says that there

needed to be a balance between giving everyone a fair chance of citizenship, and encouraging those who would make a positive difference to New Zealand.

Sure - but isn't it amazing that those who "would make a positive difference" turn out to be billionaires, rather than refugees or people who have fallen through the immigration cracks and face deportation from their families in New Zealand?

Meanwhile, he's also playing Key-like games over whether he and Thiel have ever met. At which stage, we should remember: thanks to National's weakening of donation disclosure laws, we will likely never know if Thiel donated to the National Party in exchange for this special treatment.

This was a dirty, rotten decision, which at best involved giving special treatment to a rich tax-exile who wants to use us as a lifeboat once he's destroyed the country he is currently parasitising. Now that Thiel's a citizen, we can't revoke it - but we should damn well make sure our government can't do this again.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

This smells

Yesterday, we learned that Peter Thiel - a literal vampire capitalist billionaire famous for his misogynist and anti-democratic views and his desire to evade taxes by creating his own "nation" - is apparently a New Zealand citizen. Which has led people to ask the obvious question: how the hell did that happen? Because normally, gaining New Zealand citizenship requires a prolonged period of residency, which in Thiel's case would have been noticed by the media. Instead, it looks as if the Minister simply granted it to him secretly under the "exceptional circumstances of a humanitarian or other nature" clause, allowing him to completely bypass the normal process.

The government owes us an explanation on this, and it had better be a good one. Because the natural conclusion is that the "exceptional circumstances" are that Peter Thiel is a billionaire. And that simply looks corrupt.

The Brexit decision

The UK Supreme Court has upheld the High Court's decision on Brexit, upholding parliamentary sovereignty and the principle that it is parliament that makes the laws, not royal decree:

The government has lost its fast-tracked appeal to the supreme court, forcing ministers to introduce emergency legislation into parliament to authorise the UK’s departure from the EU.

In a judgment that sets a far-reaching constitutional precedent and upholds parliamentary sovereignty, the court ruled by a majority of eight justices to three that MPs and peers must give their consent before the government can trigger article 50 and formally initiate Brexit.

The decision sets clear limits on the extent of the government’s executive powers. Rights embedded in the law by the 1972 European Communities Act, which took the UK into what was then the European Community, cannot be removed by the government’s prerogative powers, a majority of the justices declared.

The UK government will now introduce a bill to trigger Article 50, but its not clear how detailed that bill needs to be. If they get it wrong, it'll be straight back to court. Meanwhile, parliament will also get to amend and hear submissions on the bill, possibly introducing constraints on the government's plans.

The court also ruled that the UK government did not have to consult its devolved nations over Brexit and that the Sewel Convention, a core part of the constitutional structure of the UK, was not legally binding. Of course, that doesn't mean that its not politically binding, and ignoring it is asking for a fight between Westminster and the devolved nations. Scotland is going to act as if their consent is required anyway, backed by the a clear threat of a second independence referendum. And if England ignores constitutional convention and purports to legislate for Scotland against Scottish wishes, that referendum should be easy to win.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Lying for nukes in the UK

Last July, the UK Parliament voted to renew the hugely wasteful Trident missile programme, at a cost of £40 billion. Now it turns out that that vote was based on lies, with the government covering up a failed missile test which might have caused people to question the spending:

Downing Street has been accused of covering up a Trident missile malfunction weeks before a crucial Commons vote on the future of the submarine-based missile system.

The Sunday Times reports that a Trident II D5 missile test ended in failure after it was launched from the British submarine HMS Vengeance off the coast of Florida in June last year.

The newspaper reports that the cause of the failure remains top secret, but quotes a senior naval source saying the missile, which was unarmed for the test, suffered an in-flight malfunction after launch.

It was reportedly intended to be fired 5,600 miles to a sea target off the west coast of Africa but may have veered off towards America instead.


“Ultimately Downing Street decided to cover up the failed test. If the information was made public, they knew how damaging it would be to the credibility of our nuclear deterrent.

“The upcoming Trident vote made it all the more sensitive.”

And they're still trying to cover it up today, with the Prime Minister refusing to say whether she knew about it and the Defence Secretary telling parliament that the test was successful even as US sources confirm that it was not.

There is a name for this: it's calld "misleading parliament". And any legislature should take it very seriously, especially when there are billions of pounds being spent on the result of that lie. Those involve din this cover-up, including the Ministers who have lied to parliament about it, need to be sacked. As for the UK's stupidly wasteful nuclear status symbol, Parliament should revisit its vote, and insist on all the facts before even considering approving it.

New Fisk

A Trump presidency could have been avoided if Clinton had only listened to American Arabs
Donald Trump's presidency-by-tweet will be bad for Muslims, but great for Isis

Dead and gone

US President Donald Trump has officially withdrawn the USA from the Trans-Pacific partnership Agreement. Good. The TPPA was a shit deal for New Zealand, which our craven government signed up to essentially for fear of being left out. Now the US is out, we're free to talk to the other parties and maybe try and negotiate a better deal, one which brings us actual benefits and doesn't saddle us with American IP totalitarianism.

Meanwhile, I'm wondering what happens to the law National passed to enact the TPPA. Its commencement clause says that it can only come into force on the date that the TPPA does. Obviously, that's no longer possible. Unlike other bills with this sort of structure, there isn't a fallback date, or a deadline after which it self-repeals if not in force. So it looks like the TPPA's legacy will be a dead law hanging around on the statute books until a future Parliament recognises reality and repeals it.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Places to go, people to be

Nothing from me today - I'm off to Wellington's annual roleplaying convention.

Normal bloggage will resume Tuesday.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The last spasm of a dying industry

How regressive is the US? In New Zealand, we have a clean energy target. In Wyoming, they want the opposite:

Coal-loving Wyoming legislators are pushing a bill to outlaw wind and solar.

On the first day of the state’s legislative session, nine Republican lawmakers filed legislation that would bar utilities from using electricity produced by large-scale renewable energy projects.

The bill, whose sponsors are primarily from the state’s top coal-producing counties, would require utilities to use only approved energy sources like coal, natural gas, nuclear power, hydroelectric, and oil. While individual homeowners and small businesses could still use rooftop solar or backyard wind, utilities would face steep fines if they served up clean energy.

The reason for this is nakedly economic. Wind and solar power are now cheaper than fossil fuels. Coal can't compete. So in true US style, they're using their corrupt political influence in an attempt to ban the competition in a desperate effort to eke out a few more years of profit before they go under. Its the last spasm of a dying industry. But given the way the climate is going, the worry is that they'll take the rest of us with them.


With only three days left in office, President Obama has finally done the right thing and commuted Wikileaks source Chelsea manning's prison sentence:

In the most audacious – and contentious – commutation decision to come from Obama yet, the sitting president used his constitutional power just three days before he leaves the White House to give Manning her freedom. She will walk from the military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, on 17 May, almost seven years to the day since she was arrested in a base outside Baghdad for offenses relating to the leaking of a vast trove of US state secrets.


Manning, who is a columnist for the Guardian, was the face of one of the harsher aspects of the Obama administration, as an official leaker who suffered under his approach a longer custodial than any other whistleblower of modern times. She was one of several leakers who were prosecuted under the 1917 Espionage Act – with more individuals falling foul to that anti-spying law than under all previous US presidents combined.

Manning is a hero who should never have been prosecuted. Her leaks exposed US murders and human rights abuses in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the globe. Instead, the US jailed her, then tortured her in prison with prolonged solitary confinement and denial of essential medical care. Because that's what the US is now: a human rights abusing torture state.

Meanwhile, Obama is pretending he can't pardon NSA leaker Edward Snowden, because he hasn't "presented himself in court". To point out the obvious, neither did Nixon - but a US president could pardon him for his crimes against the constitution. But I guess exposing US wrongdoing is more of a crime than undermining the US's democracy in Obama's eyes.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

New Fisk

The Paris peace conference was beyond useless – everyone knows a two-state solution in Israel and Palestine is impossible now

If Greg O'Connor is the answer, WTF was the question?

So, Labour is talking up Greg O'Connor as one of their candidates. You know, the Greg O'Connor who ceaselessly advocates for an armed, military style police force equipped and empowered to shoot whoever they want, and protected from oversight or any legal repurcussions for doing so. The guy who makes excuses for police who beat people in cells and for even the most extreme police and unethical misconduct. The Greg O'Connor who denounces the Bazely report's requirements for the police to clean up their act and stop raping people as a "ritual humiliation". That Greg O'Connor. The man is a jackbooted fascist and an advocate for state thuggery and lawlessness. And if he's Labour's answer, you really have to wonder what they think the question is.

Oh, but apparently he was just advocating for his members (which says some very disturbing about our police officers) and that he doesn't really hold these views. He was "just pretending" for the job, in the same way that Don Brash was "just pretending" to be racist in order to grub for votes from racist arseholes. But that paints a pretty dim moral picture as well. And as with Brash, it doesn't really matter. He advocated for those positions. And we should judge and condemn him for it. And ditto any party which makes him a candidate.

Apparently O'Connor is being talked up as Labour's Ohariu candidate. I can't think of a better way to squander any deal over Ohariu with the Greens - or make sure that one doesn't happen. And if O'Connor is Labour's candidate there, I'd advocate voting for Peter Dunne, and showing your support for the left through the party vote instead. Because remember under MMP all electorate votes to is reorganise the party list. And both Peter Dunne and an anonymous Labour candidate are both far superior on police and social issues than a knuckle-dragging thug like O'Connor.

Monday, January 16, 2017

This is why we need wealth taxes

How unequal is New Zealand? SO unequal that the two richest men control as much wealth as a third of all kiwis:

Two New Zealanders are worth the same as the poorest 30 per cent of the adult Kiwi population, Oxfam research says.

Research also says the richest one per cent of New Zealanders own one fifth of the nation's wealth, while 90 per cent of the population owns less than half of the country's wealth.

The findings are included in a study of inequality in a global Oxfam report to be released on Monday and it cites the two wealthiest Kiwis, Richard Chandler and Graeme Hart.

They have an estimated wealth of $3.8 billion and $9b respectively - equal to the bottom 30 per cent of the adult population.

This level of inequality is simply obscene. Fortunately, there's a way of fixing it: taxes. Currently we tax income, but we don't tax wealth (e.g. land and financial instruments). Or rather, we don't tax it anymore. We used to, back in the C19th, when we used a land tax to prevent the establishment of a rural aristocracy and ensure that we became a more equal society than the one (some of) our ancestors had fled. But then it fell out of use. With the return of British levels of inequality, its time we revived that solution, and taxed it out of existence.

New Fisk

How would legendary foreign correspondent Clare Hollingworth have reported on the world of Twitter and Trump?

Bill English is wrong: urgency is needed on climate change

The Herald reports this morning that Bill English doesn't think climate change is much of a problem:

Prime Minister Bill English doesn't share Donald Trump's scepticism about global warming - but says he has always been wary of "extreme" views about the appropriate response to climate change.


"Some people want to inflict considerable pain on the economy to prove the point. And I have never believed in that extreme view," English said.

"But I think New Zealand's views are moderate [and] sound, and we have good tools in place...and I think we should aim to keep the Emissions Trading System [ETS] in place."

English said he could not remember when he decided human activity was driving climate change but said he had supported the ETS when the previous Labour Government introduced it.

This would be the Emissions Trading system which subsidises pollution and which does nothing to reduce it. So English's "moderate" climate change policy is "pretend to care, while doing nothing". Policies which might actually reduce emissions (and prevent National's donors and cronies from profiting by destroying the planet" are just too "extreme".

And meanwhile the planet is burning and the icecaps are melting. Our major cities are looking at serious flooding by the end of the century. Its not "extreme" to want to stop that - its basic fucking prudence. We need urgent action to stop this. Instead Bill English is fiddling while Wellington floods.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

This is just wrong

Today's "justice" horror story: Someone who has been effectively imprisoned for more than a decade for a trivial offence:

He's been locked up for more than 10 years.

His crime? Breaking the windows of his neighbour's van after reacting to a loud noise.

The severely autistic and intellectually disabled man, who has name suppression, has been detained in various intellectual disability secure care facilities since 2006.


He was found on the balance of probabilities to have committed the offence, but deemed unfit to stand trial.

The crimes he was charged with - wilful damage and being unlawfully in an enclosed yard - have maximum penalties of three months imprisonment. Even if he had been given the maximum sentence - unlikely - and been sentenced to serve his time sequentially rather than concurrently - even more unlikely - this man has still been imprisoned for twenty times longer than the maximum possible sentence. And purely because he is intellectually disabled.

This is wrong, it is discriminatory, and it is unjust. This man should be released immediately, and compensated for the decade of life the state has stolen from him.

Open Government: Disappointing

The Open Government Partnership's Independent Reporting Mechanism has released its draft End-of-Term Assessment Report for New Zealand's first OGP action plan. The overall verdict? Disappointing:

The New Zealand government made some improvements to access to information and civic participation. The government released new datasets and consulted CSOs on public engagement practices. However, the government’s process falls short of OGP’s co-creation guidelines, the commitments lacked clear activities for implementation, and the gains were marginal.
The key problem: all of the OGP commitments were pre-existing policies, and none of them really did very much. Throw in the lack of consultation and its clear that the government was only paying lip-service to its OGP commitments, rather than taking them seriously.

The good news is that the second action plan looks better. Not that it would be hard. There's still a lack of ambition and a desire to not spend any more or change anything substantive, but what they're offering is at least new marginal improvements rather than existing ones. And who knows? Maybe by the third action plan the New Zealand government will finally be ready to catch up to the rest of the world and make some real commitments.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Denying the obvious


The above is a graph showing the distribution of declared taxable income in 2015. The Greens' James Shaw points out that he spike just below $70,000 - the level the top tax rate kicks in - is awfully suspicious. It looks a lot like the rich are manipulating their incomes to dodge taxes. But Revenue Minister and former tax-cheat-enablerlawyer Judith Collins says its nothing of the sort. Apparently its just disbursements from trusts and companies. Which, entirely coincidentally, just happen to have tracked the top tax threshold every time it has shifted...

Yeah, right. How stupid does Collins think we are? It is clear that the wealthy are using corporate and trust vehicles to cheat on their taxes, just as they always have. And as Revenue Minister, Collins' job is to stop that, not make excuses for it.

Australia's deportations are unfair

Since 2015 Australia has been engaged in a mass-deportation programme against kiwis, using a new law to deport (or indefinitely detain in appalling conditions pending deportation) people for even trivial crimes. Now Australia's Ombudsman has condemned the process:

The Ombudsman found the federal government had failed in its promise to cancel visas well before an individual's expected release date from prison, causing prolonged family separation and undermining consideration of the best interests of children.

The report found serious delays in deciding the outcome of revocation requests meant former prisoners were spending long periods in limbo inside immigration detention.

"The delays in deciding revocation requests undermines the department's policy of giving primary consideration to the best interests of those who have young children and/or experience prolonged family separation," Commonwealth Ombudsman Colin Neave said.

Sadly, all they can do is recommend administrative changes so that people are not separated from their families or detained indefinitely. And even that seems to be too much for Peter Dutton, Australia's authoritarian and racist immigration minister. I'm not sure what the constitutional convention is in Australia, but here when an Ombudsman "recommends" something, the Minister accepts it, not refuses to apologise.

But the worse news is on the deportation of those merely accused (or even acquitted) of crimes, something the Ombudsman regards as blatantly unfair. Here,
The department was unable or unwilling to provide the investigation with key data and information, in some instances despite repeated requests.
Which is simply illegal. And in a democratic country which respected the rule of law, it simply wouldn't happen. But its been clear for a while that Australia is no longer such a country. Instead it is a corrupt, militaristic, authoritarian sewer. And its time we called them on their bullshit, rather than grovelling to them.

The full report is here.

Monday, January 09, 2017

New Fisk

I just met a journalist in Berlin who I used to work alongside in Iraq. He reminded me what it means to report on atrocities

People 1, Dairy Industry Nil

The dairy industry, New Zealand's biggest polluters, has failed in an effort to censor a TV ad criticising their pollution:

The dairy industry has shot itself in the foot by complaining about a Greenpeace "dirty dairying" ad, environmentalists say.

Industry group Dairy NZ picked a fight with the group over an ad saying: "Precious water supplies are being polluted by industrial dairy farming and massive irrigation schemes".

The dairy group was behind one of the 12 complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) over the ad.


However, the ASA rejected all of the complaints, in a newly-released ruling.

Its complaints board said the statements in the ad "would not come as a surprise to most New Zealanders."

"We would encourage Dairy NZ to concentrate its resources into addressing the very real problems of river degradation, rather than trying to pretend the problem doesn't exist."

Sadly, that's exactly what the dairy industry will continue to do - because their social licence, and their profitability, depends on it. Plus, this isn't just about shutting down the ad - its about sending a message that criticising the dairy industry is expensive, and that if you do it you will need to hire lawyers. Its a perfect example of what the US calls a SLAPP, a "strategic lawsuit against public participation". Over half of US states now have anti-SLAAP laws, allowing such meritless suits against conduct falling within freedom of speech to be easily dismissed without cost to defendants. If the dairy industry continues to throw its weight about, maybe we'll need one of those too?

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

UBI: An idea whose time has come?

The Guardian reports that Finland has begun trialling a Universal basic Income scheme, with a test pool of 2000 unemployed Finns given a no-strings attached €560 a month to see what happens and how it affects employment incentives. But they're not the only ones. Further down, the article has a list of the UBI trials taking place this year:

Basic income experiments are also due to take place this year in several cities in the Netherlands, including Utrecht, Tilburg, Nijmegen, Wageningen and Groningen. In Utrecht’s version, called Know What Works, several test groups will get a basic monthly income of €970 under slightly different conditions.

One will get the sum as unemployment benefit, with an obligation to seek work – and sanctions – attached. Another will get it unconditionally, whether or not they seek work. A third will get an extra €125 providing they volunteer for community service. Another will get the extra €125 automatically, but must give it back if they do not volunteer.

The Italian city of Livorno began giving a guaranteed basic income of just over €500 a month to the city’s 100 poorest families last June, and expanded the scheme to take in a further 100 families on 1 January. Ragusa and Naples are considering similar trials.

In Canada, Ontario is set to launch a C$25m (£15m) basic income pilot project this spring. In Scotland, local councils in Fife and Glasgow are looking into trial schemes that could launch in 2017, which would make them the first parts of the UK to experiment with universal basic income.

All of which is a good step towards getting more empirical data. We'll never convince the right, of course - they're ideologically committed to widespread economic insecurity for the benefit of the few, a morally repugnant position. But if enough voters can see that it will make them better off and that the fearmongering is unjustified, then the politicians will follow, no matter what they believe.

New Fisk

This is the reason why we don't dwell on Turkish deaths in the West
What one journalist’s time in an Egyptian prison tells us about the fight against Islamist jihad
We are not living in a 'post-truth' world, we are living the lies of others
The tragedies of Syria signal the end of the Arab revolutions
Isis is using terror to eliminate multicultural countries like Germany – and the far-right is helping them

Nick Smith strikes again!

Back in September, a headline National conservation policy collapsed due to Nick Smith's arrogance and refusal to consult iwi. Now, he's done it again:

A new fight may be developing between the Government and iwi over fishing rights, this time in the Marlborough Sounds.

Proposals to reserve parts of the Sounds for recreational fishers has angered Maori based at the top of the South Island, and they are urging the Government to abandon the idea.


The combined fishing trusts of those iwi, known as Te Tau Ihi Fisheries, said the recreational fishing parks "usurp the historical and traditional rights of ... iwi to exercise tino rangitiratanga over our fisheries".

The parks "directly impact on our Treaty settlements", Te Tau Ihi said in its written submission. The iwi also said the proposals gave recreational fishers priority over their customary and commercial rights.

As with the Kermadecs, I support a recreational fishing park in the Marlborough Sounds. I also support the government keeping its Treaty settlements and respecting iwi rights. These are not incompatible goals, and I don't think it is beyond the wit of a competent Minister to negotiate a deal which enables both ends. The problem is that Nick Smith is not a competent Minister. As the article points out, he has a history of trying (and failing) to steamroller policy through while ignoring Maori rights, on Auckland housing and the Kermadecs. Given that history and the significant Maori interests around the environment portfolio, he is the last person who should be trusted with it. But apparently sharing your holidays with the PM trumps competence in the National Party. And we all get to pay the price for that.