Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Meanwhile, in Poland

While we're all worrying about Nazis in America, we might also want to keep an eye on Poland:

Polish police broke up a feminist rally and forcefully removed activists to clear the way for a march for far-right extremists.

A live stream of the protest shows members of the All-Polish Women's Strike group and activists from Obywatele RP, which aims to defend democratic principles in Poland, taking part in a sit-in in central Warsaw, to block the far-right rally's route.

Many of the women were holding up photos of Heather Heyer, the American woman killed when a car ploughed into a crowd of counter-protesters during a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend.

According to the story, the far-right groups included the National Radical Camp and the All-Polish Youth, explicitly racist, homophobic and anti-democratic groups (and in the NRC's case, fascist). Poland's politics has had an unpleasant nationalist and theocratic tinge for some time now, and recently the government has moved strongly towards autocracy, banning anti-government protests and attempting to end judicial independence. And now, their police are explicitly siding with fascists. Its a scary sign of how quickly democracy can die if you let people like the Law and Justice Party take over...

Privacy, not "secrecy"

Politik breathlessly reports that the New Zealand government kept information on Barnaby Joyce's kiwi citizenship "top secret":

New Zealand Ministers and officials imposed a heavy security lid once they realised that they had information which could, in effect, topple the Australian Government.

That extended to not even telling Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop even though she was at the same meeting last week as New Zealand Foreign Minister, Gerry Brownlee.

The realisation that Australian Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce, was a New Zealand citizen and therefore not eligible to serve in the Australian Parliament came after questions were asked last week of both the Department of Internal Affairs and the Minister, Peter Dunne.

Except there's an obvious reason why: privacy. Information on who is and isn't a citizen is normally considered private, and its not the sort of thing you go around telling other people willy-nilly, and certainly not without telling the person themselves first. DIA seems to have acted perfectly consistently with this, and its what I'd expect them to do in any other case.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Ardern stands up for kiwis

Today politics seems to be dominated by Australian ridiculousness, after the Australian government blamed Chris Hipkins (rather than hard-working Australian journalists) for exposing Barnaby Joyce as a New Zealand citizen, and Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop interfering in our election by saying that she would find it hard to work with an NZ Labour government (or, to put it another way, the racist, homophobic Australian government prefers National and Bill English. Good to know; now we can all vote accordingly). The good news is that with Joyce exposed as ineligible to sit in Parliament, Bishop may not be Foreign Minister for much longer. But we've also learned something useful: that when push comes to shove, Jacinda Ardern stands up for kiwis against our "allies":

It is highly regrettable that the Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has chosen to make false claims about the New Zealand Labour Party.


I also note that Internal Affairs Minister Peter Dunne has confirmed that the Australian media inquiries were the instigator of this issue and that he has described connections of the New Zealand Labour Party to this issue as “utter nonsense.”

I greatly value New Zealand’s relationship with the Australian Government. I will not let false claims stand in the way of that relationship.

I would happily take a call from Julie Bishop to clarify matters.

I have also contacted the Australian High Commission to register my disappointment and will be meeting with the High Commissioner later today.

Hopefully she'll mention our disapproval of Australia's refugee concentration camps while she's at it.

In a time when Australia is mistreating New Zealand citizens and the US seems to be trying to start as many wars as possible, it would be useful to have a Prime Minister who would decide foreign policy based on New Zealand's values, rather than just falling in meekly behind the powerful. That's what Helen Clark did over Iraq, and its clear that Jacinda Ardern is the same. The contrast with Bill English couldn't be any clearer.

Climate change: The Cullen fund divests

Climate change is now undeniable, and if we are to survive it, the fossil fuel industry has to die. And now the Cullen Fund has recognised that fact, and started divesting its risk:

The New Zealand Superannuation Fund has sold shares in some of the world's biggest companies to reduce exposure to firms emitting greenhouse gases.

The fund is quitting or reducing holdings in 300 firms as part of its "carbon transition". They include Exxon Mobil, Shell, BP and Statoil and local firms New Zealand Oil & Gas and Genesis Energy.

The firms are part of the Super Fund's huge passive investment portfolio - making up two thirds of the fund's total investments - and similar principles will be applied now to active investments.

Chief investment officer Matt Whineray said 40 percent of all super fund investments would be low carbon as a result of the changes.

40% doesn't sound high, but looking at their press release, they're ranking investments by emissions. The important thing is that they're bailing out of high-emission companies, effectively voting "no confidence" in their future. And that's one of the things that needs to happen if we are to get through this.

Dirty farmers

Surprise, surprise - Waikato's dairy farmers are failing to comply with their resource consents:

The Waikato Regional Council says dairy farm effluent compliance rates are heading in the right direction despite less than one quarter of farms monitored last year deemed fully compliant.

The figures released under the Official Information Act showed that the council inspected 1174 farms, nearly twice the number inspected the previous season.

Of those farms, 23 per cent achieved full compliance, 2 per cent had a high level of compliance, 43 per cent were provisionally compliant, 24 per cent were partially compliant and 9 per cent were significantly non-compliant.

Waikato Regional Council says this is "progress", but the proportion of fully-compliant farms dropped in the past year, from 26 to 23 percent. That's not "progress", it's going backwards.

The RMA includes enforcement provisions for both temporary and long-term non-compliance, including infringement notices, abatement orders, criminal prosecution, and ultimately review of a consent. WRC, like most councils, doesn't use these much. Clearly, they need to. Their current "enforcement regime" is not encouraging farmers to comply with the law. A tougher approach is required.

"As soon as reasonably practicable"

The Official Information Act requires agencies to decide on requests "as soon as reasonably practicable, and in any case not later than 20 working days after the day on which the request is received". But over the decades that the Act has been operating, it has become clear that agencies systematically ignore the first part of that clause, and instead focus on the latter, setting a 20-day target for response. Note that that's a 20-day target, not a within 20 day target. In my experience requests tend to arrive on the last possible day (or later), especially when they are politically controversial.

And now there's proof. OIA user Mark Hanna gathered data on timeliness from his requests on FYI. Sadly, the results confirm widespread misbehaviour by agencies:

That spike at close-of-business on the due date is telling. Some agencies at least really are dragging things out as long as possible, leaving it till the last possible minute to respond. This violates both the purpose of the Act, and the letter of the law.

This is a small data-set, but it clearly points to a problem. The good news is that FYI's database of more than 6000 requests is public, which means we can use it to get some serious data on this. This will both tell us how widespread the problem is, and which agencies are in need of a visit by the Ombudsman with fire and sword.

Monday, August 14, 2017

NZ Post spied on the public

Last night we learned that NZ Post had been spying on the public, using microphones on its delivery vehicles to record and listen to conversations between its employees and random members of the public without the consent of either party. They've stopped now, after a Privacy Act complaint was laid, but its not just the Privacy Act they should be worrying about, but criminal prosecution. Because pretty obviously, this seems to be a case of using an interception device:

Subject to subsections (2) to (5), every one is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years who intentionally intercepts any private communication by means of an interception device.

Microphones are "interception devices", and there's no question that the spying was intentional and knowing: NZ Post had been downloading recordings of conversations and listening to them. A "private communication" in this context means a conversation where there's a reasonable expectation of privacy, and that depends on the context. Some of the recorded conversations - on public footpaths with other people nearby, for example - won't be "private", while others (e.g. those up people's driveways or even at letterboxes where there aren't others around) certainly will be. And those are certainly conversations where the police would need a surveillance warrant to eavesdrop with a directional microphone.

The only real defence available to NZ Post is whether it was a "party" to those conversations. This normally covers employers in the workplace e.g. spying on phone calls and email. But in those cases, employees know. And as we've seen with Todd Barclay, they're not allowed to stick a dictaphone under someone's desk and listen to them. In this case, NZ Post seem to have Barclayed every one of their little spytrucks, without the knowledge of either their employees or the public. I don't think they can argue that they're a party, and I very much doubt they had any sort of surveillance or intelligence warrant for their spying. So the question is: will they be prosecuted? And if not, why not?

Barnaby Joyce is a New Zealand citizen

Over the last few weeks the Australian Parliament has been rocked by a succession of resignations and court referrals over various Senators falling foul of s44 of the Australian constitution, which bars dual-citizens from the legislature. Today, that clause appears to have claimed its highest profile victim, with Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce referring himself to the High Court so they can investigate whether he is a kiwi. But I don't think there's any question about it at all.

According to his Wikipedia page, Joyce was born in 1967 in New South Wales. However:

His father, James Joyce, was born in New Zealand and moved to Australia to study veterinary science at the University of Sydney, where he met Joyce's mother, Marie
The Guardian has some links here and a conviluted explanation about the Citizenship Act 1977 (as enacted) and claims to citizenship by descent lapsing. But the descent clause of that Act only applies to those "born outside New Zealand on or after 1 January 1978". Joyce was born before that, so his existing rights of citizenship were protected by s13 of the Act, which makes it very clear that everyone who was already a citizen stays one, and (to reiterate the rules of the British Nationality and New Zealand Citizenship Act 1948),
every person born outside New Zealand on or after 1 January 1949 but before 1 January 1978 shall be a New Zealand citizen by descent if... in any case, his father was a New Zealand citizen at the time of that person's birth
Joyce's father was a kiwi, so he is a kiwi, end of story, no registration required. Which means that he will lose his seat in Parliament. That seat is the Australian government's majority, so NZ citizenship law may very well have just caused an Australian election.

Edit to add: Joyce is apparently trying to argue that his father wasn't a New Zealand citizen because we didn't create a citizenship until 1948 and before then everyone was a "British subject". Unfortunately that doesn't help him. Section 16(1) of the British Nationality and New Zealand Citizenship Act 1948 is crystal clear:

Joyce's father was a British subject immediately before the date of the commencement of the Act. He was born in New Zealand. And so under New Zealand law he became a New Zealand citizen, whether he knew it or not.

National resorts to racism on water

National knows it can't defeat the Labour-Green policy on water charging on fairness grounds, so they're now appealing to racism, with Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson scaremongering that making farmers pay their fair share will mean reopening historic Treaty settlements:

Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson is warning that Labour's water taxes could force existing full-and-final Treaty of Waitangi settlements to be opened for renegotiation with iwi.

He said the policy overturned accepted policy of successive Labour and National Governments of the past 25 years that no one owned the water.

Governments applying a tax on water was an assertion of Crown ownership "and then that gives rise to the counter assertion that Maori own water".

"They are dicing with death, quite frankly," he told the Herald.

"It opens a complete Pandora's Box. I'd like to know [if] it is Labour Party policy that, after all the work we've done, both political parties over 25 years, are they proposing to re-open treaty settlements so that this matter can be looked at?

Except of course it wouldn't, for the simple reason that those settlements cover historic claims. A unilateral government assertion of water ownership would be a fresh injustice, and simply not covered by those settlements.

But Finlayson's dishonesty gets worse, because National has itself recognised that it needs to settle the issue with iwi. Their Cabinet paper on the Land and Water Forum's mock consultation notes that "Cabinet also agreed on June 2 [CAB Min (09) 19/7A] that there is a need to make real progress in the unresolved area of Māori rights and interests in water", which is why the iwi leadership group has been involved in the entire process. They have considered and rejected a nationwide "Waterlords" settlement which would resolve any issues around the Treaty and water allocation and pricing, primarily because they want to impede any progress in that area in order to continue subsidising farmers (or rather, letting them effectively own and sell the public's water, without having to pay for it).

This isn't a "Pandora's box". The model for an easy, full and final settlement to resolve this exists, and iwi are keen. What is lacking is goodwill from the government to sign it. And Finlayson knows all this - so he is actively trying to mislead the New Zealand public about it, trying to appeal to the racism of rednecks in order to protect the stolen "rights" of a privileged few. And to be honest, I thought he was a better person than that. But I guess now that English is back in charge, National is back to the same racism he ran on in 2002. He lost then; lets hope for the sake of New Zealand that he loses again.

Friday, August 11, 2017

The rising tide sucks us down

National is trying to talk up its supposed "economic growth" for the election. But the Herald's Brian Fallow points out the truth: the economy may be growing on paper, but its not making us better off:

The average wage (average ordinary-time hourly earnings from Statistics New Zealand's quarterly employment survey) rose 1.6 per cent in the year to June. But that was boosted by some pay increases in the public sector that had been a long time coming.

In the private sector, the average wage rose 1.2 per cent, in a year when consumer prices rose 1.7 per cent. In other words, it fell 0.5 per cent in real terms. That was still better than the March report, when annual wage growth was 1.1 per cent and inflation 2.2 per cent.


Interest rates are historically low. The terms of trade (the mix of export and import prices) are the most favourable they have been for 44 years, boosting national income. The demand pulse from the need to rebuild our second largest city has been followed by the need to respond to the largest city bursting at the seams. Tourism is booming.

In these circumstances, are declining real wages the best we can do?

And that's a good question. Economic growth is supposed to make us better off - "a rising tide lifts all boats" as the rich love to say. Except it turns out that its all a lie, and the rich's rising tide in fact sucks the rest of us down.

It doesn't have to be this way. The reason growth doesn't benefit ordinary kiwis is a matter of policy choices made by the government to favour the rich over the rest of us. Those choices can be made differently, as they were in the 2000's. All we need is a government which works for us, not foreign billionaires...

British inquiries are a sham

We all know how it goes: the UK establishment does something terrible, like murdering people, or illegally invading somewhere, or burning hundreds of people to death in a high-rise incinerator. The public get justifiably angry. The government announces an "independent" inquiry to "get to the bottom of" or "draw a line under" the issue. The inquiry drags on for years, decades even - as long as it takes for public anger to dissipate and for those responsible to disappear off into the private sector or retirement with fat golden handshakes. When it finally reports back, the problems are found to be "systemic" and no-one is held to account.

It sounds like a sham, and it is. And now those who have been involved in such inquiries have openly said so:

Two original panel members of the government’s child abuse inquiry have said they were forced to fight attempts at political control and interference from the Home Office when it was run by Theresa May.

The pair said they wanted to speak out to warn potential members of supposedly independent teams being assembled at the orders of the prime minister to investigate the Grenfell Tower fire and contaminated blood transfusions.

Sharon Evans and Graham Wilmer revealed how government officials intervened with the independent panel members by preparing a 23-page document instructing them how to answer questions from MPs.

Both left the inquiry when the original panel was disbanded within months of its formation and have since been critical of the inquiry.

In practice, these "independent" inquiries are tightly directed by the government of the day to ensure that they don't cause any problems. What they're allowed to investigate, what they're allowed to say, who they're allowed to listen to. The establishment members of such inquiries have no problem with this - they know its all a scam to pacify the public and prevent any accountability. But non-establishment members clearly take the government's promises of justice and expect something a little better. More fool them. Because the dirty truth is that there is no justice in British inquiries. Instead, they are an instrument to deny justice and uphold the unjust status quo. People should not cooperate with them and they should not participate in them. And they should not treat them as anything other than a scam and a further insult to the government's victims.

New Fisk

If you're wondering why Saudi Arabia and Israel have united against Al-Jazeera, here's the answer

Irrigation is a threat to public health

That's the view of Canterbury Medical Officer of Health Alistair Humphrey:

Drinking water in the Selwyn District is at increasing risk of contamination as more dairy cows are being farmed there, local residents have been told.


Dr Humphrey said it was impossible for the regional council, Environment Canterbury, to meet its targets for reducing pollutants while at the same time meeting its other targets for increasing the amount of irrigation that was happening.

He said a soon-to-be released report from the council showed the level of polluting nitrates in ground water was increasing in 25 percent of wells.

"There's increases all the way across the Canterbury Plains, so we're not doing very well and we're not even hitting the targets we've set ourselves."

Dr Humphrey said high nitrate levels were potentially fatal for newborn babies, and this was something midwives were now factoring into their visits to expectant mothers.

What's really worrying is that they try and do their jobs and take action against the people polluting the water table, they get told that they can't because they don't want to upset the Minister. Think about that for a moment. We have a clear threat to public health, pollution that poisons babies, and it is allowed to continue because of Ministerial interference. That's simply not acceptable. Public health officials must be free to do their job of protecting us. And the polluting industries which are endangering us must be forced to stop.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Public servants should work for us, not foreign billionaires

Another sign of the decay in transparency under National: the Department of Internal Affairs unlawfully allowed lawyers for foreign vampire capitalist Peter Thiel to veto what was released about him under the OIA:

An Official Information Act request by the Herald into the handling of the botched redaction revealed emails showing lawyers acting for Thiel were behind the blacking-out of the short time he lived in the country.

The Ombudsman's full ruling showed Internal Affairs were happy to accommodate Thiel's concerns, despite describing the case for protecting his privacy in this case was "borderline".

Once again, we have a department ignoring its own judgements about what is lawful in order to bow to the wishes of the powerful. And that is simply not acceptable. The government must obey the law. And our public servants should work for us, not foreign billionaires.

We need a housing warrant of fitness

Why we need a warrant of fitness for rental housing: because unhealthy housing is making thousands of kids sick a year:

In a 50-page paper released today, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians has called on politicians to do more to address the causes of health inequity in New Zealand.

Too many people were living in cold, mouldy and over-crowded homes and it was ruining the health of children in particular, the college said.


"Cold, old, damp and mouldy houses directly links to poor health through respiratory illnesses, and those illnesses affect vulnerable groups in our society like children and elderly people and can exacerbate their other health conditions."

That was especially bad in winter, Dr Christiansen said.

More than 40,000 people were living in precarious, insecure housing, including garages, sheds and caravan park, he said.

The problem here is the houses. So why won't the government address this? Simple: because they're all landlords, and sticking up for their own "right" to profit from (government-created) desperation by renting out unhealthy homes. It is simply corrupt. But that is how the establishment rules New Zealand.

Statoil spies

Greenpeace has caught New Zealand's most infamous private spy agency, Thompson & Clark, spying on them:

Greenpeace claims it has caught spies in the act of tracking its staff and supporters and compiling detailed dossiers.

Greenpeace New Zealand executive director Russel Norman told the Herald the surveillance included tracking people in their private lives.

The environmental lobby group has filed a civil suit in the High Court against Thompson & Clark Investigations alleging breach of privacy and seeking an injunction to stop the surveillance.


"We have discovered that Greenpeace has been subject to systematic highly intrusive investigations by Thompson & Clark [Investigations] and people working for them," Norman said.

"They have been following our staff and volunteers in their private lives as well as their professional lives.

"We took steps to confirm some of the information we received. That involved looking at some of the dossiers compiled by Thompson & Clark. We also put in place a counter-surveillance operation to catch them in the act.

You may remember Thompson & Clark as the outfit Solid Energy hired to spy on anti-coal activists a decade ago and which has used illegal tracking devices on animal rights activists. Now they're working for Statoil and Anadarko - foreign companies. Which incidentally makes them an agent of a foreign power, spying on New Zealanders to try and disrupt our democracy. Supposedly we have an agency which is supposed to protect us from shit like that, but I think we all know whose side they're on. And so its left to Greenpeace to protect themselves through the courts.

The New Zealand government is allegedly involved in this as well (by which I assume MBIE). We've seen this before with Timberlands and Solid Energy, and it is simply not acceptable for any government agency to hire private thugs to spy on and disrupt democratic opposition to government policy. There needs to be a full and public inquiry into any government involvement, and if there is any, it needs to be stamped out and the people who arranged it fired. There should be no place in our public service or wider public sector for those who would suppress democracy.

Meanwhile, we should be asking Norway why a supposedly friendly country is hiring thugs to disrupt our democracy, and whether they think it is acceptable or in accordance with their democratic values.

Why should we subsidise the dairy industry?

The Green-Labour policy to make commercial water users pay for their use of a public resource has farmers running scared and whining that it will force them out of business. To which the response is "so?" To point out the obvious, that water is a public resource, and it is only fair that farmers pay for it. Letting them not pay for it is effectively subsidising them. And why should urban New Zealand subsidise environmental destruction for the private profit of a few?

The same argument applies to the whining about Canterbury dairy farmers going out of business if they have to clean up their act to save Lake Ellesmere. These farmers are currently destroying a public resource, causing (according to ECan) $300 million in economic damage to it per year. Which means that we are effectively subsidising them by that sum. And why the hell should we do that?

Polluters should pay the full social costs of the resources they use and the environmental damage they cause. If paying those costs means that they are no longer (privately) profitable, then they were never profitable in the first place - they were simply hiding that fact by getting us to pay for their losses. And in such situations, the best thing that can happen to such businesses is for them to go out of business as quickly as possible, so they don't cost us any more money.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Burn it all to the fucking ground

That's my immediate response to the news that Metiria Turei has resigned and will be leaving Parliament. Rage, just utter rage at a political system where this can happen. Where people who have been poor are villified and harassed because of the choices a corrupt, unfair, immoral system forced them to make. Where those people are sent a clear message that they should not and never can be involved in politics. Where instead, we're ruled by entitled wankers like Gower and Hosking and People Like Them who meet their approval.

The actual resignation was triggered by unsubstantiated rumours put about about Metiria's family. The sort of rumours which are impossible to answer without involving people who never signed up for politics. Rather than do that, Metiria resigned. It was the decent thing to do. At the same time, it is utterly fucking vile that these arseholes get to win like this. It is absolutely disgusting that the right wins by going after people's families. But that's the sort of arseholes we have running this country.

Earlier today, I said that if the right wants a C19th "democracy" which excludes poor people, they need to be reminded of the C19th solution: pitchforks and guillotines. I stand by that. Fuck them all, burn it all to the fucking ground.

Justice for CIA torture?

So far the US courts have ruled that those tortured illegally by the CIA can receive no justice from their torturers. But there is someone they can go after: the unethical psychologists who designed the torture programs:

A civil lawsuit brought by three victims of the CIA’s torture program against the two psychologists who created it will go to court on 5 September in Washington state, after a judge ruled that more than a year of discovery had yielded sufficient evidence to support the plaintiffs’ claims.

Judge Justin Quackenbush issued a written opinion on Monday in the suit, in which James Mitchell and John “Bruce” Jessen are accused of designing, promoting and sharing responsibility for the interrogation methods to which the three men were subjected.

It will now be up to a jury in Spokane, Washington, to decide if the psychologists, who reportedly were paid $75m-$81m under their contract with the CIA to create the so-called enhanced interrogation program, are financially liable for the physical and psychological effects of their torture.

At least 39 men were tortured using Mitchell and Jesson's techniques, and at least one of them died. Its entirely right that they be held liable for that. But they're not the only ones, and it shouldn't just be civil. The CIA thugs who drowned people on the waterboards and the suited policy-makers who approved it should all be facing criminal charges, and long terms of imprisonment if convicted. The US's refusal to allow this is a betrayal both of its own professed values, and of its obligations under the Convention Against Torture.

More Australian corruption

The Australian Liberal Party has been taking money from the mafia:

A Liberal insider conspired to funnel donations from an alleged Mafia boss and his three relatives into party coffers after a lobster dinner involving the men and Victorian Opposition Leader Matthew Guy, secret phone records have revealed.

Recordings of phone conversations obtained by Fairfax Media and Four Corners involving Liberal Party official Barrie Macmillan also capture Mr Macmillan plotting to split the promised donations into smaller amounts to avoid disclosing the source of the funds to authorities.

"They want to give Matthew a substantial donation towards next year. Now, I understand what they can and can't do," Mr Macmillan says on the recording, referring to alleged Mafia boss and long-time Liberal donor Tony Madafferi and three of his relatives.


Mr Macmillan said on the recording: "You can't associate Matthew with money and I would have to be the intermediary. But I'm talking about a swag of money that they're prepared to give for them [Mr Guy's campaign].

Guy has apparently referred himself to Victoria's corruption commission, which will find that everything is above board because they're specifically excluded from investigating cases like this. Which tells you how institutionally corrupt the Australian political system is: few safeguards, and the few they do have are intentionally crippled by corrupt politicians so that all they can do is provide a veneer of respectability. I'm utterly shocked that Australians put up with this. But I guess their unfair election system doesn't really give them much choice.