Monday, December 18, 2017



The British Army committed war crimes in Iraq

Its official: the British Army committed war crimes in Iraq. Their own courts say so:

British troops breached the Geneva conventions and subjected Iraqi civilians to cruel and inhuman treatment by hooding them and taking turns to run over their backs, the high court has ruled.

Furthermore, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) breached the conventions as well as the 1998 Human Rights Act in the way in which it detained civilians after the 2003 invasion, the court concluded on Thursday.

The judgment comes 10 days after the international criminal court (ICC) declared there was “a reasonable basis” to conclude that British troops committed war crimes against Iraqi detainees.

[...]

The court also ruled that the MoD’s policy of detaining individuals as prisoners of war unless it was certain they were civilians, rather than releasing them when there was no proof they were combatants, was based on a misunderstanding of the Geneva conventions.


The victims in this case were mistreated in other ways - subjected to forced nudity and sexual humiliation and burned with cigarettes - but couldn't prove that they were in British (rather than US) custody at the time. Still, they've been awarded £84,000 in compensation, and there are over 600 cases pending.

But the kicker is this bit:
Despite the court’s findings, the MoD said no service personnel or veterans had been interviewed by investigators, nobody had been charged with any offence and no criminal charges may ever be brought in the UK.

A court finds war crimes were committed, and the Ministry of Defence says they won't do anything to find and punish those responsible. Which seems like a deliberate policy of turning a blind eye, a criminal conspiracy to ensure impunity. And that's exactly why the International Criminal Court needs to get involved, and why the British generals and politicians responsible for the invasion and its conduct need to be tried in The Hague.

Climate change: Costs and benefits of ending oil

On Friday, SSC released the information it had provided to political parties during the coalition negotiations phase. Among this was advice to the Green Party on the cost of ending all future coal mining, offshore oil drilling, and fracking. Using a present-value approach - basicly, all the money we will ever get from those industries, discounted for time, and not including benefits such as stopping spills and environmental destruction - put the cost of ending oil at $15 billion. Note that that's not an actual price tag, but a cost in terms of "money we will never get". Ending coal was priced at $441 million, which in present-value terms is next to nothing.

$15 billion sounds like a lot, and it is. But as noted above, it doesn't consider benefits, only costs (which largely fall on foreign oil companis, not kiwis). So what are those benefits? Avoiding sea-level rise, for a start:

The most recent national assessment found nearly 170,000 buildings sat within 3m of the mean high water spring, exposing them not just to sea level rise, but also storm-tide and wave flooding that could reach 1-2m in exposed places.

If all of those buildings were lost, they would cost $52 billion to replace.

About 68,000 buildings are below the 1m mark, carrying a replacement value of about $19b.

The report didn't include other assets or infrastructure on the damage bill, other than identifying the kilometres of road and rail exposed, and the number of airports.


So, the benefits of ending fossil fuel burning outweigh the costs by a margin of at least three to one. Even if the first metre of sea-level rise (which will drown South Dunedin, New Brighton, Eastbourne and Petone) is already baked in and unavoidable, its still a two to one benefit to cost ratio. Which seems like a complete no-brainer.

Two thirds of kiwis live in areas prone to sea-level rise. Ending fossil fuel use isn't some green quack - its an essential survival step. And while ending it here will only be a small amount, and won't protect us from foreign CO2, the journey is made of single steps, and we can't expect others to do what we won't do ourselves.

Friday, December 15, 2017



Submit!

The Justice Committee has called for submissions on the End of Life Choice Bill, you can either submit using the online form linked above, or by sending two copies to:

Committee Secretariat
Justice Committee
Parliament Buildings
Wellington

Submissions are due by Tuesday, 20 February 2018.

This is an important bill, and will be the subject of heavy lobbying from religious loonies. If you care about the bill, I encourage you to speak up about it.

New Fisk

The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation is no longer a force on the world stage

Little on the SIS

The Herald has a big piece on the SIS's unlawful use of customs data, which includes the first comment by SIS Minister Andrew Little on the matter:

Gwyn seems to have eschewed diplomatic niceties for the benefit of plain-speaking. It is not common to have oversight watchdogs speaking so bluntly.

And when Gwynn does speak so, the agencies' minister Andrew Little has reminded Kitteridge that she is obliged to listen.

"The Inspector General is the final and independent active oversight of these agencies.

When she reports, that's the bottom line.

"If the Inspector General is saying something is unlawful, it is for the agencies to step in line with what she says."


Which is what you'd expect a Minister to say. The problem is that here, the SIS has systematically refused to listen, and obstructed the Inspector-General's investigation (which is a crime). There need to be consequences for that, so that they actually get the fucking message. Unfortunately, where Little could be laying down the law and making examples, he is silent. Which is not a good sign that this will be the last case of unlawful behaviour by our spies, or that their culture of impunity will change.

Thursday, December 14, 2017



Fixing National's social deficit

The government has unveiled plans to fix National's social deficit, with a $5.5 billion package to help the poor, to by funded by taking away National's tax cuts for the rich. Good. For nine long years, National doled out tax cuts to its rich mates, while shitting on everyone at the bottom of the heap. At the same time, they eroded workers rights, keeping wages low and ensuring that people couldn't work their way out of poverty. I'm glad to see that change.

Government exists to help us, both by direct redistribution through taxation, and by providing the services we need. Labour, NZ First and the Greens will do that. National wouldn't. And we're well rid of them.

NZ's intelligence oversight is a bad joke

The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security has released their report into NZSIS access to Customs data, and it is an appalling litany of criminal behaviour by our spies. The short version: for years, the SIS accessed customs and immigration databases giving details on everyone's travel movements, and copied the data to their own servers for future mining (so, they know where you've been, if they ever care to look). In November 2014, they were told that this was illegal, so following their usual pattern, they had the government ram through an urgent law-change to legalise it (you may recall the democratic atrocity of the government holding sham select committee hearings, where submissions were solicited, but never read). They then systematically violated the constraints imposed by the law they had written, and did not stop even when informed by the Inspector-General that it was illegal. It was only in August last year that they finally began obeying the law (and of course, they then had another urgent law rammed through to broaden their access).

It gets worse. The SIS is refusing to admit that they behaved unlawfully, and refusing to provide the Inspector-General with information about the extent of their unlawful access or what has happened to the data. That in itself is contrary to the Intelligence and Security Act (and the Act which preceded it), and a criminal offence, which the Inspector-General all but accuses them of. So will anyone be prosecuted, or even sacked? Of course not. Because when push comes to shove, the spies are above the law, and the Inspector-General (like the IPCA) is there to provide pretty lies to the public about how they are under control, rather than actually keep them under control (or at least, that is the effect in practice when their recommendations are ignored and there are no prosecutions even in cases of clear and systematic criminal behaviour, as here).

As I noted when this story first emerged earlier in the week, Parliament needs to put its foot down. They have told us very explicitly that the spies will be controlled and their powers scrutinised. They've passed laws saying so. And those laws are being ignored. Their legitimacy as a parliament depends on their standing up for our rights, upholding those laws, calling the SIS to account and sacking people. And if they don't, then we might as well give up on laws and elections, because they will have shown that in practice, its the spies who call the shots.

Passed

Last night, Parliament debated David Seymour's End of Life Choice Bill - and voted 76-44 to send it to committee. Its an overwhelming vote, much larger than the bare majority I think people were expecting. And while some of it is due to NZ First's agreement to vote it forward if Seymour agreed to support a referendum clause, it still had enough support to get over the line without them.

So now the battle moves to the select committee. The bigots (including foreign bigots) are lobbying heavily on this, just as they did over homosexual law reform, civil unions, and marriage equality. So if you support the bill, its important to speak up for it. I'll post details on how to submit when they go up.

The good news is that with 77 votes for first reading, the bill has a high likelihood of passing. There will undoubtedly be amendments from the committee, but they are likely to be technical rather than substantive. Though there will be a strategic question about whether Seymour continues with the referendum path, or just opts for a straight up or down vote. I guess we'll find that out late next year.

Drawn

A ballot was held today for a single Member's Bill, and the following bill was drawn:

  • Sale and Supply of Alcohol (Renewal of Licenses) Amendment Bill (Louisa Wall)

Parliament's website still hasn't caught up on all the bills in the ballot yet, so I've no idea what that one does.

Jan Tinetti (whose Education (National Education and Learning Priorities) Amendment Bill was drawn yesterday) already has another bill in the ballot. Also, despite all their noise about "transparency" over the last few weeks, National doesn't have a single bill in on the subject. Which I guess shows how they really feel about it.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017



More dubious behaviour from the SIS

The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security has released their report into the Legality and propriety of warnings given by the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service. The report is a follow-on from an early inquiry into the SIS's actions in raiding and warning members of the NZ Fijian community, in the process smearing an innocent man. The Inspector-General at the time found that that practice was illegal. The new Inspector-General has followed up by investigating past "warnings" from the SIS, and given substantial recommendations on how to ensure that future warnings respect fundamental human rights and comply with s16 of the Intelligence and security Act.

Past practice seems to have been appalling, with SIS officers at one stage explicitly instructed to exploit people's misapprehensions about their role and connections with foreign intelligence services - in other words, to let people think they were a despotic secret police able to kidnap and torture, and that they would pas son information to enable foreign human rights abuses if cooperation was not forthcoming. The Inspector-General calls this a one-off, except that this is exactly what they did in the Fijian case, explicitly threatening to inform Fijian authorities, which "could result in problems for and harm to people in [that country]". In one warning, they even appear to have specifically referred to Fijian human rights abuses.

The Inspector-General has made it clear that this isn't acceptable, and this has been accepted by the SIS (largely because its also been nailed down very clearly in statute and Ministerial Policy Statements). But the IGIS has also made recommendations about procedural fairness in such interviews, around both their context (whether there are police present), and whether people are allowed to retain a written copy so that they know exactly what they are being warned about. The SIS has rejected these recommendations, putting its own operational convenience and petty secrecy above people's fundamental rights.

This is not acceptable. It also undermines the whole oversight regime. Again, if the spies can just ignore the Inspector-General, there's simply no point in having one. But bluntly, if there's not going to be oversight, we can't have spies. If the SIS behaves like this, they need to be defunded and eliminated. Because the cost of having a lawless, criminal agency is far worse than anything they might ever prevent.

Drawn

A ballot was held today for three Member's Bills, and the following bills were drawn:

  • KiwiFund Bill (Fletcher Tabuteau)
  • Education (National Education and Learning Priorities) Amendment Bill (Jan Tinetti)
  • Education (Protecting Teacher Title) Amendment Bill (Jenny Marcroft)
So, three government bills to replace the ones they pulled. Things worked out for them after all. Sadly not drawn: Angie Warren-Clark's Crimes (Offence of Blasphemous Libel) Amendment Bill, which would presumably repeal the archaic offence of blasphemous libel. Its good to see a Labour MP finally stepping up to push for this - it is long past time.

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day, the second of the new Parliament - and finally, we're going to see something happen. Labour withdrew three of its member's bills yesterday in order to move David Seymour's End of Life Choice Bill up the Order Paper, and it looks likely to begin its first reading today. But first, there's some other business to plough through, in the form of the committee stage of Ruth Dyson's Rates Rebate (Retirement Village Residents) Amendment Bill, the rest of the second reading of Brett Hudson's Employment Relations (Allowing Higher Earners to Contract Out of Personal Grievance Provisions) Amendment Bill, and the rest of the first reading of Parmjeet Parmar's Newborn Enrolment with General Practice Bill. These will take up most of the day, but the debate on the End of Life Choices Bill should start before 9pm. Whether we'll see a vote will depend on how quickly the House gets through other business.

Due to Labour pulling its bills, there will be a ballot for three bills at noon today. There should also be a ballot for a further bill tomorrow. So, new bills for the House to play with!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017



Spain is more transparent than New Zealand

Given its treatment of Catalonia, it is clear that Spain is (still) a fascist, authoritarian state. However, its a fascist, authoritarian state which is more transparent than New Zealand, in that it is now legally required to release Cabinet agendas and minutes. The original article is in Spanish, but there was an English translation on the FOIANet mailign list:

Access Info has today published on its website the minutes of Spain’s weekly Cabinet meetings for the years 1996 to 2017, making them available to the public for the first time in Spanish democratic history.

The minutes, which contain the desicions reached in each weekly meeting, were obtained using information requests by Access Info as part of collaborative research with journalist Jesús Escudero, and have been published to mark the third anniversary of the entry into force of Spain’s Transparency Law on 10 December 2014.

[...]

Access Info's work to open up the Spanish Cabinet started in 2016 with an initial request for the agendas of the weekly Cabinet meetings, documents which were then used by various journalists as the basis for further investigations.

Access Info is calling for information on decision-making processes to be made public: “This is just the tip of the iceberg,” concluded Gutiérrez, “The government should now ensure proactive publication of the minutes not only of Cabinet meetings but also those of other decision-making processes.”


While New Zealand (falsely) prides itself on our government transparency, this information would never be released here. DPMC has rejected requests for basic information such as Cabinet agendas, claiming that telling us what ministers are discussing or have discussed in the past this would compromise Ministerial collective responsibility, free and frank advice, and confidentiality. They have refused to release older agendas where those interests are less likely to be relevant, and refused even to release information with redactions to protect those interests (standard practice with every other agency). Their justification for this is that
Cabinet agendas have been requested under the OIA in the past, but the Cabinet Office has never released them publicly because my predecessors and I have maintained a consistent position that it would not be in the public interest to do so.

In other words, it is secret because it has always been secret, and bugger the law! (Incidentally, the public servant who wrote that is now the SIS head who is obstructing IGIS investigations. Mindless secrecy seems to be her thing).

Cabinet is the heart of our government. Secrecy there poisons everything else. Transparency there, around what they are discussing and what they have decided, is vital if we are to consider ourselves to be an open democracy. The new government has made some positive noises around proactive release of Cabinet material, which is good, but until that happens, the least they could do is force DPMC to comply with the OIA and release such information on request. Otherwise, we face the prospect of being less transparent than fascist Spain.

The SIS breaks the law again

Another annual report from the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, and another revelation that our spy agencies have broken the law - this time over data sharing with Customs. But what's worse is that they have flatly refused to cooperate with the Inspector-General's investigation:

Our spies have broken the law accessing Customs and Immigration data and have resisted explaining to the intelligence oversight body why they have done so.

That's the blunt statement spelled out in the latest annual report from the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security.

[...]

The details are revealed in the latest annual report from Gwynn into the NZ Security Intelligence Service and the Government Communications Security Bureau.

In it, Gwynn said the NZSIS had "unlawfully obtained Customs data" until mid-2016 and it had not properly explained why.


In the past, intelligence agencies have provided the Inspector-General with their internal legal advice, which is essential to understanding their position. SIS has refused. Which suggests that their advice is tenuous (or non-existent), and they know it, and are relying on secrecy to avoid the criticism they deserve. But either wya, it shows us that the "oversight" of IGIS is fundamentally broken, that their legal power to compel evidence (which overrides secrecy) is apparently insufficient, and that spies do not fear the derisory $5,000 fine for obstructing the Inspector-General in their duties. In other words, the oversight regime is a joke. But if that's the case, then the promise the government made (that new spy powers would be constrained by better oversight) was a lie, and that it is simply not safe for our society to have spies.

Parliament needs to put its foot down: either SIS cooperates completely with IGIS, or they get defunded and eliminated. Because their legitimacy depends on being seen to uphold our rights against the spies, by ensuring that the latter follow the law. Parliament cannot permit a public agency to behave in such a criminal and lawless manner. At least, not if it wants to keep saying that we are a democracy.

Stealing from their employees

Checkpoint last night had an appalling story about KFC, which has an explicit corporate policy of stealing leave from its employees:

Former store managers at fast food chain KFC say they were told to manipulate rosters in the lead up to public holidays so the company could avoid giving staff a day in lieu.

Checkpoint with John Campbell has spoken to five former store managers who say they were sent an excel spreadsheet unofficially called a 'yellow list' in the weeks before public holidays.

The managers say employees who needed their shifts changed, stopping them from being entitled to a day in lieu, were highlighted in yellow.

They say yellow lists were sent by either their area manager, or payroll at KFC head office, and were to "control labour costs".


And corporate HQ explicitly praised store managers who manipulated rosters to ensure that no-one got paid for their day off.

This is simply theft, an abuse of their power as an employer to steal entitlements from their workers. But its also clear that KFC are arseholes. And who wants to buy from thieving arseholes?

The good news is that its also probably illegal: burger chain Wendy's used the same techniques, and the Employment Relations Authority has just ruled that it is illegal and that they must review all public holidays for the past five years and repay thjeir employees for any holidays they've stolen. Other fast food companies are following the ruling, and hopefully KFC will too. Otherwise, I guess their workers will just have to take them to court, and make them pay not just for stolen holidays, but the costs of enforcing them as well.

Not official information

The ombudsman has issued a provisional opinion on the government's 33-page coalition document, and found it not to be official information. Meaning that its not covered by the Act and does not have to be released:

The coalition Government's refusal to release a 33-page document created during negotiations has been backed by the Chief Ombudsman's provisional ruling.

[...]

In the provisional ruling, sent to Newsroom, Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier said he was satisfied the document had not played a role in policy decisions.

Boshier said he had "carefully read and considered" the document, saying it was "clearly made for the purpose of assisting the parties with coalition negotiations".

"It contains discussion points designed for negotiation and, despite certain public comments to the contrary, does not include information such as directives to Ministers," Boshier said, in the provisional decision sent to Newsroom.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's office told Boshier the document had not been passed on to any ministers or government departments, or used by any ministers in carrying out their official duties.

Boshier said he was satisfied the information had not been used by Ardern in her role as Prime Minister, and was held "solely in her capacity as Leader of the New Zealand Labour Party".


And that's reasonable. The OIA covers government information, created or held by Ministers or agencies. It doesn't cover political parties, or information created or held by politicians in their political capacity as MP's or party leaders. And while that distinction can and has been abused by (National) Ministers playing the "hat game", I'm satisfied that the Ombudsman can tell the difference between what is official and what is not.

Monday, December 11, 2017



Will National support child poverty targets?

When it was in government, National resolutely refused to set a target for child poverty, or even recognise an official statistic for it. Basicly, they didn't want to talk about it, or how their policies to help the rich seemed to make other people worse off. But now, Jacinda Ardern wants their support for a new targets regime:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wants National's support for a new law that will "take the politics out of poverty" and bind future Governments to set targets to reduce child poverty.

And she says the Government's families package, which will be launched this week, will lift more than 50,000 children out of poverty and help 70 per cent of low and middle income families.

Ardern, who is also the Minister for Child Poverty Reduction, said the Government would introduce a child poverty bill in the new year, and she will write to National Party leader Bill English to seek his support.

It would set a range of measures of child poverty and bind the Government, and future Governments, to setting three-year and 10-year child poverty reduction targets.


Its a good policy, which will force governments to admit the problem and at least pretend to do something about it - and allow us to hold them accountable at the ballot box if they don't do enough. But while I think Ardern has to make the offer to National, I don't think they'll be interested. Throughout its nine long years in government, National consistently showed it simply was not interested in child poverty, and refused to admit that there even was a problem, let alone that government could do anything about it. So they're really not going to be interested in binding themselves to care about it in future. And while normally losing an election would cause an ex-government to reconsider things like that, National is in denial even about that, and still pretending that they didn't lose (despite the reality that they're now in opposition and Bill English has taken a $250,000 pay cut).

In other words, I don't expect anything from National in this area. Its not a problem that affects the rich, or farmers, or trucking or construction companies, so they just won't give a shit about it. The best we can expect is a sullen acceptance of the law produced only by fear of the political cost of repeal, combined with do nothing targets next time they're in government. Just like climate change, in other words.

New Fisk

Donald Trump says recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel will bring peace – it will do quite the opposite

Time to bring them home

Over the weekend, Iraq declared victory in the fight against ISIS, saying that "All Iraqi lands are liberated from terrorist Daesh [Isis] gangs". Which means that its time to think about bringing kiwi troops home.

New Zealand currently has ~150 soldiers in Iraq training the Iraqi army. That deployment is currently expected to end in November 2018, though NZDF wants to keep them there forever to suck up to Trump. But now the war is officially over, there's no reason to. Australia will be immediately reviewing its deployment, and we should be too. After all, if there's no reason to remain, why stay?

Friday, December 08, 2017



Truth overboard again

When the New Zealand government started making serious noise about Australia's immoral refugee concentration camps, and offered to free people from them and give them a new home in New Zealand, suddenly there were Australian claims of "boats heading for New Zealand". Of course, it was all a lie:

There have been no intelligence reports that boat-people are targeting New Zealand more since the change of Government, nor any suggestion of a credible attempt by people smugglers to reach these shores by boat, the Government says.

And Andrew Little, Minister responsible for intelligence agencies the GCSB and the SIS, says that the boat-people who Australia says wanted to come to New Zealand probably didn't even know where New Zealand was.

His comments support those of a senior Foreign Affairs official, who told the Foreign Affairs select committee this morning that there was no evidence boat smugglers are targeting New Zealand more since the standoff over Manus Island.


This isn't surprising. The Australian government has shown a willingness in the past to lie to its own people to bolster its monstrous policy - as in the case of the "children overboard" affair (where the Australian Liberals used such lies to win an election). At the same time, Australia is supposed to be our closest friend. And yet, they're lying to us in an effort to manipulate our public and our policies. This is not the action of a friendly nation. But I guess, Australia hasn't been friendly for quite a while.

Meanwhile, remember: if you don't like Australian policy, Australian cruelty, and Australian lies, don't buy Australian. Its very easy once you get into the habit.

Thursday, December 07, 2017



Equality finally comes to Australia

The Australian parliament has finally passed its same-sex marriage bill. Unlike New Zealand, where MPs simply introduced and voted for a member's bill, the Australian government forced its citizens to participate in a non-binding postal referendum, exposing gay Australians to an outburst of hate speech. When the referendum failed to produce the result the bigots wanted (because they're a minority even in racist, bigoted Australia), they then tried to wreck the resulting legislation with amendments which would have effectively nullified anti-discrimination law and allowed widespread discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Fortunately, those amendments failed. And in the end, the bill was passed without even a head count, because those "opposing" it weren't actually willing to go on record as voting against it.

In other words, the opposition to marriage equality wasn't principled, wasn't from people who actually cared. It was from people who knew better trying to pander to the very worst in society. What a pack of arseholes. Australia needs, and deserves, better politicians than this.

Merry BIM-mas!

Its BIM day, and so I'm spending it reading the Briefings to Incoming Ministers. Most of them are dull, but there have been a few interesting bits:

  • NZDF has redacted comments about how long kiwi troops will be in Iraq. Its not clear whether this is because they expect the new government to withdraw them, or because they want to keep them there for as long as the US wants.
  • The GCSB and SIS want Ministers to trek down to Pipitea House for classified briefings, rather than giving them in the Beehive. Who goes to who shows who works for who, so basicly they're saying they're more important than our elected government. The inconvenience will also deter such briefings, potentially impacting on oversight of both our spy agencies and the intelligence warrant system. The alternative - appropriate secure facilities in the Beehive - is never suggested.
  • The State Services BIM has only a single mention of "open government". SSC's BIM does talk about opennness and transparency, but seems to be largely in denial about the problems with the OIA, and uses good statistics on timeliness to pretend that there are no problems around e.g. unlawful redaction. Its certainly not the approach I'd expect from an organisation committed to open government.
  • The climate change BIM is informative about expected policy direction, but still has an unhealthy (and, given our lack of access to international markets, utterly unrealistic) focus on using international units to meet our commitments. This is echoed in MFAT's briefing on international climate change issues, which also suggests that MFAT is going to keep pushing for accounting scams for trees in order to actuarially reduce our commitment.
  • Unlike Gareth Morgan, DoC thinks domestic cats have a place in New Zealand, even in a predator-free New Zealand. That's a relief for us cat-minions.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017



Time for a republic

During his 33 years in Parliament Peter Dunne was a strong supporter of a New Zealand republic. Now, he's used his pseudo-valedictory speech at VUW's post-election conference to renew that call:

Former United Future leader Peter Dunne has challenged the millennial generation in Parliament to "seize the moment" and begin a process to turn New Zealand into a republic.

"I strongly believe that the time has well passed for us to have severed the umbilical cord to grandmother England," he told a conference at Parliament today.

"We should be an independent republic within the Commonwealth, like India or South Africa and the majority of other Commonwealth nations.

"It is not just my Irish heritage or my sense of pride and confidence in our country in what it can do that is why I am so staunchly in the belief that we can do so much better than continue to bend our knee to a hereditary monarch on the other side of the world.

"We have consistently shown over the last 30 years or so that we can produce many quality New Zealanders to serve as our Governor-General.

"There is no reason why we cannot do likewise with a non-executive president in that role and frankly the time for change is well overdue."


He is absolutely right. While Britain colonised us, there is no reason now why we should continue to be ruled by a foreign monarch on the other side of the world. Instead, we should complete the repatriation of our constitution, ditch the monarch, and have our own president. Given how little the monarch actually does, the change will be almost entirely symbolic. But symbols matter, and the symbolism of the monarch - especially a foreign monarchy with a history of genocide and murder - is utterly inconsistent with the values of modern Aotearoa. We should change that symbol, and the sooner we do it, the better.

New Fisk

An Israeli dream might come true if Trump declares Jerusalem the capital – but so will an Arab nightmare

Withdrawn

For the past month, Catalan president Carles Puigdemont has been in exile in Brussels, forced to flee to avoid being jailed on charges of "sedition" and "rebellion" for respecting the outcome of a democratic vote. The Spanish government has been trying and failing to extradite him. But now they've suddenly withdrawn their extradition request:

A Spanish judge has lifted the extradition order on the former Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, and four former cabinet members who fled to Belgium to avoid charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds.

In a surprise move as campaigning officially began for this month’s Catalan election, supreme court judge Pablo Llarena withdrew European arrest warrants for the five, but national warrants still stand – meaning they would be likely to face arrest if they chose to return to Spain.

Puigdemont said after the supreme court decision he would stay in Belgium “for the moment”.


The reason is simple: they were going to lose, as (unlike Spain) Belgium requires actual violence rather than democratic voting for sedition and rebellion. And as he can't be jailed for "misuse of public funds" (AKA "spending money according to the commands of the Catalan Parliament on something Spain didn't like"), that would defeat the entire purpose of the exercise. This week Spain finally released six Catalan cabinet Ministers on bail - but only after they had promised to give up politics and not campaign for independence. Those who refused, including Catalan vice-president Oriol Junqueras, are still in prison. Which makes it clear that they are being detained for their political views, not because of any threat to the public.

Meanwhile, in an ominous sign, Spain has refused to allow international observers to observe its forced elections. Which immediately suggests that they are going to try and fix them. They are already mounting a campaign of repression to prevent people campaigning for independence, including banning the colour yellow. If this continues, then it is unlikely the elections will meet international standards. But as we've already seen, the last thing Spain wants is for Catalans to have a free and fair vote to choose their future. Instead, that future will be dictated to them by Madrid. That's not democratic. But Spain surrendered any pretence of democracy when it sent riot police to beat and shoot people for voting.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017



Justice for Iraq?

In 2003, British forces joined the US in invading Iraq. The invasion was followed by serious allegations that they had abused and tortured prisoners in their custody, resulting in at least one death. While the UK government compensated several victims, they have generally tried to impede any investigation or prosecution, shutting down the Iraq Historic Allegations Team, while secretly pressuring the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal to try and have a law firm which represented their victims punished. But now, the game is up, with the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court announcing that the claims of war crimes by British troops have a reasonable basis:

The chief prosecutor at the international criminal court in The Hague, Fatou Bensouda, has declared there is a “reasonable basis” to believe that UK soldiers committed war crimes against detainees during the Iraq conflict.

The announcement on Monday means the ICC will press ahead with its investigation into claims that British troops abused and unlawfully killed prisoners after the US-led invasion.

It came in a 74-page report delivered in New York to the annual assembly of states parties that participate in the jurisdiction of the court.

In her conclusion on the long-running inquiry into the role of British troops in Iraq between 2003 and 2008, Bensouda said: “The [prosecutor’s] office has reached the conclusion that there is a reasonable basis to believe that members of the UK armed forces committed war crimes within the jurisdiction of the court against persons in their custody.”


Hopefully this means the ICC will investigate and prosecute the offences the British have refused to properly investigate and prosecute themselves. Which means we might finally see some justice for Iraq.

Stopping the beast

At the moment, a giant seismic survey ship is operating off the coast of New Zealand. It will be firing extremely loud seismic blasts into the seabed every 10 seconds for up to three months in an effort to find oil. But Greenpeace may have found a way of stopping it:

At the rally, Greenpeace will announce legal proceedings seeking a declaration that Schlumberger requires an additional permit from DOC under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), and without it, must stop seismic blasting. Greenpeace understands the company has only been granted a permit by the Ministry of Energy under the Crown Minerals Act.

Anyone undertaking activities that could disturb marine mammals, including whales, must seek a permit under the MMPA, says Greenpeace campaigner Kate Simcock. She says there is clear evidence that seismic exploration disturbs and even injures whales.

Schlumberger’s operation will see it firing seismic blasts into the seabed to search for oil every 10 seconds, 24 hours a day, for up to three months.

"The impacts on blue whales in this area are likely to be torturous, interfering with their communication and feeding," Simcock says.


The Marine Mammal Protection Act prohibits "taking" any marine mammal without a permit. "Taking" includes to harass or disturb, and the regulations governing ordinary interactions with whales, dolphins and seals make it clear that loud noises are contemplated as a disturbance. Those regulations are aimed at hoons in boats and sorts of noises they could make. But the Amazon Warrior will be doing something much more severe: constant and extremely loud noise pollution in the whales' habitat. In other words, constant disturbance and harassment.

The MMPA trumps other laws, so any approval under the Crown Minerals or EEZ Acts doesn't permit this harassment. The issue for the court then will be whether the extreme levels of underwater noise generated by the seismic survey process disturb or harass whales - and if there's an arguable case, whether they need to injunct it to prevent a breach of the law . Of course, the Amazon Warrior could apply for a permit, but this both means that DoC gets to decide whether they can survey, and effectively admitting that they have already committed a criminal offence. Either way, its going to be interesting. And no doubt, we'll see the dying fossil fuel industry wailing for another regulatory subsidy to exempt them from a law that everyone else has to follow.

New Fisk

What the Russian Revolution can teach us about the Middle East today

Austerity equals poverty

How bad is the British government's self-inflicted austerity? In addition to murdering 120,000 people, it has driven 20% of the population into poverty:

Britain’s record on tackling poverty has reached a turning point and is at risk of unravelling, following the first sustained rises in child and pensioner poverty for two decades, a major report has warned.

Nearly 400,000 more children and 300,000 more pensioners are now living in poverty than five years ago, during which time there have been continued increases in poverty across both age groups – prompting experts to warn that hard-fought progress towards tackling destitution is “in peril”.

The report, by the independent Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), shows that a total of 14 million people in the UK currently live in poverty – more than one in five of the population. While poverty levels fell in the years to 2011-12, changes to welfare policy – especially since the 2015 Budget – have seen the numbers creep up again.


The basic function of government is to take care of its people. By any measure, the British government has failed at this. And with their attention focused on Brexit and its related infighting, they're just not going to bother fixing this any time soon, or ease the horrific impact of Brexit on their victims.

Monday, December 04, 2017



Our police are still rotten

Back in the 1970's, the New Zealand Police framed Arthur Allan Thomas for a murder he did not commit. Thomas was eventually freed, but none of the officers who framed him faced any professional or criminal consequences, and just a few years ago the Police were still pretending that they had done nothing wrong. And its not an isolated story. Over the weekend, the Sunday Star Times had a story about former assistant commissioner Malcolm Burgess, who the Independent Police Conduct Authority has now (belatedly) concluded threatened to kill a woman in an effort to prevent her from going to the media about police wrongdoing. Burgess had been assigned to lead a police investigation into the cover-up of police involvement in the death of a young man. Instead, he threatened the victim's relatives to try and silence them. The IPCA initially rejected the complaint without investigating it and concluded that Burgess had "behaved appropriately". Last year, they finally bothered to speak to the witnesses, changed their minds, and even issued an apology for their failure to the complainant. By which time Burgess had retired on a full pension. As for the police, they're relying on that initial failure to investigate, and continuing to pretend nothing bad happened:

Joyce wants a public apology from police, but that call was rejected by current assistant commissioner Richard Chambers.

"Former assistant commissioner Burgess served New Zealand Police for 40 years and was a distinguished and professional officer who was dedicated to serving the community," Chambers said.

"For these allegations to continually be raised when they have already been formally considered and dismissed is disappointing. The allegations from Ms Joyce are strongly refuted by police and retired former assistant commissioner Malcolm Burgess.

"Therefore New Zealand Police will not be offering any apology."


And that's the problem right there: the police are simply institutionally incapable of admitting that one of their own has ever done anything wrong, even when a royal commission or their own conduct authority finds otherwise. In other words, they still institutionally shield and protect the reputations of the criminals among them. And until that changes, they simply cannot be trusted.

Time to strengthen whistleblower protections

The government is reportedly considering stronger protections for whistleblowers:

Whistleblowers who dob-in bad behaviour by their employers to the media could get legal protection.

State Services Minister Chris Hipkins said the Government planned to review New Zealand's Protected Disclosures Act saying there was "a strong view" the 17 year-old law needed updating to keep pace with international best practice.

"Over the coming months I will be working with my officials on available policy options. I will consider the next steps when this work is more advanced," he said.


Good. Because the current law clearly isn't working, and is ignored by the very institutions responsible for upholding it. As for how to fix it, there are two obvious measures. One is to allow whistleblowers to go to the media or MP's if their concerns have been ignored by their proper reporting chain. That's an important incentive for those who receive whistleblower reports to actually act on them: because otherwise it will blow up messily in their faces. Related to this, we need to decriminalise government whistleblowing. National made it a criminal offence for people who have ever held a government security clearance to report classified government wrongdoing to the New Zealand public. The obvious result is that such wrongdoing will not be reported, even when it involves corruption, deception, or the violation of human rights. Obviously, that needs to change.

Secondly, while the law prohibits retalation against whistleblowers, it requires the victim to take an employment case against their abuser. And where the organisation they blew the whistle on has deep pockets, that's pointless. Instead, retaliation needs to be a criminal offence. Again, Australia does this, and it seems to provide the right incentives against retaliation for agencies and their staff.

All of this was suggested as part of the Open Government Partnership action plan consultation last year. National didn't pay any attention to it. I'm glad that the new government did.

National going back to Brash

Over the weekend Don Brash crawled out of his fetid crypt to remind us all that he was still a racist old arsehole. And the National party followed suit, by reintroducing their Kermadec ocean sanctuary Bill. As I've said before, a Kermadec Ocean sanctuary is a good idea. But it also pisses all over a Treaty of Waitangi settlement. National, the party of racists, naturally ignores this completely, and wants to unilaterally overturn the settlement. This calls the government's good faith and the entire settlements process into doubt. And National is doing this not because it particularly cares about our oceans - they don't, any more than they care about our national parks - but simply in an effort to stir trouble in the coalition government. Its a piss-poor reason to undermine a fundamental of our constitution. But isn't it so very, very National?

I want to see the Kermadecs protected. I also want the government to honour the Treaty and act in good faith towards its Treaty partners. These are not irreconcilable goals, and I'm confident that the current government is both interested in and capable of finding a solution. But National's arrogant racism isn't helping. If they really wanted an ocean sanctuary, they'd drop their bill, and focus on negotiations instead.

Friday, December 01, 2017



Mallard on transparency

Since the resumption of Parliament, the Labour-led government has been engaged in a war on transparency, refusing to answer even the most basic and specific written questions, while denying OIA requests on blatantly unlawful grounds. But one good sign is that Speaker of the House Trevor Mallard wants them to stop playing silly buggers and start answering questions:

Speaker Trevor Mallard has put both sides of Parliament on notice in the war over written questions, warning them he expects a higher standard once the House resumes in 2018.

[...]

“I think it’s fair to say I wouldn’t be happy if the current approach from either side continued in the long term ... I don’t want us to be in this situation after Christmas.”


While he says Labour's refusals are "within standing orders" (because standing orders basicly leave it entirely up to the Minister how to respond, and forbid any inquiry into those responses), he's also clear that the information should be released. And on that front, he's supporting automatic, proactive release:
However, he described written questions as “sort of like a last resort”, and instead believed it would be better to establish an automated method of releasing information.

“There was a strong view [in past discussions] that if you could get a system that was pretty much automatic, transparent, didn’t require application, then that would be better.

[...]

“Eventually getting some websites going which contain most of that material, for example, Cabinet papers two months after they’ve been to Cabinet automatically up unless there’s a good reason not to, just that sort of stuff would mean you’d have a lot of access to, actually quite boring information, but access to what's going on.”


I agree. Ministerial diaries, briefing lists, Cabinet and committee agendas, and the papers should all automatically be made public, with redactions only where necessary and according to the scheme of the OIA (so they can be challenged and reviewed by the Ombudsman). And these would certainly remove a huge number of mundane requests (while enabling specific ones... which is what the government doesn't want). Unfortunately, none of this falls under Mallard's powers as Speaker. But if he wants to push for it, the way to do it is to read Ministers the riot act and force them to answer written questions, so that it will be less fucking work to proactively release everything than it is to try and refuse it.

Thursday, November 30, 2017



The Minister for Open Government again

How bad is Labour's Minister of "Open Government"? This bad:

Brett Hudson: Does she stand by her 29 November refusal to answer an Official Information Act (OIA) request made on 20 November, which sought a list of all reports, briefings, memos, or aide-mémoire that she had received since being sworn in as Associate Minister of State Services, on the basis that the request did not meet the requirement to be "specified with due particularity" as per section 12(2) of the Official Information Act?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Yes.


Ignore that its Hipkins answering on her behalf, and focus on that OIA request. It specifies the information it is seeking and the timeframe it is being sought over. It is immediately clear to any reader what information is being sought. To refuse it as lacking "due particularity" is utterly baseless and unlawful, and I expect the Ombudsman will tell her that in due course. That would be bad from any government Minister, but Curran is the Minister of Open Government. And it is clear from her reported response to this request that "open government" is not something she believes in or practices. Instead, she is undermining it in her own office, right from day one.

Seeing this, and her previous behaviour, I have no confidence in this Minister to actually open up government or produce anything useful in her portfolio. And if this is how their Minister is goign to act, the government might as well remove the portfolio entirely, because its clearly a complete waste of our time.

Pike River redux

In the February 2011 Christchurch earthquake, the CTV building collapsed. 115 people were killed. A later inquiry found that the collapse of the building was due to its poor design and that it should never have been approved. The design engineer, David Harding, of Alan Reay Consultants Ltd, was singled out as the cause of this as he was "working beyond his competence." In other words, Harding killed those 115 people.

Today, the police decided that they wouldn't bother charging him or anyone else over those 115 deaths:

Police will not prosecute over the collapse of Christchurch's Canterbury Television (CTV) building.

That result is likely to displease some who lost relatives in the disaster and wanted justice and assurance the construction industry will work to compliance.

[...]

Police began a criminal inquiry in September 2014 and commissioned engineering consultants and soil specialists to examine the site's foundations.

Families were informed of the decision in a letter on Thursday.

In it, Detective Superintendent Peter Read said the inquiry "did identify significant deficiencies in the CTV building design" and police considered charges of negligent manslaughter, but concluded there was insufficient evident to provide "a reasonable prospect of conviction in court".


Really? Because the causal link here seems pretty fucking clear and documented. But the police have never been keen on prosecuting cases of social murder - just look at Pike River. And the conclusion we can draw from this is that they regard it as legal, and that people are free to kill again in this manner.

Secrecy hides incompetance

One of ECan's basic jobs is water allocation. It was the entire reason for National's replacement of the council with a dictatorship in 2010, and for its continuing limitations on Canterbury's democracy since. So you'd think ECan would know how much water they were actually allocating in each of its management zones, and in particular, whether they had continued to allocate in over-allocated areas. But they don't, at least not unless you cough up a small fortune to find out:

A $3000 charge is being demanded by Canterbury’s regional council for information about water allocation.

Newsroom asked Environment Canterbury to provide the percentage allocation of each water “zone” and how many water consents have been granted or renewed since the over-allocated areas reached 100 percent. We also asked for those consents to be quantified.

In a response under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act (LGOIMA), ECan’s science director Stefanie Rixecker says that information will take a large amount of work to collate and it would charge $2964. That’s based on 39 hours of work at $38 per half hour.

The council has agreed to provide, for free, the current percentage allocation of each of Canterbury’s water zones – but says it’s not information that is readily available and will take some time to compile.


Which is absolutely astonishing. Because surely "is there any water available?" would be one of the basic questions in deciding any water allocation consent, and that's information they should immediately have to hand. Likewise, the number of scale of consents allocated should be one of the basic ways of tracking whether they are making the problem worse or better. For them to not be able to obtain this easily suggests that they're simply not doing their job on water allocation properly in the first place.

You can understand why ECan might want to keep that secret, and why they'd want to discourage requests. But that secrecy and discouragement does not serve the public interest. This information should not just be provided for free - it should be proactively published, so we can tell whether they're doing their fucking jobs.

Meanwhile, the quicker ECan can ditch its dictators and have full, free and fair elections, the better.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017



The Minister for Open Government

When Labour appointed Clare Curran as Associate Minister of State Services (Open Government), I was hopeful. Having someone with Ministerial responsibility for open government and transparency might see some progress in those areas. Then Labour started acting worse than National over transparency, trying to pretend that official information isn't and playing the bullshit game over requests for basic information. Naturally, I was curious as to whether the Minister for Open Government would set an appropriate standard, or follow her party like a hack. We found out the answer to that question in Question Time today, and it was not good:

Brett Hudson: How, as the Minister responsible for open government, can she, in all good conscience, address a written question from a member about events in respect of a single day by saying that providing an answer "would take substantial research and collation, which I do not think is in the public interest"?

Hon CLARE CURRAN: I will defend the right of the Opposition to ask written questions, but the Opposition is abusing that right. I happen to agree with Ben Thomas, the former National press secretary, who called it "6000 stupid questions: National's [denial-of-service] attack on the Government".


Just to be clear, this is a specific request for basic information, sent in response to a prior refusal for such information which requested greater specificity. And Clare Curran, the Minister for Open Government, just can't be arsed. I guess you can give the hack a fancy job title, but at the end of the day, she'll always be a hack.

Needless to say, this is not a good way for the government to start, and it suggests that all Curran's fine words about increasing transparency and improving OIA practice are just spin and bullshit. If we want change in this area, we're not getting it from her.

The hostile environment

Since 2012, the UK Tories have been trying to create a "hostile environment" for (illegal) immigrants. Since then they've broken up families, detained trafficking victims, and detained and tried to deport who are entitled to be in the UK, while encouraging hate-crimes against migrants. But they've hit a new low today by arresting a woman for being an illegal immigrant after she reported being raped:

A woman who reported being kidnapped and raped was arrested on immigration charges while being cared for at a centre for sexual assault victims.

The woman, who was five months’ pregnant at the time of her arrest, attended an east London police station in March to report details of her alleged ordeal, which she said occurred in Germany between September 2016 and March 2017.

Officers took her to one of three Havens sexual assault centres in the capital, part of a network commissioned and jointly funded by NHS England and the Metropolitan police. But she was subsequently arrested at the centre and taken to a police station where she was questioned over her immigration status.


The message is clear: immigrants cannot risk reporting crime to the police for fear of arrest. But this effectiely puts them outside the law, and gives those who victimise them complete impunity. Its both utterly monstrous and corrosive of the rule of law. But isn't it so very, very British?

Key lied about mass-surveillance

Surprise, surprise - it turns out that John Key lied to our faces about the mass-surveillance "speargun" project:

Sir John Key's story of how and why he canned a "mass surveillance" programme are at odds with official papers detailing development of the "Speargun" project.

The issue blew up in the final days of the 2014 election with Key claiming the programme was long-dead and had been replaced by a benign cyber-security system called Cortex.

Key always claimed the Speargun project to tap New Zealand's internet cable was stopped in March 2013.

But new documents show development of Speargun continued after the time he had said he ordered a halt - apparently because the scheme was "too broad".

Instead, they show Speargun wasn't actually stopped until after Key was told in a secret briefing that details were likely to become public because they could be in the trove of secrets taken by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.


Key basicly pretended that telling GCSB not to bring the business case to Cabinet for now because it needed legislative approval was the same as cancellation. It wasn't, and work continued right up until the "Moment of Truth" event. Worse, Key's chief-of-staff Wayne Eagleson deliberately hid documents the PM held from an OIA request by transferring it to GCSB. That's not hat-games, its not "pretty legal" withholding, its straight-out lying. The entire basis of the OIA regime relies on officials being honest about what they hold. If they're not going to do that, then we need to start providing strong incentives for them to do so. Incentives like jail time, as they do in Canada.

Meanwhile, new GCSB Minister Andrew Little is refusing to comment. In a situation where the previous government has been conclusively shown to have deceived us about spying, I think he owes us a little more than that.

Member's Day

Today is the first Member's Day of the new Parliament. Unfortunately, its filled with the boring leftover business of the last one.

First up are a pair of third readings of National member's bills: Chris Bishop's Films, Videos, and Publications Classification (Interim Restriction Order Classification) Amendment Bill and Sarah Dowie's Private International Law (Choice of Law in Tort) Bill. Both of these are uncontroversial and should pass easily. Following that is the second reading of Ruth Dyson's Rates Rebate (Retirement Village Residents) Amendment Bill. National tried to bury this one in committee, but it eventually escaped, and there's majority support for it. If the House moves quickly it may make a start on the second reading of Brett Hudson's Employment Relations (Allowing Higher Earners to Contract Out of Personal Grievance Provisions) Amendment Bill, which will probably be voted down given the new Parliamentary balance of power.

All second and third readings means no first readings, which means no ballot for new bills. The good news is that this may change after next member's day.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017



Time to put the environment into the Crown Minerals Act

At the moment, a giant seismic survey ship is arriving off the coast of New Zealand. When it gets here, it will start blasting every ten seconds, right in the middle of a blue whale (and Hector's dolphin) habitat, in an effort to find oil.

This is clearly bad for the environment - not just for the whales, but also for the climate. The government apparently has no power to stop it. But they've signalled that they will change the law in order to prevent future blasting:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has signalled the law could be changed after her Government found its hands tied on turning around the world's largest seismic survey ship from New Zealand waters.

[...]

Ardern, who during the election campaign said climate change was her generation's nuclear free moment, said it had become clear that the Government is legally bound by "some quite strict criteria".

"The question for us now is, is that criteria fit for purpose.

"We are bound by the Crown Minerals Act. That sets out some quite strict criteria on which we can make a decision. Much stricter than I would have thought would be reasonable.

"I think it is only fair that we now look at whether that legislation is fit for purpose."


Good. Because the Crown Minerals Act process for granting permits does not include any assessment of the environmental impacts of surveying. The closest it gets is requiring the Minister to assess whether the applicant will follow "good industry practice in respect of the proposed activities". But where there are potentially severe environmental impacts, as there are with offshore seismic surveying, then they need to be considered.

That's not the only change they need to make. Repealing the Anadarko Amendment banning anti-mining protests should be a priority. The Minister of Energy needs to be removed as a decision-maker from access arrangements to government land, and economic benefit needs to be removed as a consideration. And Schedule 4 needs to be updated and expanded. And the sooner all this is done, the sooner we can stop worrying about mining companies destroying our environment and our planet.

Good riddance

Texan oil cowboys Anadarko are leaving New Zealand:

Anadarko, the Texan oil giant, is poised to leave New Zealand, dropping its final exploration permit and closing its local operations.

Alan Seay, who has headed the company's New Zealand office since 2011, said the Houston-headquartered company had informed its partners in its remaining permit, in the Canterbury Basin off the coast of Oamaru, that it wanted to resign as the operator and was leaving New Zealand.

"It's all down to the continuing low oil price. Ourselves and other explorers are having to make some tough decisions about where we invest capital and frontier areas like New Zealand are always going to struggle in an environment like that," Seay said.


Good. Anadarko has undermined our human rights, corrupted our government, and endangered our environment. Their business is inherently dirty, but they are utterly reckless in conducting it. The sooner they shut up shop and fuck off back to Texas, the better. Hell, maybe they could take their spies Thompson and Clark with them?

Oil is not our future. The climate simply cannot afford for it to be drilled and burned. We cannot afford that. The industry Anadarko represents profits from slowly killing us, just like the cancer industry. And they should be treated the same way.

Monday, November 27, 2017



This is not what democracies should be doing

One of the hallmarks of undemocratic regimes is the government's use of propaganda against their own population to keep themselves in power and support government goals. So naturally, the US is now doing this:

The US military is developing software that will let it secretly manipulate social media sites by using fake online personas to influence internet conversations and spread pro-American propaganda.

A Californian corporation has been awarded a contract with United States Central Command (Centcom), which oversees US armed operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, to develop what is described as an "online persona management service" that will allow one US serviceman or woman to control up to 10 separate identities based all over the world.

The project has been likened by web experts to China's attempts to control and restrict free speech on the internet. Critics are likely to complain that it will allow the US military to create a false consensus in online conversations, crowd out unwelcome opinions and smother commentaries or reports that do not correspond with its own objectives.


Supposedly, this is all OK because none of it will be in English and therefore it won't target US audiences. But this ignores the fact that the international media often rely on local social media reports to build stories. A planted tweet in Pashtun could easily end up on the front page of the New York Times. And this is exactly what they're after - because one of the key stories the US military wants to shape and influence is civilian casualties from their drone assassination program.

This is not what a democracy should be doing. But its been clear for a long time that the US is no longer the "world's greatest democracy". Instead they're just another over-armed, authoritarian empire, bullying the world while beating domestic dissent with a stick.

Disappointed

While I'm on the topic of transparency: I am disappointed to see Green co-leader playing the bullshit game over requests for the meetings he has attended. Green Ministers should be more transparent than that. This is basic information which should be available as of right, and if Shaw doesn't like receiving requests for it, there's an easy way of stopping them: proactive publication.

Time to stand up for open government

The new government's attitude to transparency has suddenly become a concern, with an apparent trend of secrecy setting in early. Playing silly buggers over requests for basic information. Slacking around on releasing briefings to Incoming Ministers. Trying to pretend that official information isn't. These are not the actions of a government dedicated to transparency and opennness. They are not the actions that Labour promised.

Part of the problem is undoubtedly new Ministers getting to grips with their role. Part of it is a desire among senior Labour figures for utu against National over all the bullshit they had to put up with while in opposition. But part of it is that there's no real voice for transparency, no strong lobby for openness, no-one keeping an eye on them. Political scientist Bryce Edwards is suggesting we change that, by forming a new Coalition for Open Government:

Calling all journalists, academics, public servants, political activists, and members of the public who believe in the need for government to be more open with its information. We need to form a coalition to fix the Official Information Act (OIA).

It’s time for everyone who believes in reforming the OIA processes to join together and campaign to make that actually happen. Such a coalition could guide the new government in making the necessary changes so that New Zealand is once again a world leader in open government, the way we were in 1982 when the extraordinary act was introduced.

[...]

Now is the perfect time to act. Whenever a new government is formed, it’s normally enthusiastic and idealistic about fixing problems in the system. And when it comes to problems with the OIA, the parties coming in from opposition are highly sensitive to its faults because they’ve been on the receiving end of governments keeping an overly-tight grip on information.

The parties making up the new coalition government have protested strongly against abuses of the OIA that occurred under National. So, hopefully they’ll want to prioritise some sort of review aimed at fixing the problems.

[...]

If you’re interested, please get in touch. Contact me: bryce.edwards@vuw.ac.nz


I'm definitely interested. We need a voice on this - not just a group to lobby the government, but also to advocate in the media for greater transparency and provide reactions to open government stories. Not to mention to stick up for all the other groups - journalists, NGOs, environmental organisations, and victims of government bureaucracy - who depend on the OIA to do their jobs or get justice. If you're interested in openness, this is definitely worth exploring.

New Fisk

Egypt's President al-Sisi facing serious questions about strategy to bring Isis hotspot Sinai province under control

The refugees were right all along

For the past month, Australia officially closed its Manus Island concentration camp. However, the refugees there refused to move, because the new concentration camps they were supposed to move to were both unfinished and dangerous. On Friday, PNG police stormed the camp, beating refugees and loading them into buses for a forcible transfer. And after all the violence and brutality, the refugees were right all along:

A Manus Island refugee says there is not enough space in new facilities for the men forcibly removed from the decommissioned detention centre.

[...]

Sudanese refugee Abdul Aziz Adam is one of about 25 men unable to find a bed in the new facilities that pictures show are still under construction, despite Australian government claims to the contrary.

"For myself its been 48 hours I couldn't find a place to sleep," Mr Adam said on Sunday.

"There are about 25 men still living in a classroom. We spoke to the authority but they say the prison camp is not ready and they're doing their best to make it ready maybe in the next couple of weeks," he said.

Mr Adam said more than 350 men had been crammed into the East Lorengau Transit Centre, which he said only had room for 290.


Meanwhile, the refugees are being denied even basic medical care, because the Australian government wants to prevent people from seeing how bad conditions are. But officially, They Are Not Being Detained. They're simply being kept somewhere against their will and prevented from leaving or communicating at the behest of the Australian government. Which I guess shows how much respect the PNG government has for the rulings of its courts: none whatsoever.

This is just the same Australian torture in a different place. New Zealand should not tolerate it. Instead, we should give all of these refugees a home here. And if Australia doesn't like it, fuck 'em.

Friday, November 24, 2017



There's a word for this

How bad was Nigel Murray's abuse at Waikato DHB? This bad:

A health board boss took two international work trips while on sick leave, used public money for personal jaunts, did not declare hospitality, booked travel without approval and tried to cover up the breaches, an Audit NZ investigation found.

Former Waikato District Health Board chief executive Dr Nigel Murray circumvented DHB policy to use taxpayer money for personal spending, according to auditors in the damning draft report released today by a board member.

[...]

In a copy of the Audit NZ report obtained by the Herald, it showed that the business reason for travel was often missing from documentation, he had no proof he attended events he said he was going to, or the purpose for travel was retrospectively completed.

International trips in the past financial year did not explain why each trip was required and on domestic trips extra nights were booked, including into weekends, without explanation.

There were two international trips that, when corroborated with Murray's diary, showed he was on sick leave at the same time.


...and it goes on. There's a name for this behaviour: theft. And Murray should be prosecuted for it. As for the DHB chair who has tried to cover this up, he should be sacked. This sort of shit is simply not acceptable where public money is concerned, and those who did it and let it happen need to be held to account.

New Fisk

US foreign policy in the Middle East doesn’t exist anymore

Manus needs a rescue flotilla

On October 31, Australia finally closed its concentration camp on Manus Island. But rather than leaving, the refugees refused to move, because the new concentration camps Australia wanted to put them were even more dangerous than the one they were in. Over the next three weeks, Australia's colonial mercenaries, the PNG police, laid siege to the camp, cutting off food and water supplies, and eventually destroying buildings. Yesterday, they finally moved in and started clearing the refugees by force. Refugees were beaten and loaded onto buses, while journalist Behrouz Boochani was arrested (though what for is entirely unclear). Today, they are apparently finishing the job. The entire operation was arrested by and performed for the benefit of Australia (it was announced by their immigration minister, FFS), which shows that they are continuing to pull the strings regardless of all their denials of responsibility. And that string-pulling includes bullying PNG into refusing to let the refugees come to New Zealand.

The refugees on Manus have been tortured, beaten, starved, and denied medical care. The new "PNG run" concentration camps will continue to do the same, with the added extra danger of victimisation and murder by the local community.

we cannot let this happen in our back yard. And if the New Zealand government can't or won't act, New Zealand citizens should. Its time for a rescue flotilla for Manus Island.

Climate change: A good question

Writing in the Herald, Brian Fallow asks what makes farming so special in relation to climate change policy? It's a good question. Other industries pollute, and they don't get a free ride. Neither do industries which have no real way of reducing their emissions beyond cutting production. They do get a (gradually decreasing) free allocation of credits, but they also all face the cost of emissions at the margin, giving them an incentive to find efficiencies and look for ways to reduce their emissions (or at least not increase them). Farming, OTOH, gets excluded from the ETS altogether. And as Fallow points out, that's a direct subsidy to landowners:

In the end, New Zealand is internationally accountable for all of its emissions. If those who profit from half of those emissions entirely escape that cost, the rest of us bear it.

That is a subsidy and one that gets capitalised into land prices.

The beneficiaries are those who sell farmland and who get a larger tax-free capital gain.

The buyer just gets a correspondingly larger mortgage.


This is no different from the subsidies Muldoon paid farmers, and just as pointless and wasteful. The farming sector must be made to pay its way, like the rest of us, rather than expecting the rest of New Zealand to financially support their dirty, polluting industry.

Thursday, November 23, 2017



A bribe's a bribe

In 2010, Peter Whittall killed 29 men at Pike River Mine by running an unsafe mining operation. In 2013 he bribed his way out of prosecution by demanding (and receiving) a plea bargain in which the serious charges he faced under the Health Safety and Employment Act would be dropped in exchange for making a compensation payment to his victims' families. Now, the Supreme Court has ruled that the decision to drop the charges was unlawful:

The Supreme Court says a deal not to pursue a prosecution against Pike River boss Peter Whittall was unlawful.

Two families of miners killed in the Pike River mine disaster had asked the Supreme Court to overturn a Court of Appeal ruling that upheld a WorkSafe NZ decision to drop charges against Whittall. Families were paid $3.4 million in the deal.

[...]

The Supreme Court on Thursday said Worksafe dropping the charges against Whittall was "an unlawful agreement to stifle prosecution". It said the deal was "struck in return for a $3.41m payment".

[...]

The Supreme Court said it was irrelevant WorkSafe took account of other factors in deciding not to prosecute.


And that's basicly what it comes down to: a bribe's a bribe, and the fact that one was discussed and paid taints everything else. Even when its disguised as a "plea-bargain".

But this raises an obvious question: will the charges be reinstated? Or if not, will Whitall and those who conspired with him in this unlawful conspiracy be charged with conspiring to defeat justice? Because you can be damn sure that a gang member who paid a prosecutor to drop charges would be back in court when it was discovered, and the same rule should apply to the rich as well as the poor.

Justice for Srebrenica

In July 1995, a Bosnian Serb army under the command of Ratko Mladić murdered more than 8,000 people around the town of Srebrenica. It was an act of genocide, and the worst human rights abuse in Europe since the Nazis. Today, Mladić was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for those crimes:

The former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladić, nicknamed the ‘butcher of Bosnia’, has been sentenced to life imprisonment after being convicted of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

More than 20 years after the Srebrenica massacre, Mladic was found guilty at the United Nations-backed international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague of 10 offences involving extermination, murder and persecution of civilian populations.

[...]

The one-time fugitive from international justice faced 11 charges, two of genocide, five of crimes against humanity and four of violations of the laws or customs of war. He was cleared of one count of genocide, but found guilty of all other charges. The separate counts related to “ethnic cleansing” operations in Bosnia, sniping and shelling attacks on besieged civilians in Sarajevo, the massacre of Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica and taking UN personnel hostage in an attempt to deter Nato airstrikes.


Good. The Bosnian genocide was a crime against humanity, and those responsible needed to be held to account. The good news is that they largely have been. Mladić was the last person awaiting trial befre the ICTY. While there are a handful of appeals remaining, its work is basicly done. Unfortunately, there are plenty of other crimes against humanity crying out for justice - most notably Iraq. We need to see justice for those too. But that will be the job of another court, not the ICTY.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017



No tears for Mugabe

So, Robert Mugabe has finally resigned as president of Zimbabwe. Good riddance. He was an authoritarian dictator who fixed elections, looted his country, and tortured and murdered his opponents, so I'm glad to see him go. At the same time, its a shame that it was the army, rather than the people, who removed him. At least nobody was killed, but it looks more like an internal power struggle in an authoritarian government than the transition to democracy Zimbabwe desperately needs. One dictator replacing another is hardly progress, and the new boss may simply turn out to be the same as the old boss. All we can do is hope that its not going to be like that, and that the new regime will actually respect democracy and human rights, rather than just changing the names of the abusers.

Climate change: Fudging on trees

So, it turns out that the government's "billion trees" policy isn't a billion extra trees, but maybe only half a billion:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is denying that the Government is backtracking over its goal to plant 1 billion trees over 10 years, saying it was always going to be in partnership with the private sector.

Forestry and Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones told the National Business Review today that the Government was going to plant about half of the 1 billion trees, while the private sector would plant the rest.

"[The one billion goal] is not something that is going to be pursued in isolation from the industry. If we work together, if they continue with their 50 million [a year] over 10 years and we continue with 50 million [a year] over 10 years, you get to a billion."


Partnership with the private sector is one thing, but misleading the public about the ambition of the policy is another. Because the 50 million trees a year private industry currently plants is almost entirely replanting, replacing trees which they've already cut down. In other words, that's just planting to stand still. Worse, the required replanting rate is going to soar over the next decade, as the forests that were planted in the 1990's are harvested. If private industry wants to avoid deforesting land (and paying the carbon costs for doing so), it will probably end up planting that billion trees itself.

Meanwhile, if we want to get the emissions benefits, we need to plant additional trees, not just replant harvested land. The billion trees policy looked like it was an ambitious target to do this, and bring our emissions under control. Instead, it looks like it is just more bureaucratic fudging, designed to give the impression of action while deliberately avoiding achieving anything substantive.