Friday, January 20, 2017



Places to go, people to be

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

Normal bloggage will resume Tuesday.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017



The last spasm of a dying industry

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

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

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

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


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

Commuted

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

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

[...]

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


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

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

Tuesday, January 17, 2017



New Fisk

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 16, 2017



This is why we need wealth taxes

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

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

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

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

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


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

New Fisk

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

Bill English is wrong: urgency is needed on climate change

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

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

[...]

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

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

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


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

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

Thursday, January 12, 2017



This is just wrong

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

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

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

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

[...]

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


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

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

Open Government: Disappointing

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 10, 2017



Denying the obvious

nztaxcheats

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

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

Australia's deportations are unfair

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

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

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

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

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

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

The full report is here.

Monday, January 09, 2017



New Fisk

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

People 1, Dairy Industry Nil

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

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

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

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

[...]

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

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

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


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

Wednesday, January 04, 2017



UBI: An idea whose time has come?

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

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

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

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

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


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

New Fisk

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

Nick Smith strikes again!

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

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

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

[...]

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

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


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

Thursday, December 22, 2016



Mass-surveillance is illegal

Mass-surveillance is illegal under European law, according to the European Court of Justice:

“General and indiscriminate retention” of emails and electronic communications by governments is illegal, the EU’s highest court has ruled, in a judgment that could trigger challenges against the UK’s new Investigatory Powers Act – the so-called snooper’s charter.

Only targeted interception of traffic and location data in order to combat serious crime – including terrorism – is justified, according to a long-awaited decision by the European court of justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg.

The finding came in response to a legal challenge initially brought by the Brexit secretary, David Davis, when he was a backbench MP, and Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, over the legality of GCHQ’s bulk interception of call records and online messages.

[...]

“Legislation prescribing a general and indiscriminate retention of data … exceeds the limits of what is strictly necessary and cannot be considered to be justified within a democratic society.” Prior authorisation by a court or independent body to access retained data is required for each official request, the ECJ said.


Of course, GCHQ's trawling wasn't even specified by legislation, but permitted by general spy warrants. But since the case was lodged the UK has passed the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, which requires ISPs to retain internet communications data and provide it to dozens of government agencies on request. That law is now almost certainly illegal. The bad news is that because this is a question of EU data standards, rather than human rights, then Brexit will make it legal again. To put it another way, only the EU is stopping the British establishment from implementing the total surveillance state they have been longing for since the 80's.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016



MPI should do its damn job

Fish dumping and high-grading are widespread problems in the fishing industry which threaten the viability of the Quota Management System. They are serious offences, carrying a penalty of five years imprisonment and a fine of up to $250,000. And yet MPI has brought only four cases in the last seven years:

The Ministry for Primary Industries has brought just four successful fish-dumping prosecutions since 2009, newly released information shows.

[...]

The four cases show various levels of dumping, including five tonne of snapper discarded in the Hauraki Gulf, and multiple dumping convictions for three Korean fishers on a big trawler whose dumping was large scale and endemic. In all four cases, the fishers forfeited their boats to the Crown.

The ministry's director-general Martyn Dunne has repeatedly claimed, in the face of claims his department was soft on illegal discarding, that they were prosecuting 300 cases and issuing over 3000 infringements a year. However, for dumping, these latest OIA figures show it is fewer than one a year.


And this is for a problem MPI itself says is "critical". So why the inaction? Simple: MPI also admits that the problem is so widespread that if they enforced the law they'd put over half of fishers out of business. Rather than do that, they've instead decided to talk up their achievements while in practice doing nothing. They've been totally captured by the criminal industry they're supposed to be policing.

This isn't good enough. MPI should do its damn job and enforce the law - as we pay them to do. If they don't want to, then they should be dissolved and replaced with a new agency willing to do the job. Its that simple.

Monday, December 19, 2016



Making the problem go away

New Zealand has a housing crisis, which is beginning to cause significant flow-on effects for the real economy. So what is the government doign about it? Abolishing the role of Housing Minister.

You might think that removing the person whose job it is to oversee policy would mean that there is no longer any policy. And you'd be right. You might also think that that would make the crisis worse. You'd be right there too. But there's a positive benefit: with no Housing Minister, the government can't be asked questions about the housing crisis in Parliament. Abolishing the title literally makes the problem go away, at least as far as the government is concerned.

As for actual people, they'll still be struggling to pay unaffordable housing costs thanks to a speculator-driven boom funded by dirty foreign money, while the market refuses to build the affordable houses they need because there's more money in palazzos. But since when has National ever cared about them?