Thursday, September 29, 2016



The EU threatens Afghanistan

Fifteen years after the US invasion and "reconstruction", Afghanistan is still a basket-case. Wracked by a low-level civil war, thousands of people still die each year. The government is fragile, corrupt, and incapable of delivering even basic services. So naturally, the EU wants to deport refugees there, and is threatening to cut off foreign aid unless Afghanistan accepts:

When international donors and the Afghan government convene in Brussels next week, the EU secretly plans to threaten Afghanistan with a reduction in aid if the war-torn country does not accept at least 80,000 deported asylum seekers.

According to a leaked restricted memo (pdf), the EU will make some of its aid “migration sensitive”, even while acknowledging that security in Afghanistan is worsening.

[...]

The pressure on Afghanistan is part of a broader EU strategy of making aid to poor countries conditional on them accepting deported migrants.

The best known example is the €6bn deal (£5.2bn) offered to Turkey in exchange for taking back asylum seekers and improving border controls. Other targeted countries include Niger, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Lebanon and Libya. The EU has also considered similar deals with Eritrea and Sudan, the governments of which are accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes.


And its part of a broader pattern of increasing racism and hostility to refugees from the EU. You'd think the continent which provided the reason for the UN Refugee Convention would know better, but apparently 70 years is long enough for them to have forgotten.

Once upon a time the EU stood for human rights. Not anymore.

Insult to injury

In 2014 the government appointed a taskforce to investigate "loopy rules" - absurd laws which shouldn't exist. The project was bullshit - most of the alleged "loopy rules" were fictional, urban myths spread among right-wing farmers as "evidence" of why government was bad. But to add insult to injury, National paid a pack of cronies $25,000 for this bullshit:

The National-led government paid tens of thousands of dollars to former National Party MPs, a former candidate and a financial donor to produce its 'loopy rules' report.

[...]

Half the taskforce members were appointed by the Local Government Minister at the time, Paula Bennett, and had clear ties to the National Party.

On the taskforce were former National MPs Tau Henare and John Carter, former party candidate Mark Thomas and Ian Tulloch who helped fund a National MP's campaign.

Documents released to RNZ under the Official Information Act show they were each paid $500 a day to take part.

In total they were paid more than $25,000 in fees.


Using a bullshit project to channel cash into supporters' pockets is a perfect example of the corruption that has festered under this government, and why they need to be de-elected. As to the corrupt cronies who accepted this bullshit project, they should be forced to pay the money back.

Sack Kevin Lavery!

Who runs Wellington? Its elected council, or its unelected CEO? Its a question raised by the latter's spending of $800,000 a year on corporate welfare for a wealthy foreign company in secret and without any paper trail - and by his defence of it:

Councillors did not sign-off on the spending - something Lavery said was needed because of a history of leaks.

"Once you expose commercial details at a committee level it gets into the public domain and you lose your competitive edge," Lavery told Radio New Zealand, adding that any suggestion there was insufficient paperwork on the deal was "nonsense".

"I think the current debacle in the press illustrates perfectly why it's not appropriate to have it in the political domain. It gets politicised, and I think a lot of organisations wouldn't touch us with a barge pole if that happened."


Because Cthulhu forbid that the public or their representatives should want to have a say on how their money is spent...

This is not acceptable. The CEO is supposed to work for the council. Instead, he's hiding significant decisions from them and refusing to keep records precisely to prevent democratic oversight. And he should be sacked for it.

New Fisk

Shimon Peres was no peacemaker. I’ll never forget the sight of pouring blood and burning bodies at Qana

Against student debt-slavery

What is it with the right and debt-peonage? Not content with turning ex-pats into permanent exiles with their border arrest scheme, they now want to turn them into debt-slaves by reintroducing interest on student loans:

A proposal to reintroduce interest on student loans has been shot down by the Government before it reached final report stage.

The proposal is one of a raft of recommendations put forward in a draft report by the Productivity Commission, released this morning, which is heavily critical of the current model of tertiary education and how it's funded.

[...]

The funding model also comes in for criticism. The commission says the Government should charge interest on future loans at a rate that covers the cost of the Student Loan Scheme.

The Government currently writes off about $600 million of student debt every year, it said - or around 39 cents for each dollar lent.


As noted, the government has already said "no" (because it knows it will be de-elected if it tries). Good. Because student debt is odious debt. It is pushed on students on false promises of economic gain, and students are effectively forced to take it if they want any hope of not being a burger-flipper for the rest of their lives. Charging interest magnifies that crime; there are former students today who still carry the burden of illegitimately charged interest from the 90's, last time the right got its way.

Restoring interest on student loans would be exactly the wrong direction to take. At the moment, student debt is a huge burden, causing people to defer children, locking them out of the housing market, and preventing them from starting businesses or pursuing employment overseas (at least if they ever want to see their families again). It is the root of many of our current social problems. We should be forgiving it, not making it worse.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016



Clearing out the gulag

Back in April, Papua New Guinea's Supreme Court ruled that Australia's concentration camp on Manus Island was illegal and ordered Australia to come up with a plan for resettling its victims. Instead, Australia appears to be planning to clear out the gulag and dump its refugees in Papua New Guinea with nothing, while starving out those who refuse to move:

Australia and Papua New Guinea are escalating efforts to clear the Manus Island detention centre, telling refugees they must settle elsewhere in PNG, while warning they are preparing to deport asylum seekers whose protection claims fail.

“There is no future for you here,” detainees have been told by PNG immigration officials. Processing at the detention centre “will end soon” and all those held within forced out. The police will be sent in to forcibly move those who refuse to cooperate.

[...]

The document hints at “changes to the services and conditions” for the different groups.

Those inside the detention believe those found not to be refugees will have their conditions significantly worsened in an effort to encourage them to leave. Their rights to limited movement, and their ability to access cigarettes, phone credit at the internal store, are expected to be cut.

“We will give you further information about these changes soon,” the document says.


Why wouldn't people want to move elsewhere? Because Papua New Guinea is not safe for refugees. Refugees who have left the camp have been beaten and abused; others have been left destitute and homeless due to the lack of any real planning or support for them. Australia's plan seems to be to ignore all this, dump them on the streets of PNG, and let them be brutalised and die. Its just another example of their callous and inhumane approach.

But the refugees are Australia's responsibility, and Australia should be providing a home for them. They can not be allowed to refuse to do so.

Climate change: Why are we subsidising polluters?

How much does climate change cost? According to a new study from the OECD, almost $50 per ton of carbon dioxide:

The price put on 90 percent of all all greenhouse gas emissions does not come close to paying for their real cost, according to a new study by the OECD.

Several countries put prices on greenhouse gas emissions via a carbon tax, or in New Zealand's case, an emissions trading scheme, to offset their climate change cost.

The OECD has conservatively set the cost of future climate disasters caused by emissions at €30 ($NZ47) a tonne of CO2 or other greenhouse gases with an equivalent impact.

But it says only 10 percent of all emissions from 41 mainly developed countries are at that price or above.

The OECD adds most carbon emissions incur no price at all and those which do incur a price get it very cheaply.


New Zealand is a perfect example of this. Almost half of our emissions - those from agricultural sources, usch as our polluting dairy industry - are completely free (and so they keep growing). And even in those sectors which are subject to a carbon price through the Emissions Trading Scheme, the price is statutorily capped at NZ$25 / ton - about half the price of the damage caused.

Polluters should pay the full cost of their emissions. If the market underprices them, then that suggests that the market is broken. Either we need to fix the market by radically cutting supply (thus forcing emissions to drop), or we need to replace it with a non-market mechanism such as a carbon tax.

New Fisk

Watching Trump and Clinton debate Isis from my home in the Middle East was as predictable as it was absurd

And hopefully she'll be the last...

Today the political elite has been at Parliament for the swearing in of Patsy Reddy as New Zealand's new Governor-General. As appropriate for this illegitimate representative of a foreign inbred, the ceremony was full of the militaristic trappings of our former colonial masters: soldiers, trumpets, a 21-gun salute to frighten the natives, and of course their national anthem, "God Save the Queen". She might as well have been wearing a wig and a frock coat and sneering "do you have a flag?"

And this is why we need a republic: because "our" head of state isn't ours, and the ceremonies which accompany their appointment are a reminder of what we've struggled (and are still struggling) to overcome as a country. And the best way to mark our transition to a peaceful, modern, democratic nation would be to kick out the queen and her local proxy and declare a republic.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016



Why people won't work on farms

Farmers are constantly complaining about they "can't find workers" anymore and how kiwi workers are "hopeless" (so they need to bring in foreign migrants to pay minimum wage to). Quite apart from the fact that nobody wants to live in rural dipshitville or work their crazy, inhuman, cow cultist hours, maybe this has something to do with it?

A Taranaki dairy farmer who paid his workers less than minimum wage has been ordered to pay out more than $87,000.

The Employment Relations Authority found Allan Marx and Paul Roberts of the Vintage Farm Trust, which operates a couple of farms in South Taranaki, had failed to keep nearly any records of his staff's contracts, working hours, public holidays, leave and pay.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) said the trust would pay at least $87,000, including $64,000 in arrears and a $23,000 penalty issued by the ERA, for the serious employment law breaches following an investigation.

The ERA has also directed discussions between the employees and Marx to continue after he accepted further arrears were owed as a result of his failure to pay minimum wage or for public holidays.


Yeah, you can see why a profession which regularly has stories about unlawfully low pay and poor conditions might have problems finding workers.

The market solution to this is for farmers to pay decent wages and ease their demands for insane work hours. It speaks volumes that instead they demand to be subsidised by migrant labour.

Our abusive police

How abusive are the New Zealand Police? The Independent Police Conduct authority has just found that they engaged in false arrest, arbitrary detention, inhumane treatment and denial of the rights to bail and legal advice on the West Coast:

In the early morning of 2 May 2015, Police arrested a woman and two men at an address in Greymouth and took them to Greymouth Police Station. One man was arrested for assault, and the woman and the second man were arrested for possession of cannabis. The Authority conducted an independent investigation after Police notified the Authority of issues relating to the detention of these three people.

The Authority has found that, while Police lawfully detained the man arrested for assault, they were not justified in keeping him handcuffed for a prolonged period while he was alone in a cell. The actions of Police breached his right to be treated with humanity and respect for his inherent dignity while deprived of liberty under section 23(5) of the New Zealand Bill Of Rights Act 1990.

In relation to the man and woman arrested for possession of cannabis, the Authority has found that Police were not justified in arresting and charging the man, and consequently breached his right not to be arbitrarily arrested under section 22 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

Additionally, after the officers had taken both of them back to the station, Police continued to arbitrarily detain them in breach of their rights under sections 22, 23(2) and 23(3) of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act. Police did not take them to appear at court on the morning of their arrests; instead a sergeant directed that they be kept in custody while he was off duty so that he could interview them when he returned to the Police station at 10pm that evening.

From the time of their arrests, the woman was detained by Police for over 19 hours and the man for over 15 hours. Police did not have the power to detain these people for questioning and should have released them, either without charge or on bail, after their opportunity to appear at court had passed.


The IPCA normally ignores substantive abuses as judgement calls. But on the procedural stuff they have no wiggle room. And in this case, it appears to have been a fairly significant abuse. The Stuff version of the story notes that police are "undertaking an employment relations process" with one officer, and hopefully the abusive fuck will be sacked. Meanwhile, his victims are due compensation - unless Judith Collins legislates against that too...

Full and accurate?

When your local authority makes a decision to spend millions of dollars of your money, you'd like to know that its been properly thought through. A budget, a business case, some considered advice on the pros and cons. But when Wellington City Council made such a decision earlier this year, they apparently didn't do any of that:

A decision to subsidise Singapore Airlines new Wellington flights for the next decade saw virtually nothing put in writing.

Documents released by the Wellington City Council show that apart from a presentation made to councillors after the decision was made, the council generated a single two page document, which refers to the subsidy only in passing.

[...]

The Ombudsman, the authority appointed to monitor the official information disclosures of government agencies, has investigated the council on the information it released, and concluded that no other written documents exist.

The release suggests Lavery neither sent nor received a single piece of correspondence on the request, commissioned no analysis on Wellington Airport and Singapore Airlines' claims about the route, or had any written contact with Singapore Airlines on the payment whatsoever.


This decision effectively spent $8 million of ratepayer's money - $800,000 a year for ten years. And they appear to have done this without any formal process whatsoever. Meaning its impossible to determine in retrospect whether the spending is achieving its objectives - or even what those objectives actually were.

But apart from being a terrible process, it also appears to be a criminal one. Section 17 of the Public Records Act requires local authorities to to "create and maintain full and accurate records of its affairs, in accordance with normal, prudent business practice". Clearly Wellington City Council did not do that. And that's a criminal offence. While the penalty is derisory, a criminal conviction may encourage Mr Lavery to do his job in future.

Monday, September 26, 2016



A welcome sight

One of the problems with our election laws is that who is funding a campaign is only disclosed after the fact, when it is obviously relevant information which could change voters' perceptions. But in the Palmerston North local body elections, it looks like several candidates are proactively disclosing both how much they're spending, and who is funding them:

[PN Green candidate Brent] Barrett said he was pleased to shed light on what had historically been "a shadowed corner of local politics in Palmerston North".

More than 200 local supporters had contributed to his campaign, with Barrett himself the largest single contributor of $4459, and underwriting the full cost.

The local Green Party branch contributed $2500 from its funds and through fundraising and donations.

There was $6420 from campaign fundraising events, $2271 from online campaign donations, $1350 from other local campaign donations.

[...]

The Labour Party's four candidates, Zulfiqar Butt, David Chisholm, Sheryll Hoera and Lorna Johnson worked together to pay for a campaign, likely to work out around $5250 apiece.

Johnson said they supported transparency and were happy to provide as much detail as they could. Each candidate has contributed $2000. The rest is from local fundraising ($2000 each) and donations from supporters, most under $100 ($1250 a candidate).


It would be good if there was an actual list of donors accompanying the story (rather than having it filtered by the candidates and the media), but any movement in this area is a welcome sight. And hopefully, we can make it a legal requirement in future.

Australia's backwards politicians

In New Zealand, we resolved the question of same-sex marriage through an (overwhelmingly supportive) vote in Parliament. Meanwhile, in Australia, politicians are dragging their feet, with the ruling "Liberal" party (which isn't) demanding that progress can only be by referendum - in other words, LGBT people can only have their fundamental right to marry recognised if politicians can't be held responsible for it, and if bigots get to mount a giant public hatefest first. But it turns out that the public they're so afraid of are overwhelmingly supportive of gay rights, and a referendum would lose in only a single rural electorate:

Just one electorate in the country has a majority of voters opposed to same-sex marriage, according to new research that suggests MPs and public debate significantly trail voters in backing change.

The University of Melbourne-led study found opposition to changing the Marriage Act ranges from 40 to just over 50 per cent in a handful of rural Queensland and northern NSW seats to less than 10 per cent in inner-city electorates in Sydney and Melbourne.

Maranoa, in outback south-western Queensland and held by the Coalition's David Littleproud, has just over 50 per cent of voters who do not want a change to allow same-sex couples to wed.

A small collection of seats – Groom, Flynn and Hinkler in Queensland and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce's base in New England – could oppose same-sex marriage if undecided voters opted for the status quo.


And that's pretty much it. Australians support same-sex marriage. So why are their "representatives" against it?

Investigating Key's dirt machine

Back in 2014, John Key admitted that his staff were "briefing the bloggers" and using them as a backchannel to plant stories in the media. A number of people (including myself) were interested in this and lodged OIA requests for the details. The PM rejected these requests by playing the "hat game": the information was held in his capacity as the leader of the National Party, not his capacity as a Minister. But now, two years after my complaint was lodged, the Ombudsman is finally investigating it, along with an earlier request from NewstalkZB:

The Chief Ombudsman will investigate the Prime Minister over his refusal to release details regarding his, and his office's contact with right-wing bloggers David Farrar and Cameron Slater.

Back in early 2014 Newstalk ZB requested records of all such contacts that had occurred over a two year period.

John Key's office declined to release details, saying to do so would require substantial research and collation and also that some communications may have been made in Mr Key's capacity as an MP and leader of the National Party.


(I'd requested communications from a specific month, precisely to avoid "substantial research and collation").

When I originally complained, I had argued that the PM had not established that the briefings were not given in an official capacity:
While the PM's office is correct that he wears multiple hats, and information held in the capacity as leader of the National party or as an MP is not "official information" under the Act, he has not established that the information is held in such a capacity. One of the key allegations of Nicky Hager's "Dirty Politics" (which given your investigation into OIA processes I'm sure you're aware of) is that bloggers were being briefed by staff employed by Ministerial Services - that is, paid by the public. If that is the case, then that would make them definitively official information. In the case of the Prime Minister personally, the status of any briefing would have to be judged from the context in which it was given e.g. whether it was given on a day normally reserved for constituency or personal business, or during his "normal" office hours as Prime Minister. It can also be judged from the content e.g. if it is regarding official information or any OIA request then it must clearly be given in the capacity as Prime Minister, because the leader of the National Party or John Key MP do not "hold" such information and do not process such requests.

In the two years since, the OIA ground has shifted. Information held by the PM is now official by default, and he has to show it is held in another capacity. Whether that is actually the case will depend on the facts, but I think there's a good chance that they won't support a private capacity in every case, and that we'll see an official view of the heart of the PM's dirt machine.

Take that, British establishment!

The result of the UK Labour leadership election was announced on Sunday, and against expectations and despite a membership purge and universal hostility from the establishment media, Jeremy Corbyn won another landslide. Take that, British establishment!

Corbyn didn't just win - he increased his mandate (and from a larger party too). But, as with the previous leadership vote, this won't settle the issue. That won't happen until the Blairite "moderates" (Thatcherites who voted for war, privatisation and cuts) accept that parties belong to their members, not the establishment. And that looks about as likely to happen as Tony Blair admitting he was wrong to invade Iraq. Which means it'll be more backbiting, sniping and undermining, until their local electorate committees get tired of the bullshit and de-select them.

Friday, September 23, 2016



"Cluttering the internet"

In New Zealand the right of access to official information is well-established, and the introduction of FYI, an online service to make it easy, was uncontroversial. While a few agencies - notably the NZ Police - waste everyone's time by being dicks about the OIA's outdated eligibility rule, most are happy to accept requests from it. But in Australia, its a different story:

The Australian Tax Office has escalated a row with a website that facilitates freedom of information requests, claiming it "clutters the internet".

[...]

Last month, the ATO announced it would not cooperate with the [RightToKnow] website claiming it published the names of department staff and exposed abuse, stress, anxiety and damage to professional reputation.

Correspondence released under FOI laws reveal the ATO considered launching a court injunction to remove "offending material on the grounds it was defamatory, or threatening in a criminal sense".


RightToKnow publishes exactly and only what the ATO release. So if they publish the names of ATO staff members, it is because the ATO did not redact them (and I'm assuming that, as in NZ, names can be redacted for privacy purposes). But more generally, it exposes a deep unease in the Australian public service about freedom of information, and FOIA requests being public and publicly available. Its a toxic mindset, and one they will need to fix if they wish to be a modern democracy.

Good news on local government

Back in June, National introduced the Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Bill (No 2). The bill was yet another attack on local body democracy, allowing central government to effectively force mergers, force councils to divest services to council-controlled organisations, and (particularly disturbing in light of the Canterbury experience) create extended unitary authorities which could control water and air quality decisions in other districts (without those districts getting a say). But now its been delayed for a rewrite:

The Government has bowed to pressure from the country's mayors, putting changes to local government law on the backburner and signalling it may could rejig the most contentious measure.

Local Government Minister Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga has told the select committee considering the changes to postpone its report back from the scheduled October 28 until the end of next March.

He said the delay would "allow for further policy consideration and drafting changes" to the Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Bill (No 2).

"This will enable more rigorous analysis of submissions and more constructive dialogue with the local government sector," Lotu-Iiga said.


Hopefully this will result in the anti-democratic provisions of the bill being pulled. And if not, Peter Dunne has withdrawn his support, so the government may no longer have a majority for it.

Climate change: Its us or the fossil fuel industry

We always knew that dealing with climate change and preventing the oceans from drowning Bangladesh and the Netherlands and Tuvalu would mean having to wean our civilisation off fossil fuels in favour of cleaner energy sources. But a new analysis of the global carbon budget - how much carbon we can emit before we are likely to cause dangerous levels of climate change - shows if we are to survive, we need to kill the fossil fuel industry off urgently:

Scientists say that to have even a two-thirds chance of staying below a global increase of two degrees Celsius, we can release 800 gigatons more CO2 into the atmosphere. But the Rystad data shows coal mines and oil and gas wells currently in operation worldwide contain 942 gigatons worth of CO2. So the math problem is simple, and it goes like this:

942 > 800

“What we found is that if you burn up all the carbon that’s in the currently operating fields and mines, you’re already above two degrees,” says Stephen Kretzmann, OCI’s executive director. It’s not that if we keep eating like this for a few more decades we’ll be morbidly obese. It’s that if we eat what’s already in the refrigerator we’ll be morbidly obese.

And its worse than that, because two degrees isn't the target anymore - its 1.5 degrees. Which makes our total carbon budget to have even a 50-50 chance of meeting it only 353 gigatons. Which means that instead of the fossil fuel industry having the lifetime of their current fields to adapt, they've got only a third of that. Basicly, we need to put them out of business as quickly as possible, or we fry.

The good news is that we have the technology. A decarbonised economy is demonstrably feasible, and growing within the fossil economy as I write. With wind and solar and electric cars, we can eliminate carbon from the bulk of the energy chain, and use it only where we really need to. The bad news is that pushing this sort of crash transformation will require serious policy from the government - policy that will be fought tooth and nail by the fossil fuel dinosaurs, because it literally means their extinction. But its basicly us or them now, and we need to make sure that those rich polluting pricks don't destroy our future.

New Fisk

For the first time, Saudi Arabia is being attacked by both Sunni and Shia leaders