Friday, January 30, 2015



Not just a crime - a mistake

In 2004, Britain kidnapped Sami al-Saadi in Hong Kong and illegally rendered him to Libya. The same year, they helped the CIA do the same to Abdul Hakim Belhaj and his family in Thailand. Both men were tortured by the Libyan regime, and it is clear that MI6 knew this would happen. As a result, MI6 is being investigated by the police for conspiracy to torture.

But the British rendition of these men wasn't just a crime - it was also a mistake:

A secret UK-Libyan rendition programme in which two Libyan opposition leaders were kidnapped and flown to Tripoli along with their families had the effect of strengthening al-Qaida, according to an assessment by the UK security service, MI5.

Prior to their kidnap, Abdel Hakim Belhaj and Sami al-Saadi had ensured that their organisation, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), focused on the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi, the classified assessment says. Once handed over to the Gaddafi regime, their places at the head of the LIFG were taken by others who wanted to bring the group closer to al-Qaida.

[...]

Two years after MI5 made this assessment, Libi announced the LIFG had formally joined forces with al-Qaida. He became a leading member of the merged organisation and is believed to have orchestrated a series of suicide bomb attacks across Afghanistan, including one in 2007 that killed 23 people at Bagram airfield north of Kabul during a visit by then US vice-president Dick Cheney. Libi was killed in a drone strike the following year.


Naturally, the British spies kept quiet about their terrible, criminal mistake. The only reason we know about it is because they gave a copy to Gaddafi's torturers, which was found after their overthrow. Also in those documents was a list of 1600 questions the British wanted the Libyan "interview team" to ask Belhaj and Saadi while they were being tortured. That should be of great interest to the police.

New Fisk

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Bugger

Russel Norman has announced he will not be contesting the Green Party's co-leadership in May. Bugger. He's been great as co-leader, and he and Metiria have doubled the party's vote while making it clear that they lead the opposition on policy. And yet its also perfectly understandable too - Norman has just had a significant change in his family, the sort of thing which would make anyone reconsider their commitments. And he's clearly decided that his family is more important than politics, and all power to him for doing so.

(Meanwhile, the Greens are disproving Enoch Powell's famous line that all political careers end in failure. Both Norman and Fitzsimons have departed at the time of their choosing, not because they lost an election or were rolled. Its possibly a strength of the co-leadership model that you can leave while also feeling that the party is still in safe hands, but also another sign that the Greens aren't just about seizing and grimly holding onto power at all costs like other parties)

The Greens are a democratic party, so there will be a leadership election. Kevin Hague is an obvious strong contender, but he'll have to win the endorsement of the membership (and do it every year, at that). Hopefully there'll be some competition - because as we've seen with Labour, coronations simply breed arrogance.

Thursday, January 29, 2015



An untenable position

For the last month, allegations have been swirling around National MP Mike sabin, who is currently facing a police investigation for assault. A key question was whether Sabin would continue to hold his position as chair of the law and Order select committee. Yesterday, after attempting to distance himself from the affair, Prime Minister John Key confirmed that yes, he would. And today, we get to see what that actually means:

Mike Sabin, the MP under police investigation for assault, is set to grill senior cops as part of an annual review.

[...]

The law and order committee is preparing questions for an annual review of the police force. Previously called a financial review, it allows MPs to put a range of questions to the police executive. As chairman, Sabin would direct those public meetings.

And of course as chair, he will be able to steer the committee towards adverse recommendations towards the police and their management, and even budget cuts. And the Prime Minister expects the police to conduct an investigation under these circumstances? The proposition is simply untenable. To point out the obvious, if the police conclude - as they do every other time they investigate a politician's wrongdoing - that there is nothing to see here, move along, it will be hard for the public to escape the conclusion that they've done so for fear of rocking the boat and offending someone with power against them. It will throw the principle of equality under the law in the dustbin - as well as encouraging the public to seek their own justice against politicians, rather than go to a police force seemingly incapable of providing it. Both are very bad messages to send.

For the sake of propriety and the integrity of our justice system, Sabin must be stood down. There is simply no other tenable course of action.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015



Submit!

Back in December, the Local Government Commission decided that the Greater Wellington region should get the supercity treatment, with One Mayor To Rule Them All from Rongotai to the Wairarapa. Fortunately, there's a long way to go before that is imposed on people, and first there's a public submission process in which the public gets to have their say. Submissions are due by 4pm on 2 March 2015, and can be emailed to submissions@lgc.govt.nz. A useful form to structure your submission is available here, and a quick guide to the proposal is here.

(If the LGC decides to push this ahead to a final proposal, expect a petition campaign and referendum in the middle of the year).

Shuffling the deckchairs

We have a housing crisis. We have people living in tents and garages and boarding houses because they can't afford to rent a home of their own. The core driver of this crisis is lack of supply: there are not enough affordable homes to meet the needs of that end of the market (partly because they've all been snapped up by greedy Boomers speculating in the property market, and partly because developers don't find it profitable enough to build new ones).

The government's solution to this crisis? Sell state houses at a loss to the community sector - in other words, offload their responsibility for dealing with it.

This won't increase the net supply of affordable homes, so it won't solve the problem. All it does is shuffle those houses from one owner to another. I can't think of a better example of shuffling the deckchairs on the Titanic...

But the worst bit is the second half: shuffling those needy people out of the government's hair and making them someone else's problem. Its a clear sign that National does not see every kiwi having a decent roof over their head as a core responsibility of the government. Instead, they plan to run the DHB scam on housing: make it someone else's problem so you can disclaim responsibility and dodge criticism.

That's not good enough, and we shouldn't accept it. But then, what did we expect? Paula Bennet owns three houses. Her primary goal is in maintaining their value. She's the problem, and she will never provide a real solution.

Hot air

Andrew Little gave his big "state of the nation" speech today, telling his preferred audiance of the 1% that Labour wants more jobs, higher wages, and lower inequality. They weren't impressed, and neither am I. The problem? There's two. First of course is Little's pretence that he can deliver those things without hurting the people he was speaking to. That's crap. Raising wages means reducing profits, and redirecting growth so that everyone shares in it means directing it away from its current beneficiaries, the ultra-rich. Business knows this, we know this, so who does Little think he's fooling?

Second of course is the lack of detail. Labour wants these things, but they won't say how they'll go about getting them. Well, I want chocolate chip cookies, but unless I have a plan (and some sugar, butter, eggs, flour, baking soda and half a block of Whittakers) my cookie dreams will remain unfulfilled. Sure, its a long way till the next election, and Labour is more interested in positioning itself than in policy - but without policy, positions mean nothing. Aspirations alone are just hot air.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015



This is how you deal with spies

Two weeks ago Alberto Nisman, an Argentinian prosecutor, was found dead in his apartment. Nisman had been investigating a government deal to cover up the Iranian bombing of a Jewish community centre in 1994, and was due to testify to parliament about it. The death was posed as a suicide, but was suspicious, and the motive was pretty clear - clear enough that Argentina's president has accepted that her own spies murdered him. Unlike the US, where spies get to torture and murder with impunity, she's doing something about it: dissolving the spy-agency responsible:

Argentina’s president announced a major shakeup of her country’s intelligence network on Monday in her most combative step yet to address the fallout from the death of prosecutor Alberto Nisman.

In her first televised address since the prosecutor’s body was found at his apartment on 18 January, Cristina Fern├índez de Kirchner said she would support a bill to dissolve the existing structure – which employs more than 2,000 people – and replace it with a new federal intelligence agency.


Obviously those responsible need to be found and prosecuted as well (and Kirchner could have dirty hands too - there's almost certainly more to see here). But there's clearly a toxic culture amongst Argentina's spies, which hasn't been stamped out from the era of the dictatorship. Time to get rid of them.

The cost of German-imposed austerity

German-imposed austerity has been a disaster for Greece: 28% unemployment, mass poverty, a public health crisis, a 20% increase in suicides and a 40% increase in infant mortality. Its a foreign-imposed humanitarian crisis, as if they lost a war or had all their food and money stolen by Nazis. The scary thing is that it doesn't have to be that way. In the New York Times, Paul Krugman runs the numbers:

if you follow that through, you find that dropping the [Troika] requirement that Greece run a primary surplus of 4.5 percent of GDP would allow spending to rise by 9 percent of GDP — twice as much — and that this would raise GDP by 12 percent relative to what it would have been otherwise. Unemployment would fall by around 10 percentage points relative to no relief.

Which would obviously be tremendously beneficial for the Greek people. Instead, the bankers are imposing policies that are killing people so they can extract their pound of flesh.

Must-read: Police cover up for Corrections

Today's must read: Roger Brookings. For the past few months he's been poking into the death of Jai Davis, a prisoner who died in 2011 because Corrections didn't want to spend $300 on calling a doctor on a weekend. The inquest into the death last year was scathing, with Police Detective Colin Blackie making it clear that he thought the death was due to neglect, that the prison was dysfunctional, and that corrections failed in its duty of care towards Davis. Today's revelation is something else: Blackie wanted to charge those neglectful Corrections staff, but was pulled off the case by Police management:

No one in the Corrections Department has ever been prosecuted over an ‘unnatural death’ in prison. In what could have been the first case, Detective Senior Sergeant Colin Blackie (right), who conducted the police investigation into the death of Jai Davis, wanted to prosecute prison staff who allowed Davis to die from a drug overdose. Despite a wealth of evidence showing prison managers, officers and nurses all failed in their duty of care, Mr Blackie was taken off the case and no one was prosecuted.

The reason? Police were covering their own arses:
The Police had Davis in their custody for 24 hours before they took him out to the Otago prison and there is no doubt they knew he had drugs on board. Despite this knowledge, no one did anything to help. Numerous Police officers made exactly the same mistake as numerous Corrections officers (and nurses) – they neglected their statutory duty to call a doctor to have Davis examined. What this means is that if police had done their job properly, Davis would never have been sent to Otago prison at all and would, in all probability, still be alive.

Senior Sergeant Colin Blackie wanted to prosecute prison staff. But a public hearing of Corrections ineptitude in court would have exposed similar misconduct by the police. No wonder he was taken off the case – and no one was prosecuted.


So criminals escape justice so the Police can pretend to the public that they're not muppets. This isn't a justice system - its a farce.

Monday, January 26, 2015



A question

If the Prime Minister orders the New Zealand flag lowered to half mast to "honour" a foreign tyrant, is that dishonouring it?

National loves foreign despots

Last week, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia died. Good riddance, you might say - he was a wretched hereditary despot who imprisoned his daughters and declared it was "terrorism" to advocate for human rights and democracy. Under Abdullah's regime, women are subjected to an effective system of gender apartheid, rape victims are flogged, people who video the regime's brutal execution sof the innocent are prosecuted, and bloggers are sentenced to a thousand lashes.

John Key thinks we should publicly honour this man by lowering NZ flags to half-mast today.

Fuck that. Abdullah was a tyrant. And if we're going to lower our flag as a mark of "respect" for him, then we might as well start wiping our arses with it.

Labour: Time to stop being a valet

Politics restarts this week, with duelling state of the nation speeches by John Key and Andrew Little on Wednesday. So who is Little speaking to as his first major speech of the year? The Auckland business elite, of course:

Mr Little, a former union head, has chosen a business audience for his inaugural state of the nation address in an apparent bid to reassure them Labour should not be dismissed as unfriendly to business.

The problem is that the things Labour says it wants to do (and the things its voters want it to do) - raise wages, restore employment rights, end housing speculation and reduce unemployment - are inherently "unfriendly to business". Its a zero-sum game: every dollar workers get is a dollar business-owners don't. "Grow the pie?" Its the same problem on a different level - and business will not accept a reversal of the current situation where they get all the growth and we get nothing. And yet, Labour has made it a political priority to pretend that this is not the case, to try and keep up a charade that they can both be pro-business and pro-ordinary kiwi - and to implicitly promise to betray its voters. Which really makes you wonder whose side they're on.

But apart from being deceitful, this charade is also pointless. As we saw in 2000's "winter of discontent", business will react to the election of a Labour government with absolute hostility. I expect the same will happen next time they're part of a government (and moreso if they're allied to the Greens). It doesn't matter how many arses Little licks - business will not accept the party's agenda. Better to acknowledge that and seek support elsewhere rather than pretend you can have it both ways.

Meanwhile, writing in the Guardian today (about Greece, of course), Zoe Williams talks about the need for left-wing parties to actually stand up to the money men. Along the way, she highlights the central problem of conventional political debate, which casts everything as being about budgets and growth:
Politicians are cast in a fairly minor role by this rationale. They take on a sort of valet position, there to arrange things the way the economy needs them. It is extremely difficult as this kind of politician to make any diagnosis of reality that people might recognise. The last thing you want to do when your hands are tied is to describe a situation – low wages for instance, high housing costs, unliveable lives – that demands action.

We're not at the levels of denial they have in the UK, where (for example) every major political party accepts that PPPs are a disaster but no-one is willing to actually stop shovelling money down the hole. Our Labour Party can diagnose our problems, and is doing a pretty good job of highlighting what's wrong and what needs to change. But they also very clearly think their hands are tied and that they are subservient to capital. Which is going to make it extremely difficult for them to deliver on their promises if elected. A party which didn't view itself as a valet would probably be better able to do so.

What happens if you question our sacred cows

Last week, Fairfax columnist Rachel Stewart published a piece in the Manawatu Standard opposing further regulatory and environmental subsidies for farmers. The response? Misogyny and death threats:

Police are investigating a complaint from controversial columnist Rachel Stewart after a threatening hand-written message was left in her letterbox and her social media account was inundated with abusive posts.

Stewart says she has been subjected to a string of malicious messages this week, including threats to rape and kill her, following the publication of her fortnightly opinion piece in Fairfax papers, among them the Manawatu Standard, on Monday.

This week's article, headlined "That high-pitched whining must stop", talked about irrigation schemes, water quality, the low milk payout, workplace regulations, suicide, stress and farmers complying with the law.

However, the backlash to the article turned sinister, and Stewart says "sexist, standover tactics and personal slurs" were posted from accounts using pen-names and then circulated via Twitter by prominent members of New Zealand's farming community. A hand-written anonymous note saying: "See we not so DumB we Don't No where u live. Bitch.[sic]" was also delivered to Stewart's house, prompting her to lay a complaint and for police to launch an investigation.

[...]

Stewart said she was appalled that several prominent members of Federated Farmers and Dairy NZ "favourited" or retweeted crude comments. Dairy NZ did not respond to questions.


This is how our farmers - and their industry bodies - respond to questioning of their sacred cows (and the profits they extract by ruining our waterways): with threats and bullying. And it is unacceptable. I look forward to everyone involved being prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

New Fisk

MI5’s radar should look for the word ‘injustice’ if it wants to protect us
King Abdullah's friends in the West stayed loyal, but revolution is on the horizon in Saudi Arabia

Hope wins in Greece

Greeks went to the polls today in snap elections, and threw out their pro-austerity Quisling government in favour of SYRIZA, the Coalition of the Radical Left. The Greek - and German - establishment warned them that it would be the end of the world if this happened. Clearly, Greeks think the world has already ended, and that after seven years of austerity, 25% unemployment and a 30% cut in living standards (while the rich cheat on their taxes and sail around in private yachts), it can't get any worse. And given a choice between hope for change and more of the same, they've chosen hope.

On current projections, SYRIZA has just fallen short of an absolute majority, so it will need coalition partners to govern. But the Quislings have been definitively ousted, and there will be a definite change in direction away from pointless, vicious austerity in the name of debts that can never be repaid.

The question now is whether Germany and the European Central Bank will accept this outcome, or try and overturn the democratic decision of the Greek people so bankers can get their vig. And the fact that we can even ask this question tells us that there is something deeply wrong with European politics.

Thursday, January 22, 2015



Not the end of the world

In 2012 Colorado legalised marijuana. In 2014, after hashing out the details around quality control and taxation, they opened the first pot stores to the public. From the way conservatives talked about it, you'd think the world would end. So did it?

No:

It's been a year since Colorado became the first state in the US to legalise marijuana, and its impact on health, crime, employment and other factors can now be more empirically measured.

So, did it bring about an apocalypse leaving the streets strewn with out-of-work addicts as some Republicans feared?

"We found there hasn't been much of a change of anything," a Denver police officer told CBC this week.

"Basically, officers aren't seeing much of a change in how they do police work."

[...]

Impaired driving, property crime and violent crime were all dropping in Denver prior to legalisation, and the trend has only continued. Even drug use among young people is down, the report claims.


In short, legalisation works, if done properly. And if the Americans can do it, so can we - and in the process free up our police to target real crime.

New Fisk

Yemen conflict: An old hand at work in the country's bloody civil war

No press freedom in Australia

One of the distinguishing features of dictatorships is their conflation of "national security" and "treason" with "embarrassing the government" or "showing them to be liars". This has unpleasant consequences for journalism and freedom of the press. Unfortunately, on this scale, Australia seems to be behaving like a dictatorship:

Journalists reporting on the federal government’s asylum-seeker policies have been repeatedly referred to the police in attempts to uncover confidential sources and whistleblowers, a Guardian Australia investigation can reveal.

Over the past 12 months federal government agencies have referred stories by journalists from Guardian Australia, news.com.au and the West Australian to the Australian federal police (AFP) for their reporting on the government’s asylum seeker operations during the time Scott Morrison was immigration minister.

Almost every referral made to the AFP by federal government agencies “for unauthorised disclosure of commonwealth information” since the Coalition took office in September 2013 has been directly related to immigration reporting by journalists.


And all of it has been information which embarrasses the government and shows that they have systematically sought to deceive the public about what they are doing. Invading Indonesia. Committing kidnapping and piracy on the high seas. Sinking refugee boats after evacuating them. None of these revelations threaten Australia's "national security". Instead, it exposes government deceit and wrongdoing. And it speaks volumes that a supposed democracy would investigate journalists and seek to put them in jail for that.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015



Not worth the price

John Key's justification for sending kiwi troops to die in Iraq for America? It's "the price of the club":

Prime Minister John Key says New Zealand's likely military contribution to the fight against Islamic State "is the price of the club" that New Zealand belongs to with the likes of the United States, Australia, Britain and Canada in the intelligence alliance known as Five Eyes.

In his strongest hint yet that the Cabinet will approve a deployment of troops to train Iraqis alongside Australians, Mr Key in an interview with the BBC drew heavily on New Zealand pulling its weight as part of "a club".

"Ultimately are we going to say we are going to be part of a club like [we] are with Five Eyes intelligence?

"Are we ultimately going to be able to rely on members of those clubs to support us in our moment of need?" he said in an interview with Taranaki-born BBC journalist Lucy Hockings in London.

[...]

"Even if the contribution is small - of course it will be proportional - there has to be some contribution," he said.

"It is the price of the club."


So what do we get for that price? Other than ten dead soldiers in Afghanistan? Nothing. The "security" benefits are illusory because no-one wants to invade us. Instead, all it does is expose us to risk as an identifiable US suck-up, while our quisling intelligence services pressure our politicians into turning us into a police state. Oh, and John Key gets to play golf with Barack Obama and feel like he's part of the global "in" crowd.

Fuck that shit. This "club" isn't worth belonging to. And it is not worth placing a single kiwi life at risk to stay in it. Rather than sending our soldiers off to die in another pointless American war, we should keep them at home - and throw the Americans out.