The Dim-Post

March 13, 2015

Shaw up the Greens

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 3:38 pm

My friend James – last seen on this blog demagoguing it up at the Te Aro Meet the Candidates event – has entered the Green Party leadership contest. I’ll be helping him with his campaign so will possibly not be the most impartial commentator on the race.

The data-based argument for James’ leadership is basically the chart below. He wasn’t an MP when he ran in Wellington Central last year yet more people there voted Green than any other electorate in the country. The Greens need to grow their vote if they’re going to break out of their marginal position in Parliament, and James can do that. Some of the other candidates in the race have (many) more years of Parliamentary experience than him – but the Greens already have a very experienced co-leader in Metiria Turei. The strength of the co-leader model is that new co-leaders can be, well, new and invigorate the caucus (which is what happened when Russel Norman came in).

james

The way the leadership contest works is that there will be branch/electorate Green Party meetings before the AGM. Those meetings will direct their delegates on how to vote, which they do by ranking candidates in order of preference. So if you’re a member of the party and you want to be involved in the leadership process, go to the local meeting and make your case.

March 12, 2015

Bad guys

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 7:55 am
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The justification for the expansion of the GCSB’s powers back in 2013 to give them the power to spy on New Zealanders was that there are ‘bad guys’ in our country. Terrorists. Radicals. Evil-doers who would harm innocent civilians or attack the economic infrastructure of the country to further their own deranged agenda.

What the GCSB is actually doing, we’ve learned from the Snowden leaks, is spying on New Zealanders – and everyone else – in Tuvalu, and Kiribati, and the Cook Islands, and the Antarctic research bases. And at the same time the police appear powerless to apprehend an individual or group threatening to murder babies and cripple the New Zealand economy by poisoning infant milk powder.

We’ve learned that the function of the GCSB is primarily diplomatic. It buys us good relations with the US. The value of that is obvious to Americaphiles in the New Zealand establishment and less obvious to me, but that’s what it does. What we’re seeing this week is that there’s an opportunity cost to that. Having security agencies that are devoted to carrying out US policy means they undertake tasks that are totally unrelated to our security interests while ignoring actual security threats to New Zealand like, say, radicals threatening to poison the infant milk supply unless their demands are carried out.

March 10, 2015

What is Labour’s optimum strategy in Northland?

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 3:17 pm
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Labour Party supporter (?) Phil Quin has an op-ed in the Herald attacking Labour for strategic incoherence in the Northland by-election:

The goal of any Opposition is to inflict maximum damage on the Government and, in this case, that takes the shape of Peters defeating National in Northland. If Prime siphons enough votes from Peters to deliver victory to the Government, John Key won’t have dodged a bullet; Andrew Little will have stepped into the bullet’s path.

If Peters wins the by-election that will be bad for National and great for Winston Peters, but those don’t add up to a win for the Labour Party. Labour competes with Peters for votes. They lost about 100,000 to him in the last election and would, presumably like to get them back. So the optics of Peters single-handedly defeating National while Labour stands back, powerless aren’t very good for the Labour Party. The best outcome for them is that Peters wins but with Labour’s help, via Andrew Little’s sort-of endorsement. The risk is that Labour goes a bit too far in its overt support for him and all those National voters contemplating a vote for Peters switch back to National. The outcome here is really difficult to predict. National has chosen an unattractive candidate. But they have an amazing political machine. But Winston Peters is an incredible campaigner. But National are promising $70 million in pork. But Labour voters might vote strategically. But pro-National NZ First supporters might react to that. But they might not because of anger about Sabin. It’s very tricky stuff, but Labour’s approach so-far seems sensible to me.

Deals

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 8:31 am
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Even though I kind-of hate the Labour Party and I genuinely hate New Zealand First, I just can’t get outraged about this alleged ‘deal’ that Andrew Little has made, in which he’s signalling for Labour voters to support Winston Peters. There’s nothing wrong with deals in politics. Politics is, basically, making compromises and deals. The reason the deal National makes in Epsom is so toxic is because it exploits a loophole in the electoral law. They give a safe seat to a fake party and get an extra MP and taxpayer funding for a gaggle of far-right nutters. That’s totally different to Labour reaching the conclusion that it can’t win Northland and signaling to voters that they should vote for someone who can.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the ring, National has made a pretty astounding deal with its Northland candidate. They’ve given him $70 million dollars of taxpayer money to spend on bridges in his electorate. Andrew Geddis has read the Northland Regional Council’s Land Transport Plan and discovered that the bridges are very low-priority projects.

I am being naive, or is this an unprecedented event in New Zealand politics. The government hands a candidate SEVENTY MILLION DOLLARS of the public’s cash to try and buy an election? This seems like a big deal to me.

March 6, 2015

Northland

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 10:05 am
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If I lived in Northland I’d vote for Winston Peters then dip my hand in a bucket of bleach (I probably wouldn’t do that last bit). But the thing about by-elections is that not many people vote in them. So turnout is a big deal, and I just can’t see Peters beating the National Party machine.

March 5, 2015

And we’re off

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 9:06 am

Yesterday in preparation for the Hager/Snowden revelations the Prime Minister warned that whatever Hager said was all a lie. Today the talking point is that everyone always knew that the GCSB carried out surveillance in the Pacific, so who cares?

It’s true, we did know that. But we didn’t know it was mass surveillance, and we didn’t know that all of the data was simply forwarded to the US. The argument for the GCSB’s activities has always been that it safeguards our regional security interests. But now we know that its primary function is diplomatic. It collects data that the US can’t and forwards it on, and in exchange we get to be members of the Five-Eyes alliance.

Now, you could argue that Five-Eyes membership is a big win for safe-guarding our regional security. Maybe it is, I don’t really know. We’re not exactly beset by threats down here. But this is an area in which ‘national interest’ and the interests of politicians, diplomats and intelligence elites blur into each other. If you’re the Prime Minister or the head of the GCSB, or MFAT, then participation in this club is a huge win. Key gets to go to the White House and play golf with Obama. Our spies get access to global information networks. We get free stuff from the US. Totally awesome. No question that this is a great deal for them.

What’s unclear is whether any of this delivers any gains at all to the New Zealand public. Does spying on everyone in Kiribati and giving the information to the US keep us safe from terrorists, etc? Maybe in a super-indirect way it does! But it seems more likely – to me – that the benefits go to members of our political elite and the rhetoric about ‘keeping us safe’ is mostly nonsense.

GCSB in the Pacific

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 6:17 am
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The first Hager/Snowden story is up on the Herald. It shows that the GCSB is engaged in extensive surveillance in the Pacific, intercepting all network and telecommunications traffic in the area and routing it to NSA facilities in the US. (When GCSB analysts need to access the data they’ve intercepted they do so via NSA databases).

I don’t think its controversial for the GSCB to conduct operations in the Pacific. It’s our ‘sphere of influence’. There are coups in the Pacific. There’s corruption. Money-laundering, which is probably related to organised crime and could conceivably be funding terrorism. We have economic interests in the region, and despite all the rhetoric about ‘keeping us safe’, spying is frequently conducted for commercial purposes.

The problem is that almost all surveillance is now mass surveillance. Intelligence operations used to be targeted against individuals or companies or groups or governments. Now it’s just easier to spy on everyone and mine the data for targets of interest. So we’re violating the privacy of hundreds of thousands of people who live in nations that are friendly to us with no justification other than that it is technologically convenient.

The spies and politicians who enable them will bark, red-faced, that this is not mass-surveillance, because they don’t class gathering data as surveillance, only looking at it. The problem, as Snowden demonstrated, is that an awful lot of people can look at it. There are hundreds of thousands – possibly millions – of people across the five-eye countries that can access this data.

And the agencies themselves seem untrustworthy. The oversight is inadequate. Last year we found out that the head of the SIS was passing on misleading information to political staffers in the Prime Minister’s office to discredit the leader of the opposition.

These security agencies have incredible powers. They justify them on the basis that they’re ‘keeping us safe’. Nothing we know about them suggests that they do anything of the kind. Everything we do know about them involves them lying to us and abusing their powers. If we’re going to have a state that conducts mass-surveillance – and apparently we are, because we do – then it needs to be implemented and regulated properly.

As for Five-Eyes, I guess New Zealand’s attitude towards it is basically a realist/fatalist position. If there is going to be a terrifying global Orwellian mass surveillance network we might as well be members of it. That might change when the inevitable stories of its abuse surface.

March 3, 2015

Hammond vs Credit Union Baywide

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 10:53 am

I was wondering why there’s been so much media about the $168,000 rude cake on Facebook HRT finding, and then I read the Tribunal decision which you can find here. It is very long, and amazing in a way that can’t really be summed up in a newspaper article. It depicts a culture of senior managers in an organisation who behave like toxic sociopaths and pour huge amounts of energy into settling petty vindictive scores – at the cost of running their business properly – but communicate all their awful, moronic, mostly illegal actions via a stream of bland corporate drivel and HR jargon about process and culture and branding and leadership. A particular low point is when they contact their victim’s new employer, who is desperately ill from chemotherapy treatment and urge him to sack her under the ninety day fire-at-will provision, threatening to withdraw their custom from his business and bankrupt it if he refuses to do so (signed off with a cheery ‘Kind Regards’).

I suspect this depiction of a malevolent management culture resonates with a lot of journalists working in New Zealand newsrooms. But there’s also a political dimension. All of National’s pro-employer labour market reforms are justified on the basis that employers won’t abuse them because there’s no financial incentive for them to do so. Yet here we have a detailed account of a financial institution that seems way more interested in bullying their staff and destroying people’s lives than making money or ‘maximizing shareholder value’ and they use National’s reforms to do it.

March 2, 2015

What we talk about when we talk about donations and political corruption

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 11:15 am
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Matt Nippert and the data journalism team at the Herald are uploading all of the electoral donations and crowdsourcing an analysis of it. All sorts of interesting things are cropping up. Like this:

New Labour MP Stuart Nash was bankrolled to the tune of $4000 a month by political backers for more than a year leading up to last year’s general election.

Mr Nash’s $99,000 in candidate donations meant his warchest ranked only behind Hone Harawira’s $105,000 courtesy of the Kim Dotcom and his Internet Party as being the country’s best-funded candidate.

And this:

Talley’s Group, a family-owned fishing and meat processing company based in Nelson, poured $42,500 into no fewer than nine separate races, mostly favouring National candidates fighting for regional seats.

Three members of the primary production select committee – Chester Borrows, Stuart Smith and Damien O’Connor – each received $5000.

Also, National is engaged in large-scale form of ‘legal laundering’:

An analysis of electoral finance declarations shows more than 80 per cent of donations to National Party candidates were channelled through party headquarters in a loophole described as akin to legal “laundering”.

National’s heavy reliance on funding candidates with donations from the party – shown in a Herald study to account for more than $1m out of $1.2m raised by their candidates for the 2014 general election – was a “striking use of electoral law that appears to be laundering the money”, said Otago University political science lecturer Bryce Edwards.

Electoral law requires candidates to reveal the identity of donors who contribute $1,500 or more, but political parties can keep donors secret even if they give up to $15,000.

Meanwhile Andrew Geddis points out the extremely unusual circumstances around Donghui Liu’s donation to Jamie-Lee Ross.

MPs and other political insiders get really upset if you suggest to them that this is all basically political corruption. Partly this is down to their massive egos. MPs don’t think it’s strange that corporations just give them huge sums of money. Are they not extraordinary individuals? Have they not been chosen by destiny to lead the nation? Related to that is cognitive dissonance. The system around political donations might look totally corrupt, but MPs all know that they personally are not corrupt – how dare anyone suggest that? – so Tallys must just be giving free money to the MPs that happen to sit on the Select Committee that oversees and regulates their industry because they personally believe in those individual MPs.

MPs also very quickly point out that the donations are not transactional. No one ever says ‘I’ll pay you a hundred thousand dollars and you’ll get a law passed for me.’ Which is superficially true but substantively false. Political scientists refer to the political donation system as a gift economy. Donations create a sense of obligation. It is basically like getting invited to a wedding: everyone understands that you have to reciprocate and buy the couple a gift. It doesn’t explicitly say that on the invite because it doesn’t have to.

The solutions are simple: (a) transparency, which means shutting down National’s latest donation laundering scam, and (b) strict policing of conflict of interest. If corporations believe in certain MPs so much they just have to shower them with money then that’s great, but those donations should preclude those MPs from sitting on Select Committees or holding portfolios that impact on their donors. Let’s see how devoted these companies remain if their political clients can’t deliver law changes for them.

February 24, 2015

Off to Iraq

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 5:23 pm
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  • I’m not as outraged at Key and National as most people on the left, because I think that if Labour were in government our commitment to the latest US/UK adventure in Iraq would be pretty much identical. The marketing would be different: our troops would be providing ‘humanitarian aid': painting schools, standing up for women’s rights, and so on, instead of National’s more paternal ‘training the Iraqi army’ pretext. But I just can’t see a Labour PM saying ‘no’ to Obama.
  • Also, our defense chiefs and MFAT mandarins will have been in Key’s office for months, gibbering and howling like rabid monkeys that we ‘have to get in the game, have to be in the room, have to be at the table’ regarding Iraq because urging our involvement in every single British and American military action seems like pretty much all we pay these guys to do. Key seems to be making the minimal commitment – sixteen trainers – he can to satisfy our allies and their ‘deep state’ servants/clients in the New Zealand public service.
  • The Atlantic Monthly had an article on ‘What ISIS really wants‘ which I found helpful. I was struck by the similarities between ISIS and the Khmer Rouge. It almost seems like bombing a country to rubble and destroying all its civic institutions has terrible repercussions and leads to the rise of obscene murderous extremist groups. So I’m pessimistic that the upcoming western air campaign against ISIS will lead to great things downstream, or that New Zealand is ‘doing the right thing’ by enabling it.
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