In his victory speech at the Cannes film festival this week, the British film director Ken Loach warned that the rise of far right parties in Europe was being fuelled by the economic policies of austerity, and manifested in a welfare bureaucracy that systematically denies assistance to those in most need. Regardless, the media has focused its attention on the anti-immigrant, Islamophobic policies of the European far right, with its scary echoes of the anti-Semitism of the 1930s. Meanwhile, the economic failure underlying the scapegoating barely rates a mention. Read the rest of this entry »
Libor. It stands for the London Interbank Offered rate. Back in 2012, Libor became synonymous with a scandal involving the dodgy manipulation of how interest rates were fixed – during the years before and after the Global Financial Crisis – thus affecting the cost of money for bank customers and corporates all around the world. Here’s an explanation of how Barclays Bank (and other banks) set about rigging the $US 5.3 trillion a day global foreign exchange market.
By 2015, about $US6 billion in fines has been levied in the course of the Libor settlement.
For this country, one of the interesting things about the subsequent wave of banking reforms has been that New Zealand has disengaged itself from the Libor rate setting process:
The Danish, Swedish, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand Libor rates have been successfully terminated, without disruption to the financial markets.
Unfortunately, that may not be the end of the story. Last month, the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) filed proceedings against Westpac over activities that have some distinct echoes of the Libor scandal. Read the rest of this entry »
This week, New Zealand’s crisis of poverty and homelessness has been making headlines around the world.
At exactly the same time, Electricity Authority has unveiled the final version of its pricing plan for electricity transmission. This will change the way transmission prices (which comprise about 10% of the average power bill) are computed, and will add hundreds of dollars a year to power bills for many ordinary consumers. Those consumers living in depressed communities on the West Coast, in Northland and in Auckland will be hardest hit. Consumers living elsewhere in the South island and in some other regions will gain reductions, and the Tiwai Point aluminum smelter will enjoy a power bill cut of at least $20 million. Read the rest of this entry »
Thanks to Sacha Baron Cohen, Kazakhstan will always seem like a bit of a jokey, ramshackle kind of place. To that end, the Stuff story last week about the New Zealand courts’ recent compliance with the wishes of the Kazakh dictatorship was illustrated with a picture of Borat.
The Kazakh reality that’s depicted by Human Rights watch isn’t quite as funny:
Kazakhstan heavily restricts freedom of assembly, speech and religion, and torture remains a serious problem. In 2014, authorities closed newspapers, jailed or fined dozens of people after peaceful but unsanctioned protest, and fined or detained worshippers for practicing religion outside state controls. Government critics, including opposition leader Vladimir Kozlov, remain in detention after unfair4 trials. Recently adopted changes to the criminal code, as well as a new law on trade unions, contain articles restricting fundamental freedoms and which are incompatible with international standards. Torture remai9ns common in places of detention and while some police officers faced charges, impunity remains the norm.
So what did Kazakhstan’s rulers want from New Zealand, and why are we giving it to them? The information in question included IP and email information about critics of the Kazakh government, contained in information uploaded to the Mega site, formerly owned by Kim Dotcom. Read the rest of this entry »
Monopolies are bad for people, and bad for capitalism, too. Look at what happened in the late 1980s when a Labour government handed a state monopoly over to Telecom – which proceeded to screw its customers over prices, spent the bare minimum on new technology and blocked innovation for the best part of a decade, or more. Remember how many years it took before you were allowed to transport your existing phone number from one telco to another?
Telecom fought ‘number portability’ tooth and nail. It is what advantaged players do, within private sector monopolies or near-monopolies. They extract maximum profits from captive markets, and feed them to their shareholders. Innovation dies in that climate. Currently, there is no reason to think the proposed media mega-merger between Fairfax and NZ Media Holdings will be any kinder to the needs of society, or of its customers. That’s why competition policy – and the Commerce Commission – exist. Supposedly, they act to protect the public, and to save capitalism from its own worst instincts. Read the rest of this entry »
For years, observers have noted the contrast between Prime Minister John Key’s ordinary Kiwi bloke persona, and the patrician prat more commonly seen in Parliament. This week though, the prat has been in plain sight. Nominally, Key got expelled from Parliament yesterday for disrespecting the Speaker, David Carter, by continuing to talk while Carter was on his feet. Rather conveniently, that expulsion became the news story, rather than the more embarrassing reality. All week, Key has chosen to join with the scamsters in smearing the reputation of charities such as Amnesty International, Greenpeace etc by linking them – falsely – to the Panama Papers.
Even beforehand, Key and his staff should have known that the names of such charities had been used fraudulently by the clients of Mossack Fonseca, and without their permission. Yet even after the charities in question had publicly pointed out they had been victims of the scamsters, and had nothing to do with the fake shell companies in the Panama Papers that had stolen their names… Key still refused to apologise. Instead, and under questioning on this point by Greens leader James Shaw, Key was continuing to defame the charities when he got expelled from the House. Read the rest of this entry »
Not many heroes so far in the Panama Papers saga, but any number of villains. Those villains happen to include: criminals laundering their ill gotten gains, terrorists funding their nefarious activities, and shadowy figures guilty of varying levels of larceny stashing their wealth in bolt-holes, offshore. Much of the talk about the need for greater “transparency” and “reputational risk” is about whether New Zealand is aiding and abetting such people – either (a) consciously for gain (b) carelessly or (c) via an ideological reluctance to regulate the foreign trust sector.
In the murkier, moral grey zone however, reside the lawyers and lobbyists and enablers who profit from this trade – some of which is legal, and some of which isn’t. There are also the pliable politicians, and the lobbyists out to influence them. In addition, there are the investors hiding money from the taxman quite legally – and apparently feeling few pangs of conscience about being social parasites.
So far, the policy response to the Panama Papers revelations has reflected the differences – and yes, these are class differences – in how the problems are viewed. Or indeed, over whether there is any problem at all. Read the rest of this entry »
Basically, the world is divided into two types of people: those who think the Panama Papers illustrate the bad shit that some people do, and those who think the Panama Papers illustrate what needs to be done to make sure no-one else discovers the shit – good or bad – that they’re doing. Interesting then, that in yesterday’s speech to an audience of corporate leaders at the first Cyber Security Summit in Auckland, Prime Minister John Key didn’t advise the captains of industry on how being a good corporate citizen might be the best way of preventing them from becoming a hacking target in the first place. Instead, he urged them to invest in a really, really good cyber-security firewall:
[Prime Minister John Key] said the massive information leak from the Panamanian law firm, Mossack Fonseca, which revealed global tax avoidance practices, is proof no company was safe from hacking. “Whatever the rights and wrongs of whatever business they do, these people have sat there thinking they’re dealing with their clients on a confidential basis.”
“Their information has been hacked and is now in the public domain.” He said businesses should not think that would never happen to them.
To give this the most charitable reading….maybe Mossack Fonseca wasn’t the best example of a hacking victim that Key might have selected. Oh true, he did also mention the hack of Sony Pictures. But that example isn’t any better. The Sony hack is widely believed to have been a North Korean operation, motivated by the Pyongyang regime’s desire for payback after Sony had financed a James Franco/Seth Rogen ‘comedy’ film about the assassination of North Korea’s political leader. In addition : among the many revelations from the Sony hack was the cold, hard evidence that the female stars on the film American Hustle ( Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams) were paid considerably less than their male co-stars. Subsequently, the Sony revelations have triggered a useful debate on institutionalized sexism in the US entertainment industry and corporate life in general. As noted in this great essay by Jennifer Lawrence.
Meaning: as with Mossack Fonseca, the Sony hack put material into the public domain that has proved to be in the public interest. Key, however, has chosen to cite both these examples as red light warnings to New Zealand corporates to beef up their online secrecy. All of this was merely the prelude to the government unveiling its solution to the cyber threats allegedly facing this country : a Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) that will receive $2.2 million to set itself up, and then have $5 million a year to spend on helping to keep New Zealand business safe from the stranger dangers out there online:
The Government has announced it will spend $22.2 million over the next four years on improving New Zealand’s cyber security.
Of that, $2.2 million will be spent setting up a Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT). The remaining $20 million will be CERT’s operational funds.
That’s the problem of course. If you portray the risks online in apocalyptic terms – yikes, the Chinese/North Koreans/Eastern Europeans etc are coming to steal our intellectual property and all of our trade secrets ! – then $5 million a year in operational funding looks like a pretty token response. Go big though, and it looks even more like corporate welfare, and state provision of protections that New Zealand business should be paying for itself. Incidentally, won’t CERT’s efforts overlap with what the GCSB is supposed to be doing in this same area ? Isn’t the GCSB supposed to be concerned with online threats to New Zealand’s economic interests? Who’s going to be the sheriff here ? Funny. Normally, our freedom-loving captains of industry fancy themselves as bold adventurers on the oceans of commerce…yet this proposal not only invites them to share their secrets with Big Brother, but to actively seek its protection. An odd fit, wouldn’t you say, ideologically speaking.
Basic question : is the bulk of the online risk to New Zealand of the ‘stranger danger’ kind located offshore – or are most of this country’s online violations originating within branches of the New Zealand corporate family, as firms raid each other for market advantage ? If, as one would suspect, it really is the latter….CERT would readily become part of the problem, rather than part of the solution. How, for instance, will CERT be supposed to handle and store the confidential information that will be essential to it assisting in the provision of a significant defence? And why would any sane NZ firm think that sharing its defensive strategies with a government agency wasn’t going to pose an additional security risk in itself?
In other words, everything about CERT smacks of it offering merely generic advice, and being marketing fluff for the security industry that stands to gain an influx of business from this handout of public money. Surely, if firms had genuine secrets worth keeping, then they should pay for the expertise required to keep themselves safe? Isn’t that how the free market is supposed to work? Already, the state pays for the bulk of the research and development work carried out in New Zealand, and from which the private sector reaps a good deal of private gain. Now the taxpayer is helping to pay for their online security as well; primarily, to enable the private sector to conceal information that (in some cases at least) the public needs to know.
Footnote: XKCD’s Randall Munroe on the urge to ‘Cyber-‘.
Songs about secrets? First, from the Pierces, doing that vampy thing they did so well :
And then I suppose, there are these guys:
Is this any way to run a health system… whereby terminally ill patients are forced into public demonstrations before the government (and its funding agency Pharmac) will grudgingly provide the money for life-saving treatments freely available and publically funded in Australia for the best part of a year? The money involved – $39 million for the anti-melano0ma drug Opdivo and other drugs – is a mere pittance in the context of government expenditure.
The government said Pharmac would get an extra $39 million next year to enable it to fund the new immunotherapy drug for some 350 patients with advanced melanoma, along with several other new drug treatments….
The agency is not saying what share of the $39m funding Opdivo would take. The other treatments to be funded include harvoni and viekira pak for Hepatitis C, Azithromycin for lung disease in children, rituximab for kidney disease in children, temozolomide brain and neuroendocrine tumours and oestradiol patches for menopausal women.
This column consistently compares the miserly sums allocated to health treatments that save actual lives, with the huge amounts handed over without a murmur to counter the purely theoretical threats facing our Defence forces. e.g. the $440 million armaments upgrade earlier this year for the Navy frigates, the multi-million upgrade to submarine detection (!) capacity of our P-3 Orions, and the $46 million spent last month on a no-expense spared “ world class” “Battle Training Facility” that will train our soldiers for combat by enabling them to play video-games (!) with live ammunition. Read the rest of this entry »
One of the interesting line items in this month’s Budget will be the one that sets out the increase – if any – in Pharmac’s base funding, to enable it to meet the huge cost of the new class of so called ‘biologics’ drugs for treating advanced skin cancer.
To date, Pharmac has withstood the intense public relations campaign that has been waged by the Merck, Sharp & Dohme (MSD) drug company to force Pharmac to commit to Keytruda, the first of these PD-1 immune system-driven, cancer inhibitor drugs to reach the market.
Recently, Keytruda’s main rival – Opdivo, from the Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS) drug company – has been approved for use in New Zealand.
Theoretically, this creates the situation that Pharmac has been angling for – whereby it has two rival products on the market that could supposedly be induced to compete against each other on price, thus enabling Pharmac to gain savings on the vast cost involved in subsidizing them. If that’s the tactic, it won’t happen soon enough to provide much relief. Overseas, both Opdivo and Keytruda have sustained sky-high prices, even while in competition. Read the rest of this entry »