Thompson and Clark spied for Government departments

There’s disturbing details in the report of the investigation into spying for Government departments by Thompson and Clark. Targets have included Christchurch earthquake victims, political parties (Greens and Mana) and activist groups including Greenpeace.

RNZ:  Thompson and Clark spied on earthquake victims, inquiry finds

Multiple government departments have breached the State Services code of conduct according to an investigation into 131 departments and their use of external security consultants.

The findings of the investigation, lead by Doug Martin and Simon Mount QC, were released today.

Security company Thompson and Clark has been barred from doing any more work for the government after the investigation by the State Services Commission found it used an unlicensed private investigator and produced electronic recordings of closed meetings without the consent or knowledge of attendees.

From 13 March 2014, Thompson and Clark, working on behalf of Southern Response, the government’s insurance agency working for claimants of the Canterbury earthquakes, attended and recorded several closed meetings of insurance claimants.

State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes has complained to the police about the recording of meetings and has lodged a formal complaint with the Private Security Personnel Licensing Authority in regard to using an unlicensed private investigator.

He has also recommended Thompson and Clark be removed from the government’s procurement panel, which the chief executive of the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment has done.

Southern Response had also had a complaint laid to the police against it.

The investigation also looked into Thompson and Clark’s reporting to government agencies on “issue motivated groups” which treated these groups as a security threat.

Among the groups were Greenpeace, the Mana Movement and some iwi groups in Northland, the East Coast and Taranaki.

“What concerns me the most is that Thompson and Clark has treated ‘issue motivated groups’ as a security threat in its reporting to government agencies,” Mr Hughes said.

“I am very disappointed that agencies did not challenge Thompson and Clark on this. That is not consistent with how we should view democratic freedom.”

It has been said that nothing illegal was done but it was highly inappropriate and unethical.

Andrea Vance:  Public service bosses ignored warnings about Thompson & Clark for years

Physically, sexually and psychologically abused in state care, two brothers sought legal redress and damages from the Government.

Rather than take responsibility and show contrition, the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) and Crown Law hired private investigators to dig up dirt on witnesses.

This is one of the most shocking findings of an inquiry into the use of external security consultants by government agencies, like Crown Law and MSD.

The brothers – abused by a cook at a state-run school – were subjected to courtroom questioning which suggested they consented to abuse in receiving cigarettes.

They eventually lost their claim – known as the White case – against MSD on a technicality. It had dragged on for more than seven years.

MSD’s boss at the time was Peter Hughes. He is now head of the entire state service.

Hughes acknowledged this on Tuesday when he apologised, saying: “It is never acceptable for an agency to engage in surveillance or information gathering about people or groups just to manage reputational risk to an agency.”

A cavalier attitude to personal and sensitive information, and a troubling disregard for the democratic right to protest, was allowed to flourish within the public service over 15 years and successive governments.

Thompson & Clark have been painted as the villains in this scandal. They will face a police investigation over the use of an unlicensed investigator against earthquake insurance claimants and likely will lose much of their business.

But although they took advantage, Thompson & Clark aren’t responsible for public service culture and the undermining of democratic rights.

That lies with Peter Hughes. For public confidence to be fully restored, the public service must demonstrate accountability and accept culpability, starting from the top down.

So should a head or heads roll over this?

Binding referendum on cannabis in 2020

The Government has left it as late as possible but have now confirmed there will be a referendum on personal use of cannabis alongside the 2020 general election. I’d have preferred it sooner but at least this allows for proper legislation to be agreed on by Parliament (if this is how it is decided it will work, and pending the referendum result) and for a proper debate to take place.

There have been some complaints )for example from Simon Bridges) that it is a cynical distraction from the next election but I’m sure people are capable of deciding on multiple decisions at the same time. It will still be much simpler than a local body election.

RNZ:  Binding referendum on legalising cannabis for personal use to be held at 2020 election

It’s not actually clear what the referendum will be on.

Justice Minister Andrew Little says the Electoral Commission will now get on and start planning for it.

“Having made the decision now, the Electoral Commission has put together a budget bid for the budget process next year. So … we’ll now process that budget bid. It obviously will attract budget confidentiality, so we’ll know about that next May.”

Chlöe has been doing a lot of work in helping this happen.

We will have to see how this will work, but it is a big step in the right direction.

National Party leader Simon Bridges questioned the government’s motivation for holding the referendum at the same time as a general election.

“I’m pretty cynical that you’ve got a government here that wants to distract from the core issues of a general election like who’s best to govern, their actual record in government over the last three years, and core issues around the economy, tax, cost of living, health, education, law and order.”

FFS, we can deal with more than deciding which politician is the least dweebie and lame, or which party is up with changes on drug laws happening all around the world. .

And he said the government had already effectively decriminalised cannabis through the medicinal cannabis bill.

“Now you’re allowed loose leaf out on the streets and the truth is they’ve said to police, you don’t need to prosecute this so right now, if someone’s smoking cannabis outside a school what are the consequences? What’s the message?”

This is a pathetic attempt at scaremongering, nearly as bad as Bob McCoskrie.

Bridges may pander to people most likely to vote national anyway, but he risks alienating a lot of swing voters, and especially younger voters (voters under 70).

There is obviously no guarantee which way the vote will go, but at least this means that people should get to decide. At last.

The bull market is dead

Share markets are heading downward – the Dow Jones has started the week down another 1.65% – and the outlook isn’t great.

This could impact on many Kiwisaver investments.

Liam Dann:  The bull market is dead, the stockmarket party is over

The bull market is dead.

As fresh falls this morning take the NZX-50’s returns for 2018 below four per cent, it’s time to recognise the decade-long equity boom we’ve enjoyed is over.

For the foreseeable future we can no longer expect to see double-digit returns on our KiwiSaver funds.

Regardless of whether the major indexes keep falling into bear territory or settle for a series of smaller corrections, the bull market has lived its natural life.

The odds on reaching fresh to new highs look very slim indeed.

The NZX-50 peaked at 9375 points in September. It last traded at 8666, off 7.5 per cent from there. It is currently on track for an annual return of about 3.2 per cent.

In line with a bank term deposit rates.

The S&P 500 peaked at 2930 points in September and is currently off about 11 per cent from there.

It is now in negative territory for the year – down 3.5 per cent.

The US President suddenly seems to be pulling out all the stops to deliver some good news on the China trade war.

All that can possibly deliver is a zombie market – staggering in to the new year.

Whatever happens, the post-GFC conditions that drove double-digit market returns for almost a decade are no longer with us.

We are in the last phase of this economic cycle.

Thankfully it hasn’t been signalled as clearly as it might have been – with a recession or a major market crash.

At least not yet. And we can hope.

It happens, periodically. We just have to hope it doesn’t turn into a shit market.

Word of the year: Justice

Merriam-Webster have named ‘justice’ as their word of the year based on how often it was looked up. They have also listed another ten top lookup works. It is interesting to see what prompted interest in the words.

Justice

Our Word of the Year for 2018 is justice. It was a top lookup throughout the year at Merriam-Webster.com, with the entry being consulted 74% more than in 2017.

The concept of justice was at the center of many of our national debates in the past year: racial justice, social justice, criminal justice, economic justice. In any conversation about these topics, the question of just what exactly we mean when we use the term justice is relevant, and part of the discussion.

This year’s news had many stories involving the division within the executive branch of government responsible for the enforcement of laws: the Department of Justice, sometimes referred to simply as “Justice.”

Justice has varied meanings that do a lot of work in the language—meanings that range from the technical and legal to the lofty and philosophical.

1. Nationalism

Lookups for nationalism spiked 8,000% on October 22nd and 23rd after President Trump announced at a rally in Texas:

“You know, they have a word — it’s sort of became old-fashioned — it’s called a ‘nationalist.’ And I say, really, we’re not supposed to use that word. You know what I am? I’m a nationalist, okay? I’m a nationalist. Nationalist. Nothing wrong. Use that word. Use that word.”

Nationalism is defined as “loyalty and devotion to a nation,” especially “exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups.”

We seem to have little overt nationalism in New Zealand.

2. Pansexual

Pansexual saw a spike in lookups in April, when singer Janelle Monáe was quoted in Rolling Stone magazine self-identifying with the term. Today the word most often is used to mean “of, relating to, or characterized by sexual desire or attraction that is not limited to people of a particular gender identity or sexual orientation,” but the word entered the English language in the early 20th century with a different use: “tending to suffuse all experience and conduct with erotic feeling.”

The semantic breadth of the prefix pan-, which means “all” or “completely,” has made pansexual a useful alternative to bisexual for those who see gender as a spectrum rather than a binary.

I haven’t seen pansexual used much if at all here, but gender labels have certainly become big topics.

3. Lodestar

The anonymous op-ed in The New York Times said to have been written by a senior official in the Trump administration caused lookups to spike for lodestar (and its less common variant loadstar) in early September. The term was used in this passage:

We may no longer have Senator McCain. But we will always have his example — a lodestar for restoring honor to public life and our national dialogue. Mr. Trump may fear such honorable men, but we should revere them.
— The New York Times, 6 Sept. 2018

Lodestar originally meant “a star that leads or guides (especially the North Star).” It now is used to mean “one that serves as an inspiration, model, or guide.”

This also didn’t feature in New Zealand.

4. Epiphany

There’s nothing remarkable about the word epiphany experiencing a spike in lookups in early January: the earliest use of the word is to refer to a Christian festival held on January 6th in honor of the coming of the three kings to the infant Jesus Christ.

But lookups of epiphany spiked in August when the word featured in the trailer for a song in a forthcoming album from the K-Pop group BTS. In the song, the word functions in its metaphorical senses having to do with the sudden perception of the essential nature or meaning of something, or an illuminating realization. The word’s Greek ancestor, epiphainein, means “to manifest.”

Pop culture can have a big influence on language. I haven’t heard of K-Pop, but maybe they are popular here with younger people.

5. Feckless

Samantha Bee’s segment about the Trump administration’s immigration policy of separating children from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border included her plea, directed at Ivanka Trump, to “do something about your dad’s immigration policies,” then using a disparaging and obscene word modified by feckless, meaning “ineffective” or “worthless.”

The feck in feckless is a Scottish word meaning “value” or “worth.” And, interestingly enough, feckless does indeed have an antonym, although it is quite rare: feckful, meaning “efficient” or “effective.”

Another term confined to US use.

6. Laurel

It was the middle of May when one of the dictionary’s wallflowers shot into the lookups ether: laurel was up more than 3300%, all because of an audio clip that had divided netizens into two distinct group, those who heard laurel and those who heard yanny. (The clip came from the audio pronunciation file at Vocabulary.com’s entry for laurel.)

Linguists bounded in to explain the phenomenon—it has to do with whether lower or higher frequencies are more prominent, for an individual or because of audio quality—and the New York Times built a fun little tool that makes it possible for listeners to hear both.

News to me. Will I check to see if I’m laurel or yanny? Too busy for now.

7. Pissant

The sometimes vulgar and generally obscure word pissant enjoyed a brief but intense period of lexicographical popularity early in the year, when it rose 115,000% in Merriam-Webster.com lookups. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady called a radio station out during an interview after a DJ on the station had several days earlier described Brady’s young daughter with the word.

Pissant, which originally was a dialectal term for “ant,” has been used as a generalized term of abuse for a person or thing deemed insignificant since the early 20th century. Its origin is exactly what one might expect, a blending of the urinary sense of piss and the formicine sense of ant.

Another very US context.

8. Respect

When Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, died on August 16th, the title of one of her most enduring hits was ubiquitous in tributes to her, and respect became a top lookup.

The world had known Franklin’s song for 50 years—in which time it has become an anthem for both the civil rights and feminist movements—but the word respect has been part of the English language since the 14th century. It comes from the Latin respectus, which literally means “the act of looking back.” It’s an apt etymology for a word that served as a focal point of a global appreciation for the decades of music Aretha Franklin had given the world.

Aretha Franklin was well respected here, and her death got some attention and coverage.

9. Maverick

Maverick spiked following the death of Arizona Senator John McCain in August. Interest in the word came as no surprise, since McCain had often been described with this word, meaning “an independent individual who does not go along with a group or party.”

Before maverick described independent people, it meant “an unbranded range animal; especially a motherless calf.” The word comes from the name of Samuel A. Maverick, a 19th century lawyer and politician who, although not a cattle rancher, ended up with some cattle taken as payment for a debt. Since he neglected to brand any identifying marks on the cattle, many of the “independent” animals were taken by other ranchers who branded them as their own.

McCain is well known here, but we tend to not have political mavericks in New Zealand. John A. Lee? Marilyn Waring? ( I saw her in the news a few days ago). Winston Peters when it suits him perhaps, but he is really a political opportunist who is happy to be anti-maverick when he gets what he wants, limelight and power.

10. Excelsior

Stan Lee’s motto and salutation excelsior spiked following his death in November. He used the word to conclude each of the monthly columns he wrote for Marvel Comics, and was so closely associated with it that he was even sometimes asked to say the word in public.

Excelsior is the Latin word for “higher” and is etymologically related to the words excel and excellent.

Lee’s death got a bit of a mention here but it wasn’t a big deal.

This is an interesting bunch of words, obviously quite US-centric.

Note that these are words that were popular to look up, but that may mean people weren’t sure what they meant. There are likely to be many words in popular use that people didn’t need to look up in a dictionary.

Russian influence in 2016 US election a social media facilitated democratic and social war

Foreign interference in a country’s election is a serious matter. A US Senate Intelligence Committee report details Russian efforts to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election using social media.

NY Times: Russian 2016 Influence Operation Targeted African-Americans on Social Media

The Russian influence campaign on social media in the 2016 election made an extraordinary effort to target African-Americans, used an array of tactics to try to suppress turnout among Democratic voters and unleashed a blizzard of activity on Instagram that rivaled or exceeded its posts on Facebook, according to a report produced for the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The report adds new details to the portrait that has emerged over the last two years of the energy and imagination of the Russian effort to sway American opinion and divide the country, which the authors said continues to this day.

“Active and ongoing interference operations remain on several platforms,” says the report, produced by New Knowledge, a cybersecurity company based in Austin, Texas, along with researchers at Columbia University and Canfield Research LLC. One continuing Russian campaign, for instance, seeks to influence opinion on Syria by promoting Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president and a Russian ally in the brutal conflict there.

The New Knowledge report, which was obtained by The New York Times in advance of its scheduled release on Monday, is one of two commissioned by the Senate committee on a bipartisan basis. They are based largely on data about the Russian operations provided to the Senate by Facebook, Twitter and the other companies whose platforms were used.

The second report was written by the Computational Propaganda Project at Oxford University along with Graphika, a company that specializes in analyzing social media. The Washington Post first reported on the Oxford report on Sunday.

The Russian influence campaign in 2016 was run by a St. Petersburg company called the Internet Research Agency, owned by a businessman, Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, who is a close ally of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. Mr. Prigozhin and a dozen of the company’s employees were indicted last February as part of the investigation of Russian interference by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel.

So it would seem that Mueller has been doing some important and successful investigations.

Both reports stress that the Internet Research Agency created social media accounts under fake names on virtually every available platform. A major goal was to support Donald Trump, first against his Republican rivals in the presidential race, then in the general election, and as president since his inauguration.

This wasn’t an anti-Democrat pro-Republican campaign of interference in the election, but also a pro-trump anti-Republican opponent campaign. So it started with interference in democratic selection processes of the Republican Party, and once that was successful it became an anti-Hillary Clinton and Anti-Democrat campaign.

US democracy was already in a poor state, dominated by monied interests, but it has now been trashed further by a foreign government.

And because some people got the election outcome the wanted they make excuses and ignore the serious nature of this interference.

The Russian campaign was the subject of Senate hearings last year and has been widely scrutinized by academic experts. The new reports largely confirm earlier findings: that the campaign was designed to attack Hillary Clinton, boost Mr. Trump and exacerbate existing divisions in American society.

The interference aims also included trying to divide and trash US society.

Questions still need to be answered about why Trump was aided in the candidate selection process and the presidential election. There are claims and indications that the Trump side saw financial and power rewards.

Did the Russians see a potential puppet whose strings they could pull to get US policies that favoured Russia? Or did they see an opportunity to diminish the power of the US by dividing their society? Possibly both.

The threats of nuclear war and the standoff of the Cold War are now history. Russia versus the United States has become a social media facilitated democratic and social war.

But Trump is president and that’s all that matters, the end justifies the means?

The problem with this is that the end is nigh, not done and dusted.

Government and Opposition on fixing the mental health crisis

It has long been known that mental health was being inadequately addressed by governments. It could be claimed (and is) that all health is inadequately funded, but mental health is a special case, and has been since the large mental health institutions were emptied and closed in the 1970s and 1980s. Community care was seen as a better option, but it has never really been done properly, at great human, family and community cost.

The last National government did the usual inquiries and came up with a plan late in their tenure, but the incoming Labour-led government scrapped that and went back to the drawing board – another inquiry. A year on they have just announced a plan that will still take some time to implement.

Labour’s health spokesperson Annette King on  21 February 2017 Kids suffering under mental health strain

A newly released report from the Ministry of Health on the mental health and addictions workforce shows a worryingly large vacancy rate in child and youth mental health services, says Labour’s Health spokesperson Annette King.

“The Mental Health and Addiction Workforce Action Plan 2017-2021 shows a whopping eight per cent vacancy rate in infant, child and adolescent mental health and alcohol and other drug services, the estimated equivalent of 141 full time positions unfilled.

“Every week we hear of failings in our mental health system from deaths in care, patient attacks, overstretched counselling services and crisis teams, with staff working more than 60 hours a week.

“The Government needs to do more than look at staff per 100,000 population, they need to look at how many staff are needed to meet demand and fund mental health properly.”

“A Labour Government will review mental health services…

King cited specific problems from a Ministry report but called for a review. Jacinda Ardern commented on it  on Facebook:

I find this staggering. There is such a huge demand for services and yet the vacancy rate for Child and Youth Mental Health Services is equivalent to an estimated 141 full time positions.

Mental health services have come up A LOT during this campaign, and for good reason. It’s time to review mental health services…

I find the call for reviews staggering, although one person (Liam McConnell-Whiting) laauded her words:

Yes Omg yes! Jacinda you speak the speak! NZs history of ignoring mental health issues, primary and secondary to other (better funded) health issues is a phenomenal shame.
Love to see you identifying this!!!

September 2017: What Labour promised, but will they deliver?

Labour promised to increase resourcing for frontline health workers, put nurses in all high schools and conduct a review of the mental health system in their first 100 days. It would put mental health workers in schools affected by Canterbury earthquakes and target suicide prevention funding into mainstream and rainbow community support organisations.

Labour would put $193m over three years into mental health, on top of the Government’s increase announced in the budget. It would conduct a two-year pilot programme placing mental health teams at eight sites – such as GPs – across the country. The programme would offer free crisis help for people.

A number of specific plans.

And Labour put together a government. Mental health was listed as a priority in the Labour-Green confidence and supply agreement:

16. Ensure everyone has access to timely and high quality mental health services, including free
counselling for those under 25 years.

There was a minor mention in the Labour-NZ First coalition agreement:

Re-establish the Mental Health Commission

In Taking action in our first 100 days Labour implied urgency saying they will hit the ground running in government, with a programme of work across housing, health, education, families, the environment and other priority areas.

  • Set up a Ministerial Inquiry in order to fix our mental health crisis

So they referred to it as a crisis, but chose an inquiry that has taken a year. On 4 December 2018: Mental Health and Addiction report charts new direction

Health Minister Dr David Clark says the Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rethink how we handle some of the biggest challenges we face as a country.

The Government has today publicly released the report of the Inquiry in full, less than a week after receiving it.

“It is clear we need to do more to support people as they deal with these issues – and do a lot more to intervene earlier and support wellbeing in our communities.

That has been clear for a long time.

“We are working our way carefully through the 40 recommendations and will formally respond in March. I want to be upfront with the public, however, that many of the issues we’re facing, such as workforce shortages, will take years to fix.

‘Fixing’ mental health care will always be an ongoing challenge, but there is a lack of urgency here.

“Reshaping our approach to mental health and addiction is no small task and will take some time. But I’m confident this report points us in the right direction, and today marks the start of real change for the better,” David Clark says.

“Today marks the start of real change for the better” is a nonsense statement, and will sound hollow to those who have been struggling with mental health for a along time, for some people a lifetime.

Two MPs, one from National and one from Labour, comment on progress in Virtue signalling or concrete action on mental health crisis?

Stuart Smith (National MP for Kaikoura):

Eighteen months ago, we established a $100 million fund to support mental health, which the current government duly scrapped after the election.

They then set about reinventing the wheel by launching their own inquiry into mental health and addiction services which, a full year later, supports the very initiatives that we had already identified for targeted funding.

The Prime Minister chose not to keep these initiatives in place, yet at the same time wanted a zero tolerance on suicides, a goal she has now shifted to a percentage reduction of 20 per cent by 2030.

This is nothing short of virtue signalling, and that is incredibly irresponsible. What we need at this time is action, and instead this government cut programmes, then spent a year coming to the conclusion that those programmes were exactly what the mental health system needed.

Priyanca Radhakrishnan (​Labour List MP based in Auckland’s Maungakiekie):

Over the last nine years, demand for mental health services increased by 60 per cent – but funding for these services did not increase by even half that.

Fixing the mental health system is a priority for this government – and it can be done. It requires commitment to understand the problems and implement sustainable solutions – and time. Almost a decade of underfunding and neglect cannot be turned around in one Budget.

The Prime Minister has spoken about her personal commitment to addressing it. The Finance Minister has signalled that it will be a priority in our first wellbeing Budget in 2019. So how are we tracking?

The Government committed to an inquiry into mental health and addiction services in its first hundred days. The report from that inquiry has just been completed and released and the Government will respond formally in March. This response will be a considered one that focuses on long-term, sustainable change rather than political expediency.

In the meantime, the government has committed an extra $200 million to district health board mental health services over the next four years. Low-decile schools, especially those affected by earthquakes, will be better resourced to assist children who may need support. It’s now cheaper for 540,000 New Zealanders on modest incomes to see a doctor, and free for children under 14. A pilot programme that will provide free counselling for 18 to 25 year olds is being developed. Our mental health and addiction support workers – 5000 of them – have been included in the Care and Support Workers Pay Equity Settlement. I’m proud to be supporting a government that cares enough to act.

Finally, as we work to fix the mental health crisis, we must remember that one size does not fit all.

As we work to fix the mental health crisis, we must make sure that we fix it for all New Zealanders.

Not all New Zealanders need mental health assistance. Some measures have been implemented, but after a year in Government it is warned that it will time to fix but is still being referred to as a crisis.

We will find out next March – 18 months after the election – what the Labour-led government plan to do to fix the mental health crisis.

Media watch – Tuesday

18 December 2018

MediaWatch

Media Watch is a focus on New Zealand media, blogs and social media. You can post any items of interested related to media.

A primary aim here is to hold media to account in the political arena. A credible and questioning media is an essential part of a healthy democracy.

A general guideline – post opinion on or excerpts from and links to blog posts or comments of interest, whether they are praise, criticism, pointing out issues or sharing useful information.

General chat

“Is there any way we could have a thread for the more lightweight stuff like music and general chat?”

Do it here. Please no personal attacks or bickering. Anything abusive, provocative or inflammatory may be deleted.

Open Forum – Tuesday

18 December 2018

Forum

This post is open to anyone to comment on any topic that isn’t spam, illegal or offensive. All Your NZ posts are open but this one is for you to raise topics that interest you. 

If providing opinions on or summaries of other information also provide a link to that information. Bloggers are welcome to summarise and link to their posts.

Comments worth more exposure may be repeated as posts.Comments from other forums can be repeated here, cut and paste is fine.

Your NZ is a mostly political and social issues blog but not limited to that, and views from anywhere on the political spectrum are welcome. Some ground rules:

  • If possible support arguments, news, points or opinions with links to sources and facts.
  • Please don’t post anything illegal, potentially defamatory or abusive.

FIRST TIME COMMENTERS: Due to abuse by a few, first comments under any ID will park in moderation until released (as soon as possible but it can sometimes take a while).

Sometimes comments will go into moderation or spam automatically due to mistyped ID, too many links (>4), or trigger text or other at risk criteria.

World view – Tuesday

Monday GMT

WorldWatch2

For posting on events, news, opinions and anything of interest from around the world.