The Jackal: April 2011

29 Apr 2011

The week that was - 22 to 29 April

Last Friday, 11 brave activists occupied the world's second largest oil rig, the Leiv Eiriksson, which was en route from Turkey to Greenland to begin drilling in Arctic waters.  The Greenpeace protestors made their way to a gangway 80ft over the massive vessel's starboard stern and called for an end to reckless deepwater drilling.

Twelve hours after boarding the Leiv Eiriksson, the 11 activists were forced down by a gale as the vessel entered Greek waters. No arrests were made. Activists are now expected to dog the progress of the slow-moving Leiv Eiriksson as it passes Greece, Italy, France and Spain on its passage through the Mediterranean and into the Atlantic. It is scheduled to stop in Britain to pick up supplies before the last leg of its journey to Greenland in June.

In New Zealand, the Noble Discoverer, an oil and gas drilling ship working in the Maui gas field near Taranaki broke its moorings as a result of bad weather on Wednesday. Shell Todd Oil Services general manager Rob Jager says some of the ship's anchor-lines failed during a storm and it had to find shelter in deeper water. There are no reports of an oil spill from the accident.

On Saturday one of the vessels in the deep sea oil protest flotilla was boarded by Police with the help of Navy personnel and the skipper, Elvis Teddy was arrested. He has been charged under Section 65.1.A.a of the Maritime Safety Act. Elvis appears in court at 8.30am today in Tauranga. The other flotilla boats have entered Tauranga harbour to support their fellow skipper for his appearance in court.  An invitation was made for all supporters in the Bay of Plenty and elsewhere to stand beside Elvis Teddy and show appreciation of his bravery in defence of our treasured oceans from the dangers of deep sea oil drilling. Support for the protesters has been extensive and wide ranging.

"The sea is big enough for all of us, certainly an oil ship can make room for a man fishing for his family." - Michael Franti.

Late on Tuesday night, an inside source gave people on the East Coast a heads up that the Police were mobilising to hit Apanui with raids like the Tuhoe Anti Terrorism raids in 2007. Te Whanau a Apanui have been protesting alongside Greenpeace and other organisations to oppose offshore oil exploration by Petrobras.

If undertaken, such raids would bring the Police and Government into further disrepute, being that the premise for their execution would be to suppress legitimate protest. The botched 2007 raids on 60 houses across the country, flimsy charges and subsequent delaying by the police through various legal processes for nearly 4 years have led many to question the legitimacy of the crowns case. The element of surprise being lost could have caused the Police to call off any further unjustifiable raids.

On the 25th, the bodies of Jorge Grando, the former head of the environmental protection agency for the city of Pinhais in southern Brazil, and four others were found inside a house in Sao Paulo Brazil, shot dead execution style. Their hands were tied behind their backs and each had several bullet wounds in their heads. This and other recent killings of environmental activists in Brazil has caused human rights groups to demand answers of those implicated in the murders.

Despite repeated assurances by John Key that the New Zealand's elite Special Air Service (SAS) was deployed into Afganistan in a “training and mentoring” role only, it has been reported that the SAS conducted a revenge attack against those responsible for the death of Lt. Timothy O’Donnell. Despite strong evidence, the Defence Minister Wayne Mapp denies the action taken by the SAS in Afghanistan was a revenge attack, stating:

"I'm clearly accepting that we undertook a mission, and it was to protect our people," Wayne Mapp said.

The SAS had apparently been deployed to Afghanistan to help the Afghan Army counter-terrorism Crisis Response Unit (CRU) based in Kabul and would not be engaged in combat operations. In 2009 John Key stated that the SAS would not lead any raids as part of its mentoring role, but would some times accompany Afghan troops into battle when needed. Yet the raid against Lt. O’Donnell’s killers was led by the SAS in conjunction with US troops and air cover, with only a supporting role delegated to Afghan Army units.This again questions the honesty of John Key and raises concerns about New Zealand's involvement in Americas war for oil.

US Soldiers pose with unarmed Gul Mudin who they've just murdered in Afghanistan.
Investigative journalist Jon Stephenson has revealed that the SAS transferred prisoners to the Afghan National Directorate of Security, an organisation well known to engage in torture. Those transfers violated both the Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions and such action makes the SAS guilty of human rights abuses. National has deployed more troops to US Wars in the last two years than any New Zealand government since Vietnam with most of them being sent in secret. The Green Party has called for an independent inquiry to establish the facts and make sure the SAS is obeying International Law. John Key after saying there would be a greater openness in SAS deployment, on Tuesday said he had seen no evidence to support the need for an inquiry into a claim that SAS soldiers were handing over prisoners to Afghanistan authorities.

A New Zealand patrol was attacked with a home made bomb in Afghanistan on Friday, the Defence Force says. There were no reports of injuries.

In a shock announcement, the National Government has said that 45 Woman’s Refuge's will loose $382,200 from their national contract and just over $300,000 in contracts held by some refuges for family violence co-ordinator and child advocate jobs. Women's refuges say some women fleeing from violence may no longer be able to get a safe bed after a surprise Government policy change chopped $700,000 off their funding. A Family and Community Services spokeswoman said the $382,200 cut for Women's Refuge's national contract came out of the family violence education fund. However the Women's Refuge Chief Executive, Ms Heather Henare said it was coming out of funding for women and children needing safe accommodation for up to six days.

"We currently get paid $520 per client for just over 3000 [short-stay] clients, spread amongst the 45 refuges. Take $382,200 out and that reduces to $251. We have to make a decision as to whether we can actually provide that service any more" she said.

There is growing pressure for recovery teams to go into the Pike River coal mine following a statement that an image taken from a scanner could be that of a body. Police have confirmed that, in the opinion of a senior forensic pathologist, a video image recovered from the Pike River mine is very highly likely to be that of a fully clothed person lying face down.

Pak'n Save Mill St owner Glenn Miller said more than 20 people went through his unmanned store between 8am and 9.30am on Good Friday after a computer glitch caused the lights to switch on and the doors open. Many people have subsequently paid after seeing themselves on security footage.

Gales, a mini-tornado and rain wreaked havoc in the North Island, toppling trees, ripping roofs from buildings and causing a widespread power cut in Taupo. The torrential rain caused slips that closed roads across Waikato and Bay of Plenty. Te Awamutu felt the full brunt, and residents told of a "mini tornado" that ripped up 20 trees in one street. A state of local emergency was declared for the Central Hawke's Bay District due to the severe flooding over the past two days in the region with many roads closed and people isolated. More than 10,000 homes in the Taupo region were without power yesterday after strong winds blew a corrugated iron roof into a substation and toppled more than 40 trees on to power lines.
Powerful storms in the southern United States this week have caused the Governors in Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee to declare state of emergencies and in Mississippi severe weather damaged homes, downed trees and power lines and sparked flash floods. In Alabama, strong winds snapped trees across power lines, roads and buildings early on Wednesday, leaving around 245,000 households and businesses without power. More than 201 people have died as a result with more deaths expected. Floods remain a big concern in several states, where rain and melted snow have caused rising rivers and saturated soils. Two weeks ago, at least 47 people also died as storms tore a wide path from Oklahoma to North Carolina.

The SETI Institute is to shut down alien-seeking radio dishes because of a lack of money to pay its operating expenses. Mountain View's SETI Institute has pulled the plug on the renowned Allen Telescope Array, a field of radio dishes that scan the skies for signals from extraterrestrial civilizations.

Around 77 million people with Sony Electronics PlayStation Network accounts, could have had their names, addresses and other personal data including credit card details stolen. Sony’s PlayStation online service has been down for just over a week. Sony said it saw no evidence that credit card numbers were stolen, but warned users that it could not rule out the possibility. Anonymous has denied responsibility for the hack.
“Out of an abundance of caution, we are advising you that your credit card number (excluding security code) and expiration date may have been obtained,” Sony said.
A couple of weeks ago, two data scientists revealed that an unprotected file stored on iPhones and iPads running Apple’s latest mobile operating system, iOS4 was keeping a history of location data dating back 10 months. This file features latitude and longitude coordinates and a time stamp. The Wall Street Journal has discovered that the devices continue to store location data, even when location services are switched off. The scientists, Warden and Allen also found the file on machines that users have synched with their mobile devices. This was not intentional according to Apple, which said on Wednesday that your iPhone isn’t stalking you and that some of its intrusive location-gathering techniques are the result of bugs that will be fixed soon. Mac Rumors obtained what it says is an email from Apple, claiming:
"We don't track anyone. The info circulating around is false" CEO Steve Jobs said.
Two customers have already filed a lawsuit against Apple, accusing the company of violating computer fraud laws by secretly recording location data of iPhone and iPad users. Apple admits in the Q&A statement that the file should not be storing so much data dating as far back as a year ago, and it should not be storing location data even after location services are turned off. The company said an upcoming, free software update would fix both these issues, plus, it would encrypt the database file.
A threat by internet activist group Anonymous to shut down Parliament’s websites is being taken seriously, says Parliamentary Services. The “denial of service” threat is part of a protest against a change to copyright laws aimed at preventing illegal file sharing by internet users. Parliamentary Services general manager Geoff Thorn told NZPA the threat was being taken “seriously” and staff were monitoring the situation. There was a report on Thursday that the Parliamentary website was intermittently down.

The Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Bill allows copyright owners to send evidence of alleged infringements to internet service providers (ISPs), who will then send up to three infringement notices to the account holder. The bill was passed under urgency earlier this month.

28 Apr 2011

Nick Smith - Asshole of the Week Award

On the 28th April 1995, 14 young people lost their lives and another four were injured, some very seriously. The disaster occurred at Cave Creek in Paparoa National Park and will forever mark the 28th April a sad day to remember. A party of students from the Outdoor Recreation course at Tai Poutini Polytechnic in Greymouth and the Department of Conservation's Punakaiki Field Centre Manager went onto what appeared to be a safe viewing platform high above Cave Creek.

The platform subsequently collapsed and fell about 30 metres into the resurgence below. It was constructed in April 1994 by Department of Conservation workers and because of faults in its construction, tipped off its base and fell onto the boulders and rocks of the creek-bed below, taking the victims with it.

A Commission of Inquiry into the accident, headed by District Judge Graeme Noble, highlighted a number of serious concerns with the Department of Conservation's construction of the platform. Specific concerns that were raised included:

The platform had not been designed or approved by a qualified engineer.

None of the people involved in building the platform were qualified engineers.

Nails were used to secure the platform instead of bolts (as intended by the design), because an appropriate drill had not been taken to the building site.

The steps to the platform, which were supposed to be attached as a counterweight, had not been properly attached.

A warning sign for the platform, indicating the maximum limit of people, had been ordered but was never installed at the site.

Besides the specific flaws in the actual platform and methods of its construction, the Commission said the "root causes" of the collapse were systemic problems in the Department as a whole, saying that the Department was seriously under-funded and under-resourced. The Commission found that the Department had not been given sufficient resources to meet its requirements without "cutting corners", and was frequently forced to accept poor quality standards due to its lack of funding. The report of the Commission concluded that given the department's state, "a tragedy such as Cave Creek was almost bound to happen".

Former Prime Minister Jim Bolger initially attacked the report produced by the Commission of Inquiry, arguing that the platform failed "essentially because it lacked about $20 worth of bolts to hold it together". The then Minister of Conservation, Denis Marshall, was criticised in the media for his management of the Department. Many people blamed Marshall, although there was also wide criticism of the whole government's policies on management of the conservation estate. Marshall eventually resigned in May 1996, just over a year after the accident occurred.

We have National to thank for all those cuts to funding that led to such a disaster. The mismanagement thereafter by Nick Smith and other similar occurrences have resulted in many people calling for his resignation.

We can expect similar mismanagement of the Dr Peter Jansen inquiry launched after Dr Jansen implemented a legal claim for $250,000 against an ACC claimant. The lady known as Jax blogged about ill treatment by Dr Jansen and ACC. Nick Smith stated that: "Dr Jansen never wanted money from the person" and "I spoke with Dr Jansen, he noted that the material had subsequently been taken down from the web, he has said that he will be withdrawing the legal action." This was of course untrue, with both the information and legal action still in place.

Nick Smith also outraged Victim Support Services when he suggested that the terminally ill should take advantage of the current ACC rules by throwing themselves under a train. People like Nick Smith should not be in parliament.

I wonder if Dr Smith remembers this date in history, I bet the families of the victim's from the Cave Creek disaster do... That’s why Nick Smith is this week’s Asshole Award recipient. Hurrah!

26 Apr 2011

Little Blues Found Dead on East Coast

One Petrel and 13 Dead Little Blues
At least twenty dead Little Blue Penguins have been found on the East Coast within 200 metres of each other. They were found yesterday washed up in Waihau Bay, which is located adjacent to Petrobras’ seismic testing zone. Coincidence? I don’t think so. With no storms that could account for the deaths, DOC is reported to be uninterested and will apparently not investigate.

The fact that the deaths are unprecedented in such large numbers should make DOC and the Government take immediate action. With Seismic testing well documented as being damaging to many species of marine life, including whales, dolphins and seals, it seems we can now include Penguins in that list as well. Seismic exploration off the East Cape has been opposed by many organizations because of the inherent dangers from oil spills. However the facts surrounding the deaths of many marine mammals from seismic testing are just as damning for an industry that shows little regard for the environment.

Facts about the Little Blue Penguin

The Little Blue Penguin, Korora, Fairy Penguin, Eudyptula minor, is also known as the Little Penguin or Blue Penguin, which are all regional variations on its name.

They are the smallest species of penguin 43 cm (17 in) and are mainly found along coastlines of New Zealand and Australia. The head and back of the Little Blue Penguin is indigo blue, while the belly and the underside of the flippers are white. The beak is black and eyes are silvery black. One subspecies has all white flippers.

Little Blues have reduced in numbers since the introduction of Mustelids and other predators as well as the ever-expanding human population. They are not as yet considered endangered from extinction. The Little Blue Penguin is listed on the IUCN Red List with a assessment in 2009 of "least concern". The population trend is not listed.

Little Blues have a very low divorce rate and will usually mate for life. Between May and June the Little Blues prepare their nests for the breeding season. Between August and November a breeding pair will lay 1 or 2 eggs. By around eight weeks of age the chicks are ready to fend for themselves. Little Blues commonly return to breed to a spot very close to where they were hatched and will continue to use the same spot.

Decibels and seismic testing

Sound is measured in frequency (hz) and intensity (decibels). Low frequency sound ranges from 1 to 1000 hz. It is employed in LFA and airgun arrays because of its ability to travel long distances underwater with little diminution. LFA employs frequencies from 100-500 Hz.

The decibel scale is logarithmic: 110 decibels is ten times greater than 100 decibels, 120 decibels is one hundred times greater. In air, sound at 130 decibels will cause permanent hearing loss in human beings in one minute. An F-16 jet fighter 3 feet away from your ear with afterburners blasting emits about 160 decibels.

Because of different properties of air and water, to compare sound pressures from the same source, 26 decibels are subtracted from the level of sound in air to give you the equivalent level of sound in water. Therefore, the source level of LFA underwater, at 240 decibels, is equivalent to 214 decibels of sound in air. This is a level of sound over 100 million times louder than the 130 decibels level at which humans lose the ability to hear forever. There is no doubt that small birds are far more susceptible to noise pollution than humans making the risk from exposure to seismic testing for sea birds far greater.

The seismic array used by the Orient Explorer fires sonic booms into the sea floor at volumes of up to 276 decibels. The pulse occurs around every ten seconds. Reports from the protesters who went into the ocean near the seismic testing vessel to halt its progress say they felt sick from the sonic booms after being in the water for a short period of time.

Facts about Seismic Testing

In the last year, whale deaths believed to be related to noise pollution have occurred off of Baja California, the Canary Islands, and the San Juan Islands. Physical impacts of seismic survey noise on marine mammals are believed to include auditory masking or confusion, temporary hearing loss, brain hemorrhage and death.

The Gulf of Mexico is saturated with oil and gas development. Currently, there are an estimated 4,000 platforms offshore and seismic exploration is expanding into more biologically significant areas. The resident Gulf of Mexico population of sperm whales only numbers 530. There are also 5 other endangered species of great whales that migrate in the Gulf of Mexico.

Lethal Sounds
Narrated by Pierce Brosnan (5 min video).

The ocean is an acoustic environment and many animals rely heavily on sound for their survival. Without their heightened sense of hearing, they cannot find food, avoid predators or communicate with each other. Any excessive noise that permanently damages their hearing will mean they cannot locate food and subsequently starve to death.

23 Apr 2011

Police Exclusion Orders Withdrawn

Protesters have had another victory in the battle against oil exploitation in what is turning out to be an extensive campaign. Their protest came about in response to calls from East Cape iwi Te Whanau a Apanui, who oppose deep sea oil drilling. National has received considerable criticism for not undertaking a proper consultation process concerning the venture.

A flotilla of six ships with around 60 protestors consequently set sail from Auckland on Sunday the 21st March, to intervene in Petrobras' oil exploration off the East Cape, which had no public or local iwi mandate to proceed.

Despite minimal returns of only 5% from any oil that is discovered and significant tax breaks for the oil industry compared to New Zealands extensive investment, Jerry Brownlee expressed his enthusiasm for the venture:

“Given Petrobras’s expertise, and financial and technical pedigree, this is an exciting step into areas of New Zealand until now unexplored,” the Minster of Energy and Resources said.

Deep sea oil deposits have been largely unexplored until recent times because they are inherently dangerous to extract. Peak oil and further demands for the dwindling resource are causing desperation amongst oil companies, driving them to undertake riskier extraction processes. The National Government has no policy that governs the safety aspects of deep sea oil extraction with only one part time inspector for the some 59 oil wells throughout New Zealand.

The lack of safety regulations, consequences of oil spills, a lack of remedial infrastructure, the effects a spill would have on other profitable industries, minimal returns and considerations of climate change effects; culminated in Greenpeace and local East Coast iwi joining forces with other organisations* for the protest campaign. The environmentalist's efforts within New Zealand initially halted Petrobras' exploration process off the East Coast and in so doing received much consternation from the National Government.

Petrobras representatives traveled to the area to consult with local Te Whanau a Apanui iwi who unanimously voted against oil drilling in their ancestral waters. Petrobras then reported that they had a successful meeting and were now friends with the tribal leaders... this was anything but the case.

Mr Key said the legal issue was complicated because the Orient Explorer was a foreign-flagged ship in New Zealand's Exclusive Economic Zone. He initially stated that he was awaiting legal advice after Police Minister Judith Collins approached Crown Law for a determination on whether the Police could act within the law. This drew many to conclude that legislation would need to be implemented before any legal right was given to the Police in undertaking action at the Governments behest.

“The question is whether the police are in a position to do something about it when it is in the EEZ, and Crown Law is clarifying that... the position needs to be clarified as to what the police can or can't do," Mr Key said.

A Navy ship was then sent to the area with a contingent of Police on board, presumably because the Crown Law office had advised the National Government that they had a legal right to intervene in the protest. Key said police had used a long-standing memorandum of understanding with the Navy to deploy a ship to the scene.
The skippers of the protest fleet were then served exclusion notices requiring them to get no closer than 250 metres from the bow or stern and 200m from the port and starboard sides of the Ocean Explorer and Ocean Pioneer. The notices stated that not abiding could incur a maximum fine of $10,000 or 12 months imprisonment.

Despite the notices, the protestors vowed to continue their activism and on 21st April set sail again to intervene in the deep-sea oil exploration process. When the flotilla had located the survey ship, the Police warned two protest vessels that they were on course for a collision and ordered them to change direction. It is reported by Greenpeace that the Police had ordered them to turn into the seismic testing arrays that trail up to 10 kilometres behind the survey ship Orient Explorer.

The Police, later realising their mistake then ordered the two protest vessels to change course again to avoid the collision that their initial orders would have caused. This undermines claims that the Police have safety as their top priority.

On the same day, Oil and Gas corporate affairs manager Chris Roberts said he was confident oil companies would do their best to prevent disasters like the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico.

"The companies themselves have the greatest incentive to get things right, they can't afford reputationally or financially to get things wrong," Mr Roberts said.

The fact that the Deepwater Horizon disaster occurred because BP was cutting corners to save time and money seems to have been overlooked by Mr Roberts. Being that the maximum imposable fine in New Zealand is $200,000 for an oil spill, we can put the statement by Mr Roberts down to more unsubstantiated spin by National. Petrobras having a good reputation is also debatable.

Yesterday the Maritime Safety Authority formally (and in writing) WITHDREW the exclusion orders that were issued by Police to protest boats, which puts into question the legality of the exclusion orders in the first place and whether John Key had received proper legal advise from Crown Law at all.

*Forest and Bird, Coromandel Watchdog, Coal Action Network, The Nuclear Free Seas Flotilla and 350 Aotearoa.

Update @ 3:55 PM - Source: Stop Deep Sea Oil

Iwi Fishing Boat Disrupts Oil Survey Ship 

Whakatāne, Saturday 23 April 2011: Today in the face of navy warship HMNZS Taupo, the crew of te Whānau ā Apanui’s fishing boat San Pietro went fishing at a safe distance in front of the deep sea oil survey ship, Orient Explorer. The longline with visible buoys was deployed within te Whānau ā Apanui ‘s customary fishing grounds.
A navy tender carrying police moves in to apprehend the "Stop Deep Sea Oil" flotilla vessel, the Te Whanau a Apanui fishing boat San Pietro, from under the bows of the seismic survey ship Orient Explorer off East Cape today.
From onboard San Pietro, te Whānau ā Apanui tribal leader Rikirangi Gage radioed the Captain of the Orient Explorer and said, “You are not welcome in our waters. Accordingly and as an expression of our mana in these waters and our deep concern for the adverse effects of deep sea drilling, we will be positioning the te Whānau ā Apanui vessel directly in your path…We will not be moving, we will be doing some fishing. That’s what our waters are for, not for pollution… This is not a protest. We are defending tribal waters and our rights from reckless Government policies and the threat of deep sea drilling, which our hapū have not consented to and continue to oppose…” (1)

The Orient Explorer did not stop as police on two inflatables boarded the San Pietro.

Mr Gage said, “Te Whānau ā Apanui oppose Petrobras’ deep sea oil prospecting and drilling for good reasons. Our ancestors didn’t instruct us to be selfish in the way that the Government is thinking, risking so much and thinking of so few. A longer term perspective shows that bringing up oil from under the deep sea floor to be burnt will cause harm to ourselves, our resources and the world around us.”

“The Government have abused their power by first ignoring us, then apologising to us, now blaming the people out here with their heads on the line who want this to stop. Our mana is not for sale. What kind of people are we if the gifts we give to the next generations are beaches covered with oil and a dead sea? Or big floods, storms and droughts? The first thing we must always do is protect our food resources. Survival comes first.”

“Today a net of a new generation goes fishing, one that will catch the lies and one we intend to stop deep sea oil prospecting in its tracks.”

“Our ancestors did not agree to a Treaty that would ignore the wishes and needs of future generations and our environment. They carefully positioned us to continue to make good decisions that would enable the future of our peoples and our cultures.”
Listen to the audio here.
Police chase the fishing vessel San Pietro to arrest Captain Elvis Teddy.
San Pietro, is the longliner owned by East Coast iwi, Te Whānau ā Apanui and is part of the flotilla including Greenpeace and the Nuclear Free Flotilla, in its third week of opposing deep sea oil drilling.

Stuff reports: Police make arrest on protest ship.

Police could not go into further detail of what activity was being carried by the protest vessel or what the skipper would be charged with.

Radio NZ reports:
Oil exploration protest arrest

A police spokesperson says the protest boat was boarded by officers from a naval vessel and the skipper was arrested for breaching the Maritime Transport Act.

Manu Caddie writes:

The main claims the politicians and lobbyists are clinging on to now seem to be: (a) the economic potential outweighs the risks; (b) adequate regulations will be in place before any drilling commences; and (c) any environmental or economic risks associated with their activities are born entirely by the mining companies and their insurers.

Let’s look at those claims

The Herald reports:

San Pietro captain, Elvis Teddy, was arrested and taken back to the navy  warship HMNZS Taupo, and returned to Tauranga police station, a  Greenpeace campaigner told NZPA.
Read the full article here.

22 Apr 2011

The week that was

National says cuts to the youth justice system are necessary to ensure funding is only given to high quality legal services. This led one family court lawyer to say that the review is "frightening" and "to slash and burn something you don't understand isn't particularly wise or fair."

Opponents including the Law Society say a shake-up of the Family Court could end counselling and mediation services, introduce more user charges and restrict cases that need to appear before the court. Justice Minister Simon Power announced a review of the system a week after he said legal aid in the Family Court would become harder to obtain and more expensive.

Many employed in this indispensable sector are predicting essential services may be chopped and vulnerable parties left without proper court protection. The National Government obviously has no consideration for people in the family court who are often under massive stress, sometimes after years of violence.

The Prime Minister John Key has been accused of inappropriately commandeering an air force helicopter to get to photo opportunities. Labour's Trevor Mallard said he had been told the cost would have been as high as $10,000. 

"He could have got up a bit earlier in the morning... or cut short his time there. His photo op only took five or 10 minutes and I think that if he was better organised, it wouldn't have been as extravagant",  Mr Mallard said.

Rodney Hide and cohorts approached the Prime Minister’s office proposing that John Key interfere in the National Party selection process. The toxic Act brand must be hard to bear and the fact that National had taken Labour to task over list selections makes National appear to be hypocrites.

Although John Key initially denied that any deal had been done over Epsom, National now looks set to throw ACT a lifeline and do a deal with Peter Dunne in Ohariu as well. Contradicting himself, John Key later gave a clear indication that National will endorse Rodney Hide to try and save ACT from certain electoral death as it struggles to poll above 1 percent.  Shonkey’s ability to convince National voters in Epsom to bypass their better judgement and vote Hide is debatable.

Labour has received only 27% in the latest TV3/Reid Research poll. Mediaworks, who owns TV3 recently received a $43 Million loan from the National Government in a deal that many are questioning as being inappropriate because of Steven Joyce's association with the company. The poll is despite National undertaking many unpopular policy changes and other questionable actions that one would expect to cause a shift in favour of Labour. Although their recent vote in support of the Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Bill which was passed under urgency, overly publicized flippant remarks and a resignation could account somewhat for the low result.

Expectation was that Labour's floundering and National's dodgy deals would cause a shift towards the Green Party of Aotearoa. However the poll sees the Greens percentage also falling slightly, causing many to question the inconsistent polling results and process used in gauging public opinion.
Labour leader Phil Goff said he believed National's polling would erode as the election neared and opposition grew to state asset sales.
"I think the effect of the rising cost of living, the economy having stalled and unemployment being high and rising will have a corrosive effect on this Government", Mr Goff said.

On April the 13th Gordon Campbell wrote a great article on National's lead in the polls, and Labour’s response: 

So far, the Key government has reduced the right to a jury trial, extended the powers of search and surveillance by state agencies, restricted the rights against self incrimination, sought the ability to conduct trials in the absence of the accused, and ended the independence of the agency dispensing legal aid and that’s even before we got to today’s changes. Read the full article here.

The Government confirmed that Team New Zealand will receive $36 million tax dollars to contest the 2013 America's Cup. In light of the many recent bail outs despite extensive cuts in social spending, this has drawn widespread condemnation. With the South Canterbury Finance debacle costing 1.8 Billion and the AMI bailout probably exceeding a billion dollars, the Government has also thrown finances at the Rugby World Cup, which coincides nicely with the 2011 election. Tax-payers are to cover much of the the multimillion dollar losses expected.

The Government has also paid out millions in stadium upgrades and other facilities for the tournament, including $2 Million on a controversial plastic waka for Auckland's waterfront.

The unrest in the Middle East continues with The United States strongly condemning the Syrian government's brutal repression of demonstrations, who are reported to have shot indiscriminately into a large crowd with hundreds of people being killed. There are also substantiated reports of violence and killings of civilians at the hands of security forces. In Libya Gaddafi stated: "a new crusader battle that the crusader nations have launched against Islam" and "all of the Islamic armies in all places must participate in the battle." In Turkey, The Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party said police tried to halt a demonstration in Diyabakir in southeastern Turkey where protest has been occurring for some time. There are many reports of deaths from the widespread conflicts.

The Egyptian government fact-finding panel has concluded that at least 846 people were killed during the popular uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak. It accuses the security forces of "excessive" use of force during the mass protests which began on 25 January, the AP news agency reports. Mr Mubarak stepped down on 11 February after almost 30 years in power.

On the 20th, The head of the UN warned on a landmark visit to Chernobyl that the Ukrainian tragedy and the recent accident in Japan prompted "painful questions" about the future of atomic power. Speaking in Kiev afterwards, he warned that the recent quake damage to Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant showed that accidents like Chernobyl were likely to occur again in the future.  

The chief of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon also warned that the effects of climate change were likely to lead to more disasters like that at the Fukushima plant, which was damaged by a quake and tsunami in a disaster that Japan has labelled as equal in severity as Chernobyl. On the 19th, the EU, which has so far committed the lion's share to Chernobyl-related projects, committed another €110 million for a new sarcophagus, sealing the damaged Chernobyl reactor at least until the end of the century.

Fukushima could take 9 months before a cold shut down is fully achievable. This news comes on the back of huge largely unreported anti nuclear protests across Europe. The Japanese government has also advised its inhabitants that they should continue to eat vegetables from the Fukushima prefecture, despite high readings of radiation and possible contamination.

Another story that has gone largely unreported by mainstream media is the protest flotilla, which departed from Hicks Bay north of Gisborne on Wednesday, again aiming to disrupt Brazilian company Petrobras from their deep sea oil exploration. On April the 12th the police utilized a Navy vessel to travel to the East Coast and serve exclusion notices on the protestors with a penalty of up to $10,000 or a year in prison. 

The protesters, who include local iwi and environmental activists from Greenpeace, had been tracking the survey vessel Orient Explorer and managed to disrupt its seismic testing by putting swimmers in the path of the vessel. More recently, the victorious protestors returned to shore to get provisions and weather a storm. The departure on the 20th April happened on a Greenpeace initiated day of action (also under reported) and coincided with the anniversary of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Greenpeace update us on developments:

Around midnight on the 21st the flotilla yacht Secret Affair was contacted by Police from the Navy vessel HMNZS Taupo. Skipper David Armstrong was ordered to turn 90 degrees towards and into the seismic testing arrays that trail up to 10 kilometres behind the oil survey ship Orient Explorer. The Skipper of Secret Affair protested that this would be unwise. The Police forcefully repeated their orders for the Skipper to head into the arrays, which he then complied with. Read the full story here.

Gordon Campbell also wrote another fine article on the oil lobby’s claims: 

Nice of petroleum industry lobbyist John Pfahlert to offer to correct “the number of media inaccuracies” that he feels have crept into coverage of the Petrobras protests. Here’s an example of what Pfahlert offers as evidence of media “errors”. Read the full article here.
One of only three oil response boats for use in sheltered waters.
Families of the 11 men who died in the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion have flown over the Gulf of Mexico, where the disaster happened a year ago. Candlelight vigils were also held in states affected by the spill. The disaster, jointly blamed on BP, Halliburton and Transocean, affected the lives of millions of people in the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. US President Barack Obama paid tribute to those who died and the thousands involved in the operation to clean up after the worst US oil spill.

“While progress had been made” Mr Obama said, "the job isn't done".

On Monday 'Operation 8: Deep in the Forest' had its premier screening in Auckland. The documentary film which details the October 2007 terrorism raids, paints a frightening vista of police repression of political dissent in Aotearoa.

On the 19th, John Minto wrote about the film and Police raids:

Last night I saw the film Operation 8: Deep in the forest about the now infamous Urewera terror raids. It tells the story from the defendant’s point of view and as well as being a very good film, it's a welcome contribution to public debate about the case and associated police action. Read the full article here.

Telecon plans to appeal a $12 million penalty imposed by the Auckland High Court for a breach of the Commerce Act, in the so-called 'data tails' case. The penalty is the highest imposed under the Commerce Act, which was amended in 2001 to increase the fines available for anti-competitive conduct. The Commerce Commission had sought a penalty in the range of $20m to $25m. In October 2009 the High Court found that between 2001 to 2004, Telecon unlawfully leveraged its market power to charge downstream competitors disproportionately high prices for wholesale access to its network. If you use the internet, it hit you in the pocket.

The Gillard government's plans to put a price on carbon have suffered a body blow, with key unions demanding exemptions for industry that are unacceptable to the Greens. Paul Howes, the national secretary of the Australian Workers Union, demanded that the steel industry be given a complete exemption from the carbon scheme and that there be generous compensation for the aluminium, cement and glass sectors. The Australian government is negotiating with the Greens to put a price on carbon and one key sticking point is the level of compensation for trade-exposed industries. The other is the starting price for a tonne of carbon.

21 Apr 2011

These Need Your Moniker

Keep it Kiwi 

New Zealand's state owned assets have immense economic value but John Key's Government might privatise assets such as Meridian Energy, Mighty River Power, Genesis Energy and Solid Energy if the National Party remains in Government after the 2011 election.
New Zealand owned farmland is also at risk of being bought by foreign investors. Selling off New Zealand owned businesses and land would mean more foreign ownership and less accountability to what's best for New Zealanders. It'd also mean more profits shifting offshore. We say 'Keep it Kiwi'.

Clean Water Rules Now

Many of our rivers and lakes are in a dire state right now. We can't afford to delay any longer, we need clear rules for clean water now.

Stop Asset Sales

National is planning to sell New Zealands state owned assets, including some power companies. This will push up the price of power at a time when many families are already struggling to make ends meet. Under Labour there will be no asset sales. And we’ll do more to make sure that the cost of living is kept under control. Can you be part of the campaign by donating a "stop sign"? We're aiming to blanket the country with them, and every extra one helps!

No New Oil and Coal

Greenpeace, and the 230,000 New Zealanders who put their names to our Sign On petition, are calling on the New Zealand Government to reduce NZ’s emissions by 40 per cent by 2020. This is what the science tells us is needed to avoid catastrophic climate change. In order to achieve this, the Government must halt its planned expansion of oil and coal production, and instead join the rest of the world in the Cleantech Revolution. 

ECE Cuts Don’t Heal

NZEI has launched a petition urging the Government to reverse the ECE cuts. An estimated 2500 centres where more than 80% of the staff are qualified will lose funding incentives. Many say they will have to increase fees to parents or else reduce staff numbers. John Key says we need these cuts to save Government funds. To put it in perspective for you, these cuts of about $260 million to early childhood funding will build about 6 kilometres of the Puhoi to Wellsford highway.

SAFE: Say No to Cage Eggs

We have the power to determine the fate of three million battery hens. We have an opportunity to ban cruel cages. The good thing is that all it requires is 30 seconds of your time and a commitment to not buy cage eggs. Please click on the link to pledge your support by signing SAFE’s e-card submission, calling for a ban on battery hen cages. This could be our last chance in 20 years! 
Send a message to the Prime Minister

Action Against Deep Sea Oil

Most of us remember the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico as if it were yesterday - but does Prime Minister John Key remember? Send this anniversary e-card to John Key now to remind him and tell the Government not to let Petrobras or any other oil company create a Deepwater Horizon-type oil spill off New Zealand’s coasts.

20 Apr 2011

Tony Hayward - Asshole of the Week Award

In 2010, Tony Hayward earned a total of £4.56 million, including the £1.04 million salary, a £2.09 million annual bonus, a £852,000 long-term incentive payment and £440,000 from cashing in 220,000 share options. It was then announced that Tony Hayward would receive  further considerable bonuses equating to $10,000 for each square mile which is polluted. He will also be able to draw an annual pension of around £600,000 just over a year after stepping down.

This award should come as no surprise... Tony Hayward former President and CEO of BP is a complete asshole! Just look at his response to the fact that BP used a risky well-casing plan, did not conduct a test of the well's cement job and did not use a "lockdown sleeve" device that "would have prevented the seal at the wellhead from being blown out," all of which could have prevented the Deepwater Horizon disaster that continues to despoil the gulf of Mexico:

Hayward did little to quell the public's anger with his responses:

"I can't answer because I wasn't there," "I don't know" and "I'm afraid I don't know that either." 

Are you the fucking CEO or not asshole? He gained the ire of lawmakers and infuriated several by declining to respond to a congressional committee's findings that BP took shortcuts to save time and money on a well that was behind schedule. He repeatedly said BP would not accept or assign blame for the April 20 well blowout until the investigations were complete.

"I'm just amazed at this testimony,"

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman told the chief executive.

"You're not taking responsibility... You're kicking the can down the road and acting as if you had nothing to do with this company and nothing to do with the decisions. I find that irresponsible," Waxman said.

Greenpeace campaigner Charlie Kronick described the boating trip as "insulting and rubbing salt into the wounds" of those who had been affected by the spill.

As Hayward delivered a message of contrition before the congressional panel, top oil and gas companies were choosing a stance of defiance. In comments submitted to the White House Council on Environmental Quality, the American Petroleum Institute, the industry's chief lobbying arm, argued that the blowout was unforeseeable and, therefore, shouldn't lead to tighter regulations on deep-water rigs.

 In the hearing room, Rep. Joe L. Barton (R-Texas), a drilling advocate who receives major contributions from the oil and gas industry, set off a partisan row when he apologized to Hayward for what he called a White House "shakedown" that pressured BP to set up a $20-billion "slush fund" to pay economic damages, calling it "a tragedy of the first proportions."

The White House called Barton's apology to Tony Hayward "shameful," and Vice President Joe Biden said they were "incredibly insensitive and incredibly out of touch."

Tony Hayward is our first international Asshole of the Week Award recipient and I declare the 20th April forever Tony Haywards Asshole Award day. Being that Hayward nearly won Asshole of the Year Award, it is a very special Asshole of the Week Award indeed. Hurrah!

19 Apr 2011

Deepwater Horizons Poisonous Legacy

Tomorrow marks a date that will be forever remembered as a dark day in human history. The explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon as it was drilling a test well off Louisiana's coast on the 20th April 2010, will leave its mark in the Gulf of Mexico for centuries to come. Two days after the initial explosion, the rig sank into the ocean and left a poisonous legacy that should never be forgotten.

So what's happened to all those petrochemicals over the past year and what effect has Mother Nature had on the millions of gallons of dispersants and plumes of oil and gas, as much as a mile beneath the sea's surface? The answer is complex with many differing views. Considering the money that is at stake, it's no wonder that we have such a wide variance of opinions. The answer carries policy implications for BP and other oil companies that operate in deep seas. However such companies have an inherent interest in downplaying the spill's long-term legacy, something BP's critics are trying to highlight.

A $20 billion fund was set up by BP to compensate those most affected by the catastrophe. But what price to put on livelihoods that rely on an ecosystem that has been irreparably damaged. Whatever compensation is metered out is cold comfort for Gulf residents who saw their livelihoods decimated by the spill. The coastal economies of Florida, Mississippi, Alabama and especially Louisiana might never recover. Being that BP is fighting many claims, litigation will take years to make its way through federal courts in New Orleans and beyond as plaintiffs seek to extract damages from London-based BP, which owned the Macondo well and the Swiss-based Transocean who owned the rig.

Meanwhile, one year on from the largest spill in U.S. history, the ocean is still polluted, wetlands are clogged and wildlife is endangered. Sea turtles were hit hard. The western population of the bluefin tuna, which breeds only in the northern Gulf, was breeding just as oil spewed out of the broken well head. This year, 153 bottle-nosed dolphin carcasses have washed up on Gulf coasts: 65 of those were infants: new born, stillborn or born prematurely, according to figures from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Many scientists are finding that their studies are being impeded by civil and criminal investigations into the spill and its effect. For instance, researchers looking into a spate of dolphin deaths that may be linked to oil-fouled seas were told by the National Marine Fisheries Service to keep quiet about their findings. "Because of the seriousness of the legal case, no data or findings may be released, presented or discussed outside the UME (unusual mortality event) investigation.

Studies conducted by the University of Georgia's Samantha Joye and her colleagues tell a scary tale: During diving expeditions on the Alvin submersible vessel, they found that areas of the seafloor around the spill site were covered with an oily muck and littered with dead organisms.

Has the American government and oil industries learned anything from the disaster? One must conclude that they have not. With more deep sea oil drilling than ever before using the same old technology that has been shown to fail, we can probably expect another similar oil spill in terms of quantity and impact in the near future.

18 Apr 2011

Link Between Chlorine and Asthma

Checking out your drinking water might be a good idea if you or a family member has asthma and allergies.  A recent Belgian study concluded that chlorine, a common chemical added to water to help kill bacteria, could be making asthma in children worse.  Fumes from chlorine in pools, and even in the shower, could trigger an attack for some people with asthma and allergies.

Those who suffer from asthma and allergies are often sensitive to gases that are produced when chlorine sanitizes bacteria in sweat or urine.  These gases can build up in an enclosed shower, irritating the lungs.

Scientists consider chlorine one of the most toxic elements found in nature. Exposure to chlorine vapour can create adverse health effects, especially for allergy and asthma sufferers. The Asthma Foundation has estimated that 1 in 4 New Zealand children have asthma.

Synthetic chemicals are all around us: in the products we use, the clothes we wear, the food we eat, and the air we breathe. It's no wonder that many people have become sensitive to these chemicals. In fact, it's estimated that 15 percent of the population has become sensitised to common household and commercial products like chlorine, bleach, detergent, cosmetics, perfume, and paints.

Chemical sensitivity is defined as an adverse reaction to toxic chemicals in the air, food, and water. It can affect your breathing, digestion, and heartbeat, as well as cause headaches, arthritis, and urinary tract infections. Judgment, perception, and memory may also be impaired. Other symptoms include bloating and gas after eating, irritability, extreme fatigue, muscle and joint aches and recurring throat infections. Almost 30 percent of those diagnosed with chemical sensitivity are exposed to chemicals at their jobs. Special testing is available to diagnose chemical sensitivity and treatment will depend on the type of chemical involved. The best treatment is to avoid or eliminate the harmful chemicals.

Clean water is one of the most important requirements. It is a sad fact that something as essential to life as clean drinking water can no longer be granted to us. Unsafe water is not just a third world problem. Despite our obvious advantages, New Zealand’s water quality is woefully lacking with many areas having an E rating. This means that the water is unsafe to consume.

More than 700 organic chemicals have been identified in drinking water and some of them are suspected cancer-causing agents. There are around 35,000 pesticides containing 600 chemical compounds. Many of these chemicals are known to cause birth defects, nerve damage, sterility and cancer. Chlorine, the chemical used to keep swimming pools clean, may increase a child's risk of developing asthma, the results of a new study indicate. In recent years, the incidence of childhood asthma has risen dramatically.

In Ireland, researchers carried out tests on 226 healthy children who swam regularly, in order to determine the levels of lung proteins in their blood. An increase in these proteins indicates that the cells lining the lungs have been damaged, which can lead to asthma. The researchers also measured the lung proteins in 16 children and 13 adults before and after exposure to an indoor chlorinated pool. As well as this, they studied relations between pool attendance and asthma prevalence in 1,881 children. The study found that those who attended pools regularly, whether they were swimming or not, were most likely to have high levels of lung proteins. However those who swam most often had protein levels similar to that of a regular smoker.

It appears that when chlorine reacts with organic matter in a swimming pool, such as sweat or urine, a mixture of potentially harmful chemicals result, which is then inhaled by people.

Belgian researchers tracked asthma rates among hundreds of primary school children and found they rose with the length of time, spent swimming in chlorinated pools. Based on these findings, the Belgian researchers concluded that 'the increasing exposure of children to chlorination products in indoor pools might be an important cause of the rising incidence of childhood asthma and allergic diseases in industrialised countries'.

Children who swim in public pools are more likely to suffer from asthma because chlorine irritates their lungs, according to the first major study of the disinfectant's possible health risks. The high concentrations of chlorine in the air above swimming pools were found to irritate the epithelium, the lining of the lungs so severely that it breaks down. It then becomes easier for pollens, dander, smoke and other irritants to cross the barrier and set off an asthma attack.

The finding offers an unexpected explanation for why asthma rates have risen so sharply over the past few decades in industrialized countries, including Canada, the researchers say. But it also undermines standard medical advice, which holds that asthmatics should avoid exercising in cold, dry air because it can aggravate the lungs. The moist, warm air of indoor swimming pools is often touted as the perfect alternative.
"The belief that the swimming pool environment is safe is so deeply rooted in our minds," the researchers write in their paper, released in the British journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Blood test, given to 29 adults during the study, also analysed a certain protein that indicates damage to the epithelium. It showed the level of epithelial damage due to inhaled chlorine varied consistently with the length of time spent breathing the chlorine rich air of a swimming pool. As the team expected, asthma rates in the larger group showed the same trend. "These changes are far from being negligible," the report says.

Dr. Ken Chapman, director of the Asthma Centre at Toronto Western Hospital, said the results are "disturbing," but pointed out they were preliminary findings and said more research should be done on the dangers of swimming pool chlorine. One of the study's authors, Dr. Alfred Bernard, a toxicologist at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium, said he was surprised to find no serious epidemiological study of the health dangers of chlorine in swimming pools. In his paper, he urged policy-makers to rethink its widespread use and to switch to another disinfectant or improve air-quality monitoring.

"This lack of concern is also reflected in the existing regulations, which in most countries ... are focused on the microbiological quality of pool water, largely ignoring the air quality," wrote Dr. Bernard and his co-authors, all either toxicologists or respiratory specialists from three Belgian universities, with an Australian co-author.

Dr. Chapman compared chlorine's toxic effects to sulfur dioxide, a common environmental pollutant that is also thought to irritate the epithelium.

A 1998 Health Canada report found that 13% of Canadian students aged 5 to 19 suffered from asthma, with a range from 9.7% in Sherbrooke, Que., to 18% in Prince Edward Island. The most commonly cited factors that trigger asthma attacks among these students were colds (86%) followed by exercise (75%), pollen, flowers, grass, plants or trees (58%), tobacco smoke (55%), dust (55%), cold air (53%) and pets (47%).

A more recent Health Canada report found that, although asthma is more common among children, it also affects roughly 5% of adults, making it "one of the most prevalent chronic conditions affecting Canadians."