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Archive for 17 June 2013

Mediaworks, Solid Energy, and National Standards

17 June 2013 3 comments

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Solid Energy looking to sell Southland land

Acknowledgement: Radio NZ – TV3’s owners in receivership

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Stupidity heaped upon government incompetence – there is no other way to describe the fiasco that Solid Energy has become since National took office in 2008. Whether it was National Ministers  encouraging Solid Energy to expand their operations during a time of  recession or  forcing it to borrow huge sums and then pay it to the National government as “dividends” – Key, English, Joyce, et al have a lot to answer for.

It is not often that a government will run a SOE into the ground and then blame others for their incompetance. (See previous blogpost: Solid Energy – A solid drama of facts, fibs, and fall-guys )

News that Solid Energy may be planning to sell 3,500 hectares of land, and which may be purchased by offshore investors, is the final humiliation.

At this stage, I will make the following point;

  1. I don’t care if a foreign purchaser resides in Boston, Berlin, or Beijing. The negative economic consequences to New Zealand are all the same.
  2. Rightwingers maintain that it doesn’t matter if the land is sold into foreign ownership; “no one can take it away”. But that’s not the point. It’s not the land that is removed – but the profits  generated for owners. It is dividends  to overseas investors that can be “taken away”, thereby reducing our income; worsening our balance of payments; and ultimately pushing up interest rates.
  3. Land sales to overseas investors denies the birthright of  all New Zealanders to participate in land based enterprises. It is difficult for young people to buy a farm when competing with wealthy  investors from Boston, Berlin, or Beijing. In the end, those young New Zealand may end up tenants in our own country – which Dear Leader himself said was not desirable (see: PM warns against Kiwis becoming ‘tenants’ ).

The most common sense solution to this problem (I refuse to call it an “issue”) is simple and straightforward.

If local buyers cannot be found, the land should be transferred to SOE Landcorp, to hold it in stewardship. Good, productive farmland could be later sold/leased to young New Zealanders who want to get on the first rung of the ladder to farm ownership.

Selling/leasing to the next generation of New Zealanders – our children – is a sound way to give them opportunities in our own country.

Why we would deny them that birthright and instead prefer to sell to faceless foreign investors, sitting in offices halfway around the word, defies understanding.

As Bruce Jesson said in his book, about the neo-liberal mentality to sell off everything to the highest bidder, and bugger  the consequences; Only their Purpose is Mad.

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MediaWorks in receivership

Acknowledgement: NZ Herald – MediaWorks in receivership

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It is a great shame that Mediaworks is in this position. Their flagship broadcaster, TV3, has raised the quality and standard of programming in this country. Unlike the mediocre rubbish on state-owned TVNZ, TV3 has treated the viewer with a fair measure of respect.

Programmes like Campbell Live, Outrageous Fortune, and Inside Child Poverty have been nuggets of gold at a time when mainstream media is dumbing down faster than John Banks’ integrity post-Skycity and Dotcom donations scandal.

This leftwing blogger wishes the company all the best for the future; fervantly hopes that no one loses their job; and looks forward to more high-quality programming  from TV3.

See more at The Daily Blog by Selwyn Manning: Breaking News: New Company Newco Positions To Purchase MediaWorks Off Receivers

Breaking News: New Company Newco Positions To Purchase MediaWorks Off Receivers – See more at: http://thedailyblog.co.nz/2013/06/17/breaking-news-tv3-radiolive-owners-mediaworks-has-gone-into-receivership/#sthash.YBRLNczb.dpuf

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Teachers to boycott trial of national standards computer system

Acknowledgement: Radio NZ – Teachers to boycott trial of national standards computer system

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The biggest problem and greatest threat from National Standards is the American phenomenon, “Teaching to Tests”. As Gordon Campbell wrote, four years ago when National Standards were first mooted by the Nats,

The main risk is that national testing will foster mechanical ways of assessing of children’s learning, as teachers get pressured into ‘teaching to the test’ – thus narrowing what they teach, and fuelling a focus on simplistic measuring rather than on creating a richer, and more child-oriented environment.

Quite simply, what this means is that for schools to “look good” in league tables (another right wing invention that inevitably follows National Standards), they will be pressured to teach  students solely to answer tests. Nothing more, nothing less.

Because otherwise, a school risks looking poorly in National Standards results. Couple this with “performance related pay”, and “teaching to the test” to guarantee a high ranking in League Tables, becomes a dead cert.

Parents should not only be worried – they should be downright angry. This undermines our education system and turns it into a farce. Kids become expert at answering tests – but not much more. Problem-solving, initiative, increased knowledge, and even more tradition curricula, become secondary.

Because, really, if we’re going to have “performance related pay”, then teachers will make damn sure that their school doesn’t fall behind in any National Standard and subsequent League Table.

Interestingly, China, Sth Korea, Singapore, and Hong Kong are also at the top of the OECD PISA scale.  International education scholar, Yong Zhao (see bio here), pointed out why in December 2010;

… China has become the best education nation, or at least according to some experts and politicians. Chinese students (a sample from Shanghai) outscored 64 countries/education systems on the most recent PISA, OECD’s international academic assessment for 15 year olds in math, reading, and science…

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I don’t know why this is such a big surprise to these well educated and smart people. Why should anyone be stunned? It is no news that the Chinese education system is excellent in preparing outstanding test takers, just like other education systems within the Confucian cultural circle—Singapore, Korea, Japan, and Hong Kong…

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That’s the secret: when you spend all your time preparing for tests, and when students are selected based on their test-taking abilities, you get outstanding test scores.

Acknowledgement:  A True Wake-up Call for Arne Duncan: The Real Reason Behind Chinese Students Top PISA Performance

Is this education?. Or is this a  corruption of education and turning our children into mass-trained cogs, able to pass tests, but not much more in terms of free-thinking and expanding knowledge?

Make no mistake. This is setting us up for failure in the decades to come.

Perhaps, instead we should be looking at the Finnish experience,

In his country, Dr. Darling-Hammond said later in an interview, teachers typically spend about four hours a day in the classroom, and are paid to spend two hours a week on professional development. At the University of Helsinki, where he teaches, 2,400 people competed last year for 120 slots in the (fully subsidized) master’s program for schoolteachers. “It’s more difficult getting into teacher education than law or medicine,” he said.

Dr. Sahlberg puts high-quality teachers at the heart of Finland’s education success story — which, as it happens, has become a personal success story of sorts, part of an American obsession with all things Finnish when it comes to schools…

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Both Dr. Darling-Hammond and Dr. Sahlberg said a turning point was a government decision in the 1970s to require all teachers to have master’s degrees — and to pay for their acquisition. The starting salary for school teachers in Finland, 96 percent of whom are unionized, was about $29,000 in 2008, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, compared with about $36,000 in the United States.

More bear than tiger, Finland scorns almost all standardized testing before age 16 and discourages homework, and it is seen as a violation of children’s right to be children for them to start school any sooner than 7, Dr. Sahlberg said during his day at Dwight. He spoke to seniors taking a “Theory of Knowledge” class, then met with administrators and faculty members.

“The first six years of education are not about academic success,” he said. “We don’t measure children at all. It’s about being ready to learn and finding your passion.”

Acknowledgement: New York Times – From Finland, an Intriguing School-Reform Model

Solutions?

1. Don’t vote for National in 2014.

2. Look at Finland for our answers to improve education – not the US which is lower on the OECD PISA ranking than us. (Finland is near the top.)

3. Be wary of simplistic rightwing agendas.

Other Blogs

Gordon Campbell: National Education Tests, And Michael Jackson

The Political Scientist:  National Standards and Neanderthals – “They will know what is required …” – Part I

The Political Scientist: National Standards and Neanderthals – “They will know what is required …” – Part II

The Political Scientis: National Standards and Neanderthals – “They will know what is required …” – Part III

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The GCSB – when plain english simply won’t do.

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spy vs politician

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Question: Is the GCSB staffed and managed by people for whom english is a second language?

The reason I ask is that I’ve been hearing over and over again that the Act covering the Government Communications Securitry Bureau (GCSB) is somehow, “vague”.

For example Deputy Prime Minister Bill English said,

It highlights the fact that the legislation for GCSB is probably legally flawed right from the start. The law is likely to need to change.”

This “vagueness” in the law – the Government Communications Security Bureau Act 2003 – is supposedly ‘unclear’ and ‘confusing’, which resulted in the Bureau illegally spying on 88  New Zealander permanent residents and/or citizens (see:  Legality of spy operations called into question).

So how vague is the Act? Specifically Part 3, Section 14,

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Government Communications Security Bureau Act 2003 - section 3-14

Acknowledgement:  Parliamentary Counsel Office: Government Communications Security Bureau Act 2003

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Section 14 states,

Restrictions imposed on interceptions

14 Interceptions not to target domestic communications
  • Neither the Director, nor an employee of the Bureau, nor a person acting on behalf of the Bureau may authorise or take any action for the purpose of intercepting the communications of a person (not being a foreign organisation or a foreign person) who is a New Zealand citizen or a permanent resident.

Let’s dissect that paragraph,
Neither the Director, nor an employee of the Bureau, nor a person acting on behalf of the Bureau …”

That’s fairly clear; we start of  by identifying who is covered by this paragraph,

  •  the Director
  •  employees,
  •  or anyone acting on behalf of the Bureau

“… may authorise or take any action for the purpose of intercepting the communications of a person…”

Again, fairly clear; the people mentioned above cannot “intercept[ing] the communications of a person…”

And the “punch-line”,

“…(not being a foreign organisation or a foreign person) who is a New Zealand citizen or a permanent resident”.

So, if you’re a “a New Zealand citizen or a permanent resident”, you cannot have your commmunications intercepted by “the Director, nor an employee of the Bureau, nor a person acting on behalf of the Bureau“.

That’s not only clear, but it’s not even written in ‘legalese’!?

The GCSB believed that they were allowed to spy on behalf of Police (or OFCANZ, to be specific).

But nowhere does the Act allow the GCSB to spy on behalf of the Police. In fact, the Act states in at least two parts, precisely who the GCSB may collect data on;

Part 2
7. Objective of Bureau
  • (1) The objective of the Bureau is to contribute to the national security of New Zealand by providing—

    • (a) foreign intelligence that the Government of New Zealand requires to protect and advance—
      • (i) the security or defence of New Zealand; or
      • (ii) the international relations of the Government of New Zealand; or
      • (iii) New Zealand’s international well-being or economic well-being; and
    • (b) foreign intelligence to meet international obligations and commitments of the Government of New Zealand; and
    • (c) advice, assistance, and protection to departments of State and other instruments of the Executive Government of New Zealand in order to—
      • (i) protect and enhance the security of their communications, information systems, and computer systems; or
      • (ii) protect their environments from electronic or other forms of technical surveillance by foreign organisations or foreign persons.

    (2) For the purposes of subsection (1)(a)(iii), the interests of New Zealand’s international well-being or economic well-being are relevant only to the extent that they are affected by the actions or intentions of foreign organisations or foreign persons.

Part 3
13. Purpose of Part
  • The purpose of this Part is,—

    • (a) subject to the restrictions imposed by this Part, to enable the Bureau to obtain foreign intelligence; and
    • (b) to authorise the interception of communications (whether under section 16 or under an interception warrant or a computer access authorisation) only if the purpose of the interception is to obtain foreign intelligence.

Both paragraphs emphasise over and over again two words; foreign and international.
Coupled with Paragraph 14, it seems to this blogger (and I have zero legal training, except watching old ‘Perry Mason‘ tv programmes in my youth) that the law is fairly clear in,
  1. Meaning
  2. Intent
  3. Wording

Whatever possessed the GCSB to believe that they were allowed to spy on behalf of  OFCANZ?

For the GCSB to claim that they “believed they were allowed to spy on behalf of others such as the Police or SIS” is akin to saying they were allowed to spy on NZ citizens only on every other day, except Sunday. Ridiculous.

This is not about a “vague” or “unworkable” law.

This is about a government department that had minimal oversight and attempted to get away with flouting the law.

What  “oversight’ there was consisted of  an aging, retired judge who works part-time – and an even more apparently  feeble-minded Prime Minister who has severe memory-retention problems and seems to take little interest in what the GCSB is up to.

The GCSB has been caught out in a “matesy” relationship with OFCANZ – due in part to the ‘glamourous’ work being undertaken at the behest of the United States’ FBI, regarding Kim Dotcom. The GCSB simply didn’t want to be left out of the “action”.

This was a bunch of “boys” with high tech gear; truckloads of money; and no one watching what they were getting up to.

No wonder they broke the law in their spying.

They thought they could get away with it.

Why?

Why not. Because, after all,  who watches the Watchmen?

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 22 May 2013.

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