Submission on the Bill extending benefit sanctions to people serving community sentences

Stacks of coins

My submission on the Social Security (Stopping Benefit Payments for Offenders who Repeatedly Fail to Comply with Community Sentences) Amendment Bill:

This Bill would extend the sanction regime to people on benefits who have a community sentence and who fail to comply with that sentence.

I note that section 186 does not give those people already on community sentences a grace period before this sanction can be applied to them.

This Bill highlights failures in the New Zealand justice system and does not address the underlying causes of non-compliance with community sentences.

A very concerning part of this Bill is that it would negatively affect children. If the Ministry of Social Development knows a child is dependent on the person whose benefit they propose to cut, the benefit can still be cut, but “only” by half. On the levels that benefits currently are, cutting a benefit in half will still be devastating for a family, and for the welfare of a child.

A person’s benefit can be restarted if they start to comply with the community sentence, but it’s unclear how they will be able to comply with their sentence if they have no money for transport. They might also not have money for food, rent, power or health costs – things that we recognise as minimal entitlements of prisoners. This Bill might push vulnerable people to committing petty crime in order to survive.

Our social security legislation should be a safety net. This Bill will further erode that. It will not make a positive difference to people or to society. It will not “rescue” people from their situation. It will not rehabilitate them. It will not increase public safety.

The Department of Corrections should be given more resources to take practical steps to address non-compliance. This Bill is not one of them.

Image credit: Nathaniel_U

How To Counterfeit Money

PhotoShop banknote block

Not with Photoshop (and apparently Paint Shop Pro), or your printer, anyway.

The counterfeit deterrence system

If you try to open an image of specific currencies (and I assume at a specific resolution or higher) in Photoshop, you’ll receive the same error message as above. It’s interesting to note that New Zealand’s money isn’t blocked from being opened. Probably because we’re too busy trying to stop our passports from being counterfeited.

You can test it out using images from Banknotes.com. This one and this one throw up the error for me.

Here is Adobe’s information page on their ‘Counterfeit deterrence system’. What Photoshop is looking for is apparently a Digimarc digital watermark, different from the EURion constellation printers, or at least colour photocopiers look out for.

How to get around it

So what if your counterfeiting plans were going well so far, and now you’re at a standstill because of Adobe? You can use Gimp. It opens banknotes without trouble. So do old versions of Photoshop. And Microsoft Paint.

Why did Adobe think it was a good idea to add this? Counterfeiters will already know that they can use an older version of Photoshop, or use other software to get around this additional ‘feature’ and will be doing that.

All Adobe is doing is pissing off people who are trying to use Photoshop for a legitimate reason.

The Rules For Use website the dialog box directs users to even lists situations where you can reproduce banknotes legally (e.g. at a certain size), but Photoshop blocks opening banknotes full stop.

Why is it included?

Adobe will have had to spend time and money on including this system, with no returns in the form of additional sales. I assume they were pressured to include it, or even paid to include it by the Central Bank Counterfeit Deterrence Group.

Perhaps more concerning is that Adobe apparently has no idea what they have actually included in their software on behalf of the CBCDG:

“The inner workings of the counterfeit deterrence system are so secret that not even Adobe is privy to them. The Central Bank Counterfeit Deterrence Group provides the software as a black box without revealing its precise inner workings, Connor said.”

Secrecy

If you’ve bought Photoshop, were you aware of this system at the time of sale? You bought the software to open and edit images, but there are limitations you wouldn’t have been told about.

Here’s the two places where this system is talked about on Adobe’s website. A forum post and the information post linked to above.Adobe search CDS

Where’s the information page linked to from on Adobe’s website? My guess is not very many places, because they should have come up in the search too.

Printers are in on this too

I tried to print United States banknotes from Banknotes.com too. And the job failed. Here’s a New Zealand banknote that printed (and scanned) fine, with one of the United States notes below, which stopped printing halfway through.

Printing money

Here’s the error message in the print dialog.

Banknote print error reading pixels

Error 9707 seems to be specific to the counterfeit deterrence system, but is only described as “reading pixels failed”.

So I guess every time I print something, either the printer or the driver is all: “IS THIS LOOK LIKE MONEY?! NOPE, SEEMS TO BE A GIRAFFE.”

 

What I wonder is what other, potentially less visible and transparent “features” are being included in systems because of pressure or money?

I don’t want manufacturers including these non-features in their products for me and I don’t want my technology making decisions for me.

Financial Advice

Money

Here is a New Zealand Herald article that contains some shitty and some good advice about money.

Thumbs down

Buying over renting

Buy property young, preferably in your 20s. Move heaven and earth to get the deposit. Rent is wasted money.

Buying a house is not for everyone. Sometimes it doesn’t make financial sense for a particular person. Insurance, rates, money spent on repairs (~$5k~ a year) etc. sometimes make renting a better choice. Run the numbers.

Avoid fines

It’s moronic to incur fines. Like the maniac driver in a big red American-style pickup truck who overtook me on State Highway 2 on December 17, just to be pulled over and fined.

Yes, you shouldn’t speed etc. etc., but this doesn’t contain any useful advice if you do get a fine. Actual advice would be to set up an automatic payment account to a ‘Stupid mistakes’ savings account so you have money to pay inevitable fines.

NEVER SPEND MONEY EVAAAA

Every dollar is precious. Think before you spend it.

I regret frittering money on coffees and unnecessary eating out. It would be better to direct that money towards savings.

Needs and wants are often confused. This is perhaps the biggest financial mistake that people make.

If you enjoy a coffee a day, buy a coffee a day. If you enjoy eating out, eat out. There’s no point earning money if you don’t spend it on stuff you love. Cut back on the stuff you don’t care about, optimize existing spending (subscriptions and phone/internet/TV/power etc. plans) and/or earn more money.

Have a [email protected]@111

Track your spending. You can’t budget if you don’t know what you’re spending.

Perhaps the most popular piece of financial advice ever given out. How many people who write this actually do in it in practice, I’m not sure. Tracking your spending by typing into a spreadsheet or basically anything with mainly manual entry is doomed to fail. Xero with BNZ and ASB by itself both offer spending tracking services within online banking. Or, Xero allows the import of other bank’s transactions. Do mainly electronic transactions (because they can automatically coded into categories) and use these.

Credit cards

Credit cards make you look rich. Anyone can live well for a few years, but the debt catches up.

Credit cards with benefits that are automatically paid off each month are excellent.

Thumbs up

Judging people

People are too quick to judge others’ financial decisions, me included.

1) No one wants unsolicited advice. 2) You have your own problems to worry about.

Pay bills

Pay your taxes on time. The IRD has a big stick.

Pay all bills on time. Automate them. The IRD and other companies are always up for negotiation around deadlines.

Experiences

Spending money on experiences is good spending. I am eternally grateful that I sold all but one of my shares at age 22 (by coincidence in August 1987) and went backpacking through Latin America. It’s good spending if the experience enriches life.

Yes. Also, give experiences as presents instead of physical things.

Save for things. Automatically.

Save before you buy. A bit of a radical concept in 2011, but it can change people’s financial future.

Enter into interest-free deals cautiously

Interest-free hire purchase deals are for suckers. You still pay ad establishment fee and the majority of people fail to clear the debt on time and pay interest anyway.

These places invariably have great clauses such as charging you if you pay anything over the set monthly amount. Once you’ve finished paying the item off you get mailed offers from the company for ever and ever.

Avoid interest

Interest payments on personal loans, credit cards and HP are “idiot tax”. Why throw money away unnecessarily?

Work out how much something will really cost when interest is added before jumping into these. There’s calculators online that will help.

KiwiSaver

KiwiSaver is good.

Get in it.

Advice

Take your advice from people who have been through several cycles. Johnny-come-latelies going through their first financial cycle underestimate the risks.

Ask older people what they would have liked to have known at your age. What would they save for if they could turn back the clock?

Read a book

You can learn more about money. The easiest and cheapest way to improve your knowledge is to get a book out of the library.

Image credit: 401k/401kcalculator.org