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Saturday, April 13, 2013


I have moved to wordpress. Please update your rss feeds or readers or whatever it is that you use to keep up with my posts.

I'm not sure if I have successfully transferred my blogroll but am in the process of working this out! Bear with me.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

People in glass houses

This post may not resonate well with some readers, mostly because I am calling out someone well known and highly respected for her ‘progressive opinion shaping’ as an advocate for human rights in NZ and abroad.  

I’m not saying I’m perfect, nor that I expect anyone else to be. When we are so grossly offended, we often say or do irrational things. Its human nature.  

I've been chatting to some friends on Facebook - one in particular who was rightly upset by the comments made by Marie Kraup, the Danish Politician (reportedly a far right nationalist) who recently slandered Maori culture in an opinion piece in a Danish newspaper. I'm a little late and many have written on this topic already, but there is a different angle I want to take. 

An angle that brings to mind a heated twitter exchange I saw a few weeks ago where @ColeyTangerina went to town on @Kaupapa for referring to the careerist left women of Labour having more balls than the men and for saying that ‘ovaries’ don’t have the same linguistic currency as ‘balls’.

I happened to agree with him – yet I could also see @ColeyTangerina’s point. So long as we believe ‘balls’ have more linguistic currency than ‘ovaries’, is as long as that will remain the status quo.

It also brings to mind the case of John Key’s ‘gay red shirt’ comment, since he got slammed for using the term ‘gay’ derogatorily notwithstanding that he attends gay pride shows – which he wouldn’t if he were homophobic. Not defending John Key, just saying that some terms are used in ways that we often take for granted as being derogatory or offensive to others.

So what does this have to do with Marama Davidson? This:

The part I refer to is line 5 beginning 'upholding Danish racist pastry woman's comments'. And when asked if ‘pastry’ was a typo, she replied: 

Marama is usually an amazing advocate and her writing and comments are usually well considered. But referring to Marie Kraup as a Danish racist  pastry is not the conduct one has come to expect of a progressive opinion shaper, especially when the point of the status update is to call out our Race Relations Commissioner for failing to provide guidance on this issue.  

I wholeheartedly agree that Susan Devoy should be making some comment to send a global message that we are united against cultural intolerance. I suspect that most readers of this blog will agree that what Marie Krarup said was abhorrent and her own intolerance was the most primitive thing about the whole situation. 

But is this a justifiable response given it is in the context of criticising the lack of commentary from the Race Relations Commissioner? 

Surely the message could have been conveyed without resorting to her own ill-considered comments? Many Danish people will take offense to the petty name calling and derogatory reference to their nationality as pastries. Maybe some of my readers will think what she said wasn't offensive in the context of what was said about Maori culture, but in my view, this was a bit of people in glass houses. Not particularly conducive to improving race relations nor promoting tolerance. 

What I will say, is that I agree if you are reading this and upset that Dame Susan Devoy has not made any comment, then do call or email the Human Rights Commission and demand a response. 

Note: these comments from Marama are made publicly on Facebook, so are easily accessible by any person. I haven't covertly extracted them. 

*I get that the word 'pastry' is not offensive on its own. Its the use of pastry as a way of belittling that could be deemed offensive to the people of Denmark.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Indoctrination of the brazilian wax

I was recently enlightened about a generational shift to hairless vagina's. Yes. Men with young daughter's this is probably an uncomfortable, but necessary post for you to read. 

The conversation begins by TP, SI and SP discussing the NZ Herald article on the susceptibility of sexually transmitted infections for those who wax their pubic hair. (Note: the particular study in question acknowledged the results were inconclusive because there was not a control group). This transpired into a discussion on the all faous full brazilian wax. 

We were told by SP that in her view, females under 25 years old are predominantly foregoing their pubic hair. For clarity, this is not at all a problem, a woman is free to choose to do as she pleases with her pubic hair. 

Why am I talking about hairless vagina's? Because the subject both fascinates and terrifies me. You will see why by the end of this post. 

SP is a 24 year old female who is considering IPL (permanent removal) and regularly waxes the lot.She made some interesting points that I want to discuss. Firstly, that she is insulted that (some) feminists consider her choice for a hairless vagina as submitting to the desires of men and secondly, that hairless vagina's are a 'generational thing'. 

I can appreciate where those feminists are coming from when they make such remarks. They may have had wider issues in their minds but transfixed the idea onto an individuals choice. So the remarks were probably made without context and unfortunately relayed in way that demeaned SP as a woman capable of making her own choices. The problem SP raised about those feminists is similar to my own experiences of some self-proclaimed feminists - that all the decisions I make that benefit males are are not free choices but rather kowtowing to conform to the needs and/or desires of men. Note, that its a very small minority of feminists that fall into this experience for me. Although it highlights the importance for feminists to make clear that they are not judging the individual but instead considering the wider issues and implications of such choices (if that is the intention of course). 

So I've established that I do not consider having a hairless vagina anti-feminist. Women of all generations have taken the brazen step to wax the lot.  I do believe, if it is true that as a generational thing young women are opting for hairless vagina's, we should be concerned.  

Intuition tells me that when there is a preference for female body appearance, that the element of conformity is in play. This suggests to me that not all women who choose the full Brazilian wax or IPL are doing so as a free choice. I accept that they are actively making the decision and this is a choice, but I worry that the reasons for those choices derive from a fear of being different or being ostracised for having what SP referred to as a 'bush' or a 'beard'. I also worry that shame or repulsion of pubic hair is being indoctrinated within this generation not just for young women, but to their young male counterparts as well. I'm also concerned that if there really is a generation of young women who are opting out of having any pubic hair, then this could have unintended consequences. I worry that the depiction of a hairless vagina as preferable could adversely affect the sexual safety of our pre-pubescent females.  

Obviously, my concerns derive from a single conversation and I do not have the resources to verify the views expressed by SP, but I do think it worthwhile considering in the wider context especially given the prevalence of rape culture  in our society. 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Greens and the implication of exponential growth

So I was reading one of the Greens newsletters this week which left me feeling extremely confused about their economics. My criticism is not because I think Dr Norman is incompetent but rather that I think his commentary is in conflict with what I understood to be ‘sustainability’, an ethic that the Green’s advocate and that in fact the party was founded on.

Dr Norman this week criticised the government for a decline of 0.6% GDP in the tradable sector of the economy. He also stated:
 “A shrinking tradable sector combined with a strongly growing non-tradable sector means only one thing – increased borrowing and a ballooning current account deficit”.
I’m curious, wouldn’t a reduction in the tradable economy sit well with Green politics. For instance, he mentions that ‘manufacturing is a key sector for driving high, value-added exports and creating well-paid jobs’ yet the reduction in this sector would surely be an environmental advantage? I mean, less carbon emissions, smaller ecological footprint, ability to restore the now unused land to forest or other environmentally friendly business that would contribute to reducing carbon emissions e.g. industrial hemp farms for various products such as paper, building products, fabric and so on?

My question is: Shouldn’t the Green’s be advocating for reductions in exports and imports and promoting wider support for local trading – which could also create well paid jobs by enabling local business owners to employ local workers as well as minimise environmental impact? I’m not saying here that there is no room for exports in a sustainability framework, only that continued steady growth of our tradable sector is unsustainable and therefore the outcome will be no different to that of the neo-liberalism the Green’s have openly advocated against.

Dr Albert A.Bartlett states that ‘the greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function’. The exponential function is a tool used to measure steady growth patterns, such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The benefit of understanding exponential growth is to inform ourselves of how long it will take for steady growth to double; using a simple calculation and this gives us the ability to interpret what that level of growth will mean for our society. Dr Bartlett focuses on the use of exponential growth in relation to population as this is where he sees the function as being most important due to its understatement at both the local and global level. My purpose is to show why the Greens focus on economic growth is not in line with their principles of sustainability – the very value that gave birth to the party.

GDP is often used to indicate the standard of living in a country and so it follows that the more economic growth the better the standard of living. But the exponential function can dispel this myth.

Exponential growth is measured by a constant (fixed fraction) over a fixed period of time. In 2012, NZ’s GDP was recorded as 2.5%. Dr Bartlett indicates that if it takes a fixed length of time to grow, in NZ’s case 2.5% then it follows that it takes a longer fixed period of time to grow 100%. This longer fixed period of time is called the doubling time. The doubling time (T2) is calculated  as follows: T2 = 70/(% growth per unit) = time.

What we can say is that if NZ’s economy continues to grow at 2.5% then in 28 years our GDP will double to 5% (Calculation: T2 = 70/2.5 = 28). This may not seem so bad, but consider the growth rates for the 28 years following each of the preceding periods:
  •          2012 = 2.5%
  •          2040 = 5%
  •          2068 = 10%
  •          2096 = 20%

As Dr Bartlett points out, we need to understand that “the growth in any doubling time is greater than the total of all the preceding growth and that modest growth rates give us enormous growth in modest periods of time”.

My conclusion is that if Dr Norman is concerned about sustainability then criticising the government for the decline in growth in the tradable sector is not particularly consistent with the principle of sustainability. If modest amounts of growth in that sector will give us enormous growth in a modest period of time then this will require major depletion of natural resources and massive increases in waste to sustain growth at those levels. I wonder if perhaps Dr Norman should instead be encouraging local trading (within NZ) to improve job prospects and the prospects of local business owners and support the reduction in exports rather than advocating a position that has an apparent conflict with Green Party values. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The nonsense and (hate to say it) sense of Rodney Hide

While I’m not a typical reader of Rodney Hide, nor do I agree with much of what he has to say – most the time – but on occasion I find myself in agreement with some of his ideas/opinions.  I encourage you to read on, even if you hate the pants off Hide.

I want to focus on 3 of Hide’s articles that interested me. Note, interested does not mean I unequivocally agree with him. But for reference the articles are embedded as links below.

Mainzeal and the mad men who drive our economy

Hide states:
The business failure is reported as an economic calamity. And a sign that all is not well within the wider New Zealand economy...It’s all nonsense, of course. The business collapse shows we have an economy that is working. We would be better off with more...It is traumatic and upsetting for those involved. But so, too, is life...It’s simply a part, and a very necessary part, of living....Business collapse is part and parcel of a successful economy.
At first glance, I interpreted this article as saying that the free market wants business to fail. So, I thought I’d ask the biggest defender of the free market I know of (@MarkHubbard33) how he interpreted Hide’s piece. His response was in summary, that “business failure is the natural, necessary way for the market to fix malinvestment: that aids innovation and the big problem with bailouts were they kept alive zombie business concepts/models, and hindered innovation”. In comparing this response and reading Hide's piece again, I suspect Hide's view is identical.  

What I understand from Hide’s comments is that business collapse is natural and indicative of a healthy economy. My problem with his theory is that in a later article he implies that providing a living wage to employees is bad for business.

My question is, if you are for the free market and accept that businesses collapse is natural and necessary, why then is a living wage considered as something that would cause a business to fail?  

For instance, if the labour market demands a living wage and the business is not in a position to pay it, then surely it is a zombie business and therefore deserves to collapse under the free market doctrine.

I suspect a response to that claim might be that government legislating what employers must pay (at minimum) is intervention and not the natural course of the market. In my view, this is weak. The government are enacting what the labour market are demanding – the right to be remunerated for the value they provide to the business. Of course, the particular framing of this claim may suggest that if a business cannot afford to pay a living wage then the employee is arguably not providing the business with the value they seek in return for their labour. Although I don’t buy that argument either, since without the employee’s labour, that is, the skill used to produce the good or service, the business would not be able to turn its resources into a revenue stream. The business does not fail because of the labour provided – it fails because the business relies on an ineffective business model that ‘hinders innovation’.

Bravo: The real business class

So lets look at what Hide has to say when it comes to paying a ‘living wage’ to employees:

...many businesspeople don't make the minimum wage, let alone the "living wage". They work all hours. They sweat about making the wage bill each week. The income they generate pays all our wages, either directly or indirectly...Business would survive without government. But government wouldn't survive without business... business success is the social success that matters most. It's the success of providing what people actually want at a price they are prepared to pay.
I’m not compelled by this argument for he reasons set out above and additionally, I find Henry George’s argument more persuasive: 
wages are the product of the labor for which they are paid
George uses the example of an egg company that hires a group of workers to collect eggs and in return they receive a fixed wage. The fixed wage is paid in money that represents the eggs because the sale of eggs produces the cash to pay the wages.  This may in fact be what Hide meant. But in my view Hide overlooked that without labour the business would not generate the income to pay wages. So the importance is not the business, it is in fact the labour.  

I’m amused that Hide on one hand says its natural and in fact a sign of a healthy economy where businesses collapse since innovation derives from these failures.  And on the other hand businesses that are struggling should be assisted by the government twofold – firstly, by not legislating a minimum wage thereby privileging the business over the labour, and secondly, by leaving it to the government to provide social security for the workers whose employers cannot afford to pay them a living wage. Has Hide forgotten that the government represents the people and not business? Well, not according to his latest piece in the NBR that I will discuss below.

Problems solved

I enjoyed this piece while at times I seethed much of what he said was palatable and some of it even sensible. Lets look at his idea for Christchurch first. Hide says:
The government should butt out of Christchurch...Property rights should be recognised and reaffirmed rather than endlessly pinched, the region should be declared tax-free and oppressive laws such as the Resource Management Act, OSH and the Employment Relations Act deemed inappropriate.
It was all going well until he spouted the bit about deeming laws that address fundamental rights of individuals inappropriate [in bold - emphasis added]. 

What I like about this suggestion is that he is right about the government butting out – CERA is an impediment to the direct democracy of the people of Christchurch. CERA is an installed regime intended to ignore the plight of the people for the benefit of some crony government agenda. 

I’m also impressed by his tax free zone, although in my opinion, this should be limited to personal income tax and GST because I'd be suspicious about some (external) businesses finding loopholes and using the tax free status of the region to create profits that didn't feed back into the community. And this would undermine the whole point of declaring Christchurch a tax free zone. The advantage of a tax free zone is that individuals would have their full wage to assist them in rebuilding their lives which would go some way to providing the necessary relief in the wider community. It would also benefit the local businesses because people would have more money to spend and would be more likely to spend thereby circulating more money in the region without having to artificially create more money (banking) or printing more money (QE). I’m not entirely sure how such a scheme could be implemented, but on the face of it, I think Hide’s idea has merit. I suspect his reasons are because such a scheme would be more favourable to businesses, while I prefer the idea for the benefit of the community as a whole. 

Another idea I liked of Hide’s was in relation to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. Hide says:
Get rid of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. That alone would signal that government understands that business, innovation and employment aren’t things that flow out of the Beehive.
In my view, he’s right. Government is about governance and not dictating what the economy should be doing. While I see a role for government in facilitating the employment relationship, its not the role of government to determine what is innovative for the private sector. I appreciate that some people believe that some ‘public-private partnerships’ have been successful, but I don't think this justifies the relationship since success is almost always measured in profitability. We elect the government to represent us as a people and when governments are in partnership with business there is a clear conflict of interest and conflicts of interest are deemed highly inappropriate in most professions.  

To conclude, for all the BS that Rodney spouts and his deliberate trolling of the left, he does happen to have some good ideas and opinions. What I am finding is that despite the differences in opinions or how our opinions and ideas are formed, where there is common ground we should probably work from there. Surely, its far more productive than slinging mud back and forth. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Protest partial privatisation - boycott Mighty River Power

Following the SC decision on the Wai case, looks like there is going to be a final push against Asset Sales in which various union groups and other movements are calling for a National Day of Action (Date: 27 April 2013).

This week the MSM asked what National's Plan B would have been, had the SC decision gone in favour of the NZMC. Its irrelevant. Who cares. They would have legislated against any finding. Much the same as Labour did with the Foreshore and Seabed. We can assume this.

But what was the Plan B for those in opposition to asset sales? A referendum that wouldn't be held until after at least the first few SOE's were partially privatised? Relying on Labour & Greens to create more widespread participation through actual action something that they've failed to effectively do already?

In the meantime they've left it to Mana's activists, unions, blogs and other social movements to keep the issue live.

So Plan B now appears to be another mass demonstration. This is not the 1980's. And its not Egypt. It might feel like an exercise of citizen power but there are always a few who manage to deflect from the real purpose by using the march as a platform for spreading their anti-Key sentiments. When they do that, citizen power is lost. National laugh off the protest as a bunch of radical left wing haters. It does more damage than good.

To make matters worse, opposition Leader, David Shearer ain't gonna make the protest credible since he struggles to string together a single coherent sentence. And while the Greens will provide valid arguments, National have developed a knack for making common sense sound completely irrational.

Yes, I did just make that statement - the Greens argument is common sense because its not just focused on economic advantages or disadvantages but takes into account both social and environmental factors which are highly relevant and seldom considered.

I appreciate that there are people who are not opposed to the sale of these assets - in fact many, including Treasury see the full privatisation as providing more economic benefits. I also can understand the diverse philosophies/ideologies that compel people to either oppose or support privatisation schemes. But my point here is not to debate whether or not we should as a country partially privatise state owned assets. I want to focus on a more effective form of protest using our real power, that is, as Consumers.


Mighty River Power claims that its retail brands have a combined national market share of 18% of the physical electricity sales by volume. They boast around 370,000 customers.

The Greens have released figures that suggest they have collected 370,000 or so signatures for a citizens initiated referendum and the polls tell us that around 80% of New Zealander's are opposed to the partial sell down.

Consumers are in control. Without them, businesses fail. This protest that is being organised needs to promote this power. The threat of loss of customers is enough to devalue a company. Actual migrations of customers will be even more effective. If those who oppose assets want to prevent the sale - then they must use their power as a consumer and boycott all Mighty River Power retail brands such as Mercury Energy.

The effect of this is in order to retain profits the company are likely to have to drive up its power prices - this would inevitably force other users to transfer their service to other power companies. The loss of customers (and customer instability) and hence lost profits is less attractive to potential investors and is the only effective way of getting the government to respect our power as citizens and consumers. As consumers we can drive down the value of the SOE's in a show of opposition to its proposed partial privatisation. We often forget that governments serve us we do not serve them.

Its foreseeable how the government will respond - they'll blame those who divest from Mighty River Power for its imminent sale. Its BS. They plan to sell anyway whether you take this action or not. Counter the rhetoric. Those who oppose these asset sales need to get smarter not angrier. They need to anticipate counter-responses and take more direct actions. Protesting about sales is a start but its not the same as taking direct action to prevent them. As a consumer in a consumption society - we have the power.

According to the NZH Mighty River is in the process of being listed on the ASX: now is the time.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Unity through political diversity

The purpose of this post is to discuss how our political differences have become a way of distinguishing who we are not, rather than who we can be.

When I first began blogging, my writing was more aggressive and perhaps more theatrical than the style I’ve since become accustom to (albeit still maintaining a tendency toward a ranty, reactionary post now and then). However, after my first few posts a good friend sent me an email suggesting that I temper my writing. The logic behind this was that the more aggressive my writing the fewer people who would actually read my blog. Additionally, that if my purpose was to open up the debate then my vitriolic rants would inhibit that goal. Of course, I was taken aback at first, but he was right. There are plenty of ranty leftwing and rightwing blogs that added very little to the debate because they limited who could or would participate. And besides, he said, the particular style was only compelling for those who already shared my views and simply turned off any potential readers who might actually be receptive to some of the things I had to say. Sage advice. Because it appears the blogosphere is another platform for division.

I’m going to refer to some things I have read that highlight this division and why I think the blogosphere is the place to build unity through political diversity.

Firstly, on Maui Street blog, Morgan wrote:
 “The first challenge is to build a community. The first step in that challenge is easy - bring together a community of bloggers and their readers. The second step is harder - build a community of readers and commenters from outside of the leftwing blogosphere”
I agree.  There is an abundance of talent in The Daily Blog line up.  My worry is any preconceived prejudices based on The Daily Blogs creator - Bomber.

In my view, Bomber is to the left what WhaleOil is to the right, or alternatively stated, Bomber is to the right what WhaleOil is to the left.  They are both aggressive political and social commentators and while they've both established a strong readership they are unlikely to attract the more reserved reader. Like Morgan, however, I am optimistic that any pre-conceived prejudices will be overcome simply because of the talent pool Bomber has cleverly lined up. The beauty of The Daily Blog is the possibility. Although, I  think if its purpose is to shape opinion then what could make it more interesting would be to include rightwing bloggers who can offer a challenge to the leftwing line up.

An example of the blogosphere/social media divide was demonstrated this week through the debate over benefit fraud vs tax evasion. I was amused to see that the left vs right arguments typically considered one to be the lesser evil and the other by default, the greater evil. To an extent, there were even some attempts to justify either benefit fraud or tax evasion.

I make no secret of the fact that I lean left but in my view benefit fraud nad tax evasion are equally dishonest. Here I want to discuss why I think the debate was framed wrong resulting in an inevitable (although avoidable) division, where the real issue was ignored. Its true that there are those who commit fraud for reasons of greed and that there are also those who commit fraud because the state limits their options.

Lets brielfy look at the limits created by the state. We (in NZ) have social security in the form of 'benefits' because the government operates according to an economic ideology (neo-liberalism) that cannot cater to full employment and must create an underclass to support prosperity. Through neo-liberalism the state creates beneficiaries and must at the same time actively demonise welfare to maintain a competitive labour force.  The governments focus on benefit fraud over tax evasion serves this purpose - to reinforce the idea that everyone can get a job and that the economy is capable of full employment even though those in power know this to be a myth. On the other hand, we have tax evaders because they object to forcible deductions on all their sources of income. However, the government must tax so that they can support the beneficiary class created through this flawed economic model. 

So lets look at the issue - it is a result of an inferior economic model that requires widespread taxing to support the underclass it creates and at the same time it propagates welfare demonisation  to create the illusion that every person is capable of attaining prosperity within this model (I wrote an earlier post on this called Unemployment benefits the Wealthy). So instead of trying to justify who were the less evil fraudsters and allowing our political ideals to divide us, the debate should have been around what created the problem and how it can be overcome because this division is silent, intentional and operates to perpetuate the status quo.

I want to move on to a common left wing argument: ‘solidarity’. The rhetoric is nice.  But its treated as an aesthetic and lacks true meaning in the way its being used. Solidarity and unity are often used interchangeably and that is how I will use them for the remainder of this post because this concept ties together what I have talked about in this post.

Solidarity is often used as a method of opposing capitalism and all that it is argued to represent – exclusivity, selfishness, anti-democracy, cronyism to name a few things. Its usually aligned to socialism, but John Ansell has shown that the concept can be incorporated in rightwing politics under Nationalism via his Together New Zealand Campaign, even if his use of unity is merely superficial.

My view is that the way solidarity and unity are used are inherently exclusionary. When used by either leftwing or rightwing movements, the intention is to unite against an opposing politic. This creates and perpetuates division and therefore limits social progress and works against solidarity.

While writing this post I was referred to a very interesting YouTube clip by @AAMCommons (Twitter) called: 
 The possibility of political pleasure

This video link helped me solidify what it was that I wanted to write about. The idea was similar to what I had been thinking about – we don’t have to all agree on our beliefs and values – but we do need consensus to fix problems that affect us both locally and globally. This is direct democracy and is what we ought to be striving for – not democracy by the majority – but real participatory democracy, because in my view there can be no solidarity where political diversity is shunned.

Arguably, a good example of true solidarity is the Anonymous community. They have no leader. Each person contributes to the community in whatever way they choose to. They are guided by the protection of civil liberties and resisting banker occupation. They come together voluntarily and because there is no ‘Leader’, community members follow ideas – bad ideas fail because community members discontinue with it and good ideas succeed but never in perpetuity -  because innovation underlies the community. In this sense, Anonymous is fluid.  And fluidity is necessary for the persistence of the group because it allows members to participate meaningfully and directly.

There are a couple of good documentaries that you might like to watch:
We are Legion

Generation OS13: The New Culture of Resistance

Tying this altogether – if we as a country who are in fact a community of people, valued our political diversity and shaped our decisions around good ideas and not a single politic, then we might actually start to see some progress. We might actually see solidarity. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Harry Fear interview by ANM

Thank goodness for independent media in NZ!

Recently, Kia Ora Gaza hosted a few events throughout NZ hosting self-professed 'Peoples' Foreign Correspondent' Harry Fear who delivered presentations on his time and his understanding of the situation in Gaza and between Palestine and Israel in general.

Harry Fear was a vital source of info on the ground in Gaza especially during November 2012. Initially he live streamed from a UStream channel before being picked up by RT (although he retained his live streaming account with UStream in between reports).

One of the Kia Ora Gaza events took place at the University of Auckland. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to attend and was seriously gutted about missing out on the presentation. Worse, it was largely ignored by MSM. Lucky for us, Amazon News Media (ANM) took their camera and superior reporting skills to the event and managed an interview with Harry Fear prior to his presentation. It is highly recommended viewing and not like the hideously contrived interviews one might see on mainstream tv. You can watch below: 

You can see more on You Tube of ANM:

Friday, February 15, 2013

Unqualified Teachers & Charter Schools

The first point I want to make is that parents should have the choice as to how they want their children educated. As it currently stands we have state schools, private schools and integrated schools. These schools are subject to government imposed curriculum and employ on the basis of an institutionally recognised qualification. I am indifferent to Charter Schools. I’m neither pro nor against. Although, I can see how others might perceive my stance as pro-Charter.

Charter Schools
What I disapprove of with Charter Schools is the proposition that they should not be subject to oversight by the Ombudsmen. Of course they should be - they are entrusted with the education of children and must be accountable to someone outside their organisation as they are performing a public function. They must also be subject to the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act to prevent abuses of power while performing a public function.

In my opinion, education belongs to the commons much the same as land, natural resources and the internet and as such society must have ways of holding those in education accountable where rights are breached and powers abused. If there is no external oversight, then we cannot be assured that there are no abuses of power or breaches of civil rights.

What I like about Charter Schools is that they propose models of education that are not mainstream for instance, they can address the different needs and requirements of minority groups in NZ such as Maori, Pacific Island, Special needs, and our growing population of immigrant minorities.  And they offer a way of innovatively engaging such students in learning in a way that is meaningful to those students.

I am aware of the vast array of literature that criticises Charter Schools although I’ll admit that I haven’t actually read any of it. But my point is that the idea of a charter school model provides a different choice to parents, and as a society that is diverse such choices should be made available.

Unqualified Teachers
I’m not against Teachers obtaining a qualification that is recognised by an institution. But I do not believe that to be a Teacher you MUST obtain an institutionally recognised qualification.

I accept that the qualification equips people with the skills to manage a classroom and to teach what is required under the curriculum. I also accept that many teachers develop their own style to make learning more engaging for students and therefore such qualifications do not necessarily produce ‘homogenous robots’ . But my argument is that it is not the qualification itself through which teachers develop their own style. It is through experience that teachers develop their own style and come to understand what works and what doesn’t. This means that even without the qualification a teacher can develop strategies that work best for the students they work with.

Another argument raised is that there is an over-abundance of teachers who have invested time and money in teaching qualifications, but in my view that’s not a justifiable reason to prevent unqualified persons from teaching. It proposes an arbitrary restriction purely because some teachers are going to be out of pocket. In fact, I would argue further that because of the mandatory qualification some experts are arbitrarily restricted from sharing their knowledge simply because they do not possess the qualification, even if they have the skills.

What’s my solution? If it is important to many that teachers have an institutionally recognised qualification then the government can maintain the status quo and require that teachers’ possess the qualification to teach in Mainstream/State schools - the benefit of obtaining a qualification I suppose is that a teacher will be able to work in either State school or any other school. But do not restrict those in private or charter schools from employing people who have no teaching qualification per se but have knowledge that can be imparted to students. Besides, it’s unlikely that a charter school will employ a person that shows no capability of being able to teach if they are held accountable for the outcomes they produce. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Kiwisaver - I want out!

I've become more concerned about my commitment to the Kiwisaver Scheme over the past few months. I've previously written on it regarding the limitation on providers available. I neglected to consider what in fact investment means and how it affects society in general.

We are told by political parties no matter what their ideologue that Kiwi's need to prepare for their retirement. That's true. There are even some parties considering that Kiwisaver become a compulsory scheme. The argument is that its the socially responsible thing to do - invest for your retirement. I disagree. It is wholly irresponsible to compel people to invest or to treat investment itself as somehow for the betterment of society. And I will explain my discontent below. 

Of late, I've been reading and watching a few documentaries on land and resource grabs. This is where foreign investors (either state or private or both collaboratively) buy up vast quantities of arable land in developing countries at dirt cheap prices and develop large scale commercial farms to export food back to wherever the investor pleases.

The theory is that the land is underutilised and who best to develop it than the rich nations that can afford to. Hold up - wtf? Underutilised? This underutilised narrative is simply a way of skipping around the fact that corporates have identified that there are land and resources available for exploitation by capital rich nations.

What's this got to do with Kiwisaver? Well, do you know where your funds are invested? I don't. I know how they are invested but not where....specifically. 

Because of the long term nature of retirement or superannuation investments, whichever you prefer, investments are usually made in projects that have a long term return. Denmark, for instance, invests its superannuation funds in land grabs in Africa. That's right, the Danes super-annuitants are funded by investment schemes designed to rob local communities of their own ability to use the resources they have relied on for generations to sustain their communities. 

So why are land and resource grabs the new flavour? Global food shortage. Another manufactured crisis to legitimise corporate takeover of foreign land and resources. Casting our mind back to the food crisis of 2008 where food became a commodity subject to financial speculating  driving up prices causing some countries to hoard large quantities of food products and sanction exports such as rice which in fact created the illusion of scarcity all to make a profit. It was mostly those in the developing nations who suffered. 

Moving on, the fact that once we opt in to Kiwisaver we are compelled to continue is already hideous on so many levels. I want out. Unless the law changes, I am legally bound to allow my funds to be invested in these land and resource grabs - either directly or indirectly. If I choose to have a cash only fund (I cant recall the specific name of it), my funds sit as capital in the bank. What do banks do when they have capital? They lend. Do I have any control over who the Bank lends to? No. So indirectly, my funds sitting in a bank creates an asset that allows the Bank to make a loan to whomever it chooses even if the loan is intended to invest in one of these land grabs, that I am personally opposed to. 

I was naive, went with the group mentality and signed up for a life sentence of contributing to a system that destroys the livelihoods of other people. But at the end of the day, that was my choice - even if I didn't fully appreciate the consequences of my choice when I signed up. In fact, I was completely financially illiterate, I'm still a novice - but even with the extremely limited understanding I have now, these unintended consequences of my actions are exactly why a compulsory Kiwisaver scheme is unjust.   So compelling a generation or future generations to do this, is abhorrent. There is no responsibility in forcing people to invest, when they cannot be sure what it is that they are investing in and whether it accords to their own values. 

Post Script: I know this is short, and there are probably many flaws, so leave a comment. I may take a while to respond due to a heavy workload but I will reply eventually. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Waitangi Day faux pas - Mana what were you thinking?

Mana Party what were you thinking?!

An interesting pic emerged on Twitter this morning of the Israeli flag hung at full mast alongside the Mana Party flag, Tino Rangitiratanga flag and the United Tribes of NZ flag and signage promoting the Mana Party leader Hone Harawira. Big faux pas in my opinion.

What is my beef with this? Well, Mana were particularly vocal in the struggle of the Palestinian's during the attack on Gaza in November 2012 (only a few months back) including joining the march and protest to the US Embassy and making a public statement affirming their condemnation of the Israeli governments actions against Palestinians.

Maori and Palestinians have a shared understanding of colonial forces at work - forcibly removing indigenous populations from lands and preventing access to resources that have traditionally sustained those populations.

So it seems a bit of a kick in the teeth for when the party purporting to be the 'movement of the people' show a mark of support at Waitangi for a nation that currently operates as an apartheid regime.

Before the bigots jump in, as I have mentioned before - I am not anti-Israeli, but I most certainly oppose the ongoing abuses of power perpetrated by the Israeli government/military to ethnically cleanse the state of Palestine of Palestinians in order to claim those lands as part of the self-proclaimed state of Israel.

Hwowever, on closer inspection of the photo, I noticed that the particular stall flying the flags belonged to Ezekiel 33 Trust. I'd never heard of it. And for a fleeting moment gave Mana the benefit of the doubt. Until further research revealed that The Ezekiel 33 Trust was set up by Stephanie Harawira - Hone's sister in law. Surely the Trust were aware of the Mana Party stance on Palestine/Israel issues? I did question the intelligence of whoever hung the flag, and thought perhaps they were just stupid and ignorant and thought the Israeli flag was the Palestinian flag. I suppose its a possibility, but a reprehensible error nonetheless.

I also asked for an explanation on Te Mana Facebook page, response: 'looking into it' (that was hours ago).

Its possible also that Mana were unaware that the Israeli flag was being flown in a manner that suggested Mana supported the state of Israel and its occupation of Palestinian lands. But surely on Waitangi Day, a day where Maori and Pakeha confront the document that founded our country and also confronts the injustices that flowed from persistent breaches of that document (e.g. land grabbing), Mana would have a standard procedure for any group promoting Mana as to how they represent Mana?

Monday, February 4, 2013

Aotearoa New Zealand?

This week, Bryce Edwards pointed out that there was some validity in John Ansell's criticism of the Constitutional Advisory Panel (CAP) referring to New Zealand as "Aotearoa New Zealand". I have to agree, to an extent.

Ansell argues that as New Zealand is a democratic country then any name change should only occur through referendum. He also claims that he is not opposed to the particular name used by CAP just the process by which it was used (although my gut tells me that he would object to Aotearoa New Zealand being an option at all on a referendum).

So does he have a valid point? somewhat.

Referendums are a good way of obtaining population consensus. But referendums are not the appropriate way for obtaining consensus on all issues. Ansell's assumption is that usage of Aotearoa New Zealand is best decided by referendum. And on the face of it, many would agree. But only because there has not been a good argument in response to his claim (well, none that I've seen yet). In fact, the only responses seem to be emotive or dismissive of his claim.

Here is where I disagree with Ansell - Aotearoa has customary usage. It has been used to refer to our country in both political and non-political institutions, throughout our history, in the marketing of our 'brand' - and most prevalently in our national anthem.

It is clear that we use it by custom. Custom is a consensus model. And it is a model that is more reflective of a society than a referendum. Custom links generations. Not just those who are eligible to vote at the time of a referendum but also our ancestors and future generations (whether they be Maori or non-Maori).

Our customary usage suggests that citizens accept the use of Aotearoa New Zealand as a description of our country. Moreover, there is little evidence to suggest that we should not refer to our country as Aotearoa New Zealand aside from Ansell's recent rant.

So in summary, while Ansell was right to point out that consensus should form the basis of constitutional changes because we are a democracy, he starts on the assumption that there wasn't consensus, simply because there was no referendum.

International law accepts custom as a valid source of authority. And there are certain circumstances in which custom is both sufficient and preferable.

Referendums have both a financial and social cost. The point of a constitution as Ansell points out is to ensure there is equality. But he negates his own argument when he claims that a referendum is required in the name of democracy and equality. Referendums serve majorities. If only the majority have a right or the power to make decisions for the whole of a country, then inequality remains and the intention of a constitution is lost.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Politics as a broader spectrum than Left vs Right

It’s probably fairly obvious, if you’re a regular reader of my blog, that I am (or at least was) confused as to where I sit politically. Although, I doubt this is unique to me. So if you’re reading this and confused yourself, then read on.

I feel that the political confusion problem arises from the incomplete political spectrum by which we are divided in NZ. You know, the Left-Right dichotomy. However, last night I was reading a post on The Standard and was directed to the Political Compass page.This compass approach addressed the social dimension of politics (distinguished by Authoritarianism vs Libertarianism) as well as the economic dimension (Left vs Right distinction). After answering the questionnaire, I was surprised at the result. Extremely surprised. Taken aback even. It placed me as a Left Libertarian (I know the test is not scientifically accurate, but it did have value in understanding the broader dimensions of politics). But knowing this, it helps me to understand why I am increasingly discontented with the supposed Left in NZ. I’ve always disliked the right, so don’t assume that my dislike for the left amounts to support for the right. It does not.

What is meant by Left and Right? I’m going to accept the view by the Political Compass that the Left-Right distinction explains the economic dimension i.e. Communism (left) and neo-liberalism (right). I’m not sure I agree with the distinction but will accept it (for the purpose of this post) because this is the view most people accept.

Left and Right in NZ is pretty much established as Labour (left) and National (right). In my view, this is flawed. Labour have not been a left wing party since the 1980’s when they allowed Roger Douglas to implement neo-liberalism into NZ’s policy making framework. However, despite this swing to the right by Labour (who have failed to move back to left) both Labour and National have anchored themselves as the forefront of NZ politics. Labour are effectively less right than National, but they are not Left. I found a diagram on the Political Compass site that analysed the NZ 2011 election and put the parties on their respective scales – it supports my assessment.

In my view, Labour and National work collaboratively to monopolise the political spectrum in NZ. They do so to legitimise the others claim to their respective economic dimensions (i.e. Left v Right). Notwithstanding the mud slung between these two parties, it is in fact in both their interests to ensure that minor parties do not attract any significant political influence, by way of public opinion.  To minimise any minor party traction, both Labour and National propagate myths of extremism to destroy the credibility and validity of minor party policy and thereby minimising any effective participation they might otherwise enjoy in government.

For instance, if Labour attack ACT (or some other such party on the right) it’s not because they think the vote will then swing their way (that would be ludicrous – a far right voter would never change their vote for a party proclaiming itself as leftist), rather it redirects the vote to the dominant National party securing National’s place on the right and vice versa. Arguably, the major parties create these myths for other reasons i.e. they do not wish either the left or right to be dominated by what they perceive as extremist threats to their own positions in government; but even if this is true, the strategy inevitably props up the other party’s voting base.

In terms of the social dimension the division on the Political Compass (see citation above) is between Authoritarian (i.e. Stalin, Hitler, Pinochet) and Libertarian. Interesting to note there has never been an extreme Libertarian in power – I suspect the reason for this is that power (the State) is incompatible with libertarianism. The interesting feature of the social dimension is how political parties are divided here. If you consider the diagram (linked above), the only libertarian party in NZ is the Green Party. It’s important to distinguish between the Left Libertarian (LL) and the Right Libertarian (RL). The LL is not committed to free market ideology instead (and in general) the LL “...holds that natural resources initially belong to everyone in some egalitarian manner...” ( Obviously an oversimplification of the LL position as there are variations as in any ideology. The RL on the other hand would argue that the freer the market the freer the people – a capitalist based theory (instead of explaining this – which I would do a very poor job at, read anything from Life Behind the Iron Drape and you’ll soon get the picture).

I am not yet committed to Left Libertarianism, but the initial arguments are compelling. 

I didn’t intend to get on here and bag out Labour or National, my point was to raise the issue of the importance and relevance of minor parties. The majority of States around the globe are governed by Right wing Authoritarian governments. This includes NZ. Even if Labour wins the next election, there is no guarantee that they will slip back to the Left, and even if they do, there is no guarantee that they won’t move up the authoritarian scale. If we keep voting on a Labour vs National basis, then we will continue to experience the same problems in perpetuity. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Will the FSA 'free' Syria?

I'm not sure that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) strategy is going to work in favour of the Syrian people. I'll canvas why below. 

Initially, the FSA welcomed the assistance of Jabhat al-Nusra (a.k.a Al Qaeda) in their uprising against Syria’s Assad government and appear to have agreed to set aside any religious and ideological differences. With Syria being home to a diversity of religious and non-religious persons and Al Qaeda known to be a fundamentalist Islamist group characterised by many countries as a terrorist organisation, it was inevitable that eventually Al Qaeda would push their own agenda while Syria is unstable thereby creating an obstacle to freedom and democracy in Syria. Reading The Guardian, it appears this process has begun:
"But then they [al-Nusra] began to reveal themselves," said a senior rebel commander in Aleppo. "The situation is now very clear. They don't want what we want." 
Over the past six weeks a once co-operative arrangement between Aleppo's regular Free Syrian Army units and al-Nusra has become one of barely disguised distrust.

So why did the FSA forge this relationship? If the FSA were seeking freedom and democracy from what they perceived as sectarian rule from Assad’s government, then cosying up to an extremist group seeking sectarian rule is counterintuitive. It negates the very reason for the revolution.

The Guardian reports (in article cited above) that the relationship appears to have formed because of the sophisticated weaponry and military support that Al Qaeda militants were able to provide in the early days. FSA leaders are now claiming that they will fight Al Qaeda once Assad is overthrown (see article cited above). But if Al Qaeda were more sophisticated in the beginning, how is it exactly that the FSA think they will overcome the likely opposition of Al Qaeda militants if Assad’s regime is overthrown? And what benefit is there for the people of Syria, if the internal conflict remains after the fall of Assad?   

I suppose, if Assad is overthrown then the FSA may have at their disposal the weaponry of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), but many of these rebels are not trained soldiers and the calibre of weaponry (e.g. chemical weapons) would be catastrophic to all Syrian’s if used to counter Al Qaeda resistance. Alternatively, what happens if Al Qaeda secure the SAA weaponry for themselves?  This is a concern of the FSA (see article cited above). 

Assad has called for negotiations with the FSA to form a new government. The FSA have repeatedly refused to negotiate with Assad and have affirmed that they will only negotiate after Assad resigns. On that note, if the FSA won’t negotiate with Assad, who do they expect to negotiate with? Assad was elected as President by the Syrian people, although it is questionable whether the electoral system is democratic. According to many, its a complete farce, while others claim it's a fair system.  Irrespective, if the FSA refuse to negotiate with an elected President, they effectively refuse to acknowledge a significant proportion of Syrian citizens (who do support Assad and his regime) and their right to be represented in any negotiations going forward. Otherwise its simply one tyranny replacing another. 

It is worth noting at this point, that while many Syrian’s deem Assad's regime as a totalitarian dictatorship, there is a significant proportion who support his government. However, there are also those who are against the FSA but do not by default support Assad, and those who are against Assad but do not necessarily support the FSA. 

For perspectives against the FSA:
For perspectives against Assad:
Syrian Revolution Digest
Farid Ghadry: Thoughts on Syrian Politics and Islam –

There are also a couple of documentaries from the FSA perspective and the SAA perspective: 

People & Power: Syria - Songs of defiance 

The Syrian Diary