Saturday, 31 May 2008

no maori MPs?

i was too tired to post yesterday, and only have a few bits and pieces to contribute today. first of all, i would also like to express my sadness that hon mark gosche is retiring from politics. he's a great guy and i'm sure could have contributed so much more had it not been for his personal circumstances. i wish him and his family all the best for the future.

second, why on earth is the business round table paying for a report into the viability of the maori seats? surprisingly enough, they've got exactly the answer they paid to get. i wonder why they didn't pay a maori academic to carry out the research, since maori will be the most affected by this. probably because then they wouldn't have gotten the "right" talking points.

the problem for the business roundtable is quite clear. voters in the maori seats are never going to vote for right wing parties. because they're smart enough to know that right-wing policies have lead to poor outcomes for their community in the past. the employment contracts act, the failure to raise minimum wages, the abolition of trades skills training, the slow and steady privatisation of the health system; all of these and many other policies hit the maori very hard, as they hit most people in on lower incomes.

by abolishing seats they can never win, the right has a greater chance of ruling the country. there is another alternative, of course. they could develop and implement policies that would appeal to voters in the maori seats. they could actually try to be competitive in those seats. in the last election, neither national, nz first nor act stood candidates in the maori seats. i bet united future didn't either. for national, there was hardly any point given the focus of the orewa speech by dr brash. if right-wing parties are going to target maori with dog-whistle politics, it means they aren't even trying to appeal to those voters.

it looked like things were going to be different under mr key, what with him taking that teenage maori girl to waitangi, and rubbing noses with tame iti. i haven't taken the trouble to have a good look, but i haven't seen any response from mr key on the BRT research. i'm very interested in hearing what he has to say about it all. it looks like no-one has bothered to ask him.

i know i'm very clear. the maori seats will go when maori are ready for them to go. with mr key making noises about a referendum on MMP, there is the danger that we may lose our proportional voting system in the next 10-12 years. without it, the maori party will find it almost impossible to win seats, and i don't believe a single current maori MP is there because they've won a general electorate seat. if the maori seats are lost and we go back to FPP, there is the real possibility of having no maori in parliament. how can that possibly be good for nz?

since the BRT obviously have money to spare for research, i'll make a sincere plea that they donate the funds to child cancer research, or that they put that money towards rebuilding homes in myanmar/burma or china. to waste it on a report like this, which is so clearly self-serving, seems almost criminal.

finally, i'd just like to pay a tribute to photo-journalist trent keegan who died in kenya this week. i reiterate the points i made in an earlier post, about the value of such journalists - those who do a vital job by exposing corruption, and put themselves at risk to do so. rest in peace mr keegan.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

rejection of an islamic school

i heard the interview this morning on radio nz regarding the sydney council that has rejected an islamic school. one of the interviewees denied that the decision had anything to do with racism/bigotry. yeah right. the reasons given for the rejection were as follows:

Mayor Chris Patterson said the council's decision was based on concerns surrounding the impact on traffic flows, loss of agricultural land, highlighted in the planners report and not on religious grounds.

please excuse me if i take this with a grain of salt. i say so based on the experience of obtaining consent for the mosque here in hamilton. we faced objections too, and they came from particular christian groups. we had no doubt about that - the objections were public documents. but not one of them objected on religious grounds. no, they went to the expense of paying for a traffic consultant , and objected on the grounds of impact on traffic flows. which meant that our cash-starved and small community had to incur a similar expense to prove otherwise.

having said that, i'm not sure that i agree with the idea of a separate school. i can see the positives. there is the protection against this very bigotry that makes life very uncomfortable for so many children of minority groups in public schools. at a segregated school, the children can be in an environment where they don't have to be ashamed of who they are, or to hide their religious practices.

classes can be organised around prayer times, and the food will always be halal. and all the many hours i've spent teaching my children at home, as well as the invaluable input of my parents, would instead be part of their daily curriculum. it would certainly take a lot of pressure off me.

there are other little things as well. for example, some of the teachers like to have the radio playing in the classroom. i have a problem with that: i don't want my kids to be listening to "hit me baby one more time" or any number of other misogynistic lyrics while they're doing their school work. it's something that i've not felt strong enough to complain about at any of the schools my kids have gone to, but at an islamic school i wouldn't even have to worry about it.

so yes, sending my children to an islamic school would certainly make my life so much easier. but on the other hand, if minority kids aren't mixing with other kids, what chance is there of changing attitudes? the segregation involved, while protecting the minority kids, means that the other kids won't get to learn about their cultures and religions. there won't be the opportunity to break down stereotypes, or to increase the feeling of belonging for the minority children. bigotry decreases with interaction. to deny that interaction is to ensure that bigotry will continue to exist.

the other issue for me is the kind of messages my daughters might get at an islamic school. would they provide restrictive choices for the girls? i don't want them to be going to a school where they were denied opportunities, or were told that their proper place is in the home.

while motherhood is highly valued in islam, and i would consider it the greatest role in my life, i hate the kind of attitude that says this is all there is for women. as if to want something more is a betrayal of your children or of your very nature. it's the kind of attitude that makes women feel guilty for wanting a career or opportunities for achievement outside these "traditional" roles.

i'm reminded of a visit i made to the mormon centre just out hamilton at the end of last year, at their invitation. they gave us a tour around the place, and showed us the religious classes as well as the books used to teach mormon children. i had a quick read through the book used for girls (there was a separate one for boys, of course), and sure enough, it talked about the joy of domestic chores and how these were fulfilling in themselves. women were home-makers and should be proud to take on that role. i felt sick reading it.

which is one of the reasons why i get so angry when people say that women are treated as equals in this country. i bet i could go into a number of other schools around nz and find the same sort of messages being given out. if not in the schools then in the prayer halls, under the guise of family values, the same message that good girls stay at home and look after their families. if they are not happy in that role, then there is something wrong with them. this is going on today, in our country.

in an islamic context, it makes me extremely angry because the lives of early muslim women were not like this. these women were warriors, they were businesswomen, they were religious scholars and they were leaders. they were highly educated, they were politically active, and they played an active part in building the community. to have my children being taught something different under the guise of religion would not sit at all well with me.

so on the whole, i don't support segregated schools in that i wouldn't send my own children to one. however, i do support the right of people to build and attend such schools. i don't support bigots who'll use whatever means possible to prevent it from happening. if we're not happy with what may or not be taught at such schools, the best option is dialogue, interaction and social exchange. hostility breeds hostility. bigotry breeds resentment. i hope that the people of south western sydney might think twice about the consequences of this decision.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

apologies for the viet nam war

it's pretty ironic that it was a national government that sent nz troops to fight in the viet nam war, but it was a labour government that ended the involvement in that war and that today delivered a formal apology. i particularly liked brian rudman's take on this.

chris trotter was much more critical yesterday on radio nz. he didn't think there should have been an apology at all. his comparison was with the german soldiers of WWII who were never honoured or glorified. nor were they apologised to, because they had fought in an unjust war using cruel methods.

my own views of the viet nam war would be similar. much like WWI, this war wasn't much about freedom and democracy and all those other high ideals. individual soldiers may have believed this was so, although from the interviews i heard today, it sounded pretty much like they went because they were told to. in any case, the government of the day knew that wasn't what this particular war was about. it's just that keith holyoake didn't have the stomach of a david lange or helen clark, and wasn't able to withstand the pressure to send troops.

i don't know that the soldiers should have received a hero's welcome when they returned. again, while individual acts of heroism may have occurred, the war was not an heroic one. neither should they have suffered abuse or shame. that should have been reserved for those who made the decision to send them.

i wouldn't go as far as mr trotter. i think they did deserve an apology in terms of the failure of governments to recognise the damage caused by agent orange, and to recognise the difficulties they faced when they returned.

tariana turia goes further in requesting an apology to the people of viet nam for our involvement in that war. peace movement aotearoa are planning to send the following letter to the ambassador of viet nam:

"On the occasion of the Tribute 08 in Wellington, 30 May 2008: It is thirty three years since the war in Viet Nam ended, yet we know that Viet Nam is still feeling its effects. We citizens of Aotearoa New Zealand wish to express our sincere regret for New Zealand's participation in the war and for the suffering inflicted on the people of Viet Nam. We look forward to the New Zealand Government formally apologising to the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam in the near future - an apology is long overdue."

the vietnamese do need an apology. but not from us, at least not at first. and they deserve compensation. from those who made the decision to use agent orange and decimate that country and its people.

i note that peace groups are planning protests along the route of the honour march on saturday. i'm sorry, but i find this to be in bad taste. there are issues to be protested, there are matters to be raised but this is neither the time nor the place. let the vets have their day. they've been waiting a long time for this, it surely can't hurt to let them have a few events over the course of the weekend, without disruption.

the rememberence of the suffering of the people of viet nam needs to happen too. i hope that we can, as a nation, set aside a day and an event for it. if not for an apology, then at least for an acknowledgement. it's the right thing to do.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

renouncing bigotry

have posted at the hand mirror today.

in other news, nice to see that american presidential candidate john mccain has decided to renounce a bigoted american pastor. i wonder if this is a spin-off of senator obama's campaign. i strongly suspect that it is, which is why diversity is a good thing.

Monday, 26 May 2008

unfair tax comparisons

i had a hectic weekend away, but a very rewarding one. the iwcnz conference is always a nice spiritual retreat; time out to focus on what really is important. i only wish i'd managed to get some decent sleep! as i didn't have access to email, apologies to those who had commented on previous posts. i'm not sure that i'm quite ready to stop moderating comments yet, so please bear with me. i'll publish your comments as soon as i can.

last friday morning, i received an e-newsletter at work from one mr gilchrist who had analysed the new tax rates announced in the budget. he put these on to a table, then calculated marginal tax rates and put these on a table as well. that was all very good. but the next bit of the newsletter had a table of the federal tax rates in australia. mr gilchrist made some comparison of these rates with our new rates, then wrote a couple of paragraphs of commentary. i paraphrase (as the newsletter is on my work email which i can't access from home) but he said something to the effect that dr cullen must have found it very difficult to move up the top tax rate to $80,000. he then went on to question why there had been no discussion in the budget about a tax-free threshhold.

i wrote back to mr gilchrist. i pointed out to him that the australian tax system is structured very differently to ours. his table of aussie tax rates was misleading, as it failed to take into account state tax rates (6% NSW, WA 5.5%, QLD 4.75%, Tas 5.25%), compulsory medicare levy (1.5%), and compulsory superannuation (9%). he also failed to mention that australia has a capital gains tax and a payroll tax. so the comparison he was making was extremely misleading.

i also pointed out to him that his remark about dr cullen having difficulty in raising the tax threshhold were rather snide. given that both dr cullen and the prime minister had been making statements for several months that this budget would have tax cuts for everyone, i can't see why he would have found it difficult.

as for the tax-free threshhold, why would it have been discussed in the budget when it was never on the table? making comparisons with aussie in this regard was again misleading. besides the points made above, it also fails to take into account the fact that australia has a much higher population and therefore economies of scale. in order to have the same threshholds here, there would have to be large-scale privatisation of core public services. for those on lower incomes, the costs of purchasing such essential services would be much higher than the tax relief provided.

when i got back to work this morning, i saw that mr gilchrist had replied to my email. he thanked me for my comments and said that my points had been duly noted.

i'm sorry, but that's just not good enough. his newsletter would have gone out to many accountants and perhaps other businesspeople. having pointed out to him that his approach was clearly misleading, i would expecte that he email the same group of people and point out to them the weakness in his analysis. that he has failed to do so totally pisses me off. unfortunately there's nowhere i can lodge a complaint - one of the downsides of the internet.

i'll just have to rely on the intelligence of my fellow accountants to see through this kind of stuff. hmmm.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

contractors deserve minimum wages too

with all the coverage on the budget (and a damn good budget it was too), there will be almost no coverage of this little happening. the bill providing for a minimum wage for contractors has passed its second reading. this is great news for those at the bottom of the ladder - the pizza deliverers and cleaners that darien talks about.

also affected are the kids who deliver pamphlets, some working at effectively 25 cents per hour. i've heard the argument from 1 mother that if rates went up, then companies would not be able to afford the deliverers, hence her son would no longer be able to earn some much needed pocket money. this was similar to the argument used for abolishing youth rates, and for ensuring that disabled people were paid the minimum wage. it's also an argument that's put up every time the minimum wage is raised - that it will increase unemployment because employers will not be able to employ so many people.

but the facts say otherwise. labour has raised the minimum wage every year for the last nine years, and the economy has not slowed until very recently, and that too because of overseas problems that we can't control. we've had record growth over this period, and employers are still finding it hard to get staff. in other words, there has been no increase in unemployment as a result.

the fact is that people deserve to get paid fairly for the work they do. the threat of losing their job should not be a reason for them to accept miserable remuneration. they should also be entitled to holiday pay, sick leave and reasonable working hours. do we really want truck drivers on our roads who have been driving for 12-13 hours at a stretch?

incidentally, the bill won't be applied to under 16 year olds, so the mum above can be assured that her boy will still be able to earn his pocket money. even so, i would think that parents of children would be wanting to make sure they receive a decent amount of money for the work they put in. today, when all the talk is about tax cuts, let's take a moment to remember that we also need to improve gross wages, especially for those at the bottom in these exploitative contractual arrangements. because they deserve it.

just an update on my post of 2 days ago. this blog post by karlo mila, circulated on AEN, is a brilliant response to dr clydesdale's report. also, i wanted to share these words from richard small, wellington lawyer and hard-working champion of the downtrodden:

Your paper may not be overtly racist but my concern is that by being selective in its framing it validates, or gives permission for others to be racist.

I'm a pakeha or palagi New Zealander. I was around in 1988 -1993 working with care givers for the elderly and in avoiding elder abuse with ADARDS NZ and the south Auckland elder abuse team. Greg would you agree with me that for Palagi New Zealanders the last 20 years have seen a massive sea-change in the expectation of caring for elderly parents at home or indeed putting them into traditional hospital? Nationally, Pasifika women are an irreplaceable part of the home-care industry that, despite a few high profile stuff ups, and despite poor pay and conditions, allowed tens of thousands of elderly people to remain home with dignity. In other cases hard-pressed carers have respite care on a weekly basis. Who else will change the nappies of many of our elderly given industry staff shortages, particualrly in our largest centres?

The home-care industry is far from perfect but many Palagi families have had a gift of time and choice (in terms of socially acceptable options for care of elders) that our forebears simply did not have. The long and unsociable hours worked have sometimes been at the expense of the care by Pasifika workers of their own families. Do we then change our immigration laws to allow their sisters and cousins and grandparents to migrate here and care for their children? No, through reports like yours we seem to "bag" them, for the neglect of working long hours and for increased crime statistics due to the lack of elders and role models, without crediting them for helping us defuse an aging population "bomb." Where is the "drain" here? Are you missing all the "taps?"

i'm going to be away for the next few days in wellington. i'll be at the annual convention of the islamic women's council. it's always a great experience, with excellent speakers and a lovely, supportive atmosphere. i'll be back blogging next monday.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

waikato "people"

i've posted over at the hand mirror today; you can read it here.

oh, and great news: poneke's back. although he/she seems to be steering well clear of the political issues. it's a pity, but still a good read. welcome back.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

the cost of human capital

greg clydesdale is afraid people will call him racist because he's prepared a report apparently stating that pasifika migrants are a "drain on the economy". let me say that i haven't read the report, as i can't find a copy on the internet. it's not even mentioned on his massey webpage, so i'll have to rely on what's been reported in the media.

i'll quite happily call the report racist. not because of the statistics he's reported. i'm pretty sure they will be factual. i agree with him that pacific islanders have higher rates of unemployment than other groups, have higher representation in the crime stats, and are probably weaker than other groups when it comes to educational qualifications. but that is about as much as i can agree with.

it's not the data that i have a problem with. it's what he does with it. if, for example, pacific islanders have poor health problems, did dr clydesdale investigate the health system to see if there were any endemic problems that might have contributed? i can think of some interactions with health professionals that some of my friends have had. their concerns have been ignored, and one woman was told to her face "oh, these people are so stupid" by a hospital administrative worker. would you feel like going back to such a place? i wish i had the time to find it, but i'm sure i've read about research showing that you are less likely to be referred to a specialist if you are unfortunate enough to be of the wrong ethnicity.

perhaps dr clydesdale could have looked at their diets, which would be determined by their income levels. those on lower incomes can't afford healthy foods, which in turn leads to health problems.

does dr clydedale look at the types of jobs they're working in, and how that employment is structured? as an example, this experience is really worth a read. could it be that some improvement is needed in work conditions, and that the problem of pasifika migrants is more about poverty than it is about race?

could it be that coloured migrants are kept out of the well-paid jobs because they don't have the networks; because when there is a choice, they are the ones whose CVs get tossed in the bin first? it's very much harder to move yourself up the ladder and move out of poverty when you have fewer opportunities. it's very much harder to achieve when you have few positive role models. it's only in recent times that the contributions of pacific islanders have been valued; that their culture has been celebrated. if you're in a society that treats you like a failure, then guess what? you're likely to be a failure.

i wonder if dr clydesdale's report considers research (again, don't have time to find the links, would appreciate it if anyone has some for me) that shows coloured offenders, particularly maori or pacific islanders, are likely to face harsher penalties for the same crime. they are likely to receive longer sentences, and they are much more likely to go to jail rather than get a non-custodial sentence. that may be part of the reason why they have higher conviction rates, and if it's true, surely we should be looking at improving the justice system.

i'd call dr clydesdale's report racist because he is not interested in improving the lot of pasifika NEW ZEALANDERS. not all of those included in his statistics will be migrants, remember. i wonder if his research looks at the long-term trends on the key indicators. are they going up or going down? if they are improving, do we really have a problem here? i would rather we continued to work on removing poverty and investing in our human capital, rather than bashing particular groups with their apparent failures.

i'd also like to question mr clydesdale's notions of what a valuable contribution is. having looked briefly over one of his papers, he seems to have a narrow and very economic definition of what is valuable. according to his measures, i wonder how he would the productivity and economic impact of cleaners? i'd rate them quite highly. what about fruit-pickers, or taxi drivers that do the graveyard shift?

working as an accountant, i'm accutely aware that what is measured is what is considered important. yet it's usually the things that are measured which are crucial. for example, which company balance sheet measures the strength of it's human resource? what information do they give you regarding training levels, work ethic, loyalty etc of their staff? probably very little, yet anyone in business knows that the most important ingredient for a successful business is a highly committed team of employees.

and so it is when we try to measure the contribution of coloured migrants. there's so much we fail to value, yet these things may be the most important - the colour, the languages, the vibrancy.

mr clydesdale does not appear to have looked into the whole range of issues i've outlined above, and instead decides (or so it appears) that there are no problems with discrimination in nz, that there are no entrenched or institutionalised systems that impact the lives of these people. neither does he choose to consider the many high-achievers in the pasifika community.

he has already slammed people criticising his report as "pc bullies". so instead of engaging in debate, and proving his point through reasoned argument and rebuttal, he resorts to name-calling. it's hardly the level of intellectual debate that he appears to be calling for.

finally, something that may or may not be related. hatred towards immigrants has lead to 22 deaths in south africa. there are reports of people hiding in police stations, fearing for their lives. demonising a group is easy, especially when neither you nor yours have to face the consequences.

UPDATE: richard pamatatau informed us on AEN that dr clydesdale "would grant an interview in return for Radio New Zealand newspromoting his CD Legacy.We were unable to offer him that exchange." the reason i raise this is because it does make one think that this particular report may be just a publicity stunt to improve his out-of-work income. if that is the case, it's pretty abhorrent. also found this BSA complaint quite interesting, and i'll leave you to draw your own conclusions.

Monday, 19 May 2008

murdering trees

this is a story that ran in the waikato times yesterday, about a developer who chopped down some trees last year on a property that is pretty central in hamilton. the trees went to make way for a shopping centre. most of the story concentrates on trying to link the developer to the action of chopping down trees, and i'm not exactly sure why it merited the front page.

however, whether this particular person was responsible or not, the loss of the trees has plenty of meaning and caused considerable outrage at the time they were removed. until this summer, i have to admit that i was pretty unsympathetic to this kind of thing. not that i didn't care about trees. just that i thought there were more important things to be outraged about, like people dying in the wars in iraq & afghanistan, or child abuse, or sexual violence, or many other topics. my outrage tended to be pretty used up by the time i got to trees.

but then we lost a tree over summer. it was a huge silver birch that grew on the property behind my parents' house. the tree had been there when we moved into that house back in 1975. it dominated our back yard, as it was just behind the fence.

all the years of my growing up, i remember playing in the shade of that tree. i remember the carpet of leaves every winter. i remember its majesty and beauty; the silvery white of the trunk providing such a contrast to the green leaves. i remember peering through its branches to try to find the new moon that would herald the beginning of ramadan.

but then we went away for a three-week trip to the south island over the summer, and when we came back it was gone. just like that, it had disappeared. developers had cut it down and removed the house on the property. what's going up now are some 2-storied flats that will destroy the privacy of my parents' backyard, and at this stage (half-built) are pretty ugly to look at.

we had no warning. we had no choice, no say in the matter at all. it's really strange, but the word that immediately came to my mind was "murder". someone had murdered the tree, our tree. it seems to me that it belonged to the whole neighbourhood and we should have at least had the chance to try to protect it.

i guess in this modern capitalistic world of private property rights, trees only belong to the person who owns the land where they grow. but it shouldn't be that way. not for such an old landmark. not for something with roots so deep in the ground and branches that touched the sky.

so i lost a valued companion of my childhood. it's created in me a greater appreciation for trees, and the loss of them is certainly worth a bit of outrage. it's not a human life, but it's a life that gives meaning to our humanity. we need some better way to protect them.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

random links

today i'm just going to link to other stuff that i found interesting. it's hardly surprising that the papers are building up the pressure for tax cuts - they've been doing that before every budget for the past few years. but while almost all the stories are all about doom and gloom, chris worthington's piece in the dom post shows that real incomes have been rising above inflation in recent years. he makes some other interesting points about price rises which are worth a read.

a friend of mine sent me this link. earlier this year, keith ellison became the first muslim member of congress, and a huge furore broke out when he chose to be sworn in on the qur'an. i'm not even link to that stuff, cos it was pretty ugly. but what wasn't so widely publicised was the fact that the qur'an he used belonged to thoman jefferson, america's third president. it was published in 1764, and became part of the congressional library in 1815, when jefferson sold his entire collection to replace books that had been lost in a fire.

i couln't find the latest human rights commission's interfaith network newsletter on their website (not that i'm very good at doing searches). so i'm going to reproduce what i thought were some interesting facts about the religious make-up of the asia pacific region, included in the latest newsletter:

The 15 countries that have taken part in subsequent [Asia Pacific Interfaith] dialogues are Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Fiji, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor L’Este, and Vietnam.

These fifteen nations together comprise 620 million people. They are made up of:
  • 7 nations with under 10 million people (Fiji, NZ, PNG, Singapore, Timor, Brunei, Laos)
  • 3 nations with 20-50 million people (Australia, Cambodia, Malaysia)
    4 nations with 50-100 million people (Philippines, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam); and
    1 nation with 245 million people (Indonesia)
Three nations have a Muslim majority (Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei), five have a Buddhist majority (Cambodia, Vietnam, Lao, Thailand, Myanmar), six have a Christian majority (Philippines, Australia, NZ, Fiji, PNG, Timor L’Este), and one has no single majority (Singapore).
Taken together, the 15 nations comprise approximately:

  • 244 million Muslims
  • 151 million Christians
  • 149 million Buddhists
  • 7 million Hindus
    71 million other religions/no religion
the religious mix in the region indicates the importance of interfaith dialogue - we definitely need to be learning to get along if we want to have cohesion and prosperity within the region.

finally, meant to do this weeks ago, but wanted to link to keith ng's blog where he debunks various (mis)uses of statistics by politicians and the media. these blog posts are copies of his columns in the "herald on sunday".

Friday, 16 May 2008

controlling the money supply

excellent piece in the herald today by bryan gould. best bit:

In neither case is it likely that the Reserve Bank or those who advise them will notice what is staring them in the face - that the most obvious, and easily dealt with, cause of inflation in our economy is the high and fast-growing volume of bank lending.

Private sector credit has grown by six times over the past 20 years, from $44 billion in 1988 to $266 billion in 2008; the largest and fastest-growing element in that credit growth has been bank lending on mortgages for the purpose of buying residential property.

and this:

If the key to controlling inflation is to limit the growth in the money supply, why not deal with the fastest-growing element in that money supply?

If the Reserve Bank is ready to improve the banks' liquidity at times of credit stress, why do they not intervene to restrain that liquidity at times of inflationary pressure?

we are constantly told that the leading cause of inflation in the economy is overspending by the government. hardly ever is the role of banks mentioned, nor has there been any public pressure for restraint on the level of credit being made available. it could be because people are unaware of the wider consequences of that full-geared rental property; or just that they are happy counting their potential profits as the value of their property has been (until recently) rising.

in any case, the reserve bank has never been under any pressure to place limits on the availability of credit. on the contrary, last week mr bollard was chiding banks for being too tough in their lending policies. is he really saying that the way to improve the economic downturn is to get people into more debt? i'd say it was better to reduce interest rates, so that people had more discretionary cash from lower loan repayments, not from increased borrowing.

mr gould suggests that the reserve bank hasn't been challenged because:

the bank economists who dominate the economic policy debate in the media have a vested interest in diverting attention away from it.

it's really frustrating to hear people like tony alexander and other bank economists given the amount of airtime that they do. it's clear these people are not independent, they are paid to ensure the organisations they work for remain profitable. yet their commentary is taken as authoritative and many of them have regular columns in the business pages of our newspapers.

just as the real estate institute or individual agensts are often called on for comment about the property market. these guys are interested in ensuring that people continue to buy and sell more properties, and they're not really concerned if you have mortgaged yourself to the hilt to do so. neither are they concerned with the consequences of large numbers of people doing just that. they aren't a source of independent advice.

the most difficult problem is that the level of financial literacy of most nz'ers is pretty low. we're not that much interested in economics, and it's a subject that is often more theoretical than practical. i certainly hated studying it, and found it a real bore. yet the impact that economic decisions by government, big business, banks etc have on our daily lives is massive.

we need to improve our understanding of these issues. because until that happens, we will continue to accept what self-interested commentators are telling us, and we won't press for change in the areas where change is most desperately needed.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

farewell poneke

i've blogged on the hand mirror today, on cross-cultural parenting.

in other news, poneke has announced an end to blogging, about which i'm really quite sad. i've been popping over there pretty much every day, to read some high quality posts on a variety of topics. i'm really gonna miss it.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

the power of symbols

now here's a case of cultures colliding. an indian family in auckland have painted a swastika on the roof of their home, thereby causing much angst to their neighbours. one of whom is a WWII veteran.

i have to admit that i was pretty surprised to find swastikas all over the place on my first visit to india at age 12. i'd only ever known it as a nazi symbol, one that represented heinous crimes, oppression and death. i couldn't understand why it was so prevalent, until it was it was explained to me that this is an ancient symbol, well predating the germans' use of it in the twentieth century.

the hindus have been using this symbol for hundreds, maybe thousands of years. it was originally:

a symbol of prosperity and good fortune and is widely dispersed in both the ancient and modern world. It originally represented the revolving sun, fire, or life. The word swastika is derived from the Sanskrit swastika which means, "conducive to well- being". The swastika was widely utilized in ancient Mesopotamian coinage as well as appearing in early Christian and Byzantium art, where it was known as the gammadion cross. The swastika also appeared in South and Central America, widely used in Mayan art during that time period.

for hindus, buddhists and jains, the symbol has a spiritual or sacred aspect which can not be erased because another, more sinister group chose to use it. to expect them to stop using is like another form of cultural imperialism, another act of oppression by a vastly oppressive regime.

i can also understand the feelings of the WWII veteran, and many others, for whom this symbol evokes fear, anger, and pain. given that neo-nazis across the world continue to use the symbol, it cannot even be said to be an historic fear. the oppression continues today. i remember when the mosque in hamilton was being built, someone broke in one night and carved swastikas into the gib board. it is continued to be used as a symbol to intimidate and harass racial and religious minorities.

so what then of the swastika on the roof? a search on google shows there are many who wish to reclaim the symbol, to restore it to its original meaning. there are others who say that redemption is not possible. an interesting debate, based on differing cultures and histories.

which view should prevail? the depth of feeling on either side is equal. to my mind, reclaiming the symbol would lessen its impact by those who continue to use it to intimidate. it would also allow people to follow their religion in peace. in order to do this, however, there needs to be a lot of discussion and education around the historical and religious significance of the swastika. it might be a good idea for the gupta family to visit their neighbours, or invite them over, and have a discussion about what it means to them. that would help to break down some of the barriers.

there is still the wider of issue of what the rest of the world will think:

Mr Johnston is worried that it will be visible to traffic when the new motorway is built through the area. "People will be driving along wondering what kind of a country this is," he says.

that's a little more difficult to solve. it requires a wider level of action than just going to meet the neighbours. but it's an effort that must be made, because to do less would be to devalue the suffering caused by reference to the swastika.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

funny muslims

having written two posts yesterday, and having just gotten through a teleconference and another long phone discussion, i'm too tired to post much today. you can see my seconde post here, at the hand mirror. also an excellent post by deborah regarding ACT's proposed policy.

now who says muslims don't have a sense of humour. in aussie, there's a programme that aired for the first time on SBS last week, called salam cafe. it's been going for a couple of years on another channel and has been winning all kinds of awards. last week's programme had dave hughes (of "hughsy loses it" from rove), and was apparently a cracker. you may be able to get older versions of the show here, here and here.

a lot of western-style muslim comedy is starting to come through. there's the "allah made me funny" group from america, and the "little mosque on the prairie" sitcom being produced in canada. i just can't imagine any of this kind of stuff being produced in the middle east. it's that mixture of east and west that makes for the funniest stuff.

Monday, 12 May 2008

cuts, cuts, and more cuts

john key has laid out his five-point plan for economic development. more of the same really. he's promising tax cuts, cuts in government spending and increased spending on infrastructure.

but he doesn't join the dots. significant cuts in government spending could involve cuts to the working for families scheme, so how is that going to help the "struggling kiwi families" he speaks of? the families that are struggling most are paying almost no tax, if they have children. there is no level of tax cuts that will restore their income if WFF is cut.

or there could be cuts to the kiwisaver scheme. which would impact the level of retirement income of our aging population. and will decrease the amount of funds available for investment, particularly investment in nz companies, to ensure that a greater share of our profits stay on-shore.

those are the two major areas of government spending that can be cut without reducing services. cutting departmental budgets while expecting the same outcomes is hardly realistic. the standard has a good post on exactly what level of tax cuts could be expected on promises to cap the size of the core public service.

i've done a previous post on the work the core public service do. basically, you can't increase frontline staff unless they have the administrative support services to back them up, leaving them focus on the frontline work.

but the promise to put large sums of money into infrastructure leads can mean only one of two things. either an increased level of borrowing, meaning more of the tax-intake ("your hard-earned tax dollars", to use their language!) goes towards interest payments instead of social services; or privatisation of some kind, which means you're going to have to pay for it another way (tolled roads for example, or remember the rural delivery charge back in the 90's).

there's nothing fresh or new here, and nothing to deal with issues of poverty or raising the level of before tax wages, which is what will really help those who are struggling. i find it interesting that we rarely see a comparison of before tax wages between nz and aus in right-wing rhetoric. they steer very clear of even mildly suggesting that employers should be paying their workers more, especially in light of eight solid years of economic growth.

i didn't have time to post on mother's day yesterday. i got a box of chocolates and a home-made card. every mother's day, i tend to recall the sermons that will happen in mosques up and down the country, and across the world. the theme is constant: why should we celebrate mother's day? every day should be mother's day. every day we should show respect for our mothers and appreciate what our mothers do for us and have gone through for us. this is usually followed by several references to hadith, especially the one that reminds us that paradise lies under our mother's feet. there's plenty of material like that, and motherhood is given a particularly high status in islamic tradition, across the world. which doesn't mean that in practice mothers are always treated well, but the theory is definitely there!

so i tend to be in two minds about mothers day. on the one hand, i do agree with my own mum who is adamant we shouldn't recognise mothers day, and especially hates the commercialised aspect of it. but on the other hand, i see that my girls want the opportunity to show me that they think i'm special and important, and it's hard to create those opportunities every day. so i'm ok with the low-key chocolate and home-made card thing - actually, i'm ok with chocolate on any day of the year!

Friday, 9 May 2008

bye bye bob

a few things of interest tonight. first, bob clarkson has decided not to stand in tauranga. have to say that makes me pretty happy. mostly because of his silly comments regarding the burqa, against which i had this piece published in the herald. but also because this will help the labour candidate, anne pankhurst. she's very well-known in tauranga, has extensive experience in local government as well as business and has a great sense of humour. she's not had much national media coverage yet, but i think she stood a good chance even if clarkson hadn't pulled out.

of course, the wider question posed by colin espiner today was whether the nats have decided to give mr peters an easy ride in order to get him on-side. could be a possibiltiy, although mr peters hasn't yet indicated he'll stand in tauranga. if they choose a soft candidate, they'll give away the seat easily, and most likely it won't go to mr peters. even a stronger candidate will have trouble matching anne's profile.

in other news, the maternity service satisfaction report was launched today, and was pretty positive:

The overall picture of maternity services in New Zealand, however, was very positive. The survey reports that 96% of women were satisfied with their antenatal care, 94% felt well cared for during labour and birth, 97% were satisfied with their home birth, 92% birthed in a facility of their choice, 90% were satisfied with the number of postnatal home visits, 94% of families had chosen their well child provider by one month and 96% of babies had their six week baby check by their general practitioner.

i recall my own experiences with maternity care, quite a few years ago now. i really enjoyed having the independent midwife, and being in control of the birthing plan. well not much of plan in my case. my midwife asked me about my plan for the birth, and i said it was very simple: i want every possible drug available, and i want them at the earliest possible time. she was really fine with that, and in the end all i had was a pethidine (?) injection right at the end.

i also recall attending an ante-natal class in australia with someone who was pregnant. when the nurses heard i was from nz, they started gushing about how wonderful the system was here and how lucky nz women were. i know our system is not perfect, but with the underlying philosophy being to empower the mother, it's pretty damn good.

of course there were concerns, and the most important for me was women having to leave hospital earlier than they wanted to. for many women, being at home as early as possible is the best option, but some need greater support, especially when it comes to establishing breastfeeding. i think the option to stay longer needs some serious work.

"workforce issues" ie staff shortages is another major one, and that usually comes down to money. i certainly don't begrudge midwives getting paid more, given the horrendous hours they have to work. that, and the increased training opportunities should help.

won't be blogging over the weekend. have to be in auckland tomorrow and thames on sunday, with pretty full-on days. hope you all have a good weekend.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

of race and colour

i've blogged today at the hand mirror, so please pop over there to read it if you get the time. please note that i will still be blogging here, especially on the more political stuff!

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

good news day

after yesterday's very sad news, i thought i'd concentrate on things to celebrate today. first of all is the international disability award bestowed on nz by the united nations, for the following initiatives:
  • the Human Rights Act 1993;
  • the establishment of the Office of Health and Disability Commissioner;
  • establishing the role of the Minister for Disability Issues and the Office for Disability Issues;
  • developing and implementing the New Zealand Disability Strategy; and
  • New Zealand’s role in negotiating the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
i'm particularly appreciative of disability issues at the moment, especially with my daughter on crutches. i never realised what a mission stairs can be, and how very few houses are equipped to deal with people with disabilities. it has certainly made me reflect on a things that i didn't give much thought to before, and as the G-G said, there is still so much more to do.

good news also for the waikato, with new funding announced today for the innovation park. this was an initiative that was pushed many years ago by dianne yates, and the first stage has been very successful. funding has now come through for the second stage, in a partnership between central and local government. this will be particularly good for the farming sector, as well as for the science community.

also have to say good on dr cullen for common sense around tax policy. i particularly love this quote:

We will not buy into media spin that a big bang budget is vital to electoral success when delivering such a budget would be a recipe for economic failure.

he stayed his course for the 2005 campaign, even though there was considerable pressure from the budget to election day to deliver tax cuts. the pressure is higher this year, with rising costs, but i would still prefer to see the money go where it's needed most, and in the most effective way. also great to see kiwisaver having over 600,000 signed up now.

good news that the divorce rate is dropping, though not by much. and it isn't because there are fewer marriages/civil unions. so is it because people are making more careful decisions about who to marry, or are better able to work things out once they get married? who knows. but given the trauma caused by splitting up (emotional and financial), it's a good thing that people are able to stay together.

finally, best news for me personally is that i've been invited to join up with the team at the hand mirror. yippee! i love the way these women write, and the issues they raise, so it's an honour for me to be able to join them. now i have to come up with something good enough to post on that site. there's always a catch!

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

cyclone nargis

one thing i forgot to mention yesterday was the special recognition award for radio tarana, which, as robert khan said to me on the night, was a long time coming. tarana is a hindi language radio station broadcasting out of auckland, and targetted at the indian community. they've been around for 15 years and are now very successful.

of course the big news today is the tragedy in myanmar/burma. it seems strange that it's usually the poorest countries or the poorest areas in richer countries that suffer major tragedies like this. however, the relationship is clearly due the lack of infrastructure and sound buildings as well as a lack of education, particularly civil emergency information, that leads to the high death tolls. there are also not enough civil emergency staff and services to deal with disasters when they happen.

when disasters happen in rich areas, such as the sweeping fires in california last year, the population is usually well supported, there is plenty of warning and a planned exit strategy. so while there was considerable loss of property, there was very little loss of life. it also helps that richer areas are much less densely populated.

where there is poverty, people are living in very poor quality housing. reports i heard were that people in the affected areas were living in shacks constructed with bamboo and tin that would not have survived a heavy wind, let alone a cyclone. not only that, but the housing is usually situated in high-risk areas, because that is the only land that's available for the poor. hence the massive deaths from floods in bangladesh, occurring very regularly and which are highly predictable. these people simply have nowhere else to go, so continue to build housing on that land even though they know the high risk involved.

the point is that although these deaths arise from "natural disasters", the vast majority of them are preventable. if we care enough. it would require a massive redistribution of wealth, a high level of investment in infrastructure and so on. but people are not ready to make that sacrifice just yet. because it would also mean a real decrease in the standard of living for affluent countries/neighbourhoods.

the reason why i say people aren't ready is because we can already see the reluctance to take on higher costs to deal with climate change. we aren't prepared to reduce our standard of living to ensure fair labour laws around the world, by refusing to buy cheap products manufactured in countries where workers are exploited. sure we can fuss about the olympics and the olympic torch, because that doesn't affect our personal standard of living. it's a convenient protest, because it's a costless one.

and we know that millions of people die of hunger everyday, emphasised in this excellent piece by barry coates from oxfam today. garth george has apparently stated that he is unconcerned by the current food crisis (i say apparently because i refuse to read his columns), and that seems to be pretty typical of many of us. we'll spend a few hundred dollars on charitable donations every year, maybe even a couple of thousand. that tends to be enough to ease our consciences. on particular occasions, we'll go all out and put in as much as we think we can afford at the time.

but making a commitment to real change, at an international level, remains beyond us. the closest we got was the pressure on the G8 meeting just prior to the london bombings on 7/7. of course the bombing diverted attention, which was why it was a double act of terrorism. since then, the pressure has gone down, and doesn't look like going back up any time soon. fair international trade policies aren't going to be happening in the near future. the transfer of wealth from the poor to the already wealthy will continue. death from starvation will continue. and deaths from natural disasters will continue.

it's not enough to watch the news and lament the vast numbers of deaths and displacements, to send money via aid agencies, and to feel sad that such a disaster had to happen. no, we need to feel responsibility, because this IS our fault. it's our fault through our failure to act, through our silence and through our acceptance of the world as it is.

Monday, 5 May 2008


another whirlwind weekend! saturday night i attended the radio awards in auckland. as i've mentioned before, community radio hamilton was nominated for three awards. unfortunately, two were competing each other in the same category. but congratulations to luis and mauricio, a couple of lovely latino guys who won the award for "best ethnic and access non-english non-maori award" (what an awful name for a category!) for their weekly show, candela. totally well deserved.

also glad to see mark bunting from the waikato win an award (best regional breakfast host i think). not that i ever listen to him, but hey, gotta support the locals! and i'm desperately hoping mr bunting will defeat gary mallett (president of ACT) for the WEL energy trust elections. mr mallett has consistently stood on a ticket of power rebates rather than grants to community organisations. while i appreciate the high cost of power, and that many families are hurting now and do need those discounts, on the other hand there are some amazing community service organisations out there who absolutely depend on grant money to provide crucial services. it is of course possible to do both ie provide rebates and community grants, but i think we need a better mix than is being provided now. WEL energy also should be putting money towards energy efficiency initiatives (which really will help get those power bills down), but that ain't gonna happen with mr mallett at the helm. so go bunty, you've got my support!

back to the awards, and i saw simon barnett walk past. i felt so sorely tempted to give him a good, hard slap on the cheek and say "that was a loving smack, darling. i do hope you feel disciplined". but no, i kept my itching palms under control, and let him walk past in peace. aren't i good?

and of course, mr "cheeky darky" himself got a special "services to broadcasting" award. i know it's wrong of me to judge a whole career on just one incident, and i know he apologised, but i really find it hard to drum up respect for mr holmes. and it sounded from his speech like he was one of the first people to bring talkback radio to this country. i'm not sure that it something we reall want to celebrate...

i then had three events on sunday, and have had a meeting and a late training session today, aside from work as well. and my daughter now has a full leg cast, just to make my life that much more interesting. but i'm planning to have a much quieter week, so hopefully will be blogging on more serious issues from tomorrow. but, if you're interested, here's something worth reading about muslim women scholars, which was sent to me today (hat tip: t farrath). it mirrors some research i was sent a few years ago, when i was preparing a speech for a conference. i'll do a separate post some day about women studying theology, because i think it's a crucially important issue.

Friday, 2 May 2008

accidents and emergencies

you know, i was going to post yesterday about may day, workers rights, exploitation and all that, but well, it didn't work out that way. so i'll save it all for a labour day post.

and it was a trying night, up 4 times to tend to my girl. a reminder of the days when they were little babies. i am SO glad i don't have to do that any more; last night was enough to wear me out completely. now i wonder how i did it for several months in a row? actually, i couldn't have done it without my mum, who would drop in every morning at 9am on the dot, and keep my little darling for two hours while i caught up on sleep. i can't imagine how women bring up children when they don't have their mums. they are either much more resilient than me, or they must suffer badly.

and something happened yesterday to stop me feeling sorry for myself in my current predicament. as i was leaving work for the accident and emergency centre, an ambulance came speeding past with lights flashing, obviously in an emergency. i hate seeing speeding ambulances, it's one of the worst sights i can think of. because it's a reminder that someone is dying or critically ill. i always say a little prayer in my heart for the person the ambulance is rushing to, and their family, hoping all get through their troubles with a positive outcome. so i watched the ambulance go flashing past and thought to myself, well at least my baby only has a fractured bone. it could have been so much worse.

i saw the shape of water tonight. it seemed so relevant in light of yesterday's post. intresting that the ethos behind the film was to break the stereotype that all women in developing countries were victims, by showing women who were making a positive difference in their countries. here were women of colour (well, except the jewish "women in black", but hey, what courageous women) being strong, under difficult circumstances. i wanted to be them. i hope that once my kids are able to stand on their two feet, i'm going to be able to travel the world and be an on-the-ground activist like that. maybe join the international women's peace service, or some similar organisation. there's so much to be done, and only one lifetime to do it in. hardly seems fair!

Thursday, 1 May 2008

feminism and women of colour

was planning to have an early night last night, then i saw this post by deborah about women of colour and feminism. to which i just had to reply, and the next thing you know it was 1.30am before i went to bed. and today my younger child has fractured her ankle and her leg is now in a cast. she's been in a bit of pain, and i'm hoping i don't have 2 sleepless nights. so since i'm stressed out and tired out, i'm going to copy my reply to deborah, and just let you mull over that. goodnight.

hmm, well i'd consider myself a feminist and i'm a coloured woman. and i do find aspects of western feminism particularly racist. or maybe i'm confusing western feminists with western women. but there are aspects that bother me. for example, a large part of the way the attack in afghanistan was made palatable was the terrible way that women were treated. so the feminist narrative that the taliban were sexist bastards that oppressed women (and i'm not saying they weren't) made it much easier to go bomb the shit out of them. the result was that the lives of those very women wer made worse as a result, whether due to sexual violence, poverty, loss of males in their lives to share the burden of raising a family etc.

ditto for the women of iraq who were going to be "liberated" and the symbol of their liberation would be the fact that they would be free to wear miniskirts. excuse me? by whose standards are miniskirts a symbol of liberation? by my standards, they are a symbol of women conforming to male views of sexual attractiveness, a symbol of the desire to please and be pleasing to men. you might view it as expressing your sexuality. i would say, why do you need to express it and why in that way?

you can see that there are two ways of thinking here. many eastern women just don't see this expression of sexuality as liberating. but how do we get treated when we try to express that view? in some forums, we do get treated with respect. but in others, not at all.

one coloured writer (too late to go looking for her name now) has also talked about the class issue when it comes to feminist thinking. there seems to be an underlying assumption by some white western feminists that western women are liberated and eastern women are oppressed. this fails to take into account the lives of lower class women in the west, which are far from liberated; and upper class women in the east who can and do exercise much power. these false assumptions lead to failed policies. they also lead to disempowerment, because a "whitey-knows-best" attitude (which comes about when you believe that western women have achieved liberation so know how it's done, and now have to liberate all the women of the world) can discount the views of coloured women and ignore their contribution to ideas about their own well-being.

add to this, the issue of language barriers and lack of access to the internet & internet forums, and the women of colour around the world have much less of a voice than white women. so much less input into the discourse and development of feminist thought.

and the notion that we have achieved liberation or equality in the west is such a myth. so when i hear people say "they have to learn that we treat women as equals in this country", i feel like gagging. we so do not, in so many many ways.

oh, and the point i was trying to make above re afghanistan and iraq is that there is no point in feminism if the result of your actions leave women worse off. perhaps the feminists were active in anti-war movements for both afghanistan and iraq, i don't know, so maybe i'm being too harsh. but if you want equality for women, you have to stop armed conflict. because the men might be the ones who die, but the women get raped. and being left alive, they have to try to stop their children from starving. and they fail so have to watch their babies die from hunger or preventable diseases.

i have to admit that i've not read any of your links, deborah, nor have i read hardly any feminist blogs. i'm sure many of the women of colour (and lots of us use that phrase in this country, at least i've heard it a bit) have said what i've tried to in a much more eloquent way.

finally, sorry to do this, but i'm going to link to something i wrote last month, on the off chance that it might shed some light.

learner's licenses

had a meeting this evening and then a teleconference. during the afternoon, i popped over to shama. they were presenting certificates for women who had just passed their learner's license after a full day course. ten women had attended and included punjabi, korean, thai and filipino women.

it was a big achievement for these women, for whom english is a second language. mobility is a major issue for them. in their countries of origin, good public transport systems meant that they were much more mobile. in india, you can pick up a rickshaw at any street corner and get a reasonably cheap trip to any part of the city. [the human labour element involved in this form of transport is another issue.] but on the whole, these women can easily go shopping, visit the doctor or their friends and relatives.

here in nz, things are very different. particularly in places like hamilton. while the bus services are improving, they are far from adequate, and many of these women have to wait until their husbands come home before they can go anywhere. so having a learner's license is a big deal for them, and getting their full license will be an even bigger deal.

i found that i actually had tears in my eyes as i watched them receive their certificates. for me, it was the sense of a dream coming true. when we set up the centre, we had a vision of what we wanted to provide for women from an ethnic minority. it's been a very long haul, but today i saw that vision had become a reality and it really meant alot to me.

next step is to get some secure and decent funding so that we can continue to grow the programmes.

for those in hamilton, don't forget the movie at the migrant resource centre (boundary road) this friday evening at 7pm. it's called "the shape of water", and is about women activists who have made significant changes on major issues like female genital mutilation (africa), privatisation of the water supply (south america), and the using up of underground water reserves by the coco-cola company (india). i heard the producer, kum kum bhavani, speak last year about making the film, and she is one totally amazing woman. hope you can make it.