Friday, 27 June 2008

auditing the auditors

won't post much today, as i have an early morning flight (yuk). an interesting development yesterday, with two auditors being censured by the disciplinary tribunal of the institute of chartered accountants. scary times for these two guys, cos the next possible step is for investors of the failed company to sue the auditors in order to recoup losses.

it may seems odd to you that auditors would be sued when in fact it was the negligence (or possibly fraud, given that they breached the trust deed) of the directors that caused the company to collapse. the auditors are often the ones sued because they have the money (especially through public liability insurance) and the directors are usually bankrupt at this stage of affairs.

however, the auditors do have a duty to carry out their audit with due care and following icanz standards. if they've failed to highlight issues that should have been brought to public attention (eg as was patently the case with the enron auditors), then they definitely deserve to be sued.

the down side to this is that i suspect audit fees are going to be going up quite a bit or else fewers firms will be prepared to do audits. already the number of accounting firms prepared or able to do audits has dropped considerably in the last 10 years. most not-for-profit organisations are struggling to find auditors, as the risks for doing that audit are just as high as a full commercial audit.

it'll be interesting to see what happens next, in terms of this particular case and any new cases, given "The institute said it was reviewing every audit file from every failed finance company". i used to do a fair few audits some years back. i'm so glad i got out of that line of work.

won't be posting for the next few days, probably will have something for you tuesday night. take care & have a great weekend.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

when is three not a crowd?

i've posted at the hand mirror. oh, and it would be nice if you could take part in the survey below:

Dear Blog Reader,

My name is Andrew Cushen, and I am conducting a survey of New Zealand PoliticalBlog Readers. This survey is part of my research toward a Master of Arts inPolitical Studies at the University of Auckland.

As the reader of a blog that features postings related to political news,discussion and debate in New Zealand politics, I invite you to participate inthis survey.

Please follow this link:

This link will take you to the survey and also provide you with furtherinformation on how and why this research is being conducted. If you would liketo ask me further questions about the survey or about my research in general,you will find my contact details listed on this page also.

I would appreciate it if you would complete this survey by Friday the 4th ofJuly.

Thank you, Andrew Cushen

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

don't forget to vote

just a few random thoughts today. good to hear that the academy of world business marketing & management development conference 2008 in brazil will no longer allow greg clydesdale to present his paper on pasifika new zealanders. bad that their reason is that he has already "published" his report prior to the conference. it would have been much nicer if their reasoning was based on the fact that the report is of poor quality. after all, other academics in this country didn't have difficulty in reaching that concluding (eg professor macpherson's commentary, which may not be available on the web).

i wouldn't have thought that an arch right-winger like french president nicolas sarkozy would have come out with these comments:

Sarkozy said peace with the Palestinians was possible if Israel stopped all settlement activity, lifted the checkpoints that criss-cross the West Bank, ended a blockade of Gaza and accepted Jerusalem as capital of two states.

"Create the conditions for movement," Sarkozy told lawmakers, urging them to back a proposal for settlers to leave the West Bank in return for compensation and rehousing in Israel.

"There can be no peace without a halt to settlement activity," he said, condemning "terrorism" and telling Israel it was not alone facing what he said was a military Iranian nuclear programme.

of course, he balanced all of that with some severe criticism of hamas and solidarity in the face of a nuclear threat from iran. nonetheless, he sounds like he takes palestinian concerns and aspirations seriously. of course, it means nothing until and unless there is some action on the issues he has raised.

brokering peace for israel/palestine seems to be the cool thing to do at the moment. tony blair wants to do it, condoleeza rice keeps popping over, the egyptians are working on it. it seems to be like the ultimate trophy, the one move that will ensure everlasting glory and a permanent place in history. my, i'm getting too cynical for my own good. hopefully, if enough powerful people keep at it, someone somewhere is going to succeed. if it's a right-wing xenophobe, then so be it.

finally, all you waikato people, if you haven't yet voted in the wel energy trust election, please do so NOW. i have a bias. being a trustee of two community organisations, i need the trust to continue its programme of donations to such organisations. in fact, it would be nice if the pool of grant money is increased, but at present the best outcome would be a retention of the current 90:10 split in favour of rebates.

act party president gary mallett is currently running on a campaign of wiping out community grants. his argument: if people want to donate their rebate to charity, they are welcome to do so. that would be their choice. but his will return all profits in the form of rebates. [the fact that such profits arise from overcharging electricity users is a separate issue altogether. you don't hear mr mallett talking about giving people their own money back, oh no. it can't be theft if a corporate does it!]

the nonsense in his argument is that all the hundreds of community organisations that benefit from wel grants do not have the capacity to contact the tens of thousands of electricity consumers, asking for donations. and the tens of thousands of electrcity consumers do not have individually have the capacity to vet each of these hundreds of organisations to see which is genuine, and whose need is most pressing. so of course a few major organisations might get some extra donations from increased rebates, but all the rest of those hundreds of sports clubs and social service organisations will miss out.

and who will be the poorer for it? well not mr mallet, that's for sure. he has plenty of money. in fact there appears to be no spending cap for this election, so his team have paid for a number of full page ads in both community newspapers and the waikato times. in addition, he regularly pays personally for a half page in one of the community papers to ponitificate on matters of interest to himself. he has the money to buy plenty of "free" speech. he won't need those social service organisations because he can afford the finest therapists in the world for his little darlings, should they need it. and he can afford the fees of any sporting code you can think of.

as for the rest of the proles who actually do benefit from community groups, well his "personal choice and responsibility" view of the world doesn't have room for them.

so please vote now, and vote carefully. for the loss of 54 cents worth of rebates, you can help support organisations like shama or community radio hamilton and many hundreds of others, all run by the voluntary efforts of people who care about their community.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

i don't care where...

tim shadbolt came to the university of waikato to give a speech when i was studying there. this would be back in the mid-80's. i have no idea what possessed me to go and listen to him, given that i found his personality rather annoying at the time. but i did go, maybe because of the celebrity factor - i believe he was a mayor in auckland at the time.

i have to say that i was quite impressed. mr shadbolt spoke about his student protest days, his various brushes with the law, the experience of nearly going bankrupt and working off his debts, and life as a mayor. i can't remember now what exactly it was that impressed, except that he seemed to be a man of principles and ideals which was he prepared to stand up for, regardless of the consequences. most of all, i think it was his "never-say-die" attitude, his ability to come back up fighting regardless of what life threw at him.

fast forward to march 2006, and i read in the southland times that mr shadbolt had said this:

"In its infinite wisdom and compassion, this Government decided New Zealand would accept Muslim refugees from the Tampa. Australia had rejected them as unsuitable immigrants. In sharp contrast they have decided to launch dawn raids on ... tourist resort workers in Te Anau," Mr Shadbolt said.

as you can imagine, i was less than impressed and wrote a mild complaint to him, in which (amongst other things) i said:

i may be wrong, but the above statement appears to indicate that you might agree with the Australian government that the tampa refugees are "unsuitable immigrants". let us leave aside the fact that mr howard had used the issue of the tampa refugees to whip up an anti-immigrant wave which he rode into power; let us also leave aside the fact that it now appears mr howard lied about some of these refugees throwing their children overboard. my main concern here is the fact that you may feel these refugees are unsuitable for new zealand.

mr shadbolt, i would like to invite you to meet with the tampa refugees. i will be quite happy to pay for your return airfare from invercargill to auckland, and to organise the meeting. perhaps you are not aware of the effort these people have made to become part of our society, and how they have embraced the country they now call home.

well, he was nice enough to reply to me a couple of months later, after he had been in a pretty serious car accident. here is what he said:

Thank you for your e-mail of 14 March.

Yes, I admit it was a cheap shot, but we do feel persecuted in the deep south. Our city had the fastest declining population of any city in New Zealand or Australia, and when we finally got some new citizens, the Immigration Department launches dawn raids. If you believe in karma I've been punished and will not be travelling anywhere for some time.

which was all quite nice, and my good opinion of mr shadbolt continued. however, within the past year, that good opinion has been sorely tested, and about yesterday, the little goodwill i had slowly petered out.

i can understand that mr shadbolt is very concerned about the safety of his city, in light of recent gang violence. i know he must be feeling particularly helpless and wanting "something" to be done. but the notion that we should move to american-style elected sheriffs is just bizarre.

the one place that gangs are truly out of control is america. in fact many of the gangs here are offshoots of or inspired by american gangs. of all the countries in the world, i would have thought that would be the last place to look for solutions. wouldn't you rather look at countries that didn't have gangs, and replicate what they do?

the fact is that there is not a quick-fix solution to criminal offending and organised crime. the solutions involve a long-term view, which take years to take effect. not much consolation in the short-term i know. i'd suggest that in the short-term, mr shadbolt let the police get on with the job of restoring order, catching the offenders and putting them through the justice system. the best thing he can do right now is to work with police and to provide a calming influence.

Monday, 23 June 2008

mountains and molehills

it looks like the kiwi party have enough signatures for their referendum about smacking. even though a police report out today shows that the repeal of s59 has hardly led to a rash of parents being "criminalised":

In total over the current six month review period, Police attended 288 child assault events, 13 of which involved "smacking" and 69 of which involved "minor acts of physical discipline".

All of the 13 cases involving "smacking" and 65 of the 69 "minor acts of physical discipline" were determined to be inconsequential and therefore not in the public interest to prosecute. Of the four cases prosecuted, one was withdrawn after successful completion of diversion and three are yet to be resolved through the Court.

so the repeal is working as it should - there aren't lots of new cases, and the defence of "reasonable force" is no longer available for those who seriously harm their children. what on earth is the problem with these people, all 390,000 of them that signed the petition? could it be that they don't understand the law, or how it's working? or is it that they think we have to wait a little longer for all their dire predictions coming true, of thousands of good parents languishing in jail* for the crime of smacking?

it all seems so much of a non-issue. yet now, we'll probably have this referendum, which will no doubt be used to push for a reversal of the law. i haven't yet seen national party policy on this - have they said they will consider repeal? or will they just do it if they get the chance and their is enough clamour for change by a vocal few? if they do, it makes a hypocrisy of that party's vote for the repeal.

on another note, poor old ross robertson is still trying to get a code of ethics set up for parlimentarians. i really have trouble seeing why anyone would object to this. it would be a really good look to articulate a set of values and behaviour, then to abide by it or face the consequences if you don't. as a chartered accountant, i have to abide by the code of ethics established by the nzica. all professional bodies have one, and even trades usually have one as well.

the fact that there has been a lack of support for this from other parties is highly suspicious. it makes them look like they are indulging is some highly questionable behaviour and don't want to be held to account or to public scrutiny for it. i hope the first part of the code of ethics will be a stop on the unanimous screaming that occurs at question time when one of the ministers gets up to answer (funny how most of the questions are heard in silence).

*i was going to say "or in home detention", but then thought that most of the people who signed this petition probably think home detention is a soft option that ought to be scrapped as well.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

mothers and daughters

have posted at the hand mirror today. i find that i'm still affected by some of the stuff i read yesterday, but that is a good thing.

in other news, good to see more protection coming in for temporary and casual workers. these are often the people least in a position to bargain in an employment relationship, so this is a really great development.

Saturday, 21 June 2008


i found a new blog today (which i've now added to my blogroll) as a result of my post yesterday at the hand mirror. this is the thing i love most about blogging and the internet - the connections you can make with people who don't know you and who don't even know you're reading their words and are extremely moved and inspired by them.

i now feel connected to frida, because she's opened up new things for me. for a start, the work she has done in afghanistan and the photographs she has taken remind of where i want to be. as i read and looked, i felt ever so much more constrained by my responsibilities. responsibilities to my children, more precious to me than anything in the world, and who still need me here to raise them and nurture them.

but somehow i can't wait to break free from here, and be where she is and do what she's doing. i know i've written about this before, but it reiterated for me the fact that i don't want to spend my final days in a comfortable bed reminiscing over my life as it slowly ebbs out of me. i want to be where i can make a difference, a practical difference, to the lives of people who have been devastated by the destruction that human beings wreak on one another every day on this planet. i want my death to be of some use, as much as i hope my life will be.

it's not about making grand heroic gestures, and i know how perilously close that last sentence is to being the last words of a suicide bomber. but that's not what i mean. it's more the peaceful protest, the quiet gesture of defiance against oppression, which creates little ripples and improves the lives of a few people. i'm reminded of a photograph i've seen of a peace protester, a little woman no more than 5 feet tall, standing alone with arms outstretched in front of a tank, at a risky moment in one of the world's most volatile hotspots. what a beautiful moment of courage it was. incidentally, this woman died a year later of lung cancer, in her bed, in her home, in her country of origin.

thanks to frida, i found this speech by j k rowling. even if you've never read one of her books, or have read them and hate them, it's definitely a speech worth reading. and worth putting into practice. i think of my experience of last weekend, sitting in a room full of anger and vengeance, and i know that the thing missing was empathy. not empathy for the victim of course, that is too easy. but empathy for the offenders, which is indeed a difficult thing.

so i'm sitting here today feeling constrained, feeling as if i'm not doing what i want to be doing; but contenting myself with the fact that i can still do as much as i can, in the place where i live, to improve the lives of people in little ways. and there is always the hope that in the future, i'll be able to move to those more difficult places and make a difference there.

in the meantime, there are people like frida to do it for me. thank you.

Friday, 20 June 2008

world refugee day

haven't been posting this week because i've spent most of it in bed with a bad cold. and that was after having had a flu vaccination at least a month ago. i hate it when you lose a week of your life like that!

anyway, things are getting back to normal, and i've posted today at the hand mirror. and while on the topic of the UN, i believe today is world refugee day. a good time to remember the 11.4 million people who are refugees today, while we sleep comfortably in our warm beds and look forward to the weekend.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

eye for an eye

of the 5 events i attended yesterday, the most difficult was the meeting organised by the nz central indian association. as part of their AGM, they called in members of political parties and local government, in order to express their feelings about the murder of navtej singh.

there were many speakers. there were genuine concerns expressed about the safety of small business owners, and the risks they faced every day they went to work. there was a lot of anger and emotion about the tragedy itself as well as a number of other murders in the last few years. this was a community that was feeling unsafe and unprotected. they saw themselves as the quintessential hard-working kiwi battlers, the ones that put in the kind of hours that most of us are not prepared to. 12 to 14 hour days, seven days a week.

these feelings were valid. it was when they started talking about law and order, and proposed solutions that i felt disturbed. here is a brief summary of the various things that came up:
- they wanted tougher sentencing for criminals. sentences were far too short. the widow would now suffer for the rest of her life, while the offenders would be out in a few years.
- prison life is just like living in a hotel. all this heating that they get in prison, when there were people in manurewa who couldn't even afford heating. prisoners got three meals a day in prison, when they didn't even get that on the outside. no wonder they weren't afraid of getting caught.
- one of the suggestions that came out of this was that prisons should be outsourced to asia. criminals should be sent to prisons in thailand and the like, not only saving taxpayer money, but also providing a much more effective deterrent.
- singapore had a low crime rate, so we should copy what they were doing.
- this country was soft on crime, and the judges were useless (caring more about the offender than the victims) or toothless (didn't have the power to give strong punitive sentences.
- prisons were too full, which was why offenders were getting light sentences.
- there were not enough police; and police hadn't responded effectively. we should be doubling the number of police, and there was no point in cutting taxes. that money should be put towards increasing police numbers.
- parole should be done away with.
- there were too many handouts, lots of money going into housing and education in south auckland, which resulted in people feeling like they were entitled to handouts. they had no sense of responsibility.
- there are too many gangs, and too much drug trafficking and usage.
- the government is doing nothing, politicians are useless, and all these complaints have been made time and again but nothing has been done.

there was a lot said, but basically revolved around these themes. even though it was pointed out that the length of sentences had almost doubled since tougher sentencing laws had been brought in, even though they were told that longer sentences didn't act as a deterrent, it was a message they didn't want to hear. harsh and cruel punishment was what they wanted. an eye for an eye, a life for a life. i wonder what gandhi would have said.

there were some good suggestions. safety education for business owners was talked about. there was some discussion around the number of liquor shops in south auckland, which has gone up from something like 80 to about 220 within the last three years. there wasn't too much of a call for these to be shut down, given that the south asian community would be involved in running many of them. but it's an area that definitely needs attention.

there were calls for more patrols by police, which ron mark, of all people, is complaining about. and the sensible sentencing trust are right in there, using this tragedy to call for tougher parole.

in all the noise and anger, and the words of the widow saying she "can never forgive" the offenders, there seems to be no room for reasoned and effective approach to justice policy. the time where people are feeling most hurt and afraid is hardly the time to tell them that effective rehabilitation is needed for prisoners; that prison is not a hotel and in fact tends to make criminals worse than when they went in; that effective support for families and children from the youngest age is required to ensure everyone feels engaged and a part of society; that such programmes take time to take effect - they take a generation, there are no policies which will give a 3-year turn around in time for the next election; that revenge is never useful as a justice policy and will not make our society a safer place; that the evidence shows that harsher sentencing doesn't lead to a drop in crime.

it's not the best time because they aren't listening. but when is a good time? and where is a good place? i wish i knew.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

poetry (or not!)

i'm way too tired for a serious post. the younger child had her cast taken off today, and i thought life was going to get back to normal. but her knee is painful from being kept straight too long, she'll be in crutches for another month, off school for a week, and i now have 2 weeks of physiotherapy appointments to fit into my schedule. i keep reminding myself that it could have been worse. at least she's alive, safe and on the way to recovery.

won't be blogging tomorrow, am out of town. then saturday night i have to go to a poetry reading. ugh. i hate these, especially cos it's urdu poetry (not that i have any love or appreciation of english poetry), so i'm dealing with a second language. but even worse, it's a reading of poetry by ghalib, the renowned indian poet whose poetry was so intricate and many-layered in meaning that even his contemporaries had difficulty appreciating him. the man was a genius; pity i'm so devoid of culture.

finally, who knew there was such a thing as the chartered institute of purchasing and supply, and that they are holding a strategic procurement forum. sounds like as much fun as a poetry reading! except that "socially-responsible procurement" is something we probably all could do with.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008


there are many things i could say about the senseless murder of mr navtej singh. there are the issues around the police, and whether they acted quickly enough or not. there are issues around the safety of small business owners, the majority of whom tend to belong to ethnic minorities. i could discuss policing levels in south auckland, or simply the tragedy of the murder itself, and the impact on mr singh's surviving family.

however, something that came to my attention this morning, when listening to the morning report coverage, were these translated words about the widow from her own brother:

in our culture, remarriage is not an option. navtej's mother and father are very old and she is the only one to look after them. and with three kids, she doesn't know how she is going to live her life. navtej was the only supporting person for them, and there's nobody for them now.

if that's not enough, harjinder kaur has also lost her grandfather five days later.

i'm surprised to hear that remarriage is simply not an option for her, and that it is her own family that is ruling out this option. india has had a major issue around the treatment of widows in the past, and the deep mehta film water (which i haven't yet seen) deals with this issue.

there has been considerable activism within india by women's groups to improve the treatment of widows, and my understanding was that considerable progress has been made. so i was saddened to hear that she will never have the option to remarry. the reality is that it will be almost impossible to find someone to marry, given the family responsibilities she now has to carry. but i would like to think that in theory she could remarry if she wanted to.

another issue raised by this situation is the burden of elder care, which tends to fall largely on ethnic women. it's definitely not culturally acceptable to put elderly parents into a nursing home, and i understand this applies across asians, africans and pacific islanders. i don't believe that we have yet taken into account the stress placed on women because of this, nor have we developed policies to provide the support such women need.

but at this time, my thoughts are with harjinder kaur. i hope that we, her kiwi community, can provide her with all the support she needs.

update: this interview with verpal singh, president of the sikh council, clarifies (right at the end) that there is no cultural barrier to harjinder kaur remarrying. i really appreciate him clarifying that, because i think it's an important statement that needs to be paid. overall, hats off to the sikh community in the way they have dealt with this whole tragedy. i think it has been a mature, measured and very caring response.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Monday, 9 June 2008

consensus politics

this bit of a very long herald article interested me:

The problem for the business sector, she admits, is that MMP has slowed down the process considerably, because of the need to get consensus for any piece of legislation. And knowing whom to lobby to free up blockages in the system can sometimes be quite complex.

the "she" in this case is mai chen, one of the top lobbyist in the country. in some ways, i agree with her. it can truly be frustrating trying to get a consensus across various political parties when you are trying to get action on a particular policy. one area where progress has definitely slowed down due to MMP is climate change policy. with parties flip-flopping all over the place for political gain, getting the consensus required to move forward is a real problem.

on the other hand, i'm glad that broader consensus is required for most issues. the MMP system is a protection against extremist policies, and it provides a buffer against powerful lobbyists trying to push through things that will actually make life worse for most of us.

i therefore had to laugh at phil o'reilly complaining:

And it's not just Telecom that feels it's been stomped on, he points out. The real estate industry, the building industry, the financial advice industry, and any businesses with an above-average carbon footprint are all reeling at present, he says.

telecom gave us the most expensive and most unreliable internet services imaginable, which hampered business development and growth, but he feels they're being stomped on? the deregulated building industry gave us leaky homes, which have cost taxpayers millions of dollars, because the builders/developers in question quickly liquidated their companies and were beyond reach in terms of legal action. to claim they shouldn't be regulated is laughable.

the financial advice industry - well, where shall i start! bridgecorp, five star finance, and about 16 other companies that have gone down the tubes in the last couple of years, losing millions of dollars. many people invested in these companies on the advice of financial advisors who, it turns out, were not giving independent advice. they were getting a commission for the funds they invested. they did not disclose to their clients that they were getting a commission, nor did they adequately advise their clients of the higher level of risk and the inadequate return to cover that risk, when investing in these companies. to suggest that such financial advisors should have no controls placed on their activities is ridiculous.

and businesses with an above-average carbon footprint are damaging our environment. they are creating a cost that they currently don't have to pay for, but someone has to pay. why shouldn't the polluter pay? if they don't, they will never change their processes to develop safer, environmentally processes.

it's bizarre that phil o'reilly is complaining about regulation that protects businesses, our "clean, green" brand, and the provision of effective infrastructure. if MMP prevents lobbyists from opposing what is good for the country, then i'm all for it.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

change? what change?

for those that might have missed it, i posted on friday night at the hand mirror. i found it a very difficult post to write and don't know that i got across what i really wanted to say. but there you go. by the time i was finished, i didn't have the energy to post here as well.

something else you may want to look at is the inaugural down under feminist carnival, hosted by hoyden about town. it's well worth a read. the writing is always challenging, sometimes a little foul-mouthed, but strong and well-reasoned. i didn't always agree with what was said, some of the posts seemed a little too narrow in their views, yet they all raised important issues that we need to be thinking about and discussing. but mostly, it's great just to have this kind of women's space in the blogosphere.

onto today's topic. i've spent the last couple of days fuming about barack obama's comments to aipac about jerusalem. he basically "endorsed a two-state Israel-Palestine settlement, but also insisted that Jerusalem should remain both the capital of the Jewish nation and undivided". i heard him say it on the news on friday, and almost cried.

here are the thoughts that went through my head. first, whatever happened to democracy? the future of jerusalem is to be decided unilaterally by the president of america, without the residents of that city and the occupied territories getting a say? does mr obama personally own jerusalem, that he can decide this long-standing dispute without caring about the views of hundreds of millions of people around the world?

his comment was authoritarian, dictatorial. it was more than misguided. it was heartless. this was a man who (i'm sure i heard early on in the campaign) argued that since he had been brought up in indonesia and knew a little about islam and muslims, would be much more of an asset when it came to american foreign policy towards the middle east. yet his comments on friday showed that he knew absolutely nothing of the feelings of the arab world and beyond. or even worse, he knew but didn't care.

i've never been to jerusalem. but ever since i completed the hajj two years ago, i've had a strong desire to go there. the masjid al-aqsa is the third holy site for muslims (after mecca and the Prophet's mosque in medina), and has been so ever since the earliest days of islam. it's a mosque steeped in history and has a symbolic significance dating back to the days of solomon. i hope one day to have the chance to walk the streets of jerusalem, to feel it's dust on my feet, to breathe in the air, and to pray in the al-aqsa mosque. it's a city that holds a special place in my heart. i can't bear the thought of someone, even though he might be "the most powerful man on the planet" or "the leader of the free world" or whatever, thinking that he has a right greater than those who have lived for generations on that soil to determine the fate of the city.

more scary though were the implications of his comments. that mr obama would utter this promise to gain the support of the israeli lobby group, without thought of the ethics involved (the denial of human rights and democracy, and of the right to self-determination) and without thought of the suffering it would cause or the global implications, that is a scary thing indeed. it brought me back to the thoughts i expressed in my first ever post on this blog, where i criticised mr obama for his response to claims that he was a terrorist in disguise and the like.

it is possible, in order to totally prove that he's not a terrorist-sympathiser (a label that the republicans will try very hard to pin on him), he will be harsher on middle-east issues than even john mccain might be. that's the danger that frightens me most. that he will choose to go to war with iran simply to show he has the balls to do so.

mr obama has stated clearly that he is a very good friend to israel. if that is the case, if he really has israel's best interests at heart, then he has to be serious about brokering peace with the palestinians. true peace will only come about when there is justice. when all settlement building stops, when existing settlements on the occupied territories are dismantled, when checkpoints are shut down and all people can drive on all the roads, when palestinians are free to farm their own land and harvest their own crops without harassment from settlors, when..., when..., when.... there are so many other issues, please read here (pdf file) if you want to find out more. until mr obama is ready to address these issues and to care about the welfare of both palestinians and israelis, he can be no friend of israel.

mr obama claims to stand for change. but hearing his words to aipac, all i could think was: plus ca change, plus c'est le meme chose. he stands for change for everyone except palestinians. for them there will be no change.

but it turns out that since the aipac meeting, mr obama has retreated somewhat from his original position. after the shock and anger expressed by many arab commentators and palestinian leaders, it seems mr obama now has a new position:

...Obama believes "Jerusalem is a final status issue, which means it has to be negotiated between the two parties" as part of "an agreement that they both can live with."

"Two principles should apply to any outcome," which the adviser gave as: "Jerusalem remains Israel's capital and it's not going to be divided by barbed wire and checkpoints as it was in 1948-1967."

He refused, however, to rule out other configurations, such as the city also serving as the capital of a Palestinian state or Palestinian sovereignty over Arab neighborhoods.

while that certainly is an improvement on his previous statement, it shows how dangerous his lack of experience could be. suddenly, those ads by the clinton camp with the phone call at 3am don't look too far wrong. with his original comment, he pissed off the arab world. his "clarification" has pissed off aipac and some other israeli supporters. it's a lose-lose outcome for him. and if he becomes president, such an outcome could cost lives. many lives.

if this issue concerns you as it does me, i recommend that you sign the petition at jewish voice for peace, aimed at both presidential candidates. please note that i don't support some of the comments made by those who have already signed the petition, but i support the petition itself.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

oil speculation

i've been meaning to post about speculation and its effects on oil prices for a while now, but something else would always catch my attention. however, i can delay it no longer after hearing this interview with tyscon slocum on radio nz today. it's absolutely brilliant, you MUST listen to it. it follows on from rod oram's discussion last week, which is unfortunately no longer online.

the main point is that oil prices are rising so rapidly because of speculation, particularly by large corporates investors (your pension funds, managed investments funds etc) and by the oil companies themselves. it's a similar story with food prices.

the thing with speculation is that it's a zero sum game. if someone wins big, it means that someone else has lost big. nothing new is produced; the size of the pie does not grow larger because of the futures market. in this case, the speculative investors are winning, and all of us forced to buy extremely expensive petrol are losing.

yet there in not a huge public push to solve the source of the problem. for example, there is not a huge push for improvement in the operation and oversight of the futures market. we're not hearing calls for more transparency, as mr slocum does in the radio nz interview and as may result from the investigation by the commodity futures trading commission.

no, the average person on the streets is taking it out on their governments and complaining about fuel taxes. here in nz, we have calls for gst to be taken off petrol; or a reduction of other taxes that cover the acc costs of road accidents or the costs of roading infrastructure. similar calls are being made in australia and uk.

reducing taxes will not solve the source of this problem. if we do take off the petrol taxes, that money will have to come from elsewhere. if it's not recovered from some other form of tax, then it will have to be covered from a loss of services. ie people would have to pay their own health costs in the case of a car accident, or we'll have to pay tolls to travel on new roads.

as a side issue, some people seem to be comfortable with toll roads but i have a real problem with them. my experience is from malaysia, which has an extensive system of toll roads. the result is a country where the poor people get to use the crappy, congested public roads, and the rich people get to use the lovely, many-laned and less congested toll roads. at peak times, there probably isn't too much difference between the two, but at other times i'm sure there is. it bothers me that poorer people should have a poorer class of road. given that they'd be more likely to be driving in vehicles without air-conditioning, it means they will be more exposed to pollution and more likely to get health problems, because they are more likely to face congestion. it's not the kind of thing i'd want to see in this country, simply because it isn't fair and it isn't right.

but back to the main issue. let's be clear that the government isn't making a killing on petrol taxes just because the price is rising. this is because consumption drops as the price rises, so that the actual amount collected doesn't increase so much. the greater issue though, is that a drop in petrol taxes will not solve the speculation problem.

if it was upto me, i'd just abolish the futures market. just dismantle it and disallow any kind of speculation of this nature. there must be a better way to get produce from seller to buyer, without having vultures take a huge cut in the middle for no reason at all. some of that money we pay should be going to the producers, the rest should stay with us in the form of cheaper prices at the supermarket and the pump.

given however that i don't yet rule the world, i'd definitely go for the increased transparency option. and activism against corprates who behave in this manner. are we happy to be earning money in this way? many of us are doing so, because we have investments with amp, tower, etc or because we've joined kiwisaver and those managing our savings are making money in this way. we can demand a ban on speculating in oil and food. are we prepared to take the drop in investment income?

you'll notice some new blogs on my blogroll lately. i've added the sometimes irreverent but always entertaining dr sapna; my friend dave moskovitz has joined up with a couple of others to blog about the 3 abrahamic faiths; jafapete writes some really good stuff - which i found out when i read his comments on the changes to laws around contractors (much better than my rather lame attempt!). there are a couple of others, hope you'll take the time to have a look at them.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

supporting rape victims

have been thinking about maia's post at the hand mirror today about brad shipton. actually, i'd been thinking about it since hearing the very powerful interview with his victim on radio nz yesterday. tracey barnett has written an excellent piece in the herald on the topic. and today's waikato times editorial (not yet on line, but should be here in a day or so) calls on shipton to take part in a restorative justice programme, while noting that if he does so, any admission of guilt will bring the louise nicholas verdict into question.

i'd like to reiterate my comments on maia's post: why is the sensible sentencing trust silent in this case? why are they not supporting the rape victim who is clearly suffering from the efforts of keeping shipton, schollum and macnamara in jail? she is facing hearings regularly, and is now getting a double whammy with the shcollum hearing now being overturned.

i can understand that victims should have the right to speak at parole board hearings. yet it is traumatic for the victim to have to relive the crime every time a hearing comes up. there must be a better way for this to be dealt with. the victim calls for parole board hearings to be cancelled and for such decisions to be made by a judge.

i find it appalling that garth mcvicar is silent in the face of the pain faced by this victim. but then, he and his trust have shown before that they don't support all victims of crime.

the task force on sexual violence is due to report back by the end of this year. i hope that it will look seriously at issues around proof of consent, as well as support of victims through the court and parole process. i'd particularly support victims advocates being available during trials.

the fact is that some fundamental changes need to be made to our justice system, so that victims of rape get justice, and stop being continually and repeatedly victimised.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

sect or cult?

not a long post today. was just thinking about the texan children from the fundamentalist church of jesus christ of latter day saints, who went back to their parents today. this comes after a recent ruling by the third court of appeals in texas. it overturned a ruling by the district court judge barbara walthers.

it's interesting that the judges from the court of appeals were all male, conservative and republican. i find it disturbing that judges can be partisan, but that's a side issue. the main issue is the welfare of the children. i can understand that they would be desperate to get back to their parents. given their very sheltered upbringing, it would be pretty traumatic to be thrust into the big wide world, without even having their parents to support them.

on the other hand, a religious group that needs to shut itself off from the wider world is itself disturbing. it seems to imply that there is something to hide, that there are practices happening which would not be approved of by the wider society in which that group lives.

in this case, we have a leader who has already been convicted and sentenced "for forcing a 14-year-old girl to marry her 19-year-old cousin and to submit to sexual relations against her will". the allegations around young girls being married off to much older men are serious ones. there are issues also around indoctrination and the ability to leave of one's own free will in groups like this.

i've been hesitating to use the word "cult", but this has all the hallmarks. it will be difficult to prove abuse, in the sense that most of the young women won't know they are being abused. which is why i don't think those children should have been sent back.

however, the fact that they were placed so far away from their parents around the whole state was not a good thing either. in any case, i hope the authorities keep up their investigations, and continue to keep a close eye on this community.

Monday, 2 June 2008

pretty pollies

i've just posted at the hand mirror.

having thought about what i'd written there, i'm so glad that i dress in the way i do. no make-up, flat shoes, hair covered, clothing loose and never in fashion. it is an act of worship. but it's also my personal statement that i will never buy into the myth that women are only worth as much as the money we spend on our appearance.