Thursday, 30 October 2008

a question of balance

i can't say that i agree with senator obama's decision to screen half hour "infomercials" on american television channels today. my misgivings are around spending limits on paid advertising and having a level playing field. i can't say that i understand the intricacies of american electoral law, but i understand that senator mccain has chosen to use state funding while senator obama has chosen not to. this apparently means that they have different spending limits, and that does not seem to be a good idea to me.

an election campaign should be about a contest of ideas. each party puts out its policies, and debates their merits, as well as the pitfalls of the other party's ideas. voters are then able to analyse the competing policies and make an informed decision as to which party would be the best to govern. in order for that to work though, each party has to have the ability to reach voters and present its side of the story.

of course there are many things that are a barrier to communication and debate. media bias is a major one, eg where there is selective reporting or a one-sided op-ed or undue prominence given to one party/candidate. voter illiteracy and apathy are also barriers. and the tendency to focus on personalities rather than issues is often a distraction. a focus on contradictory statements or work eperience is legitimate, but things like family background, appearance and the like are generally a waste of our time.

then there are issues of fairness for smaller parties, ensuring that they get the opportunity to get their voices heard. that's not so much an issue in the american campaign, although i think their system would be much improved if smaller parties could join in the debate.

despite the barriers, i'm all for spending caps. it just turns out that this year senator obama is in a position to spend more than senator mccain. but what if the positions were reversed? i certainly wouldn't want mr mccain to have half-hour slots if mr obama didn't have them. i suppose you could argue that mr obama has been able to draw more funds because he has policies that appeal to the people. and mr mccain has only himself to blame for choosing an option that didn't allow him to raise similar levels of funding.

and yet i just don't feel comfortable with an election being won because one or other party had more to spend, so could buy more advertising. which is why i totally support the electoral finance act. i think it has really made a positive difference to our campaigns, and yes it could do with some tweaking, but on the whole it's doing the job. we know the names of the individuals and groups that are giving messages, we know who has been putting in major sums of money into the campaign, and we have equitable spending caps.

i'm having a few computer problems this evening so am not able to put in the links i would like. will try to pop these in tomorrow (if i get time!). just a final word to say that it's really quite pathetic the amount of airtime being given to the fact that the PM had a fall today. i can't even begin to describe how pathetic and small-minded our media has been to focus on that issue. and yes, the same applies to the footage of don brash trying to get into that strange racing vehicle thing in the last campaign. can we please focus on the issues people? is it really that hard?

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

don't let them privatise the prisons

very tired tonight. spent after a one and a half hour session with the endodontist (higher level dentist who can justify charging more because of the fancy name... ok, and because he had to spend many more years to get his qualifications) yesterday before the candidates debate. i am getting new insights into grades of pain, and a reinforced love of anti-inflammatories. and it's not over yet, i have another 90 minute session the monday after the election. i can't wait.

anyway, tonight i put in some more time at the labour party factory. keeping focused on getting the policy out to voters, while the media waste their time on scandals. so tiresome. they should have spent time on the absolutely wicked plan by national to privatise prisons. very simply, if employers can get prisoners to do your job for less pay and no conditions (ie sick leave, holidays etc), then why would they keep you on? the effect of prison labour will be to reduce working conditions for everyone and to increase unemployment. i'm all for getting people in prison rehabilitated, upskilled, and into meaningful work. as long as it's at market wage rates and all required conditions are met. privatising prisons doesn't tend to do that.

and i caught a little bit of the movie recount on prime tonight. i knew a lot of the stuff that happened in terms of disenfranchising voters, but the film put the whole thing in context. it really is compulsory viewing, and i hope they put it on some time after the election when i have time to pay full attention.

and i hope to soon have time to pay full attention to my kids. with exams coming up, and enrolments for next year to be done, i'm feeling pretty frantic. 10 more days to go, just 10 more days...

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

lowering the tone even further

got back from the waikato times debate for hamilton west candidates. yup, it was noisy, and yes i totally participated from the audience, as i did last week. i'm waiting for the attack this time, after the nasty little incident last week. the national party candidate took my name in vain a few times during the debate. i say in vain, because often it wasn't even me who was saying anything, but he wanted to blame me. i can think of one reason why.

we were sitting in front of a few national party stalwarts. before the debate even started, one woman said "there's sue moroney, she's got that sneer she always has in parliament". i couldn't believe the nastiness, and told them in no uncertain terms that the comment was just not on. to which, her husband (or at least, he appeared to be) said that he was "obviously in the wrong country". can you believe these people? if that's the kind of support mr macindoe enjoys, well (as doug woollerton says) God bless him. it certainly doesn't reflect well on him. and i'm sure he was trying to highlight me as a heckler to tap into just that sentiment. shame on you mr macindoe, i'm sure you can do better.

mr macindoe has spent much of his campaign over the last few weeks complaining about the EFA. he has a particular beef about the fact that as a non-MP candidate, he doesn't get parliamentary services funding for advertisements. he uses this to point out how bad the EFA is. what he fails to tell you is that the rules in this regard are exactly the same as in the previous legislation. martin gallagher spoke about having to face exactly this barrier back in 1993 (?) when he first stood as a candidate.

this is the level of debate we have to deal with, and it's pretty sad.

Monday, 27 October 2008

assimilation is a bad idea

most nz'ers would have looked forward to this long weekend as a chance to have a break. not so for your faithful party workers. for us, it has been more time on the campaign trail, trying to ensure the best outcome for the upcoming elections.

yesterday was a pretty amazing day for me, in terms of cultural experiences. i spent some time with the sikh community at midday, seeing some of their religious rites. this community would have to be one of the most generous in the country, with the provision of a free lunch for all every sunday. of course their generosity goes well beyond that. they also have such a well-knit community, and they are very good at maintaining their language and customs.

from there, i went to the hamilton gardens where the dutch community were having a two-day festival, celebrating their culture. dutch migrants have a very interesting history here in nz, and the event this weekend just goes to prove that assimilation DOES NOT WORK.

when dutch migrants first came here, every effort was made to anglicise them. their names were often changed, they were discouraged from speaking their native language and were monitored by the government to ensure they weren't congregating too much. they were expected to lose all aspects of their own culture and fully adopt the pakeha culture of nz.

i've heard the children of these migrants speak about how it has felt to lose that culture and heritage. it has been deeply upsetting, and this weekend showed such a strong revival of dutch culture, it showed that these people are reclaiming their roots. there were displays of singing and dancing, as well as of dutch costumes. there was plenty of traditional food on sale, and yes, i bought a nice hefty chunk of gouda cheese.

i found the indonesian influence on dutch culture to be particularly interesting, especially manifested in some of the batik and prints used in traditional dutch costumes. it was just a wonderful occasion, and lovely to see people who were proud and confident. this is what a true multicultural society looks like: one where every part fits into the whole, but retains its distinct identity.

in the evening was another diwali function, this time at the founders theatre in hamilton. who can beat indians in a celebration full of colour and sound. bollywood and traditional dancing; singing and poetry. the colours were in contrast to some of the dutch costumes, which were quite muted in the more conservative parts of the netherlands. indians, on the other hand, love bright colours with lots of sparkle and sheen.

today was spent doing grunt work. i'm surprised that there are still so many unregistered voters out there, and we signed up a fair few today. these were people who were politically aware, in that they knew they didn't like john key and were keen to have a labour government, but just hadn't enrolled. and interesting where we're finding the labour support. i wouldn't have picked much support at the races (not that i went in to such a den of iniquity; i was leafletting out in the carpark!), but there was plenty to be found. less than two weeks to go, and i'm feeling pretty positive.

the minor party leaders' debate was good, although i missed the first half hour. the reason being that it was much more tightly controlled, and for the most part, you could actually hear what everyone was saying. it was the funniest thing watching rodney hide and tariana turia be so chummy, especially when their policies are so very far apart. i really wonder how the maori electorates are going to view that. not very positively, i would think, and i think ms turia should have been much clearer in stating that she did not agree with ACT policies.

she seemed to take comfort in the fact that a coalition agreement would soften a lot of ACT policies, but i very much doubt that they will be in government without having a major influence. the national party will be relying on them just as much as they'll need to rely on the maori party. the thought of the three of them with peter dunne trying to come together really is a scary thought.

i was going to write a post about the ethics of labour forming a government if they get less of the party vote than national, but that's been done too. very simply, if labour + progressives + greens get more party vote than national + ACT + united future, then the electorate has said they want a centre-left goverment. it would be immoral for any other government to rule the country.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

muticulturalism in law

i wasn't much in the mood to post yesterday, after having spent 4 hours or so working on the campaign. can't say on what, but i got home just before 10, and then got around to cooking dinner and eating.

today was a candidates meeting organised jointly by the waikato ethnic council and the migrant resource centre. it was preceded by a meeting of the ethnic council, in which the national president gave a presentation on a proposed multicultural act. this is something that the federation of ethnic councils has been working on and promoting over the last year. they want formal recognition of the multiculturalism, via legislation. the purpose being to entrench recognition of diversity.

it was an interesting presentation. their contention is that existing legislation, including the human rights act and the bill of rights act, were not sufficient in that they prevented discrimination but did not require recognition. they cited examples of the canadian legislation, as well as that of other countries. there was emphasis on recognising the special place of tangata whenua.

at this stage, neither of the major parties have committed to this proposal, but the council say they have firm support from united future, the maori party, the progressives and the greens.

one of the main problems with this proposal is the inability to have a mature public debate about this. the usual suspects would just start screaming loudly, and no-one would get heard in all the noise.

and yet, this is a debate we need to have. however, i see it as part of a much wider debate about a formal constitution and perhaps the move towards becoming a republic. these are all things that need to happen together. a multiculturalism act on it's own wouldn't work without having that wider discussion.

the candidates meeting was a piece of cake. there were set questions which had been provided beforehand. the labour-led government has a good story to tell in terms of settlement support through the establishment of migrant resource centres ($64 million allocated over 4 years). the work of the office of ethnic affairs has also been crucial in terms of policy work and programmes to support various communities. their latest initiative is the "connecting diverse communities" programme, which seeks to improve interaction and communication between various communities.

a lot of work has gone in to the development of this programme, particularly by those nameless, faceless pencil-pushing bureaucrat that national MPs are so keen to deiscredit. one thing i did at the meeting was put some names to those faces. i asked them: the next time you hear them talk about the bloated bureacracy and the pencil-pushers, i want you to think of sandra mckenzie (the new OEA staff member appointed to hamilton) or mervin singham (director of ethnic affairs) or pere paea (ethnic liaison officer, nz police). those are some of the people whose jobs may go in the "line-by-line review" proposed by the national party.

it's much harder to think of these people as useless pencil-pushers when we see who they are and recognise the value of the work they do.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

now this is a personal attack

tonight was the official opening of the office of ethnic affairs in hamilton. well, the "office" will be staffed by only one person without any support staff, but it is at least a start. the event was well attended, even though it was a pretty wet evening. there's been demand for OEA to set up in hamilton for several years now, and it's great that it's finally happened.

later on were candidates meetings for the hauraki-waikato and one organised by the maxim institute. the latter was a little bizarre - they made us stand up and sing the national anthem. then we had to practice how we would show our appreciation for what the candidates were saying, by all saying "jolly good" a couple of times. it made me feel like i was at primary school! but other than that, the meeting was well run and neutral. and i tried to restrict myself to "jolly good" and "bravo" in respect of the organiser's request, though it was really difficult!

but i'm feeling a little upset today. someone has sent an anonymous letter to my parents, complaining about my behaviour at tuesday night's debate. this would be the one organised by the waikato times, and yes, i was certainly involved in heckling as were many other people. i make absolutely no apologies for that, and particularly not when candidates were using terms like "feminazi" and commenting on the childlessness of the PM.

part of my personality is that i'm a loud person. mostly it's in reaction to the stereotypical muslim woman who is supposed to be a quiet victim, walking 2 steps behind her husband. i react badly to that stereotype, and have always refused to be quiet and submissive. yes, that makes me loud and boisterous, and no doubt some people may find that offensive.

but if they took offence, they should have brought it up with me. to write an anonymous letter to my parents, personally abusing me is an act of complete cowardice. it was an attempt to silence me and it won't work. for all that the opposition make so much noise about freedom of speech, this nasty little attempt shows they only want free speech when it's about their ideas.

this move to hurt and upset my parents is something i'm finding difficult to deal with. i feel completely powerless to respond. i know most politicians will be going through this kind of thing across the country. i remember marian hobbs telling me about someone throwing a pie in her face, in front of her daughter. clare curran had to go through an awful time as the national party tried to discredit not only her personally, but her business. george hawkins had a bible thrown at him recently. this shouldn't have to be the price we pay in trying to improve this country through the political process.

so anonymous person, if you have any complaint to make about me, you can contact me through any labour MPs office or through head office in wellington. i will be happy to discuss your concerns and to explain my behaviour to you, and to apologise if there was something i said or did that offended you personally. but please leave my family out of this.

i was thinking of what to say about lockwood smith's comments that were so much in the news yesterday. but there really isn't that much to say that hasn't been said by others. i'm just glad there's little tolerance for this kind of thing, such a difference from the last campaign.

and nice to see that the reserve bank OCR cuts are passing through to customers (thanx again to kiwibank who were the first to drop their rates by 1%). any of you bunnies who have been reading my blog regularly, i hope you took my advice to ignore the advice of bernard hickey and brendan donavan back in july. now, or maybe in a couple of months, would be the time to fix your mortgage interest rates.

and thank you contact energy directors, for making the case for privatisation of essential infrastructure even stronger. the overseas shareholders have shown that they care not one whit about the welfare of nz'ers, and it's frustrating that we can do nothing about it. max bradford is responsible for much misery in this country because of his reforms, he should pay for the increase in contact directors' fees.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

random encounters

i haven't mentioned it, but i've been in a reasonable amount of pain over the last couple of weeks, due to a sore tooth. which of course means that i'm in root canal territory, a double-ouch, to the mouth and to the wallet. last week, my dentist made two attempts on two different days at proceding with the root canal treatment but the local anaesthetic wouldn't work properly, so she had me in tears with the pain.

now it's off to the specialist, and a massive bill, but hopefully no pain. i met the specialist today, a lovely fellow, and in the course of the consultation, i told him that i was busy campaigning so how best could i fit the treatment into my other campaign activities? which of course led to an interesting political discussion, starting off with him saying that he was thinking of voting for the national party.

well, here was a well paid (extremely well paid, given the quote he's just given me) person, and i managed to talk him around to thinking seriously about voting labour. i immediately started the discussion on tax cuts, guessing he would probably find that the most appealing aspect of national's policy. i talked about the economic downturn which would hit people on lower incomes the most, and how the national party package put these workers in a worse position. you, i said, will suffer but will still be able to put food on the table, and afford decent clothing and housing. isn't it better that the money goes to those who need it most?

we had a good discussion about social inequality, made easier because he comes from india too. we both know that someone with his qualifications would have a fantastic life in india, what with the chauffer-driven fancy car, the 3 maids, the private schools etc. but the one thing he wouldn't have was safety. there are a considerable number of kidnappings there as well as other violence, and well-qualified people have left the country on safety issue alone.

violence is what you get from social inequality, and this was especially brought home when a business owner in delhi was recently attacked and killed by his own staff when he refused to raise wages. if you don't ensure that you look after the vulnerable and lower paid, then you will pay for it by needing increased security, and by having higher crime rates.

he said that taxes were high in this country, but i said the top rate is much lower than australia and in many other countries. and if he was here in the 1970's, his top rate would have been 66%. yes, he thought that was terrible, he'd heard stories about that. well, i said, for that tax rate you would have had a free tertiary education. and that he identified with, and told me about the massive debts he had incurred just to specialise. i told him that's how a progressive system works, you get a free education as a student and then you pay for it through higher taxes when you're earning the income to be able to do so.

i also talked about how national had pulled funding from dentistry in the 1990s, particularly around the school dental-nurse scheme and what an effect that had had on a generation of school children. if you care about children's dental health, i told him, don't vote national.

we talked about don brash, who he didn't like. well, i said, john key was his deputy and went along with everything dr brash said and did in the 2005 campaign. do you really think he's had a whole personality change in 3 years, do you really think he now doesn't believe what he believed then? that's just not possible.

we talked over a few other things as well, and it was the social justice issues that had the most resonance with him. so there you go, people on higher incomes have every reason to vote labour! and it totally helped when we went out and his assistant assured us that she would definitely be voting labour.

similarly, at my local supermarket last friday, the checkout girl asked me what i'd be doing in the weekend. i'll be campaigning for labour, are you enrolled to vote? yes, and i'll have to vote labour, she said. i'm a student and i support universal student allowances.

i know my random encounters aren't equal to scientific polling, but i'm consistently getting the feeling that there is strong support for labour. still over two weeks to go, and i'm saying that this race is wide open.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

in which i heart colin powell

i'm back from the waikato times candidates meeting tonight. the paper organises these every campaign - one for ham east, one for ham west and this year they're doing one for the maori electorate (hauraki waikato). tonight was the ham east campaign, and a lively affair it was too.

the most interesting part of the debate for me was a question on how the MP candidates voted on raising the drinking age and on trading on easter sundays. sue moroney voted for raising the drinking age, and against trading on easter sundays. david bennett voted the opposite way on both those issues. that sure didn't go down well with the group of exclusive brethren who were present.

yes, they were there. they had brought a group of young women, who happened to be scarfless. however, they were a bit subdued with the above response and when national didn't promise to repeal the emissions trading scheme and they were really subdued when the kiwi party candidate spoke strongly in support of honoring the treaty of waitangi.

in any case, these meetings are pretty much a waste of time in terms of convincing voters, because i don't think any undecided voters attend them. but as with the tv debates, it's the reporting afterwards that makes the difference, and i hope that the local paper gives an honest report of how the candidates performed. because if they do, there is no doubt that sue moroney out-performed the others.

a bigger issue for me today has been the words of colin powell, as he spoke in support of senator obama (full transcript of the interview here). they touched me to the core:

I'm also troubled by, not what Sen. McCain says, but what members of the party say, and it is permitted to be said such things as: "Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim." Well, the correct answer is: he is not a Muslim. He's a Christian. He's always been a Christian. But the really right answer is: What if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer is: No, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some 7-year-old Muslim-American kid believing he or she can be President? Yet I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion: he's a Muslim, and he might be associated with terrorists. This is not the way we should be doing it in America.

finally, someone in america, a very significant and republicans someone, has come out and given the message that i thought mr obama should have been giving. reading this made me feel like maybe this is the beginning of the end for the kind of severe muslim-bashing that has been happening since 9/11. also worth watching is this video of bigoted campaigners being by christian and muslim republicans (link found from comments in the shakesville thread).

mr powell's words will have an impact, simply because of the positions he has held and the respect he commands. i hope the impact is lasting.

Monday, 20 October 2008

conscience votes

have hardly had time to take a breath over the last few days, and there's still 3 weeks to go! saturday night i went to a diwali event, then sunday drove up to auckland for an eid festival. i took the girls along for the latter, and it was a lovely day with a good crowd.

i then rushed back to hamilton to get to a meet the candidates meeting, to support sue moroney, had a campaign meeting, did the groceries and attended a church for an interfaith prayer for world peace. there were prayers from anglicans, quakers, muslims, jews and bahai's. it was nice reflection and quiet time to think about what's happening around the world. in fact, this is the official week of prayer for world peace.

today, i had a community radio board meeting and another candidates meeting at destiny church. they actually let me in. ok, that was facetious, but i have to say i was a little worried at how i'd be received. however, they were friendly enough when i was handing out leaflets and only 1 person refused to take them (although he did that in a very friendly manner). so there you go.

i have however been very disappointed at the personal attacks on helen clark. yesterday, we had the republican candidate, one jack gielen who is rather well known here in hamilton, brought a white cross with something about the PM being a lesbian on it. he displayed this at the end of his speech.

today we had ACT party president garry mallett, during a question on the repeal of s59, say that he could at least say that helen clark had never hit one of her own children. it went down well with the destiny crowd, who conveniently forgot that the hamilton east candidate david bennett also does not have children and also voted in favour of the repeal.

it just makes me so angry that these kinds of attacks are being made. while the candidates on the left have stuck to debating the issues, it seems that parties of the extreme right are just not able to do that. more disappointing was the response of the crowd. they seem to forget that the national party voted in favour of the repeal of s59, en masse. they forget that 5 out of 9 ACT MPs voted for civil unions. look at other conscience votes and you'll find that support came from around the house.

but i guess people only hear what they want to hear. never mind, onwards and upwards.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

out and about

i spent a good part of the day canvassing today, and the results were really quite encouraging. contrary to what the fairfax poll is showing, labour support seems to be holding up. and there are still a large number of undecided voters out there. and there were very few rejections. in fact the only nasty remark i got was one old fellow telling me i was conducting a home invasion, even though i never set foot in his home.

we had a good team out today, and they were all so positive after being out for a couple of hours. which means that they were also getting some good results. it was obviously not a group of people disheartened from a whole heap of negative responses. i think this race is still wide open, with a good chance of a labour win.

the campaign is getting rather ugly in hamilton though. there has been an amazingly systematic destruction and defacing of hoarding sites that it much worse than we've seen in previous campaigns. everyone i talk to has been noticing this happening around the city. i got the full brunt of it when i woke up this morning to find the hoarding torn down from my fence (it was a pretty big one) and thrown on the road. and then the people responsible decided to vent their anger on my letterbox. thank goodness we have a wonderful team who managed to fix it all up on the same day.

a couple of campaign links: here's some excellent commentary and discussion in comments on the national party plan to require 40% of the cullen fund to be invested in nz. and it looks like mr wishart's attempt to smear labour around an immigration case has backfired a little, given that pansy wong had also supported the person concerned, and he also donated to the national party. funniest comment regarding the whole affair is here (be sure to click on the bbc link in the comment). thank you julian blanchard for getting the truth out there about the government's support of plunket.

finally, i'm sorry but i couldn't resist this caption competition on stuff, involving david bennett and some candy floss. enjoy.

Friday, 17 October 2008

say cheese!

i got woken up this morning before 7am this morning (thanx jills!) by a txt telling me that i was in a photograph with the PM on page 2 of the dom. that was a little better than the page 3 spot on the waikato times later in the day.

now normally i'd be flattered, except for two things. first, i looked so awful in the photograph that it could hardly be described as flattering. my older child, while laughing her head off, told me i shouldn't care so much about my appearance. hmmmm, i seem to have taught her that lesson a little too well (except that she rarely applies it to herself!)

second was the suspicion that the prominence of this photograph had a rather nasty subtext. it feeds into that rather nasty notion of "pandering to minorities" that was around in the 2005 campaign. wearing a scarf into the mosque, in respect of the protocols there, is very often used as a point of attack against the PM. which only works because we muslims are all, like, women-hating terrorists, don't you know.

of course it helped that mr peters decided to go on his immigration attack the same day. it conveniently provided a good reason to have a picture of the PM dressed like a muslim on the front page, just to get that dog-whistle to work a little more effectively.

maybe i'm wrong, maybe things have moved on, and people will look at this picture and think "labour stands for diversity and inclusiveness, and that's great". it would be nice if the picture made people feel positive about the make-up of our society, if it provided a contrast to the nastiness spouted by mr peters. well, read the comments at the bottom of this piece, and i'll leave you to make up your own mind.

and why is it that the price of petrol falls just 2 hours after you've filled up. grrr. but i agree with poneke, it should have gone down much more and i'm tired of the excuses being offered around exchange rates and so on.

i caught up briefly with ali ikram yesterday, and expressed my surprise at him not being chosen to front sunrise on tv3 in the mornings. i can't believe they went with oliver driver, when ali does a great job. he's got a good sense of humour, and he's an excellent journalist as well. i'm not going to use the "r" word, but given his qualifications and experience, it just seems really fishy that he wasn't given the job.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

on the campaign trail

it's been an extremely busy but wonderful day. as mentioned yesterday, the PM came to town, and performed incredibly well.

she'd spent the morning in ngaruwahia, visiting a family who had benefitted from the investment home insulation. this family was not well-off by any standards, and the insulation had a very positive impact on the health of one of the children. of course that's why the government investment of $1billion over 10 years is important. the health benefits probably outweigh the environmental benefits of savings in heating costs. national's plan to scrap this policy is just stupid.

back to the campaign trail, the PM got to the uni of waikato at 12.30. the second biggest lecture theatre in the place was packed with people sitting up the front, on the stairs and walkways, and up the back. there were plenty more outside who couldn't get in. the PM was brilliant, particularly in answering questions. there were the usual attacks on defence and overspending, but she handled them really well. the main focus of her speech was on tertiary education, as you would expect, also with some emphasis on the economy.

then it was off to the mosque. the hamilton mosque is the first mosque the PM ever visited, a few years back. this was, i think, her fourth visit to the mosque and here she talked about her work in regional interfaith dialogues and trade relationships. there was a good crowd for a thursday afternoon of a working day, i'd say over 100.

then we rushed off to wintec, where there was another huge crowd and we were joined by the hon ruth dyson. again, the session went very well, with a focus on social policy and the announcement of an increase in the abatement threshhold for beneficiaries who work part-time. the policy will, once fully rolled out, allow beneficiaries to work up to 10 hours on the minimum wage before the benefit starts getting cut. with reduction to secondary tax rates announced previously, this will mean a reasonable increase in incomes if beneficiaries are able to work part time.

while i'd still prefer an increase to the basic benefit level, this policy at least provides something for beneficiaries. it's a group that usually doesn't attract much attention from politicians, except in a negative way. so i'm glad there was as least something positive for them.

after this, the PM went to the enderly community centre, and i had to go off to tend to my kids. one thing i love about campaigning in hamilton is that we've got such a strong and diverse team. we already have sue moroney, martin gallagher, hon nanaia mahuta and myself. and we're now joined by jacinda ardern, the candidate for waikato. it's a great line-up, and such a contrast that to the monotone we have from the national party.

in another part of the country, rt hon winston peters launched his usual triennial campaign attack on immigrants. it didn't annoy me as much as the media coverage did. why is this even a story? what's new about it or even newsworthy? he does it regularly, he uses the same recycled speeches, and every time, the media lap it up and give it more coverage than it's worth. just once, it would be nice if they failed to report an anti-immigrantion speech, on the basis that it's tired old rhetoric.

the main thrust of mr peters' attack, that immigrant shouldn't be allowed here without jobs, well that's already policy for the skilled migrants category. and if the number of jobs reduces, then the number of migrants will automatically reduce, because they won't find be able to find jobs so will be denied a visa. so it's the normal ignorant pandering to his base, and it should have been ignored.

and mr key was busy organising a "razor gang" for the public service. well, as i read in comments on a blog (can't remember which one, sorry), the last national party razor gang included jenny shipley, ruth richardson and others. they slashed funding for health, education and benefits, and caused misery for many people. i really hope we don't go back to that era. especially not now, at a time when the economy needs stimulation, not a slash and cut attitude.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

bits and pieces

hardly surprising that many media commentators are declaring john key the "unofficial" winner of last night's debate. as with many others, i'm surprised that an academic like therese arseneau treated the phone poll as if it had any meaning whatsoever. she was even debunked by micheal laws of all people, who admitted on radio live to voting 30 times in one such previous poll. we had alan simpson in the waikato times making a similar bizarre statement: "It's not a reliable poll but it conveys a strong message..." huh?

since it's getting late, i'll put in a couple of links. gordon campbell has a good post on the debate. the standard points out all the factual errors made by mr key (i'm being charitable in assuming he made mistakes rather that he intended to deliberately mislead).

this 20 minute animation called "the story of stuff" was sent to me by a friend a few days ago. it's an educational piece that deals with the costs of our consumer culture. simple but effective.

great to see the daily show tonight making much of the fact that arabs can be decent family men. it was in relation to senator mccain's response to a woman at one of his rallies who claimed senator obama was an arab. "no ma'am", says senator mccain, "he's not an arab, he's a decent family man". both john stewart and asif mandvi were hilarious in highlighting the bigotry of that particular remark.

helen clark is in hamilton tomorrow for a full day of campaigning, so i'll report back on how that went, if i have the energy at the end of the day!

Tuesday, 14 October 2008


i've posted at the hand mirror today, on a police press release regarding the costs of the louise nicholas investigation.

watched the tv1 leader's debate tonight. i have to say i found it appalling that john key kept talking over helen clark. we wanted to hear a contest of ideas, but mr key, in true matthew hooten form, wanted to make sure that no voice other than his would be heard. miss clark gave him the courtesy of letting him reply without interruption. but mr key had no such courtesy, and he carried on in much the way that the national party carries on in question time. they listen to questions from their own MPs in silence, but scream at the top of their lungs to drown out the answers of ministers. all it shows is that they are afraid of an equal contest of ideas, and it's petty behaviour. it spoiled the debate for me.

more annoying though, is tv1's "panel" to discuss the debate tonight. for the right, they have an open national party supporter, but they don't have a labour party supporter for the left. rather, they have gone with matt mccarten who supports the alliance. radio nz does this with their political face-off between laila harre (alliance) and matthew hooten (openly national). it's getting quite tiresome.

the debate worth listening to tonight was on maori tv, between hon nanaia mahuta and angeline greensill. it had the benefits of both candidates being able to speak, of the presenters bringing them back to the question when they tried to veer off track, and a total absence of shouting.

felt sorry for ms greensill though. as sandra lee said, tariana turia has given maori party candidates a hospital pass by announcing that the dole should be scrapped. she obviously forgot to send the memo to her candidates before opening her mouth, and i'd say that pita sharples is going to have to do some fast talking tomorrow to try to salvage their campaign.

Monday, 13 October 2008

and we're off...

wow, i'm really tired out, having spent the evening answering the questions for the hand mirror candidate survey. head over there to see the various responses that have been posted. there's some really interesting discussion.

had a great weekend with the various events and the labour party campaign launch. the launch was great: oscar kightly and elemnop, and a great speech from both dr cullen and the PM. i can tell you that the place was buzzing, the energy in the room was palpable. there is no way that this party is tired out. we were all pumped up and ready to go.

if you missed the PM's speech, you can find it here. i doubt that the media covered it, but i loved the announcement of support for training for those who get laid off and have been working for 5 years. i know how emotionally devastating it can be to lose your job through no fault of your own, but at least the study package means that you have options to upskill and find another job. the other announcements around infrastructure spending, increase in apprenticeships and the deposit insurance scheme have received pretty good coverage.

also brilliant is the announcement of the universal student allowance. ok, i'll admit to being someone who'll benefit from this policy when it comes in. i was wondering how we were going to cope with the costs of tertiary education for the kids, but this will make things so much easier. now, all we need is a labour-led government! yup, working on that right now.

i attended two fiji day celebrations, one in hamilton and the other in manukau city. the auckland one was huge, organised by radio tarana, and very much a success. there must have been thousands there. missing in action were the national party, which was a bit of a surprise. ok, they was a campaign launch on, but that didn't stop two labour ministers, an MP and 2 candidates (including moi) from turning up.

i was glad to avoid having to drink kava during the ceremony in auckland, in that it wasn't offered to me. phew. there is always a difficulty with cultural events, when another culture clashes directly with your own, and i'm not sure i've figured out the best way to deal with that yet. on the one hand, i don't want to give offence. on the other hand, i don't want to compromise on my beliefs. i have a similar problem with the hongi when on the marae. it's something that i'm still working on.

[update: i hope my friends at the hand mirror forgive me, but i have to link to this post by chris trotter, which so perfectly sums up the labour party launch.]

it has been pointed out to me that my previous post regarding the "obsession" video had some shortcomings, and i take on board what has been said. i do try to be careful about what i say, and think carefully about how i word things. but of course i know that i'll get things wrong now and then (comes with the territory), so appreciate it when people are come to me with their concerns.

i certainly didn't mean to imply, in any way, that the jewish community are targetting muslims and if people have read it that way, then my apologies. let me try to be clearer:

1. i want to absolutely emphasise the link between hate speech and hate crimes. since my post on friday, there have been others incidents of harassment in america. in illinois, a mosque* had "two windows that were shattered and a five-gallon tank of flammable liquid that had been spilled in an area of the mosque’s school that is under construction". a muslim candidate for the irvine city council has received death threats and a muslim student at a chicago college was attacked. all of these incidents may not be linked directly to the dvd (the threat to the local body candidate may have been as a result of inflammatory comments made by an opponent during an earlier campaign meeting). but there is little doubt that hate speech, when left unchecked and unchallenged, leads to hate crimes.

2. i'm appalled that the dvd itself and the incident i linked have not received more coverage in the media. i'm particularly concerned at the lack of very vocal condemnation which should have occurred across the board, but hasn't.

3. i'm also appalled that the police have not taken more seriously the crime i wrote about on friday. lack of action by the police on hate crimes makes the target group even more vulnerable.

4. the people who have appeared on this dvd are well-known for islamophobia and, well, let's just call it what it is, bigotry. we need to understand where these people are coming from and the particular biases they have in order to appreciate the effect of what they're saying. i've not seen the dvd myself, and i know i wouldn't be able to. i've been to several overtly anti-muslim events, particularly since 2001, and i find that i've been worn down by these. i no longer put myself in the position of having to listen to this kind of thing. i know that someone has to do it, in order to provide a rebuttal, but i've decided that that person is no longer going to be me.

5. because the dvd has been released, in part if not in whole, to influence the upcoming elections, there needs to be some transparency here. there are very valid questions to be asked about where the money came from to produce and distribute the dvd. by drawing links to a particular organisation, i certainly wasn't intending to target a whole group. the links don't prove complicity in this activity, and i accept that. i certainly hope that more information comes to light and that the people behind this particular project are exposed.

Friday, 10 October 2008

incompetence and obsession

a few things to talk about today. first of all, i'm really surprised that no-one is making much of john key telling the reserve bank to drop interest rates yesterday. this is a big deal. there is the issue of political interference with the reserve bank, an institution which is supposed to make decisions independently of political parties.

but leaving that aside, it's just a stupid thing to do in a week when the dollar is having a massive fall. dropping interest rates by a whole percentage point would put the dollar into a real tailspin, and do absolutely nothing for economic stability in this country. mr key is a money-trader, that's where his commercial experience lies. surely he, more than anyone else, should know that. for him to make such a statement is reckless and had he been prime minister, would have had a significant negative impact.

there can only have been one reason for his statement. it was a populist attempt to get attention by being a champion for struggling homeowners with heavy mortgages. but it surely wouldn't help those struggling homeowners to drastically push up the costs of imports in a very short time-frame, thereby raising inflation and reducing their standard of living. it speaks to a level of economic ignorance on his part that is quite scary.

i picked up this story at the bottom of this post by queen of thorns (thanx for raising it). it's about an incident in america, where:

"a “chemical irritant” was sprayed through a window of the Islamic Society of Greater Dayton, where 300 people were gathered for a Ramadan prayer service. The room that the chemical was sprayed into was the room where babies and children were being kept while their mothers were engaged in prayers."

this wasn't just a random incident. it occurred in the context of an islamophobic video distributed, of which 28 million copies were distributed in 14 swing states. the video, "Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against The West", contains information that is apparently extremely one-sided and inflammatory. given that it includes comments from the likes of daniel pipes (who, if i remember correctly, is part of a group that wants islam to be made illegal in america) and Walid Shoebat, who once told a Missouri newspaper that he sees “many parallels between the Antichrist and Islam" and “Islam is not the religion of God -- Islam is the devil.” (information from CAIR ).

the dvd was put out by the clarion group, who are currently refusing to say who their funding is coming from. but it turns out that there appear to be some links with an organisation call Aish HaTorah:

And we still don't know how closely Clarion is tied to Aish HaTorah, an international Jewish educational organization with offices in New York. Clarion's incorporation papers share the same address; the PR firm says that's no longer the case.

But public filings list four directors of Clarion since its inception, and all four have ties to Aish HaTorah.

it's appalling that an attack on a presidential candidate in an election campaign is going to such lengths as to tarnish a whole community. and for those who think that hate speech is better out in the open than hidden, well it's easy to say when it's not your places of worship being gassed. the fact that the attack is not being covered by the wider media, and is apparently not even being seen as a hate crime by police makes it even worse.

once again i thank God i'm living in nz. for more information about the video, see here.

finally, i attended a political meeting this morning organised by a mental health group in hamilton. the panel of speakers were david bennett, sue bradford, doug woollerton and sue moroney. i don't think i've seen such an appalling effort as that of mr bennett. he came unprepared to the meeting, without any speech notes whatsoever. he made an initial excuse that all candidates couldn't be experts in all fields, and mental health was not his field.

but his party uses parliamentary funds to pay for the national party research unit (yes, labour does pay for it's own research unit this way as well). he could easily have given them a call a couple of weeks ago, given that he would have known the event was coming up, and asked them for some background information. he has electorate agents who could have assisted. and failing all that, his party has a health spokesperson and a couple of associate health spokespeople who should have easily been able to come to his aid, in order for him to at least have some idea about the topic.

it was clear that he just didn't bother, and that's not good enough. the national party have no policy in this area, which didn't help. moreover, he gave the impression that social services might not be receiving so much funding given the current economic crisis. if that's the case, why aren't national being open about this? it's something voters deserve to know well before election day. it's appalling that they should pick on the most vulnerable in society to bear the brunt of the recession - people who need greater support in bad times, not less.

in comparison, the other three looked like they had done their homework. i was impressed with both sue bradford and sue moroney, who clearly had some background knowledge of the area, and knew what the key issues were. even doug woollerton did reasonably well, and his clear statement that nz first would never agree to funding cuts in the area of mental health made me wonder again why he's with that party. i got to hear a bit of him in the last campaign, given that he's the candidate for hamilton east, and he strikes me as more of a labour person than a centrist. and i really don't know how he puts up with all that immigrant-bashing from his party. but there you go.

i've got a very busy weekend planned, with fiji day, the labour party campaign launch, the muslim soccer festival, the radio nz debate (in hamilton this week) as well as pamphlets to deliver into letter boxes. so don't expect to hear from me for a couple of days!

Thursday, 9 October 2008

thinking critically

i have to say that i'm feeling pretty lucky about now. i don't own shares, bonds or options in any companies, so i don't have to worry about the stock market. i don't have a mortgage with any bank, nor do i ever buy goods on hire purchase or other credit schemes. i have my visa bill paid in full by direct debit on the due date. so i don't have to worry about interest rates. i'm not planning to go overseas any time soon, nor do i have a business which requires goods to be imported. so i don't need to worry about volatile exchange rates. i have a secure job, and know that as long as there is a tax system, there will be a need for accountants.

i can basically watch events in the financial world with a somewhat detached serenity. yes, i'll be affected by rising prices, but this will be partially offset by tax cuts and changes to working for families. the only worry and tension i have relates to my concern for others who won't be so well-buffered from the economic downturn.

i know that some of the damage people face is self-inflicted, in that they have made choices to take on debt for consumption or investment. some of it is cyclical, in that the economy moves up and down and we're currently going through a rather bad patch. much of it is due to the deregulation of financial markets and the movement of global capital which made it possible, for example, for foreign investors to borrow cheaply at home and invest at much higher interest rates here.

the british, european and american governments struggle to halt the slide by pumping taxpayer money into the financial system. federal banks are slashing interest rates. but nothing is working.

i wonder how long it will take for people to realise that some fundamental changes need to made to the way financial systems are run. i don't know that anyone will be brave enough to make drastic changes. like doing away with the futures market, which is pure speculation and adds no value whatsoever. like some solid protectionist policies around national assets, to prevent local governments being held hostage by prowling multi-nationals and investment funds. like some solid incentives to invest in productive rather than speculative assets.

the latter reminds what a stupid decision the national party has made in deciding to scrap R&D subsidies and the fast forward fund. this is precisely the kind of expenditure that will lead to solid growth based on production. in the current economic environment, to forgo incentives and funding for research is about as bad as it gets.

although really, we do need to be going a lot further. we need to start questioning a lot more of our basic assumptions. but we've unfortunately not been taught to be particularly critical in our thinking. a lot of our education has been based on preparing us for the workforce, for paid employment rather than critical thinking. and much (though not all) paid employment rewards those who are able to follow instructions and toe the line. it doesn't reward those who question and challenge authority, so we get out of the habit of doing so.

current times require that kind of thinking to provide us with better options. one of the issues that no-one is much talking about from treasury's fiscal update this week is the predicted rise in umemployment. we've been too busy talking about tax cuts (yes, i know, guilty as charged!).

if the unemployment rate rises, we need more money to pay for those on benefits. and we need to ensure that those benefits are enough to live on. i raised that issue in another context yesterday, at the hand mirror. i think it needs to be raised in a wider context. we know that unemployment has flow on effects in terms of crime, poor health and poor education. if we want to ensure that 10-15 years from now, we don't have another generation on children raised to think of themselves as failures and outcasts from society, we must make sure we have enough money for those who are going to lose their jobs in the next 3-5 years.

at the same time, the tax take will be down, so how will we pay for this? higher government debt at a time when credit is expensive is not a good idea. forgoing tax cuts or raising the top tax rate (say for those earning over $100,000) will be politically impossible given the focus on tax cuts these days.

it's something we need to be thinking about, but not many people are. because we always assume that it won't be us who loses our job. it won't be us who gets hit hard by circumstances. we live in that false sense of security, thinking that the worst of it will pass us by. i say it's time to be realistic, and to think about providing properly for those in need, if for no other reason than that one day soon, that might be you.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

tax cuts

whew, i didn't mean to take such a long break, but as graham reid says in a post about not posting:

My point is that after a couple of weeks not passing my opinion into the world it became harder and harder to catch up with the fast-passing game, and increasingly unnecessary.

well, i do have the excuse that i was busy with eid celebrations, then spent much of the weekend in auckland and attending events in hamilton. have since been struck down with a bout of unwellness, possibly related to feeling a little rundown after ramadan.

but here i am again, and wondering where to start. since tax cuts are the topic du jour, let me say a few words about that. i can't do pretty graphs like they've done at the standard, nor the cool comparative tables at no right turn. and everyone with an opinion has a press release out on the subject, although i did find this one from the manufacturers and exporters association quite interesting:

“The funding for the cuts has come from the wrong places. New Zealand was once at the bottom of the OECD in terms policy support for R&D spending, this change will put us back in last place. At a time when other countries such as Australia are about to increase their support for innovation New Zealand firms will once again be at a competitive disadvantage in this respect.”

“Investment in the tradeable sector requires a long-term commitment so removing these incentives will hurt firms that have already priced in the tax credit. This sort of backtrack demonstrates a lack of understanding of the tradeable sector and causes Government distrust. The comment that, “evidence of real increases in R&D is harder to find” is daft given that the R&D credit applies for the first time in the 2008 income year. We have already sunk the setup costs, abolishing the credit now is extremely wasteful and confusing.”

“Reducing the value of Kiwisaver also appears a short-term move at a time where our reliance on offshore credit has exposed our economy to the foreign financial crisis. Kiwisaver has come too late to avert this financial crisis, but increased levels of saving will reduce our susceptibility to future problems. The removal of the tax credit for the employers contribution to Kiwisaver puts yet more pressure on firms,” says Mr. Walley.

the funny part of this press release is that mr walley (?!) forgot to tell us how he thinks the tax cuts should be funded. maybe he didn't want to raise the spectre of more borrowing, given the current economic climate and the increased cost of credit. but the money has to come from somewhere after all, and what's the point of (very validly) criticising national's existing proposals without suggesting an alternative source of funding. the fact is that the national party tax cut proposals are a waste of time, and won't get the money to where it's needed most.

there was something else that really annoyed me today. it was the vision of dr don brash on tv, telling us how very well placed the nz economy was to face the current financial crisis. it's something he's been saying for quite some weeks now, and it is of course the truth. it is the result of some very sound economic management on the part of dr cullen, but dr brash doesn't go quite that far- he was a national party leader after all.

but what really annoys me is how he totally fails to mention that had he become PM, and had he put in place the tax cut package he was proposing during the 2005 campaign, then the nz economy would not be so well-placed. in fact we would have been significantly more in debt, we would have had significantly higher interest rates, and all that would have occurred well before this latest collapse of the world markets had even begun. there are many expletives that have been filling my mind, with the words hypocritical and two-faced featuring heavily in between. i just can't believe how dr brash can make his current remarks with a straight face and without a twinge of conscience. to think, we were saved from him by only about 1% of the party vote.

and while i'm at it, i'm sure i heard someone from the greens also criticise national's plan to cut the employer's contribution to kiwisaver. this would be the same party that was opposed to the cullen fund and kiwisaver, and would rather have had the first $5,000 of income being tax free? how quickly they forget. and they forget also that their policy would have had exactly the same problems as national's 2005 tax cut package ie expensive so requiring high levels of government debt, and inflationary so causing higher interest rates. the additional government contribution to kiwisaver was the best decision for that time, but will anyone actually come out and say so? well, lucky you have me!