Thursday, 26 November 2009

eid-ul adha

on saturday is the second major muslim festival of eid-ul adha, a commemoration of the life of abraham. it also ties in with the hajj (pilgrimage to makkah, saudi arabia). it's a quieter celebration compared to eid-ul fitr which commemorates the end of ramadan. it's also a festival that is more about sharing.

as it happens, i have 4 things to be at on saturday, and have managed to get out of 2 of them, may not be able to avoid the 3rd and will most likely go to the 4th, which is to hear valerie browning talk about the plight of the afar people of africa. this is one of the joys of being a minority and having your festival days not recognised by the majority of the country. sometimes i wonder what it would be like to have the whole country celebrating with us. it's a feeling i miss, because i don't really identify with christmas so don't really feel a part of it. besides which, i find the whole commercial hype around that celebration to be quite frustrating.

still, i'm looking forward to a day set aside for friends and family. eid mubarak to you all.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

stifling dissent

many organisations have been facing budget cuts in the last year, particularly with the new government having a very difficult time balancing the budget. the pathways to partnership programme, which secured funding for NGO's over 4 years, has been cut. the labour government secured funding contracts for 3 years, but the current government has told service providers that contracts are "under constant review".

what this means is that those organisations are unable to criticise government policy or government funding cuts. to do so means the risk of losing what funding they have left, and people are scared to speak out. we already know that ministers in this government are quite prepared to directly attack individuals who dare to speak out, and to partially release personal information so that those individuals are subject to public abuse. organisations whose staff speak out face similar consequences, except that the impact is much more widespread ie clients who use the services and are often in desperate need will be the ones to miss out.

now this is a real attack on freedom of speech and on the right to political dissent. it means that the public is not accessing information they have a right to, because many of these cuts are not announced publicly by the government or they are announced so quietly that no-one knows about them. it's an appalling state of affairs.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

mortgagee sales

mortgagee sales are at an all time high:

There were 343 mortgagee sales in September, a 130% jump from the 149 such sales in September 2008, according to Terralink International. In September 2007, before the recession started to bite, there were just 16 foreclosures.

“We’re likely to see mortgagee sales continue well into 2010,” said Phillip Borken, economist at ANZ National Bank. A struggling labour market and a steady increase in household debt are “key economic drivers behind the increase in forced sales.”

i heard a story today of a home that had been put up for a mortgagee sale. the people who were losing their home ended up taking out every single fitting they could get their hands on, including switches, fixed appliances, sink tops in the bathroom, in-built speakers. basically they gutted the house as well as they could and spoiled much of what was left.

i can't say that i approve of the destruction as such, but i do have a hard time finding any sympathy for the banks. what our friend from the anz national bank doesn't tell us is that banks were pushing loans on to people, forcing staff to meet targets of increased lending to consumers. these consumers were lead to believe that property was a sure thing, that capital gains were absolutely inevitable and that there was little risk involved.

they were also presented with the added incentive of tax losses that could be offset against other taxable income. under these conditions, i've seen plenty of people who are now seriously losing money on rental properties that were never a viable investment. even if they can keep up the interest payments, it's going to be a very long time before the capital gains will equal the amount they've paid out in interest.

as for the tax deductibility, you pay out $100 in interest, you get $39 back (assuming you're at the highest tax rate). that still means you've lost $61 dollars, and more if you're at a lower tax rate. the point is that property ownership is nowhere near risk-free, and particularly not when you're borrowing 100% of the purchase price.

many of the banks' customers certainly didn't have the background knowledge to be wary about this kind of thing. but the banks do have that kind of knowledge, and they failed to protect their customers or to follow sound practices. if they lose money on mortgagee sales now, in most cases it's pretty well deserved. it's just a pity that the people who took out the loans are also losing substantially as well.

as it is, it looks like the banks are still making plenty of money:

Household debt peaked at over 160% of households’ disposable income in 2008, nearly three times the level of December 1990, according to central bank figures. Debt currently stands at 152% of income, based on the latest quarterly figures.

which means that an awful lot of people are paying an awful lot of interest.

Monday, 23 November 2009

at the nesian festival

i've just put up a post at the hand mirror about the tension between social connectedness and political activism for social justice.

on saturday i was at the nesian festival, putting in some time on the labour party stall. it was a great day, with celebration of the various pasifika cultures and some great food. thank you to the fijians who put on a yummy halal lamb curry!

at the stall, we got quite a bit of interest. people are pretty annoyed with the proposed changes to ACC, as well as the ACE cuts. i ended up having a 20 minute debate with a young male free-market lover who thinks tax cuts solve a myriad of problems and privatisation is the way to go. despite so much evidence to the contrary.

silly me, to waste my time like that, but it was a conversation that i just couldn't seem to get out of. i know i didn't change his mind about anything (not that anything he said had an impact on me either), but i always enjoy revealing that i'm chartered accountants to these types, because for some stupid reason, they seem to think that lefties don't have a strong grasp of economics. hmm. i'll have to send them along to a presentation by bryan gould, brian easton, peter conway or rod oram!

Sunday, 22 November 2009

rocky horror

i've got a couple of posts up at the hand mirror, one about discrimination against young mothers by the community max scheme, and the other about seeking permission to propose.

i tried watching the film version of the rocky horror show tonight. i've never seen it, and it's one of these things that you feel you should have watched, just because so many people talk about it so often. and it has a particular link to hamilton, we even have a statue to prove it!

but i just couldn't be bothered sitting through the whole thing. i gave up after an hour, cos i was so bored. i can see how it might have been cutting edge when it first came out, but it's not so anymore. so i guess i'll just remain ignorant of what all the fuss is about, and watch mamma mia instead!

Thursday, 19 November 2009

tax investigations

this morning i went to a course for work - we accountants have to complete a certain number of continuing professional development. and today we got to hear (amongst other things) about the work IRD are doing around tax investigations and audit. you'll find some of the figures here, the key one being that tax investigations resulted in the IRD netting $1.269 billion.

the biggest culprits are "large enterprises", which is to be expected because they would be paying the largest amounts of tax and so developing schemes to avoid paying. the banks were particularly busy in this area, given the recent court cases that went against them. if anything, this proves that the IRD should be focussing most of it's efforts here, as this is where they will get the most returns.

i found it interesting (but i guess that's just me) to hear about the way the IRD has changed the way they select cases to be investigated. it used to be a pretty random approach, but now they use all sorts of sophisticated statistical modelling based on particular risk factors. which means they've been able to be more efficient in their work, and that is a good thing.

however, i can tell you that being audited by the IRD is not a nice experience. luckily, any audits i've been involved with have gone pretty smoothly. it's all about having good paperwork to back up your position and seeking proper advice when it comes to extra tricky positions. but even then, having someone combing through all your work can be stressful, especially when any errors could lead to significant penalties and interest for your client.

what surprises me though, is that only 10% ($127 million) of the take is from cases of tax evasion and fraud. i would have though this would be a higher percentage, but there you go. either the fraudsters are too clever to be caught or there aren't quite so many of them as there are people who are just making mistakes or getting it wrong.

amongst the interesting stuff i've been reading recently, i found this paper giving a maori woman's perpective on the piano. what surprised me the most is that i just didn't notice the negative portrayal of maori in the film when i watched it, being distracted by the main story i guess.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

the long walk

i haven't been sleeping too well lately, so haven't had much energy to be posting. also not helped by the fact that i decided to do the 6 km walk in the round the bridges event on sunday.

don't ask me what possessed me to enter this event, other than it seemed like a good idea at the time. for the first time ever, we had a muslim women's team & i wanted to be part of that. there were 13 of us "scarfies", and the funniest bit was just before the race started. we were all standing in place (towards the back, of course), and the announcer said "very soon, the moment that you've all been training so hard for". we all collapsed with laughter, as very little training had been done by any of us!

and yes, i really felt it. i'd been trying to get in some walking during the week. i'd done 3.8km around the hamilton lake the previous sunday, and a couple of half hour sessions on the treadmill. it's just so hard to find the time!

i was ok for the first 3 kms, particularly when we were walking right next to the river. i really love the fact that our river doesn't have any development close to the banks. it retains all it's natural beauty, and in many places, you hardly know you're in the city.

the 5th km was the hardest, which i felt was a drag (reminded of the stephen king novellette, "the long walk". well, ok, no-one was actually shooting at me, but i definitely identified with the descriptions of pain!). the 6th i didn't mind so much because i knew it was almost over, and even managed to put on a burst of energy for the last 250m. who would have thought! but the really painful bit was walking from garden place (where the race ended) to my car. my feet were so incredibly sore, it took me quite a while to shuffle along to the carpark.

still, i'm glad i did it. i enjoyed the company, and the feeling of being part of such a big event. and i wasn't too sore on monday, just the end of my toes really. if you're really interested, you can see photos and videos of myself and my daughter here.

and i have a more serious post on the recent law commission report up at the hand mirror.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

being consulted

i've posted at the hand mirror again today, about an organisation that is selling life skills.

today i attended a consultation meeting organised by the human rights commission, about workplace issues. it was an interesting meeting and i'll link to the report once it comes out. i don't feel comfortable saying too much about what was discussed before then, except that i'm really glad that HRC are doing this. there are some really serious problems faced in the workplace, and i hope that this process leads to some improvements to deal with it.

it was also lovely meeting the equal employment opportunities commissioner, judy mcgregor. i know of her from her work, which i greatly admire, but hadn't met her until today.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

decent people

i have a post up at the hand mirror on hate speech.

i didn't have time to write on monday night because we went to the end-of-year prize-giving ceremony for my elder daughter's high school. it's her final year, and i'm not allowed to tell what she got (fair enough, i used to hate it when my parents told my results!), but let's just say that i'm very proud of her.

one of the nicest things the assistant principal said just before she read out the names and awards for the group my daughter was in went something like this: "not only have these young people achieved excellence, but the most important thing about them is that they are all thoroughly decent people, each and every one of them". i have to say it brought a tear to my eye, and reminded me again (just as it did at exactly this time last year) that we rarely celebrate the thorough decentness of our young people.

we hear plenty about how rude, obnoxious, silly, or whatever else they are. we hear about it when they break the law. we denigrate the new technologies they embrace or their way of doing and seeing things, even though there is nothing inherently wrong, for example, with txt language or social networking on the internet. we just automatically believe that everything was so much better in our day, and that this generation is so much worse than the last.

well i don't think they are. not the young people that i see regularly, and certainly not the young people we briefly got to know on monday night. we need to celebrate these young people so much more, and to let them know just how wonderful they are both as individuals and as a group.

yeah, so that's what i was doing monday night, and last night i decided to have a break. so there!

Sunday, 8 November 2009

fort hood

i've had a pretty busy weekend, following a hectic week, so again little on-line time. yesterday i attended a media workshop in auckland, followed by lunch with some wonderful women, and a visit to see a newborn. today we had the shama AGM.

but my mind is really with the families of soldiers killed and injured at fort hood. it's a horrible thing, and i can't begin to imagine what those people are going through. the first i heard of the shooting was from emails sent out by CAIR, condemning the shooting, and then later, giving details of a press conference. that was enough to let me know (even though the name hadn't been released) that the killer had been muslim.

we don't know yet whether his religion was a factor in the shooting. after all, there is the fact that fort hood has a high number of suicides, 75 since 2003. then there is the fact that funding of mental health services for american military personnel is not anywhere near sufficient:

There is a shortage of professionals specifically trained in the nuances of military life, and those who are highly qualified often experience "burn out" due to the demands placed on them. Another complex and challenging task is how to modify the military culture so that mental health services are more accepted and less stigmatized. This would greatly improve the probability that service members would seek care when needed, but even if providers were available and seeking treatment was deemed acceptable, appropriate mental health services are often not readily accessible. This is usually due to a variety of factors that include long waiting lists, limited clinic hours, a poor referral process and geographical location.

there is the fact that the killer was, as a psychologist, having to listen to some pretty horrific stories about current conflicts, and then put in the position of having to go out and serve in the same place. we don't know what level of peer support he had in his job to help him deal with the daily stress.

i have to say that i don't know much about the nuts and bolts of military operation. i didn't know, for example, that you can't just resign from the military, nor can you walk away. if you refuse to serve in the role you've been assigned, they put you in a military prison. there is no escape. and if you have heard from traumatised soldiers about their experiences, and if you feel that you have been harassed because of your religion (as a cousin of the killer has alleged), and are being sent on this assignment as a punishment, then the feeling of being trapped might be overwhelming.

which is not to excuse what he did. of course not. it's just to say that there are many other factors that may explain why he did it other than religion. and that's why i've found the media coverage around the shooting disturbing - particularly the fact that he had worn "traditional" muslim dress some hours earlier when going shopping. or that he was not a convert. or any number of other details which may be totally irrelevant as to why he did this.

i am at least heartened by president obama stating clearly that assumptions as to motive should not be made. because the backlash against the muslim community in america has begun, with death threats being delivered to a mosque in texas. the wider effects of this tragedy on other muslim personnel serving is also a concern. as is the impact on the family of the killer.

it's a tragedy that touches so many people. when i think that tragedies similar to this were happening every day in iraq and afghanistan, and are still happening regularly, well it's really hard to process. i can't think of anything that will be a comfort to the loved ones of the soldiers who died in fort hood. my thoughts are with them.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009


ugh, i'm just not getting any time online, which is frustrating because i have a lot of thoughts in my head. but i had three meetings back-to-back on monday night, then a dinner to go to last night, and this evening i have spent time with a high school student in wellington and a university student in canada, answering questions in relation to their studies. and this was to be my quiet evening at home!

but it's all been really positive stuff. now it's close to midnight, so i'll just put in a short post about the proposed ACC levy hike for motorbike users. it strikes that this proposal has been put out there by the government to deflect attention away from other changes. the bikies will complain and protest, the government will back down to show how much they listen to the concerns of the electorate, and everyone will be happy. in the meantime, all sorts of cover will be taken away and the work account privatised, with little fuss or protest.

i think most people on PAYE don't appreciate the effects that competition in the work account will have for them. it will mean that employers will choose the cheapest cover for their employees. and the cheapest cover will mean that the insurer will try to pay out as little as possible and try to reject as many claims as possible in order to keep costs down and profits up. employees will have no say in who the employer insures with, but will suffer if they have an accident due to poorer cover. it means choice for the employer but none for the employee, who will amost certainly be worse off.

it's frustrating to see these tactics being used, and listening to an interview with a member of the ulysses club, i t was sad to hear that he had bought the government line that ACC is in crisis. it's great that this group is organising a major protest, but don't just protest about the changes for bikers. please protest against the whole raft of changes which are being forced through unnecessarily.