marsden_online: (loved)
It is ANZAC day here in New Zealand, the annual public "holiday" to commemorate and honor those who died fighting in "our" name in military service. In practice this means primarily World Wars I and II with in recent years the occasional nod creeping in to Vietnam or more recent actions in the Middle East.

There are links I have shared on FB over the past few years that this year I am going to round up here before putting down more of my thoughts

#lestweforget
~~~

Cliffs of Gallipoli [Sabaton]
"There is no enemy, there is no victory
Only boys who lost their lives in the sand
Young men were sacrificed their name are carved in stone and kept alive
And forever we will honour the memory of them""


19 things you need to know about ANZAC Day (that we should not be proud of)
http://thedailyblog.co.nz/2016/04/25/19-things-you-need-to-know-about-anzac-day/

The Pencilsword remembers the Maori Land Wars - arguably more important to NZs history and identity but often forgotten
http://thewireless.co.nz/articles/the-pencilsword-lest-we-forget

The Making of Gallipoli into a Marketable Memory
http://werewolf.co.nz/2015/04/whats-to-commemorate/

I was only 19 [Redgum]
"And can you tell me, doctor, why I still can't get to sleep?
And night time's just a jungle dark and a barking M.16?
And what's this rash that comes and goes, can you tell me what it means?
God help me - I was only nineteen"


~~~
"Lest we forget" means different things to different people. For some it is about the family who went to war whether by choice or otherwise and didn't come back. For some it is about the need to be prepared to go to war "for the right reasons" (these reasons vary).

For me it means
a. Being aware that
-- wars past and present are not times of glory and righteousness as presented by the media and spin doctors, but of horror and death

-- that the amounts spent on military adventurism by western economies would go a long way to giving the oft-struggling citizens of those countries(arguably the losers and casualties of a form of civil /economic/ warfare which has taken place of the intervening decades) a decent standard of living. Food, healthcare, accommodation, the freedom to be productive rather than just trying to survive.

b. Saying #notinmyname when my government continues to choose to hire out our military "defence forces" especially in a time when modern military conflict often seems to mean
-- a technologically superior force operating on behalf of interests who are posed no significant threat by the other side
-- sowing death with machines which doe not need to have human compassion or judgement drilled out of them, dissociation of their operators enabled by a safe distance
-- inflicting civilian casualties and recording them as "enemy combatants" for simply being present

c. That the best way to not become involved in a war against a nation with a "morally bankrupt" government is for people to stand up, be critical and questioning, and prevent their government from becoming that sort of institution.

Every. Day.

~~~
War (What is it good for?) [Edwin Starr]
marsden_online: (write)
I communicate with the pollsters by e-survey, especially since auto-dialers put me offering my phone completely. One particular company often starts with the question "What do you see as the biggest issue facing NZ today.", or something similar. This week it was beefed up a bit and led to an extended series of thoughts which I posted on FB (as being the most convenient format at the time) but am repeating here as a less ephemeral record.

The question:
What are the main social problems in New Zealand that the Government and community as a whole need to address?
My initial answer:
Inequity and poverty:
With our GDP per capita there should be no excuse for not being able to provide everyone with the basics of a warm, dry, private space to call their own and sufficient to eat; as a matter of right with no need to jump through any hoops to prove they are entitled to it.
Address this issue and a great number of other issues which stem from or are exacerbated by it will also recede.

Half an hour or so later I also wrote the following (edited a bit for clarity):
---
Ongoing thought about why our current social welfare system doesn't work very well wrt eg housing and food.

It consists of (reluctantly) giving people money and then leaving them to be able to procure the required services from "the market". But they're not dealing with /one/ market they are dealing with /many/ markets - accommodation, food, electricity ... - /each of which/
- has the goal of acquiring as much of that money as possible /without concern/ for the balance of the customers' needs
- and prices accordingly.

The result of course is that there is not and probably will never be "enough" money - see also for example how private rent increases have tracked the accommodation supplement.

The supply industries also benefit in their pricing strategy from individuals being given the money to spend rather than the services being purchased in bulk by a central authority with the clout to negotiate and keep the prices down.

For this reason I'm not opposed to government purchasing services from private providers; I /am/ opposed to the private providers being selected on the basis of lowest cost or metrics such as how fast they can get people off their books (churn). The correct metric has to be based on standard of care.

That would unfortunately require the government to care about the well-being of it's /entire/ constituency, not just those who voted for the "ruling" party or contributed to its coffers. :/
---

Back to now and a couple of other thoughts

Dealing with poverty is not a problem which can be solved by a single approach.
- Giving people money (or some form of equivalent discretionary resource) directly so they can target their own needs in their own situation is one part of the solution and has been shown to work well for getting people back on their feet. But as a sole or primary approach it risks capture as described above; where funds meant to help people into a position to better their lives end up straight in the (mostly metaphorical these days) pockets of "service" providers.
- /But/ poverty is relative and targeting the affordability of common - even "basic" goods and services is another piece of the puzzle. Not in an ad-hoc manner (eg taxes on/off fresh/processed foods - this has been a regulatory nightmare wherever it has been tried, save it for genuine luxury goods) but in a whole-of-market approach like Pharmac.
Bulk demand can shift the costs down but this is not something those already struggling with their living situation are in a position to organise. In a democratic/capitalist welfare society this should be a function of government.

One government department I think could make more of an impact here (if they were permitted) is Housing New Zealand; right now they are limited by having to use their own housing stock (which they have been forced to run down and sell down over the past decade); but if they were also able to function as a not-for-profit property management company effectively handling maintenance and property standards for those who for example
- have an investment property "retirement plan" but find the details of renting it out more effort than it is worth
- have a social conscience
- will accept a low-end-of-the-market-rent-range return

they might well be able to
- apply downward pressure on rental prices
- fill up some of those homes we hear about sitting empty
- reduce their waiting lists
- provide security for a lot of people who currently have found they can't ever trust they will still have a place to live after the next review
- upgrade some of NZ's abysmal housing stock
- and potentially be in a position to acquire some of those properties to replenish their own stocks when the bubble bursts

Yes the deal would have to be structured so as to appeal to the property owners opening it up to the criticism of being a government handout to that class; but I am reasonably certain it could be made to work for no more than is currently being handed to them indirectly via the accommodation supplement and putting beneficiaries up in motels for a week while simultaneously lumbering them with a paper debt which will, realistically, never be recovered.
marsden_online: (Blueknight)
Giving is a major part of my life. Probably the greater part of it is invisible; charities I regularly support, flybys on givealittle and so forth but to be honest I find these less satisfying than what I can do directly for those around me. Making someone's life immediately better even if only for a short time kicks off one of the few emotional highs remaining to me. You can argue about whether than makes it altruistic giving or not elsewhere, I don't care. What is important to me is that there is less stress in a persons' life at frankly, little substantial cost to me.
- pad your groceries? People who have full stomachs are happier, healthier and think better.
- top up your bus card? Represents pocket change to me, to you might represent the freedom to leave the house and get to where you want/need to be when you want/need to be.
- covered an unexpected shortfall? Luck comes in good and bad, I have plenty of the former so please let me share it with you.

Life does not treat everyone equally, but it is within our power as people to redress the balance. Especially those of us to whom it has been more than fair; and I think compassion demands that we do so. Some people prefer to argue from a position of self interest - make sure other have (just) enough and they won't be motivated to try and take what you have to redress the balance. That's better than building fortresses ("gated communities") and hiring guards to keep the mob from the door I suppose.

I can understand how a person who has had to struggle, work and fight their whole life to get above the line and stay there might not be able to let go of that mindset, no matter how much success they achieve it may be that in their own mind they will always be poor and one unexpected bill away from disaster. But I also know that there are many who do not fall into that trap and having made their way to a comfortable position do a great deal to try and help others do the same. That makes much more sense to me - having been there how would not want to get other people out of the situation once you have means?

I am not one of of these; the metaphorical spoon in my mouth may not have been silver but it is less through my own efforts that I am where I am today than the gifts afforded from from my parents' hard labours. And so I can understand how, up to a certain age, a person can be raised simply not cognizant of the harsh realities of life for many. In the modern world my sympathy for that mindset runs out a year or two after they have reached university and should have had the opportunity to start taking a critical look at the world around them.

As always grateful that again, life has been more than fair to me and my sympathy for the struggles of others is born of intellect and a sense of fairness than hard personal experience.

So we come back to the position where I have- more than enough and so I endeavour to share my good fortune. I give this less than I would like; for two reasons
- Rationally I do need to keep putting some aside for my own future. How much is arguable, but I am not at the position where I can absolutely soak a large expense (such as the one about to be incurred for drain replacement) just yet, and I have no certainty that NZ's welfare state will be in a condition to look after me in my old age.
- it occupies not just the physical resources but also time and energy.

On this latter we have as a society theoretically harnessed the specialisation of labour to handle this. We pay takes to a central organisation (government) and one of the things they are supposed to do with them is make sure that if life treats us poorly we are looked after to a not-uncomfortable standard. In the meantime our money is (supposed to be) used to look after those who life is currently treating poorly. This should free us from the greater part of a need to worry about the circumstances of our families, friends, acquaintances / strangers.

Our current government is rejecting that part of it's duties (granted it is not the first to do so). Instead of going directly - in cash or in kind - to people who need food and shelter significant amounts of "our" money are shown to be being spent propping up companies that by National's own market ethos should probably be allowed to fail / take their business elsewhere, or paid in bribes to already wealthy individuals in countries where corruption is blatant, or siphoned off as indirect subsidies to private accommodation providers and old-boys-network businesspeople who are already "above the line".

One result of this is that I - multiplied by who-knows-how-many-others - have to spend more of my time and energy personally directing resource to the people I can see in need, and relying on the voids which are charities to be doing the right thing just to help regular people when they should be able to focus on those who positions are truly dire. And in some ways that /waste/ pisses me off just as much as seeing people around me living in poverty and the mis-appropriation of public money.

I am one person of good but still moderate means. I cannot do enough to even scrape the surface. I can feed a few people but I cannot house them. Organisations which have been set up explicitly to address the issues and channel the contributions of people like myself are barely scraping the surface. Central government is actively and deliberately following policies guaranteed to make the situation worse while benefiting those who already have more than enough.

My local council is one of the largest providers of social housing in the country (an operation which is currently being strong-armed to privatisation by central government). I occasionally encounter people who state vehemently how they are against their rates being used for such a purpose. I have no time for this attitude. Homelessness and poverty have both local and regional aspects and I absolutely expect our elected representatives at all levels to work together at the task of redirecting a sufficient portion of our taxes to those in need (rates being pretty much the closest we have in NZ to a formal tax on land even if they are not particularly responsive to capital gains).

Taking care of those who do not have the means to take care of themselves I consider the first duty of a supposedly democratic government. All else follows from or supports that. In doing so, for those of a more right-wing bent, people are freed to be more productive and contribute their best to society and the future rather than burning our all - and in the case of those who turn to crime, others all as well - just to survive.

[deep calming breaths]

The point I was getting around to is actually about the visibility of giving. This morning I posted quickly in my FB and Tumblr

When we talk about “give and take” why is the implication always that the giving and the taking are between the same two entities?

If I am in a position to give freely what someone needs why is it expected that I am expecting something in return? If you are in want of something why should it have to come from someone that already owes you or that you are then expected to owe?

Much better that we all give what we can when we see a need, and try to make out own desires visible without guilt or suspicion for others seeking to fulfil them - or be it necessarily with the the acceptance that there may not be anyone who feels they are in a position to do so.

I know a lot of people above and below the line, and plenty of those have moved from one side to the other and sometimes multiple times over the years. I am fairly public about much of the personal giving I do, not because I desire the plaudits (although they are nice) but in an endeavour to set an example to others above the line who may meander across my trail. To make giving freely visible and accepted, because I alone cannot make a lasting difference.

~~~
Related reading: that came through my Facebook feed while I was typing this up: How we got Here
marsden_online: (write)
Submissions to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) close tomorrow (March 11) barely two months after the treaty was signed and text made available. About 3am on Monday morning my brain decided it was time to write something, but Ithen got distracted by actually reading MFATs National Interest Analysis (NIA) (the better to make an informed submission. It of course paints a far rosier picture of the expected outcomes.

This post has three parts:
1. Useful links
2. The text of my submission (done through the online form)
3. Other rant triggered by reading the NIA (this was going to be rants but I have run out of time :( )

~~~
Online submission form (very limited life expectancy) (you will need to complete the verification at the bottom of the page and then click the "Make an online submission" button below to actually get to the form)
The NIA (pdf)
MFAT TPPA subsite

~~~
I felt it best to make a measured submission just highlighting a few points of concern.
As a member of the public who has been following the no TPPA actions but has also found the time to read the NIA (but not the earlier published fact sheets) I would still like to express some some concerns about the process and implementation of this treaty.

1. I understand that there is always an element of confidentiality required in trade negotiations but the secrecy surrounding this one - and indeed continuing for years after ratification seems to have be unprecedented. Combined with the very short amount of time allowed for public, expert, and opposition party representative examination of the text and consultation I find it difficult to have confidence in the benefit to New Zealand of any legislative changes which may be required.

2. Speaking of benefits it is not at all clear from the NIA /how/ the people of NZ generally benefit from the signing of this treaty. "Economic growth" and a forecast boost to GDP are presented as as self-explanatory benefits without justification; but this would only be the case if the wealth generated flows to those who are less-well off.

As it stands this treaty would appear to deliver the most benefit to
- those who are /already/ established enough to partake in international trade and
- a small minority of future SMEs producing exportable goods/services who manage to become established against the now-increased competition from our trading partners.

In short this treaty seems to offer no great benefit for the majority of NZ citizens and business while exposing them to economic attack by better-resourced established competitors from abroad.

3. Following on from that if the NIA is accurate the ISDS clauses have been well ring-fenced to protect "public-good" issues but it still seems to be a risk that if a local company were to come up with a disruptive technology or process which could challenge established players but would require tweaks to our - or our treaty partners - legislation to implement effectively (a recent examples from the news might be the taxi service Uber) the established players would be able to use the ISDS or the threat thereof to hinder implementation in an anti-competitive fashion.

I am hopeful that the government of the day would have the fortitude to support our business and accept the costs required to set an example which would prevent this happening a second time; if nothing else this would quantify "the actual costs of responding are unknown" (NIA p55)

~~~
Nevertheless as it seems that the implementation of the legislative changes required is a foregone conclusion I

- would strongly support a clause which only brings the changes into /effect/ at the point the treaty comes into force in a form substantively like it's current form, rather than incurring the front-loaded costs and "giving away the farm" the having nothing to negotiate with should other parties decide /not/ to pass it through their respective legislatory procedures in it's current form.

- look forward to the strengthening of NZ's environmental protection, labour protection and transparency legislations to bring them in line with the treaty obligations as explained in the NIA.


~~~
Rant time.

The NIA is very bullish about the amount of consultation carried out

9.2 Public consultation process
The consultation process for TPP has been among the most extensive a New Zealand Government has undertaken for any trade negotiation. Throughout the negotiation process the MFAT, together with other government agencies, has been active in engaging with a wide spectrum of stakeholders on TPP.
...
Throughout the negotiation there were two public calls for submissions. MFAT invited initial public
submissions in October 2008 on entering into negotiations with the US to expand the P4 agreement.
A second invitation for public comment was made in 2011 following the expressions of interest from other countries to join the TPP negotiations (Canada, Japan and Mexico) to better understand the views and interests of New Zealanders with regards to these three economies.
MFAT received 65 responses to the initial invitation for submissions, which expressed a diverse
range of views on the TPP
...
Following the second invitation for public comment in 2011, MFAT received fifteen responses. Thirteen were from business (including business councils) and industry organisations. Two were from other governments - Canada and Mexico.
...
Extensive public outreach and consultation took place throughout the negotiation of TPP, using printed, emailed and website information, supported by extensive briefings, discussions and correspondence with key stakeholders on New Zealand’s negotiating objectives and process.

A primary portal of information on the negotiations was the MFAT website, and dedicated internet column, “TPP Talk”. TPP Talk was regularly updated with the status of negotiations. Both the website and column
encouraged feedback on TPP from the public. In seeking views on TPP, the Government sought to encourage debate on the issues, including links to groups holding a range of views on the MFAT website.
...
Hundreds of meetings took place, including with business groups, iwi, local councils, health sector
representatives, unions, NGOs, Members of Parliament and individuals to seek input on the TPP and
to help ensure a high quality outcome that reflects stakeholders’ interests.
...
In a new initiative that reflected the level of public interest in TPP, MFAT also made provision for
stakeholder engagement with regard to the two TPP negotiating rounds held in New Zealand. With
regard to the round of negotiations held in Auckland in December 2012, the Ministry organised a
stakeholder programme attended by 72 New Zealand participants as well as other stakeholders from overseas.

... and so on.

Strangely I do not recall /any/ of the relevant ministers or officials saying in response to the noTPPA movement and media coverage "Hey, here is where you can go to get more information and to have your say." Apparently the broader public of New Zealand (or other parties) are not considered "stakeholders" in our international treaties.

We know who other treaty partners considered stakeholders from the mega-companies and lobbyists who got to peek at the proceedings and drafts. I wonder who in NZ our government actually considered important enough to be a stakeholder?

I'm going to be generous and assume whoever produced this analysis is so blinkered that they actually believe this number of submissions is a reasonable outcome rather than a failure to communicate.

Moreover I believe that an organisation believing in or proactive about public consultation would have opened another round more recently than five years ago, given the increased public profile of opposition to the matter under consideration.
marsden_online: (write)
After all I am one of the lucky ones; not only did I not lose anyone directly in the quakes I even benefited materially from the "repairs" to my home*. My life and work were mostly unaffected and since have continued on a generally upwards trajectory.

*( Like many the assessment was questionable, the workmanship left something to be desired in places and the scope was "tightened" several times between assessment and implementation meaning some things which probably should have been done rather than others were not. But my claim was acted on (un)fairly quickly and my home was still in better condition when they finished than before the quakes.)

If I only paid attention to my own situation or that of people like myself that might leave me content. But my social circles contain many who were not so fortunate. Their homes, lives, families, studies, health ... have been massively disrupted and I do not choose to disregard their experiences and those I read of from further afield. For so many people the past five years have been one battle after another; not all quake related but certainly quake-exacerbated, and so much of it seems to have been unnecessary.

~~~
In some ways the February 14th aftershock this year was beneficial. Some people might have been in danger of believing the platitudes which will have been spouted today about how well we are all doing; how well the rebuild is progressing. Instead as PTSD kicked in and "old" responses rose sharply to the surface there was an up-swell of awareness that no, everything is not all right; yes, we still need help.

In the last five years we have seen proof (if there had been any doubt) that the insurance industry is more interested in holding on to its money than in meeting it's contracted obligations. We've seen the one locally owned insurance company which was by nature overexposed to the risk "bailed out" by the government then promptly chopped up; the "good" bit sold off to one of the same overseas re/insurance companies which fights determinedly to not return the money they have taken from other insurees in premiums over the years (IAG) and the "bad" bit put into limbo (Southern Response, which can only progress so far without the goverment actually stumping up some money to cover the work that needs doing).

We have seen that we have a government who are more interested in bottom lines and doing deals with those same insurance companies than in standing up for the rights of the people they purport to represent. More interested in a magical accounting "surplus" than in the wellbeing not only of Christchurch but of the entire country. Only interested frankly, to all intents and purposes to improve the lot of "people like them" no matter the cost to anyone else. Quick to promise financial relief but very slow to spend any money which would not already have been spent.

We have learnt that our EQC disaster recovery fund had already been plundered by the government (through simply directing it to put the money into government-issued bonds), and there is no indication this government has any plan to rebuild it against future need.

We have seen control of "Christchurch's Recovery" taken away from Christchurch from the word "help". Hijacked by people who are more interested in vanity projects (which they then turn around and demand the people of Christchurch make ourselves responsible for paying for) than in the places people live. More interested in cutting costs and corners than in the human cost or actual repair. More interested in being "in charge" than in delivering what a broken city needs.

Today, the 22nd, is a day for reflecting on what we have lost in and around Christchurch. Not just people and buildings but well-being, dignity and agency. So much of which has not been taken by the quakes themselves but by the deliberate actions and inactions of those who claimed the people of Christchurch would be "looked after".

For those outside Christchurch it might be worth thinking about, "if a major disaster struck where you are, what would you lose?"

Emma summed up neatly why in her earthquake anniversary post so I am going to borrow her words to finish. "Because this isn’t about the past, five years on. Things are still happening."
marsden_online: (camera2)
On the weekend before the Paris Climate talks in December, climate marches took place in hundreds of major cities.

This was one of them.
Victoria Square
marsden_online: (write)
Last week the Government released "The first in a series of government discussion documents looking
towards a better tax administration system for New Zealanders".
NZ Herald article
The Government is floating the idea of businesses paying their tax on a pay-as-you-go (PAYE) basis, like individual taxpayers, in the biggest proposed shake-up of one of the building blocks of the income tax system since its introduction in 1957.

Revenue Minister Todd McClay announced the proposal to introduce a form of "business PAYE" among a raft of other possible reforms contained in a green paper seeking public submissions by May 29 ahead of a rolling maul of public consultation documents he plans to publish over the next three years to modernise and simplify the tax system, while improving the rate and accuracy of tax collection.

snip )

I've made comments in a few other places too (all pending moderation).
marsden_online: (write)
Environment Canterbury is currently seeking submissions on their Long Term Plan for 2015 - 2025. Locals may have found a print version in their mailbox over the past week or two. You can download the document and make submissions online at the Ecan Website

This is my first time being motivated enough to make such a submission. It may be a little wordy but I felt it important to convey a little of my personal perspective and background rather than a relatively context-less set of bullet points (which I couldn't have arrive at without writing all this out anyway).

long )

No Way TPPA

Mar. 9th, 2015 09:19 pm
marsden_online: (write)
This past Saturday I attended the local portion of an ongoing series of protest marches against the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). While the current NZ government has done many things I consider #notinmyname this is the one that should it go ahead, as I fear it will for I have no faith the the major Opposition party will not equally roll over for it, is the one I feel that will do the most lasting damage to New Zealand. This is because it impacts not only on our economy and international trade but directly on our sovereignty and right to make our own laws as a country.

Now it is the way of properly negotiated international treaties that one or more signatories generally accepts some limits on what they as a sovereign state may do, by way of passing laws and such, in exchange for some perceived benefit. There are two things about the TPPA which I consider to be particularly dangerous; far outweighing any possible benefits.

The first is the near-total secrecy under which it is no only being negotiated but will apparently be brought before our "house of representatives" - with even those worthies (and I use the term loosely) except for a few privileged members of the ruling party being forbidden knowledge of the terms of the treaty. Let me spell that out a bit more - our representatives, whom we rely on to protect our interests, our democracy, will be being told (if this current government retains a majority) to accept this treaty with no opportunity to actually debate its worth to the country, no idea of what we may be giving away or getting in return, and no opportunity to bring it to us, the people and ask what we would have them do.

This turn of events would make an absolute mockery of what it is supposed to mean to live in a democracy. It is the first and most blatant attack on our sovereignty represented by the TPPA.

The second danger is the proliferation of clauses (leaked) enabling international corporations - not even Governments, corporations with no mandate to represent anything but their profit margin - to challenge laws passed by our government in international courts. Now for countries like Australia and NZ that might simply tie up public money which would be much better spent elsewhere, but smaller nations could be forced into "toeing the line" of their/our new corporate masters by the simple likelihood of bankruptcy if faced by these sort of proceedings*.

I don't personally have a great issue with NZ officially becoming a "client state", be it of America as we are currently or some international conglomerate. But that is a decision that should absolutely be discussed and reached publicly, not reached behind closed doors and presented as a coup accompli.

[tangent]
* For an example of this sort of thing already happening see Philip Morris Vs Uruguay and vs Australia, which reportedly (linked article) already has caused our NZ government to about-face on plain packaging for cigarettes. The closest I can find within NZ is this 2013 release from the Ministry of Health which contains the money quote
“To manage this, Cabinet has decided that the Government will wait and see what happens with Australia’s legal cases, making it a possibility that if necessary, enactment of New Zealand legislation and/or regulations could be delayed pending those outcomes.

“The Ministry of Health will now begin developing the detailed policy which will include the size and content of health warnings. I intend to introduce the legislation to Parliament before the end of this year.

The legislation was in fact introduced and judging from this late 2014 release is due for it's second reading. Promising quote
“A key finding from the committee came from their visit to Australia as part of an exchange programme. The data highlighted that daily smoking rates amongst those aged 14 and older have declined from 15.1% in 2010 to 12.8% in 2013, the lowest rate recorded to date. This is very impressive evidence received since the introduction of plain packaging in Australia.”

I do support this governments passage of this legislation, both the bill itself and the due process it appears to have followed.
[/tangent]

My photos from the march
Attacks basic freedoms
marsden_online: (camera2)
Protest March
Front line
marsden_online: (Default)
Maybe take time to ponder not only workers rights, and their erosion over the past few decades.

But also the rights of the "non-worker" in an age where many of the jobs that existed during Samuel Parnell's time and the decades thereafter have been supplanted by technology without technology necessarily creating similar or greater numbers of other jobs in their place.

http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/politics/labour-day
marsden_online: (write)
Over the weekend I was asked (paraphrasing) what I thought the point of a party leader was, if not to make elections all about them and take a fall when the party doesn't do well.

The answer is not simple. Fundamentally I don't believe "leaders" as the term is generally used are necessary in a properly functioning representative democracy. If all our votes are supposed to carry the same weight, all our representatives functionally have to be equal and work together as equals.

That said sometimes you need someone to be a casting vote, and once you have sorted out the division of labour (portfolios) you need someone who is responsible for the overview, for the task of speaking for the whole and being able to explain how it is all working together so others are not needlessly distracted from their tasks. A representative of representatives, a minister of ministers, maybe a first-among-equals. You could call this person a "Leader" but that is something of a misnomer. It is not actually their job to "lead" as such.

I have written before quite strongly about my feelings that our representatives are elected to serve not to rule.

The other way I see you might legitimately have a leader in politics or in the broader case is when someone stands up and says "this is what I stand for and this is what I am trying to achieve" and a group of other people stand up and say "we agree with this person and we are going to follow him and support him (wrt these issues)". I see no problem with similarly-minded representatives forming "blocks" like this and electing someone to convey their vision.

In this case if what the leader is trying to achieve ultimately proves unpopular, then clearly they will lose that position. And practically the group should then fragment into groups (including individuals- groups of size 1) which are clear on the differences but also on the similarities.

Unfortunately this sort of leadership only works on a relatively small scale over fairly well defined issues, because after a certain point some people who support the leader in principle will actually have a sufficiently different vision that friction and fractures will start to occur and then other people will start trying to pressure people to "toe the party line" and it's all downhill from there. This is how we end up with entire parties of representatives who do not personally actually represent us but at the end of the day vote the way they are told to by a powerful few.

In New Zealand, and particularly in the Labour Party at present, we traditionally have neither of these. In fact the opposite. We have had a series of leaders unpopular with some significant number of their supposed supporters, who manipulate and scheme to have them them replaced and in doing so have them take the fall for those "supporters" own inadequacies and cock-ups. There is no common purpose for these leaders to espouse because the party is not, can not work together to common purpose. That is why I don't believe Cunliffe should be forced to resign for Labour "losing" the election because that will not resolve the issues. It is simply not his fault that the party is so fucked up internally and making it "his fault" will not solve anything. Any replacement is simply going to be another talking head being set up to be cut off.

The same sort of fractures simmer beneath the surface of National as well but National is currently led, by a small group who have a very clear idea of what they want and how they are going to get it and sufficient force of ... personality ... to keep their underlings in line and on message. And New Zealanders love a strong leader (bully), especially if they personally are not the ones being told what to do. We're all for someone who "gets on and does things" and who brandishes the traditional kiwi measures of success - nice car, box seat at the footy, bach, ability to jaunt of overseas for a holiday ... without looking too closely at how they got there or how they are staying there.

We're so shallow.

If a real leader is to emerge within Labour it will be someone who leads their followers away from Labour. Maybe what is left will be able to sort themselves out and find someone they can agree to stand behind. Then when the dust settles after National has its next bloodletting maybe we will have a spectrum of minor parties who can all work together and NZ as a whole might see that there is nothing to fear from a government consisting of multiple parties none of which is a clear "winner". And if we can make that shift as a society we'll be the better for it.

Grief

Sep. 21st, 2014 10:53 pm
marsden_online: (Cat Yarn)
Like most of my friends I went to bed last night in a state of grief. As the number of non-voters has come clearer today and the relatively small % of people who actually produced National's likely dominance of NZ politics and discourse for the next 3 years became apparent that grew into a deeper sadness.

This post is just a stream-of-consciousness, spit-wadding ideas which are floating around in my brain out against the wall.

First to note I'm not against National in general. My politics are well to their "traditional" left but that doesn't mean they don't have good policies. There are multiple ways to get things done and government in NZ is (supposed to be) about influencing which way - or preferably which middle path - is taken to address the challenges we face as a country. Unfortunately NZers in general don't seem to have wrapped their heads around the idea of consensus politics, and I include senior members of our parliament here.

I am against the sort of cult of personality, right to rule politics practiced by the current National leadership. I am strongly opposed to a lot of stuff the current national party is implementing which seems driven largely by ideology rather than with regard to proven (or disproven) outcomes or I fear by ulterior motives by which I mean the true results which is being sought are not the ones which are being promoted. This is unfortunately an inherent problem in politics.

My echo chamber is full of anger at the people who didn't vote/appear to be uninvolved or uninterested in politics. It is possible that this actually reflects positively on the general standard of living in NZ that so many people are able to feel that it won;t negatively impact on them regardless of who of the "right/left" is in power, but the truth of the matter is more likely that many of these people have such busy lives just keeping whatever standard of living they have that they do not have the luxury of taking time to engage with the issues of the day. Which to me is an indicator that society is not overall as well off as people think, because in a well off society this time would not be a luxury.

I've seen a lot of confusion over the way so many people seem to have split their vote Labour/National. In a lot of ways I see this blatant vote splitting as a positive, it means that a) the people who are engages understand the difference between who represents them locally and who has overall control of the country and b) the Labour/National(Greens) tribalism is starting to die off. Under MMP it should be perfectly feasible for a National/Labour coalition to form, given that the two parties aren't that far apart on many things. The only thing preventing closer relations between the two parties is that so many old-guard have so much invested in the brand of *not Being X*.

"The right" certainly did get it's vote out better that "the left", even given that explicit support does appear to have dropped since 2011. I think while everyone was distracted by the Brand Key sideshow behind the scenes they actually did work their networks and the party machine make sure that people were going to go to the polls, where the left relied heavily on people going to vote "for the greater good". "The right" understands at a far more integral level that once you have power/influence you have to work to keep that, constantly, and they have. Sadly they chose do do this through the last term by dirty means rather than on the strength of the outcomes of their policies, which one would be expecting to see by the end of a second term. Unfortunately it can be really hard for Sam Citizen to tell the difference between outcomes from policy and mediocre outcomes from a favourable environment.

The general agreement in the part of my echo chamber which talks about such things seems to be that the majority of non-voters probably fall somewhere between Labour and the Greens in the political spectrum, that there is a large gulf there who probably once would have been Labour but can't bring themselves to move Green. There is a lot of talk of Labour having to re-invent itself. Frankly I think Labour would do better splintering along it's well-recognized internal fractures into multiple smaller parties rather than trying to be "The party of the Left" that they once were - only that way can they actually address the spread of issues rather than failing to be all things to many people. It wouldn't hurt National to split either come to that. In my view that is the political landscape which would best show the power of proportional representation for actually building contextual solutions which address the concerns and interests of a majority of those affected, which grouping is going to be different for every situation, and thus widely accepted.

I do wonder how much of the non-vote was younger Internet party support which didn't actually get around to voting. Good on them for stirring up the youth and at least getting them enrolled (I think they had a positive effect there). Hopefully some of those young people rather than being disillusioned and put off politics for the next decade of their lives will maintain an interest and maybe help fill the desperate need for voices speaking up about issues that matter to that demographic, issues which in a lot of ways do overlap with mine but then I'm not "typical".

~~~
One thing is clear though - even if the bulk of NZ is doing OK this government is unlikely to do very much - or even less - for a lot of the people who are near the bottom of the heap in NZ, which means that the rest of us with the means to do so are going to need to step up even more. I may have to bring forward some plans I was not planning to implement until after putting more retirement savings / personal buffer aside.

Look after each other out there.
marsden_online: (write)
One of the big problems I have with the current National government is that their prominent members (and how often do we hear from any of the others?) act as though being elected grants them some kind of right to rule New Zealand, and as such entitlement to push through their agendas irregardless of the wishes of the actual population. This particularly shows in their tendency to, when challenged or questioned on their actions and possible consequences, bluster, bully or obfuscate rather than clearly laying out and justifying how they have weighed the pros and cons and come to the decision that this course of action will genuinely be the best for this country in the longer term. They will do as they wish, we from who their authoritay! is supposedly derived will lump it.
Granted
- this attitude isn't restricted to politicians on the right or absent from all those on the left - it's actually on a different axis
- there are times when a good government will need to push through something which may be unpopular in the short term

Whereas I see that being elected grants the duty and responsibility to serve New Zealand as one of society's representatives. It's right there in the name of our system of government; we (supposedly) live a in a "representative democracy". And a representative serves the one(s) who have delegated that authority to them.

Moreover National (and others of course) appear to believe that their representation need only extend as far as those who supported them into government, and maybe even only in proportion to the amount of that support. Whereas to my way of thinking the election is merely how we decide as a country who our representatives are to be, once elected their constituency is everyone in, under our MMP system, either their electorate or some other non-politically-defined group of national or interest. (So portfolio based groups are in; eg education, health, conservation; racial/gender/wealth-based catchments are a maybe; "people who voted for us" is right out.)

This is fundamentally a division of labour - and NZ is a small enough country that even the regional representatives should be able to balance local issues against the long term national benefit.

~~~
As an aside while I am thinking about it - it is very difficult to find an initiative which will significantly benefit the people at the poorer end of society which will not also benefit those at the top insome way. This is in many ways how it should be - as improving the lot of those at the bottom surely benefits society as a whole. This is the case where "a rising tide lifts all boats" my actually hold true.
marsden_online: (write)
I was in a conversation last night which included a friend who is one of the excellent people who work for WINZ and several friends who have to deal with the system as "clients". One comment in particular, about the public perception of beneficiaries and "a few bad apples making it hard for everyone else on a benefit" triggered one of my hot-buttons.

It is emphatically not beneficiaries* themselves who are responsible for the public perception. it is the politicians who have invented the myth of the "dole bludger" and "DPB breeder" to make beneficiaries a whipping boy and scapegoat in order to polarise and arouse their (non-beneficiary) support base; and it is the the media who have either swallowed the hook or considered it better business to run with it or even fan the flames.

"Everyone loves a good hanging" as I'm told they used to say. And you can hang a well crafted straw man over and over and over again.

I'm going to link again to Werewolfs excellent "Ten myths about welfare' which comprehensively lays to rest these imaginary monsters which we seem so keen to let ourselves be stirred up against. There are plenty of genuine monsters out there which we would be better using that energy to fight, ironically many of which find fertile ground / easy prey in those very same (vulnerable) people at the bottom of the heap.

* I'm going to repeat here something I said in my earlier post. I consider the terms "benefit" or "beneficiary" to be critical misnomers. There may certainly be other benefits of unemployment for some but I fail to see how receiving a paltry sum for the government in exchange for repeated jumping-though-of hoops can be considered one of them.

So there is another harm caused by this stigmatisation of those receiving government assistance, and that is that those genuinely in need and fully entitled to this assistance that society provides through the mechanism of government are dissuaded from asking /receiving it for fear of being tarred with this brush, subject to this witchhunt. Dealing with WINZ is well known as a far more stressful experience than it ought to be for an organisation tasked with delivering well-fare and especially so for those who are already in highly stressful and desperate circumstances. We - our representatives - should not be raising this additional social hurdle in front of them! We as caring members of society (I hope) must not propagate the meme through careless word, deed or buying into false stereotypes.

- I admit to my own fallibility here; I am regularly challenged to examine assumptions I didn't even realise I was holding about this or that segment of society. Really, that's all I asking others to do here.

Yes there are a few "bad apples" and likely always will be; but surely for those people being on a benefit as such is merely a symptom of larger underlying issues. I consider the relatively insignificant portion of resources they consume an acceptable cost of the far greater benefits of having a decent, functioning social welfare system.

~~~
[And just to head off any beneficiary bashing OR bitching about WINZ in the comments; a) you obviously missed the point and b) the frontline staff know how bad the system is, OK? This post is not about the flaws of either of those groups, it's about government and politicians and the media and NZ society and "culture".]
marsden_online: (write)
This is what the hamster was running on last night - it's still going this morning.

I've previously stated my support for the concept of a Universal Base Income or UBI. A UBI is an important step in moving away from the paradigm that you have to have a job to be of any value to society to one where we actually take advantage of increased automation to allow everyone to work less and has a host of benefits including de-stigmatising getting a benefit.

Of course were a progressive political party to take on a UBI as a policy platform there would be a lot of opposition. Some arguments which might be raised against and my counters are:
long post is long )
Whew. long post is long, and here are still tangential posts coming to be about culture and conservation.
marsden_online: (write)
You can read the full outline of the policy on the Labour Party website - I'm just going tto quote the bullet points relevant to my opinion
- $60 per week for a baby’s first year of life, universal for all families earning under $150,000 per year.
- Up to $60 per week between the child’s first and third birthdays, targeted at modest and middle income families.
- The first year payment will go to around 59,000 households, covering almost 95 percent of children under one year of age.
- The one and two year old payment will go to around 63,000 families, covering 56 percent of all one and two year olds.
- The Best Start Payment provides desperately needed support to the estimated 50,000 children under three who are currently living in poverty.
-The Best Start Payment will benefit all New Zealand children born after 1 April 2016.

Unsurprisingly to anyone who knows me I agree with the thrust of this policy. What is getting my dander up is they way it is being touted in the media: the conversation is being cast in terms of "bonus", or even "handout" (bad Radio Network news - I expected better from your editors).

(I'm neither here nor there on calling it an "election bribe" - actually correction here I'd go so far as to say it's a two-election bribe given when it is due to kick in - but that doesn't necessarily mean it is a bad idea.)

This policy is simply to newborns what superannuation is to retirees and the kiwisaver kickstart and "tax credit" are to working adults. Not a handout or a bonus but a (near-)universal entitlement to which no stigma should be attached.

What it is spent on can't be precisely targeted or course, but I am emphatically not in the camp which believes people are going to have a child for a measly $3000 (even $9000 over 3 years) from the government, or that it will just disappear on "beer and smokes". There might be a few who are that bad at maths - but the "Support for expectant parents" part of the policy shows intent to identify, catch and educate people this time around. (Whether the resources will follow to keep on top of this (responsibility is being offloaded onto the DHBs) may be another matter.)

For a high-income family (and I/S helpfully points out that the median is $75,000 this might only mean $3000 in a trust account towards future education fees or their child's inevitable OE. For a family on minimum wage $60 a week will represent the basics in food, nappies, and so forth without having to cut back somewhere else; or the lost wages from having to take a day off work to look after a sick child. For low and middle income families it might mean being able to cope with unexpected expenses like taking an older child or even an adult to the doctor before they infect the entire family/school with something contagious. And -that- is where the force-multiplier of this policy really lies - more than just a benefit to the babe and/or their parents but a benefit to society as a whole.

The benefits of alleviating poverty in terms of reduced health, law enforcement and welfare costs farther down the track are well researched. Unfortunately measured in terms-in-government that future may as well not exist. The value in a policy which will take decades to properly bear fruit unfortunately seems beyond the comprehension of many voters; or if not beyond comprehension then beyond consideration. And the value of working together to build on what previous governments have done right and giving due recognition regardless of where they may have fallen on the political spectrum is alas still foreign to our adversarial political system.

But this is a policy which slim though it is increases the odds of when a child looks around at the poverty trap their parents may be in and say, to quote Dasini, "That’s not gonna be me. Nuh-uh. Nope." circumstances will actually permit. This sort of policy is making luck - increasing the preparation, increasing the opportunity.
marsden_online: (write)
This evening I did two things, neither of which took very long
- put in an application for Meridian Energy shares
- put in my "postal" votes for the Mighty River AGM in November
Both were quick and easy processes online.
Also relevant is that a couple of weeks ago a dividend from Mighty River slipped into my bank account with absolutely no fuss.

So I thought it was time to put down some of my thoughts about the whole process and experience, as one of the few "Mum and Dad" investors who actually went for the scheme (despite being neither a mother or a father). To get it out of the way - my motivation was simple. The asset sales were and are a bad idea, the only thing I could do to mitigate them in any way was to take up the offer and bottom-drawer the shares I could afford until some time as they are re-nationalised or forcibly acquired by offshore interests.

1. One of the things that was talked about in the lead up to the MRP offer was showing people that investing in shares can be easy. I give full credit to those involved for making the process practically painless in these instances. Application by internet was simple, the forms were well designed and logical, and there wasn't really a lot of information you needed to supply. A for effort those people.

However I have my doubts (given the low uptake by small personal investors) that this message was actually experienced by many. Moreover
- I have no idea if the ease of purchase facilitated for these special issues, complete with dedicated websites, at all compares to privately purchasing shares in any other company.
- attempting to sell my shares or to purchase more (should I wish to do so) still seems like an intimidating process and I would not know where to start.

My post-share-purchasing experience with ComputerShare's online system has been adequate. It is functional for what it seems intended to do but badly in need of a makeover.

Overall B-, after initially considering considered a C+

2. I now practically understand something I have struggled with in the past - the difference between buying shares for growth and buying for income. To my way of thinking either way ones paper worth goes up, and dividends can just as easily be re-invested (in fact that was the primary use I saw for them at my stage in the investment cycle). That MRP dividend sliding into my bank account made it clear how buying with dividends in mind you can actually purchase a (probable) future income stream. I do quite like that idea.

3. I have come to the conclusion that "investing in shares" and "investing in the company those share are issued by" are two different things, especially if you are buying for growth. It seems to me that you can only claim to be investing *in a company* if you buy the shares fresh from issue (or the company reselling after a buyback) and hold, or secondarily if you are increasing your holding with the intent of using the increased voting power to the company's benefit. (Whether what you want to accomplish with that influence will actually be in the best interests of the company notwithstanding - it's a genuine intent that counts).

In the other cases - purchasing existing shares for dividends or purchasing for growth - you are either
- investing in the income stream that the company may provide, but not actually providing *them* any new capital.
- investing in the likelihood that someone at some future point in time will give you more money for the shares than you paid for them. While this may certainly given you a firm *interest* in how the company performs it is not an *investment in the company* because it is not from the company that you expect to realise your return.

I am of course only referring to publicly traded shares here. There are a lot of ways to invest in especially smaller companies, many of which involve taking a "share" of the company which you might intend to cash in once the company has grown in value. Those are different beasts.

4. I find I have confirmed a strong preference for investing *in* companies. Buying existing shares explicitly for growth actually feels dishonest to me on some fundamental level. Buying for dividends - income - still seems like a potentially sensible thing to do. I think this comes down to my general approach that money is only worth what you can do with it, and you can actually do something with a dividend. You can't do much with the money represented by a share which is just getting fatter.

There are grey areas of course - my Kiwisaver for instance is in an "Active Growth" fund. But then I know (or believe) that the managers of that fund actively seek out investments in smaller companies with the potential for growth, and will purchase freshly minted shares in such companies. And I do wish I'd been able to pick up some Telecom shares for resale when they crashed to about $1.80 a year or so ago.

~~~
In truth I would rather put my money - if I can afford it - directly into a company knowing how it would help that company grow. Don't lend/invest what you can't afford to lose they say, and I've kept that firmly in mind. I am fortunate to have the resources to throw at these offers, and count lost.
marsden_online: (write)
Things like this: From Grad to Bad
Just two months after finishing the final papers of his undergraduate degree, Tilden* found himself in a cell in Rimutaka Prison, facing charges against his name that could land him with a 14-year sentence. Six months on from his arrest, and still yet to enter his plea of innocence before the courts, Tilden reflects on his experiences with justice.

I'm put in mind of an incident here in Christchurch a few years ago where the police raided the flat -next door to- the one their target was staying in. He of course escaped while they were busy pounding the perfectly innocent inhabitants next door into the floor. Unfortunately I haven;t been able to turn up the incident online - even after filtering out the ongoing DotCom saga and preceding Urewera raids.

I'm not concerned about being mugged, interrupting a burglary, I'm not even worried about home invasion. But the fact that people who are supposed to protect me could
- arbitrarily ruin my life (or one of my friend's lives) for an indeterminate period of time even if I (or friend) have done nothing illegal
- and can reasonably (based on past history) be expected to face no consequences of their own for that action
- and despite the fact that I am probably well protected for that likelihood by multiple layers of privilege

that is what makes me feel unsafe in my own home.

~~~
Accountability is the missing factor. And so it is with the GCSB bill. The powers that be have been found to be ... if not breaking the word of the law at least breaking the spirit of the law. And instead of fronting up and holing themselves accountable for this they have simply changed the law to make what they have done (and more besides) "legal".

That is not the action of someone who believes in the rule of law. That is the action of a type of person who believes that those who have the power make the rules, who believes those who have the power are not bound by the rules.

This article explains clearly why it is important that those who are affected by the rules are able to break them up to a point. But for those who are permitted lawful exceptions to some rules the bar must be higher in relation to those duties, such is the trust supposedly placed in them. If they breach that trust they must be able to - required to if necessary - publicly account for their actions.

Else we become no more than a nation oppressed by petty despots fortified within the apparatus of government/"public" service and playing out their own fantasies and power trips.
marsden_online: (write)
Triggered by this opinion piece - It's the 21st century – why are we working so much?

It greatly reflects my frustration with a society which values people only if they "work". I know many people, and I include myself, whose volunteer and even recreational activities surely bring more benefit to society than their "day jobs". Benefit which is not measured in an easily countable currency but in directly enhancing peoples lives and enabling them also to do things they enjoy. (If you hadn't already guessed I am keen on the ideas of a universal basic income and shorter working hours.)

Last weekend a young lady struck up a conversation with me and early in the piece advanced it with a line something like "I hate questions like 'what is your job' but what do you do for work?" It is a common play in small talk but it implicitly rests on a certain definition of work - "n. employment, esp. the means of earning money". And to a great extent on the assumption that a person's work is important enough to them for them to be interested in talking about it in a social setting.

Work has a much longer series of definitions in my Little Oxford, I much prefer "v. make efforts, engage in work" and "n. application of effort to a purpose". To make the question better, more broadly applicable in todays social context I think we need to replace "work" with a synonym which is more closely associated with those meanings.

Even though strictly by definition it doesn't make terrific english I choose "endeavours".
- (endeavour: v.i. try, strive, n. attempt, effort).

"What are your endeavours?" What is important enough to you that you willing put effort into it and strive to do more/better.

From this question I could talk about my job and job or study are probably where most people would start from sheer habit. But I could also talk about gaming, about the Hall, about my chronicle photography.

Less work, more endeavours. What are yours?

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