Friday, November 29, 2013

A brief note on Thanksgiving and Waitangi Day

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I love it mostly because of the abundance of food but also because it is secular and so it feels like everyone can take part in this celebration.  A lot of my friends message me and tell me they are thankful to have me in their life and I take the time to do the same and reflect on all the things that make my life a blessed one. It really is very great.

But one thing that is completely missing from the American Thanksgiving celebration is Native Americans. It is as if they never even existed. The extent to which Native American rights have been abused, the extent to which they are treated as second class citizens, the extent to which they are an invisible people is astounding.  When children dress up every year as pilgrims and Native Americans to re-enact the ‘first Thanksgiving’ in schools all over America, they ignore history. Many are beginning to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day as an alternative to Columbus Day but this is not widely known let alone accepted. Native Americans are basically rarely in the public discourse and it is bizarre the way history is so easily forgotten by an entire nation.

As you all know from my brief profile on the side, I did not have the privilege of growing up in Aotearoa. A few years after I was born, my parents moved back to Bangladesh from Christchurch. And then they move to America and then I had to find my back to what I call my home. As a result, I’ve never been a super nationalistic or patriotic person. I never know who to swear my allegiance to. I’ll admit that I knew very little about Māori culture when I moved back to New Zealand as an adult. I took Treaty of Waitangi Law as an elective paper at Law School and that was the first time I was started to understand the legal status of the Treaty and the legal rights of our indigenous population. Working at OTS was life changing and I would go back there in a heartbeat not only because the incredible work that’s being done there but also how much I learnt about Māoridom from my negotiations meetings.

Maybe it is because of that or maybe it is because I view the Treaty as a legal document rather than a political document. Maybe it is because I spent all my time looking at the impact of our justice and welfare system on Māori. Maybe it is because I’m a minority and I’m forced occupy many uncomfortable spaces. But I do not find what happens on Waitangi Day uncomfortable or upsetting.

America has managed to put aside all the negative feelings that one should associate with how they have treated their indigenous population not just in the past but in modern history. There are a lot of people that believe that it would be better if Waitangi Day would be akin to Thanksgiving or Fourth of July as our national holiday. Many are disappointed by what happens at Waitangi especially what is directed at politicians. But I am not. Many would like to see that holiday turned into a civilised family gathering and a celebration of our nationhood. I don't think that we are there yet. Not until we accept Māori culture as part of our national identity. And it cannot be just limited to the Haka at All Blacks games. 

I like that politicians have to confront the pain that is in our society, the wounds that have not healed. I like that we as a nation are forced to watch the anger on the 6’ o clock news and know that we cannot just shove our people behind a day at the beach and a barbie with the family. I like that it forces us to ask questions about whether we are divided as a nation and how we can work to bridge that gap. At least I hope it does. The Māori Party was formed because Māori had a voice. A voice they used to stand up to legislation that would take away their rights. The fact that America’s indigenous population don’t have a meaningful voice should not be something we as a nation aspire to achieve. Perhaps we can ensure better means of dialogue on the day. Perhaps the dialogue shouldn't be limited to just one day. And yes, it would be nice if Waitangi Day was a family holiday of celebration and maybe one day it will be but we don’t deserve that day today.

Saturday, November 9, 2013


Scandal is one my favorite shows on television right now. And yes, it is because the lead is a black woman in a pseudo political show. And yes, it does make me feel like one day I could be someone like her. This week's episode tackled sexism in the political world. Particularly what it is like for female candidates. For those of you in New Zealand - spoiler alert.. but not really. I'm not giving away any crucial plot info. 

In New Zealand, there has been outrage from some quarters because the Labour Party has announced it would like 50% of its candidates to be female by 2017. There is outrage because it is assumed that the increase in female candidates will be at the cost of meritorious male candidates. Because as we all know, men only get to where they get to purely because of merit. None of us have ever seen an incompetent male in the workplace or a less-deserving male in any position. (Cue Tui billboard)

I was once told that women do not want quotas because they want to get in on their own merits. That is true. We do want to get in on our own merits. The problem is that even if you are qualified, institutional sexism prevents you from getting in. Thus far nobody, and I really mean NOBODY, has given me a solution for how you deal with the problem of women with merit being pushed aside for men with LESS MERIT because they are men. That is the crux of the problem. I think it was David Farrar who suggested that had the quota system been in place in the past, Michael Cullen wouldn’t have made it in. Maybe that’s true. Maybe it’s also true that the woman in his place would have been even better. Maybe. We will never know.

Anyway back to Scandal. In this episode, the female candidate for Presidential nomination (played by Lisa Kudrow) of her party is facing subtle sexist attacks from candidates of her own party. She responds in an all-out epic rant at the reporter addressing subtle sexism that we all know exist but cannot quite prove because it doesn’t have the word ‘woman’ in it. Here is an excerpt:

"There's something my grandmother used to do whenever I'd start dating someone. I would tell her his name and she would say, 'Oh, what part of town does he live in?' That was her way of asking if my boyfriend was white. Oh yeah, my grandmother was an out and out racist, so I know what prejudice looks like. It's not about experience, James, it's about gender. Reston's [her opponent] saying I don't have the balls to be president and he means that literally. It's offensive. It's offensive to me and to all the women and to all the women whose votes he's asking for."

"The only reason we're doing this interview in my house is because you requested it. This was your idea and yet here you are, thanking me for inviting you into my "lovely home." That's what you say to the neighbor lady who baked you chocolate chip cookies. This pitcher of iced tea isn't even mine, it's what your producer sent here. Why? Same reason you called me a "real-life Cinderella story," it reminds people that I'm a woman without using the word. For you it's an angle, I get that and I'm sure you think it's innocuous, but guess what? It's not."

In recent times, people have been posting about what comes up on Google’s autofill function when you search for “Woman want/need/should/shouldn’t/could/couldn’t…” and “Men want/need/should/shouldn’t/could/couldn’t…”. You can see a video on Upworthy here. And I also posted this photo previously  that my friend created using Malaysian Google.

I remember when I was a student and I was working in the restaurant service industry - I got a fairly large tip from a group of people and it was unusual because there is no tipping as such in NZ (for my American readers). My manager said to me that I would get even bigger tips if I wore something more lowcut. I very firmly told him that what he said amounted to sexual harassment and if he ever made a comment like that I would make sure he was fired. It never happened again. But not everyone is that lucky. 

I also once read an article on men’s needs in relationships vs. women’s needs. When women articulate their needs they are labelled as ‘needy’. So women have learnt to not have ‘the talk’ in relationship articulating what they want out of it because they don’t want to be seen as ‘needy’. However, men’s needs are presented as ‘needs that have to be met’.  It is an interesting theory and by no means true in every relationship. I also think that there has been a shift in my generation where we are more willing to walk away from a relationship if our needs are not being met. But that hasn’t stopped women from strategizing with their girlfriends on how to approach an issue in a relationship before bringing it up with their partners because of ‘you don’t want to be perceived in a certain way’ implications.

Switching back to politics, we all know that there is more focus on women’s image than men’s image. We know that women’s strengths are tested in different ways. If a candidate is a mother it is always highlighted. It is never the same way for candidates who are fathers. Women either have to 'soften' their image or 'toughen' their image. Because one cannot be too much like a man or too much like a women.

I want to see more men in cleaning, food and diaper commercials. I want our parental leave to give men the opportunity to be a stay at home dad. I want the number of hours that women spend doing unpaid household work to decrease. I want the pay gap to decrease. I want more women in leadership positions so we have a different perspective of governance to what we have had since the beginning of mankind. This not a fight against men because there are plenty of male allies in this struggle.

Equality isn’t just a piece of legislation or a declaration that says you are equal. Equality is a constant struggle. Equality is standing up for injustice. Equality is the ability to call out sexism but also provide solutions to minimize the inequality. Our society is not perfect. We all bring our biases to our roles. We all have views that someone ought to question. That is a good thing. It means we improve and we educate. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Rape Culture

Yesterday I tweeted 4 things that I believe illustrate rape culture. Today I'm elaborating on those 4 things. There are many others but in the context of this story and the dialogue this week, this is what I have identified. 

Exhibit A: Victim's actions

There’s been a lot of focus on the victims’ actions. They were drunk. They haven’t come forward. They need to be brave. This is completely unacceptable. Just because a person is in a vulnerable state does not mean they are inviting you to sexually abuse them. A staggering number of people are sexually assaulted and raped in their life time. It terrifying to read the statistics and realize that there must be so many people around me who are suffering silently that I don’t even know about. I live in my bubble and only think about it when a news like what happened this week breaks. We should not have to live in a society where a 13 year old girl has to go through what she did in this situation and then BE BRAVE. The reason these girls cannot come forward is because we don’t have a safe society where they will receive the support – emotional, legal, financial etc. We have a society that doubts, blames, ostracizes, objectifies, and vilifies.

UPDATE: Now it turns out that someone did come forward and this happened to them. 

Exhibit B: NZ Police

I do not know what the hell they have been doing for the last two years but it is clearly not enough. And yes I am aware of the law. I understand its limitations in this situation but the police are not powerless. They were dealing with a guy who father apparently is a celebrity and the son of a cop. This should have been top priority. The whole community should have been made aware long ago so what continued to happen at parties could be prevented and monitored more closely. The police need to take responsibility and need to ask themselves why the public don’t want to come forward to them. Last year a survey found trust in police was at an all time low. What did they do in response? They blamed the survey. Police culture in NZ is toxic. Everybody knows this. Someone ought to take responsibility and make some sweeping changes. I am looking at the leadership and I’m looking at the Minister.

UPDATE: See above. A detective inspector claimed yesterday "None of the girls have been brave enough to make formal statements to us so we can take it to a prosecution stage or even consider a prosecution stage." Basically he lied or did not know what's going on in his department. If this is not gross incompetence, I'm not sure what is. 

Exhibit C: John Key and Judith Collins

I expected better from our elected officials. I expect better from my Prime Minister and my Justice Minister. The PM reacted by saying that that should just grow up. This is not immature behavior Mr. Key. This is sexual assault and rape. And in case you aren’t aware, grown ups rape too. Mr. Key’s comments were callous and dismissive. He showed a lack of empathy and there was no leadership. He could have said – we need to look at our laws and if there are loopholes – we should address them immediately. He should have said – this is unacceptable and we as a society need to examine how this is happening and work to make changes at the family, school, and community level. He should have been the Prime Minister. It is clear he doesn’t want to talk about this and he doesn’t want to acknowledge it as a societal issue because being part of a society requires you to take societal responsibility and Mr. Key is incapable of that. And what about our Justice Minister? She pointed to the cyber bullying laws. She knows full well those laws will not address this but it was once again – hey look over here, I’m doing something. Once again it was shirking responsibility.

UPDATE: I'm going to add the Minister of Police Anne Tolley to this list. After what we have found out in addition to the fact that one of the boys is related to a Police officer - this reeks of corruption and she should take responsibility. 

Exhibit D: Willie and JT

I don’t even know where to start. Apparently they have apologized for offence caused by the appalling segment where they questioned a friend of the girls about this. The appalling segment that RadioLive has taken down in response to the controversy. These guys are what’s wrong with our society. They blame drinking, the age a girl loses her virginity and the fact that the girls may have lied to their parents about partying as reasons why basically ‘they had it coming’. They didn’t say it. But it was in their tone - in their condescending tones. Amy (bless her soul), the subject of the interview, was trying to answer the questions with incredible dignity in the face of the most offensive questions I have ever heard. So in case you guys aren’t aware – here are some rules about rape.
  •  Just because you consent once doesn’t mean a man can have sex with you subsequently without further consent. A girl can say no ANYTIME. Even half way through. DO YOU GET THAT?
  • Just because you consent to one person doesn’t mean you will have sex with another person.
  • Just because you lie to your parents about going to a party doesn’t mean you should be raped.
  • Just because you are drunk does not mean you want to have sex.
Also what the hell was TV3 thinking last night? How could they run this segment? Where was the responsibility? When the girls said the boys were cool – why didn’t anyone ask why? How and why is gang raping cool? Did their parents know they were going to be on TV3? The media has a responsibility and in this TV3 like everyone else in this post totally shirked it. Shame on them.

If you are feeling disheartened and you want to help - Read this post.

Finally, let's look at these 4 things and let's fix them. Let's stop blaming the victims and let's stop thinking that laws will fix everything. We have a culture that enables this and we need to work together to fix it. We need better sexual education in schools. We need better role models. We need media responsibility. We need leadership from our elected officials. I don't want to beat up these guys and I don't want them to rot in jail forever. I want them to learn their lessons, be rehabilitated and I want justice for the girls. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

National Party Playbook Revealed

So the MRP sale isn’t going to bring as much $$ as thought. Is anyone really that surprised? 73% of the New Zealand income tax payers earn less than 50,000 a year. I don't know who can afford to buy shares but it certainly isn't me. I blogged about how National was trying to shift the focus on Sky City to the Opposition and they are running exactly the same playbook on asset sales. Basically they are trying to present Labour as committing 'economic sabotage'. Once again it's "Labour are bad economic managers". 

Asset sales is a political and ideological policy. It is not designed to fix a problem. (No, it is not designed to build schools and hospitals, I wasn't born yesterday!) So why are they surprised that the Opposition has a response to their policy? They are not winning the policy argument so they are blaming the Opposition for having an alternative. If the opposition didn’t have an argument they would have been branded as incompetent. Somehow Labour is responsible for economic sabotage by suggesting an alternative but National are great managers of the economy despite not being able to predict that the opposition would find alternatives. That they would OPPOSE. 

I’m going to be fair. On paper this Government has not been a catastrophic failure. They have shepherded the country through tough times but that’s just it. That is all they have done. We have had 6 years of a center right government and we have not had a single innovative policy idea. Not one single innovating form of governance. New Zealand hasn't been a pioneer in anything. They have attached themselves to the successes of others and that’s about the extent of it. No matter what John Key does, he did not win the Rugby World Cup and he did not give birth to George. 

Despite their only election policy being a monumental failure, they are going to continue to push through and blame the Opposition, which by design has extremely limited capacity to affect anything. It is the Opposition’s job to come with alternative policy ideas. Imagine if they attacked the National Government but didn't provide and alternative. Imagine if they didn't acknowledge that gambling was bad? Imagine if they didn't acknowledge that folks were hurting because of high power prices. Give me a break!

In my last blog, I gave the Opposition some lines. In this one I am going to talk about risks. If my time in politics has taught me one thing it is that repetition works. No matter how many times you tell the public something, you can always tell it to them again. This tactic of National is going to work. They will weave the 'bad economic managers' into every policy. And it will stick in the minds of people. If Labour and Greens think that they have said all they have to on asset sales. They haven't. They could say more and they could say it over and over again. And this isn't economic sabotage. National are terrible economic managers. That is the only conclusion that you can make about a Government that didn't see this coming. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Sky City Chinese Whispers

Yesterday John Key claimed that Labour wouldn’t repeal the Sky City law. He had heard it through the ‘Auckland traps’. I know that our politicians mingle with high powered people and gossip and get information from lots of sources but something about the Prime Minister not referring to any kind official briefing or advice really icks me. It sounds beneath him but if that’s how he wants to play it I guess that’s fine. I think the National party knows that this bill is pretty unsavoury to the public and they will do almost anything to try and put the ball back in Labour’s court.

And they have done it now. David Cunliffe is in a position where he cannot say that he will overturn it. Likely it is because he hasn’t had proper legal and policy advice of the implications and does not want to say anything that will come back to haunt him in the future but the public won’t see that and the narrative has already turned.

The Government knows that any future Parliament can do whatever they want so now the conversation has shifted to ‘breaking a contract’. That sounds much worse than ‘reversing a bad policy’. Breaking a contract has all of the ‘bad faith business dealings’ connotations and it successfully paints Labour as people who don’t understand business. This is quite genius actually. But as No Right Turn has pointed out, Parliament is sovereign so John Key and Sky City cannot hope that they'll get into their cozy little deal and we are all just going to take it no questions asked. 

Here are some rebuttal lines: 
  • John Key has made a deal on behalf of the New Zealand public that is fundamentally bad for this country.
  • There is no evidence that this deal with increase anything but our gambling problem.
  • Any future Parliament has the right to reverse policies that are bad for the country and Labour reserves that right when we are in Government.
  • We are not going to be bullied by corporate interests.
  • John Key wants to govern by 1 vote. The vote of John Banks. We will continue to oppose those tactics because that is our job. 
  • Labour are currently looking at options on how we can build a convention centre without relaxing our regulations which are designed to reduce harm. 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

An hourglass filled with ovaries

I went to a South Asian supermarket here in Austin and saw this poster. I found it ridiculous and showed it to my mum pointing out how the submissive daughter-in-law shindig (responsible for household cooking) is so outdated especially here in America, to which she responded – this is still the way in that culture.

It isn’t that my mum doesn’t believe in women’s rights or equal rights. She is the one that instilled in me my feminist values. But for her, equal rights comes after you fulfill your societal duties. And that is marriage and children. This would be fine if it were the same for men. Men are never made to feel incomplete because they don’t have a wife or because they don’t have kids. They are never asked the question “don’t you want to have kids?” Never. I have two brothers, I know.

I think often many people (particularly males) might think that we are being paranoid that the world is out to get us. But it is hard not to think that when in society we still don’t have full control over our bodies, we don’t have control over the way we are perceived as a woman in the workplace, we don’t have control over the way we are judged for being assaulted as a way to explain the assault. This is not just a South Asian thing. I have many girlfriends in the legal community who told me that when they went for their first job after law school, employers tried to sell their firms by telling them about their great parental leave plans. The then 23 year olds were shocked it was assumed that in 5 years time they would inevitably be ‘taking a break from their careers’ and the lovely employers would be very understanding about that. No one every questions whether a man gets somewhere purely on merit. It is assumed that if it is a man, it must have been on merit. I want that for myself.

I face implicit and explicit comments everyday about what I can do to be more marriageable. It is always if only you were a bit fairer, a bit taller, a bit slimmer. My mum sometimes say, ‘pretend to not be so opinionated’, ‘men don’t like women who think so much about stuff’. Incidentally my mother is one of the most opinionated women I know. My conversations with my Pākehā friends tells me that they face the same pressures, it's just in a different form. Perhaps slightly more subtle. Well, perhaps not so subtle because if you look at adverts on western tv, it is predominantly and sometimes exclusively women who are selling cleaning products, food, diapers (anything related to babies)! It is not just the South Asian way. 

I can’t help having opinions and I can’t help it if they happen to be feminist. I can’t help it if I don’t believe that a woman’s only place is in the kitchen. I am a person. I am not breeding machine. I have dreams about travelling and working and learning another language among a whole bucket list of stuff that has nothing to do with marriage and children. I don’t have dreams about running a household but there are many days that I wish I did. I really truly wish that I believed in knights in shining armors, and babies, and everlasting love with a man. I don’t. People fall out of love, people cheat, children are expensive, and they don’t grow up the way you want to. Maybe someone will one day change my mind on that but until then I can’t be a person that is always trying to outrun the mythical biological clock in the form of an hourglass filled with ovaries.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Does America need MMP?

I was watching the Rachel Maddow Show from last night where she did a segment on how gerrymandering in America has left Republicans in control of the House even though 1.4million more people in total voted for Democratic Congressional candidates. Take a look at these screenshots I got from her show.

In Michigan, more people voted for democrats but got less seats:

Same in Pennsylvania - 8 more seats:

In the case of Ohio where they won 8 more seats (3x) even though they got only 240,000 more votes. That means they got 10% more votes than the Democrats but 200% more seats.

So what is MMP?

Otherwise known aMixed-member proportional representation apparently started in Germany has been incorporated in New Zealand among other countries. In New Zealand, when we vote for the House of Representatives, we get two votes. We vote for the electoral candidate that we want from our electorate (American equivalent of a district) and then we also vote for a party. The House of Representatives is made up of all those who win their electorate seats but the total number of MPs reflects the percentage of votes the party got ensuring that some people are elected who do not represent a geographic district. 

Now some people think that those MPs (known as list MPs in New Zealand) are not real MPs because they do not represent a geographic area. But people are identified by more than where they come from. They are identified by their values and their expectations from Government. List MPs ensure that those who vote for the Labour candidate still have their views represented. They ensure that the party values are represented even if you vote for a different candidate for the electorate seat because s/he is very good at dealing with representing the electorate as a whole. 

Maybe the U.S. should look into this for their House of Representatives. Americans will tell me my suggestion is blasphemy. It is unconstitutional. Well, I say to that the Constitution wasn't perfect. It originally thought African Americans were 3/4ths of a person. Maybe its time to rethink and consider democracy. Maybe its time to vote for a government that actually governs.  

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Minority, female and a little grumpy

I was thinking about blogging about that recent Herald Digipoll and then decided against it thinking – what’s the point? Every pundit has advice for David Cunliffe so I don’t need to get in on that action particularly because I don’t even understand the point of polls. (I’m lying, I understand the political point of them). That saying, I don’t think that the poll shows that Labour would get 37.7% if the election were held today. I think it shows that 37.7% are open to voting for Labour because they are and have been dissatisfied with National.

Over at Dimpost Danyl could tell us what this poll means in the context of other polls. David Farrar has provided an explanation. The Daily Blog are still probably having a party as you read this and Imperator Fish is probably be upto his usual mischief. Speaking of Imperator Fish – he tweeted the link to this Herald article written by one Damien Rogers and I read it. And then I got angry. And then I said "well he is from Massey". And then I realized I knew this Damien and didn’t connect the dots and felt bad so I deleted my tweet. I’m sorry I said that. I was angry. But now 6 hours have passed I’ve decided to write about it instead of making personal attacks which is generally not my style and is bad. Bad Lamia! But I was in my defense policy class at the time when I was fighting with 5 Army guys as to why women should be allowed in combat while they were telling me about how they will not reduce standards for women. I was in a bad place at the time.

Apparently the Labour party is “waging war for gender equality and minority rights”. If you want to see the make up of women and minority see QOT’s blog on the numbers. Labour is by no means doing THAT much better than National. So if Labour is waging war (which it is not) then it rightly should. Because women and minorities don’t have anyone else fighting their wars. As The Egonomist pointed out in their podcast a few weeks ago, where would Labour be without women? The answer: nowhere. They would not exist. It would be like saying the Greens are waging war against polluters and they should stop because most people don’t care. They have a constituency and that constituency does care. If the Greens didn’t fight for the environment, Green supporters would be very upset. Women and minorities traditionally support Labour BECAUSE LABOUR SUPPORTS THEM. Sorry I’m yelling. Grrr.

After he attacks the Labour leadership for being so women and minority friendly (I am both so yes, this is personal and yes, I am taking it personally), he then goes on to give advice on the center. I have already blogged about what I think of the so-called center so I wont rehash that.

Here’s the thing. This is exactly the reason why there are less women in positions of leadership in the public service. Because we are made to think that women can only think about their own vaginas and nothing else. Women can’t think about defense policy and economic policy (a guy once told me I can’t believe you said “current account deficit” out loud, do you even know what that means? I do but who cares right?). If a woman wins a seat, it’s because she is a woman and not that the membership voted for her and because she is capable of representing. At least the thought is women can't think about abortion and the economy at the same time. So if she is talking about abortion, she must be sacrificing her economic thought brain cells. In my case it's ethnic affairs (even though I probably understand economics more than ethnic affairs, I'm brown so I must know all there is to know about ethnic affairs.)

There are a lot of discussions around what kind of voters Labour should try to get? Should it be the disenfranchised? The beneficiaries? Women? Minorities? Who? I will be the first one to admit that there are policies that Labour back that are not popular with the generic ‘middle class white male’. Abortion, euthanasia, marriage equality, gender pay gap, paid parental leave are things that maybe white males do not care about. But someone has to think about them. If it is the Labour Party so be it. I fully believe they can do that and fix the economy at the same time. We all know that the Ministry of Women’s Affairs will not be asked to comment on the economy so Treasury can go implement its big boys policies (Yes, I know the Treasury is full of intelligent women) and the country can keep doing the same thing it’s been doing since 1984 and we can all calm down and stop worrying that the womenfolk are taking over.

Once again, I apologise to Damien about my deleted tweet. I have met him (he may not remember me) and he is a nice guy. But respectfully, he is wrong on this.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

I did not vote for George.

If you have seen my tweets or know anything about me you know that I pretty much despise the Monarchy. I don’t really see the point of it and perhaps naively, I think that New Zealand becoming a Republic wouldn’t be much of a hassle. Over the last few days there has been a lot of talk about the Queen because the PM was visiting her as a guest at Balmoral. Much has been made of the fact that this hasn’t happened before and this is an example of how close John Key is with the Royal family (i.e. visits by Prince William etc).

I am a deeply cynical person and I think this is a very clever PR exercise by the family who are fast losing their relevance even in Britain. Most Britons that I have come into contact with do not have strong feelings about the Monarchy one way or the other. It’s almost out of laziness that they continue to hold onto the Monarchy (which is arguably why New Zealand hasn’t been rid of it either). The British Royal family has had pretty good PR in the last 5 or so years. William’s wedding/marriage followed by baby has pretty much removed all the bad will from the Charles/Diana years. But I think they are acutely aware that countries such as New Zealand, Australia and Canada do not have any particular reason not to be a Republic. I am sure they are aware of the surveys that are routinely conducted on our feelings towards being a Republic. They know that the conversation is happening. I think John Key is an easy target. He loves this stuff plus it is also good PR for him and when he comes back he is going to do their PR for them by stamping out any conversation about NZ being a Republic.

As with MMP, marriage equality and nuclear free campaigns, we can lead the way despite being a small country. We can be the country that Canada and Australian governments look to when they think about being a Republic or we can be the country they use as an example of why the Monarchy is just fine. At the end of the day we can be apathetic about this. Our system of checks and balance is not very robust. We do not have a written constitution for the judiciary to use when interpreting the laws. Parliament is supreme and there’s virtually no separation between the executive and the legislative branches. We can be apathetic or we can think about ways we can strengthen our democracy while becoming a Republic in the process.

Maybe I am being offensive to those Kiwis who can trace their ancestry to Britain. But I can’t tiptoe around those feelings when the idea of an undemocratic head of state repulses me so much. In the end what I’m saying is that so what if John Key got driven around by the Queen. She is just a person with a very good PR team. Why should we be swayed by that when we can be the intelligent nation that seeks to be an example of what stronger democratic mechanisms look like?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Parliament didn't kill my idealism

I’ve gone on a number of job interviews in the public service in Wellington. What I’ve noticed is that the questions are largely the same. They start with “Can you tell us about a time…” and end with something that will demonstrate the ability to show leadership, work within teams, respond to crisis, time management skills, work-life balance, professionalism, an assurance that the workplace will not be brought to disrepute, and the ability to employ critical analysis skills.

For the last week I’ve been wondering whether these criteria apply to those who hold the highest public office – our representatives in Parliament. They seem to be able to get away with a great deal without consequences and still hold on to their jobs (this applies to all sides of the House). If civil servants pulled half the stunts that Parliamentarians do, they would be sacked. Being elected by the people means that, sacking is only possible via elections. But it seems the public as the boss are rather kind. They are rather lenient.

My advice to Labour candidates – please try to adhere to the standards that you are going to impose on hundreds and thousands of public servants when you take office. Which standards you ask? See Paragraph 1.

Good luck to all candidates and to the caucus, party members, and unions - hope you get the outcome you wanted and if not, hope you find a way to accept it anyway.

Friday, August 30, 2013

The mythical place known as 'the Center'

My master’s program has some incredible people with incredible backgrounds and its being taught by even more incredible people with incredible backgrounds but that’s a different blog. But everyone here is fascinated by what I used to do. Politics is not straight forward in America and affecting change here is like dropping a 1 cent penny in the Potomac River. Not so in New Zealand. They ask me what I did in my two jobs and when I tell them, they are genuinely amazed by how much I got to do. The one recurring question I get asked is “So is the Labour Party like the Democrats?” In terms of a short answer, I guess yes, but if I am being honest, Labour is nothing like the Democrats and neither is National.

There are a lot of stuff this National Government has put up with/supported that even Democrats would consider too ‘socialist’. Working for families, the public healthcare system, ACC, Welfare (yes I know they have completely gutted it but…) and many other policies that Democrats would be scared to even talk about. (By the way, socialism is a term that is thrown around to be synonymous with social democracy. I have not the heart nor the patience to teach Americans what socialism is although you would think that at this level of education they would know!)

So it comes back to the question of – what is the center? Dr Duncan Grant has written an article in the Herald in which he argues Labour has to move to the center to win the election. They could move to the "far left" but what is that? Do they have to be “center left”? Or do they have to be just center? So far John Key has gotten away with calling the current National government a ‘moderate center right” government but their actions speak louder than words. While they haven’t removed existent key social development and economic policies, which may be considered “left”, they have trimmed, hedged, and hollowed policies and legislation wherever they can to stamp their ideological mark. But the New Zealand center is different to the American center so they can’t be like the Republicans. Hell they can’t even be like the democrats. Their ideological mark for purposes of New Zealand is to the right. But it is how they have marketed it that gives us the feeling that it is “center”. It is language and nothing else.

The center moves. The center is whatever we say is the center. The center is whatever we can convince the media to say is the center. There is no center. It’s a made up universe where presumably one can find unicorns. It does not exist. On a piece of paper sure, in reality - no.

The issues of the next election will be the economy. It will be jobs but not just jobs, it is wages too. It will be the overall health of the country, which looks frail. Despite the razzle dazzle of GCSB, sky city laws, changes to the employment laws, changes to the RMA, Tony Ryall’s colourful announcement of more doctors, people are on long waiting lists, people who are on welfare for whatever reason are poor and there is a lack of jobs for them to go to, people cannot afford houses, people rent in houses that are less than adequate, and employees have lost rights. Well, all of us New Zealanders have lost rights with the enactment for various justice legislations and now GCSB and TICS. Are these left issues? Do only people on the left care about child poverty? Labour can be accused of focusing on gay marriage, abortion, and euthanasia but unlike this Government, Labour has been capable of focusing on more than one thing in opposition. Even with considerable less resources than the Government, it has pointed out the state of our housing situation, pointed out that a lack of capital gains tax unfairly targets income earners, pointed out child poverty is something that can be measured and can be fixed, pointed out the fact that the government’s welfare reform hasn’t changed public spending (we just spent it on selling shares instead of looking after our most vulnerable), pointed out the holes in our education system of which there are many, pointed out that asset sales are a failure and harmful in the long run. These are not left issues. These ARE the issues and Labour must tackle all of these issues in Government.

I agree this is Labour’s election to lose. The Government is not in a favourable position and even with the high they had in 2011 they have a 1 vote majority in the House and 4 vote majority on good days. If we make this about Labour and National, yes there is a large gap, but if it’s between the left and the right, the center occupies a sliver that anyone can take. This election the center will be somewhere else. This is not the same center as in the 2005 and 2008 election. People voted for NZ First in 2011 because they wanted them in opposition. I have a feeling that people will not vote of NZ First because they will not want them in Government.

I have given this advice before and I give it again. Whoever the leader is of the Labour party has one shot to get rid of this National Government. John Key will call you names, the media will say you are too left, but you are going to have to find a way to speak on the issues that people right now care about. Lucky for you, you know what they are.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Americans then, Americans now - Syria

I have been listening to the Texas version of talkback radio and I must say I prefer it to Newstalk ZB and Radio Live and the likes. While the people are absolutely cray (there is no other words to describe it), for some reason that kind of crazy talk sounds normal in Texas. It doesn’t seem to behoove Kiwis.

There are lots of crazy opinions floating about namely that many don’t believe Assad is actually behind the chemical weapons attack. There is a belief that the rebels (ie Al Qaeda) are behind it and therefore the US has no business going into another war. There’s also the minor detail of the need for Congressional approval before any action can be taken. The recurring phrase I’m hearing as justification against military action is “look how Iraq and Afghanistan turned out, why are we going into war again!”

This is extraordinary. I was in the United States between 2001 and 2003, living in the Midwest, and I remember that opposition to either war (Afghanistan and Iraq) was seen as not supporting the troops, un-American and un-patriotic, and downright evil. At the very least you had to declared that you “supported the troops” to prevent the Vietnam like treatment of soldiers but that movement effectively silenced opposition to war. It is odd to see that people have finally woken up to the idea that those wars may have not been the greatest response to the terrorism/WMD ‘threat’ at the time.

In all honestly I don’t have a position on what should happen in Syria except that something should happen. How can I? I don’t get the intelligence briefings. I don’t understand what is actually happening on the ground. All I know that are the images of the lifeless bodies. I know THAT is unacceptable. The fact that chemical and biological weapons even exist is a terrifying thought. Where valuable scientific resources should be geared towards finding cures for AIDS and cancer, our society makes weapons to kill children.

What is happening in the Middle East is a complicated situation with no easy answers in the short term. What fascinates me is how Americans are reacting to this situation now compared to 10 years ago. They have war fatigue and they are tired of losing. They believe their military is spread thin, they don’t believe they are going to win this and they have very little faith in the information they are getting from their leaders. I don’t know if the blind trust they used to have in their President is gone because they don’t trust Obama specifically or if that trust was ruined by Bush but it certainly isn’t there now.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Labour Leadership - an excuse to rant

So after a 20 month battle with the polls, David Shearer resigned as leader of the Labour Party. I’ve worked for David and Phil Goff and I know being Leader of the Opposition is extremely challenging. While everyone likes to think it is hilarious to call Russell Norman the Leader of the Opposition, he does not face nearly as much scrutiny as a Labour leader does. And perhaps that is how it should be. Phil Goff and David Shearer faced a lot of criticism and they knew it would come with the job. Leader of the Opposition is a position that is necessary for democracy and when one takes it on, one takes on a huge responsibility. That said, David Shearer was elected to Parliament in 2009 and in a very short time he tackled one of the hardest public service jobs out there and I believe he did so honourably.

Where to now?

We have 3 people vying to be the new Leader of the Opposition and while I have opinions on all three, having worked in the Leader’s office while they have been MPs, what I think about them as people hardly matters. So I won’t be dishing out any secrets here. I do think however, that this is the last chance Labour has before the election to get the leadership right. In the lead up to the election people will love some policies and they will hate some. Some issues will be more interesting than others. Gaffes may define an election or they may be forgotten. How all of these matters are handled by the leader will be the defining aspect of the election.

For those in the left, this is an important election. We will have had 2 terms of a National Government enacting policies that are less than palatable. Whether it was the GCSB, the Sky City deal, the Hobbit deal, the erosion of workers’ rights, the erosion of our environmental responsibility, the lack of any economic growth that is measurable, deplorable state of income inequality, the fact that child poverty is even a slight concern let alone now a major problem, there are plenty of issues for us to fight and win on. Whoever becomes the leader must take on this responsibility knowing that they carry this burden on their shoulders. John Key can accuse Labour of being left wing. He will do that no matter who the leader is. What he thinks really doesn't matter.

I note that there has been a lot of discussion on the voting of the new leader. The ‘right wing’ blogs are busy calculating who has what percentage of the power. I won’t be voting on the leader and frankly I don’t really care who has how much power. I think it’s pretty amazing that anyone other than the caucus has power. I’m not a hard core unionist but I know enough history to know that if they want to have a say in how the leader of the major left wing party is chosen they will have it by votes or by other channels. This at least is transparent. I commend it. They are also weighing in on the people themselves. Matthew Hooton was practically going to have an aneurysm yesterday (has someone checked up on him?). The general voting public doesn't spend time reading blogs (it will be a miracle if more than 1 person reads this), they are too busy struggling to create a better life for themselves and their children. Hidden amongst the 270,000 children living in poverty is a sleeping artist who could only dream of studying art in France. While the Government can't provide that, it can invest more in the arts here in NZ (this is an example not a policy expectation). We shouldn't all have to study engineering to contribute to society (yes, this is a dig at Steven Joyce).

I digress.

Basically my hope is that the candidates remember for the next 3 weeks what the big picture is and what needs to be achieved in 2014 no matter what the outcome. While I am excited for an open campaign, it should be one that allows the activists, the supporters, the members, and the caucus to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get straight to work on September 16 for whoever the leader is. There is no way the public will put up with another internal struggle, a staff ‘re-shuffle’, a gimmick with no value. But there are plenty of substantive issues that we in the left need to fight for and we need someone to be the face of that fight.

I am what they call a millennial. Someone who has left New Zealand reluctantly in search of a brighter future somewhere else after 5 years of disappointment. I want to come home and I want a good reason to do it.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

10 Questions for the PM

I know that the GCSB is all but a Dunne deal but as one of those concerned voters who is not an expert in the area (like 99.99% of all voters) I still have some lingering questions. Is there a journalist out there who wants to ask these questions on our behalf? I acknowledge that some of these questions have been asked. But I'd like to see them asked again.

1. What is the motivation for rushing this legislation through? ie. Why is there no time for an enquiry? Why are there not more discussions to ensure bi-partisan support for a piece of legislation that has such huge constitutional significance? [A little history lesson: When the Criminal Proceedure Bill went through which overhauled the justice system, the then Justice Minister Simon Power sought extensive consultation with the Opposition which was carried on by Minister Judith Collins].

Is it a- because the GCSB messed up in 88 cases and they are trying to close of legal liabilities b-because the Govt has made promises to foreign governments to cooperate c-have we been asked by foreign govt to enact these legislastions (+TCIS) if yes, then what was the nature of those negotiations ie what do we get in return?

2. John Key said that these powers were needed to thwart future terrorist attacks like the Boston bombing. Why with all the powers that the intelligence agencies of the United States has, were they not able to prevent those attacks?

3. The threats to New Zealand are classified. Fair enough. The operations of GCSB are also classified. Fair enough too. The oversight of the agency rests with the Prime Minister. Ok, acceptable. On what basis then, are New Zealanders meant to hand over these powers – blind trust in John Key and ALL future Prime Ministers?

4. For whatever reason whether it was confusion or honest mistake or deliberate disregard of the law, the GCSB has made mistakes, what steps is the Government taking to reform the organization to prevent future mistakes/confusion/disregard for the law or is that classified too?

5. In what ways are the GCSB systems superior to other Government agencies which will ensure they will not go down the same path as ACC, MSD, Immigration NZ, CYFs etc etc in terms of our private information that the GCSB inevitably will collect? If so, will they be sharing those secrets with other agencies if not, why not?

6. If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. What happens if you DO have something to hide which is not illegal? We hide things from our family, friends, co-workers all the time. Why would we want the Government know about our personal life or is John Key saying that we have no right to hold have anything personal anymore?

7. We retrospectively changed the legislation when the Police conducted video surveillance that was contrary to the law, we are now changing the legislation because the GCSB has done something contrary to the law (whether by mistake/confusion/disregard). How can the public have confidence in the rule of law when the perception is that law doesn’t apply to those who enforce the law?

8. The Prime Minister has claimed that the Law Society, the Human Rights Commission, Dame Salmond, the Privacy Commissioner, the former head of GCSB, Constitutional expert Sir Geoffrey Palmer are wrong on their analysis and he is right. The advice on which he has formed that opinion is presumably classified. In the absence of that, if the public cannot have confidence in the above people/institutions on this matter, can they have confidence on them on any other matter and if not, is the Prime Minister suggesting that we take his word on every matter and would he find that notion acceptable if anyone else other than himself was Prime Minister? Would he have that faith in any other Prime Minister? What about in a Labour led government?

9. Who was the willing seller and who was the buyer in the Dunne/Key GCSB deal? What was sold and what was bought?

10. The legislation does not prevent the information from being shared with foreign agencies. The PM has provided no explicit assurances that it will not be shared. New Zealanders are fundamentally opposed to that, given the recent revelations on how the information is stored and used. Presumably however, in exchange for this information sharing we are getting something in return. What is it? (This is related to Q1)

I personally believe that the PM has backed himself into a corner where he now cannot back down without looking foolish. This is the part where in an argument a party will realize they are wrong but to save face will continue the same argument. It happens. But I feel the time has come where the shaming of the PM is less important than stopping this law from passing. Hysterical name calling of the PM will only strengthen his resolve. We need to give him an out. He needs an out that would be reason for this to not go through other than all the reasons that are already out there regarding why it shouldn’t. It needs to be something else. I suggest that all of the smart and intelligent people out there are need to sit down and think about how we can give the PM an out that will make him stop and reconsider without losing his dignity.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Campbell Live and Democracy - 50 Shades of Political Participation

It has been a while since I have blogged mostly because my previous employment didn't allow me to. But now that I am going to be a poor uni student living in my parents' basement (metaphorically of course), I figure its time for me to do something other than be perpetually outraged at friends and family. I moved to Austin on Saturday but haven't stopped following the GCSB/Snapper/Child abuse saga in between my jet-lagged naps.

There have now been two episodes in New Zealand on the public perception of the GCSB. I must say I was quite surprised that people were 1) willing to be on TV talking about it and 2) had a position either way. A New Zealand journalist posted on FB wondering if people who were outraged about John Key had even read the bill. Even though I am a politics nerd and a legislation geek, apart from the offensive section, I admit I have not read the whole bill. Nor as a voting citizen I believe I should have to! There is plenty being written about it and plenty being talked about it and I think I am smart enough to come up with a pretty intelligent position without reading the Bill itself. I can also understand the Parliamentary processes under which it is being passed i.e. with a 1 vote majority and in a very short amount of time. I can see that the select committee submissions are largely critical and that is enough for me to have an idea that his is not a good thing. I have taken the time to read what Thomas Beagle and the Law Society have had to say about it and I have read Dame Anne's piece in the Herald.

I commend Campbell Live for taking on issues like Child Poverty, Christchurch Earthquake and now GCSB, issues that the Government wants to fix via good PR rather than substantive policy work. Issues that ARE political because ideology dictates outcomes. There is an attitude within the current government that because of the election outcome, there is a carte blanche to do whatever they please. The recent polls aren't helpful either. They only seek to reinforce the government's position and weaken the opposition's resolve. I am not a polls analyst nor do I have some kind of radical position on the way they are done or how often or the purpose. But there is no doubt that they contribute to the confidence not only of those who govern but the voters as well.

Coming back to my original point which the readers might not yet see, I think that it is great that Campbell Live is canvassing the views of the ordinary people. I don't think that every person has to be an expert. We don't have to be an expert to vote. I think this is great for encouraging public engagement, which is really important in a healthy democracy.