Month: December 2012

A word about the vultures for Ngati Toa

Ngati Toa. Congratulations on your Treaty Settlement, but the Banks are not clamouring around because they see you as key economic players. They are vultures. The $75 million provides the banks with a reserve on which they can use as leverage for more loans. Yes, they can lend out more money and put more people into debt because their ledgers will show your settlement proceeds as an asset. Whats so bad about this? The Banks are not actually empowered to create money by any form of legislation. However, no doubt they’d rely on the ‘third source’ the fact that there is no law prohibiting them creating money in this way, since they are not technically ‘printing’ it. Additionally, they will lend money out, that they created out of nothing, that is associated with your deposit and then they’ll charge interest on that loan. That interest rate ensures that there is less money circulating in the economy than the debt that is actually owed. Its how fractional reserve banking works.

I’m not kidding. The financial advice you’ll likely receive is to invest the proceeds of your settlement in overseas schemes. Your advisor’s will talk about the benefit of profits to iwi. But what are profits? They are the monopolisation of money in the economy. Profits mean that the person or companies who benefit from them do so at the demise of those who are forced out of work so that companies can continue to make profits. In the 1980’s this happened to be predominantly Maori, because Maori were unskilled factory workers and the companies had machines replace them. Its a vicious circle. (Although admittedly, machines have replaced menial work giving people the opportunity to pursue more interesting and fulfilling life paths – however, in NZ because education came at a cost at the same time those in menial work were replaced by machines, this had an adverse effect on Maori in particular). Moreover, if you transfer the money in your account out of NZ, say an overseas investment, then this means there is less money circulating in our economy and the less money in circulation the harder it is on the least well off members of society to improve their own economic positions.

However, using a bank is unavoidable on your part really. But you have the opportunity not to be part of the system that caused the injustices that you received redress for but instead to use it as a means of transition. Maori values are not capitalistic. Maori values are egalitarian. Think about that before allowing the banks to use you in a system that necessarily creates injustices to benefit the few.

But hey, who am I to tell you what to do with your money or what your values are. I am just reminding you that the system is deceptive and to be careful not to become corrupted by the very system that used its corruption to disadvantge you and pillage your villages, lands and resources.

But do note: its not your money in reality – its just numbers in a computer system that have no value. It is not backed by any value. Its created as debt – every dollar of your settlement is a debt owed by someone else to someone else.

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Protest, Democracy and the TPPA

The TPPA protest raised some interesting questions. One that interested me was whether  the protest was effective? I’m in two minds. I mean, what other options do we have to express opposition to our government? Yet, the government just don’t listen and they employ tactics to minimise the effect of dissent. 


The image below (not from the TPPA protest – see credit below the image) sums up how many of us probably feel especially in relation to the TPPA negotiations and the recent comments made by PM John Key. 


This image was posted by @OpBigBrother on Twitter, a demonstration organsied by the group Anonymous – the slogan was simple but effective:  see https://twitpic.com/bk8wll 


I’m sure most readers would have come across the error notice when trying to open a website where the domain no longer exists. Pretty sweet analogy.  
The TPPA protest involved around 300 people who met at Aotea Square and made their way to the Sky City conference centre where the TPPA negotiations were taking place. 
Socialist Aotearoa report that: 

“After the Conference declined to accept the Petition against the TPPA, people demand to be let in to observe just what is being negotiated in secret behind Skycity’s closed doors”  

(The Socialist Aotearoa webpage has a write up including photographs and video footage see: http://socialistaotearoa.blogspot.co.nz/

The New Zealand Herald headline depicted the demonstration as follows – Police attacked at TPP protest and reported that: 

“Police have condemned “violent” protesters who attacked two police officers and set fire to cardboard boxes as they tried to force their way into free trade negotiations”.
see http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10852773

This opening line fails to acknowledge why the protest erupted into violence. 
The beauty of social media is the eyewitness accounts shared when inaccurate or biased reporting occurs. 
Most witness accounts I have seen posted on social media make it clear that there was an intentionally provocative strategy taken by Police at this protest, while others suggested this was more typical Police practice. But do not be dismissive, such provocation and tactics results in a restraint on democracy. 
The strategy is simple: increase Police presence, raise adrenalin levels of the crowd, force a reaction to justify the use of Police force. One witness posted on Twitter that they saw a Police Officer punch a young female in the face causing those in the vicinity to react. That is the strategy in action, evidenced by the fact that some officers were armoured up indicative of their role in this strategy. 
The Officer in this picture was seen to punch a young female in the face by the person who took this photo and reportedly was particularly provocative in his approach to the protest
While I do not normally condone fighting or violence, witness accounts make it clear that the protesters had little option but to respond to the Police confrontation; however, it is wholly inexcusable that a protester took to stomping on the head of a Constable on the ground. 
My overall assessment of this protest is that it was ineffective. This is contrary to those who attended so I want to explain why. 
The aim of protests is to persuade those in positions of power to listen to the dissent. This happens most often when there is a majority support or at least visible widespread support. The protest yesterday did not gain that visible widespread support and as Police intervened to disempower the dissent and demonise participants, this played into the hands of the ‘ruling elite’.  
The mainstream media ran with the ‘protester violence’ angle and many New Zealanders rely on those reports for informing their opinions. It is most likely, that public sympathy lies with the Police (although I hope I am wrong on this assumption). 
Additionally, some of the video footage reinforced the media angle despite the Police force visible. This is because all you can hear are the following phrases: 
  • “F* the Police/Pigs!” 
  • “F* off Pigs/Police!” 
  • Or a generic “F* off!” 
NZ audiences (generally speaking), particularly those who watch mainstream media are a reserved and even conservative bunch and are unlikely to sympathise with demonstrators who themselves sound like they are provoking the Police and are likely to view such phrases as tired and typical. But to be fair, it is extremely difficult to view these videos in context because the context was preset by the media. 
Visibility of organisations. Neoliberalism has successfully divided the activists from the ‘reasoned’ public, notwithstanding that these groups are visible at all causes and demonstrations for social justice.  Unfortunately, their reputations among the wider public lacks support – at least on the broad scale required to be effective. 
Protest requires public participation. Polls suggest that a majority of the public are opposed to the TPPA or at least want the negotiations made public. The support for the cause is there. The support for the groups involved in organising demonstrations is not. It is likely that many of those who oppose the TPPA also oppose socialism and unions and do not want to be associated with those groups by participating in the protest. 
I mean no offence. Championing social justice is highly admirable. But my personal assessment is that the protest lacked wider public support despite clear public opposition to the TPPA negotiations for the above reasons and this is why I think the protest was ineffective. 
For the sake of transparency, I did not attend the protest. I intended to, but backed out about half an hour before. I was most concerned about being in a large crowd and becoming overwhelmed, and I also questioned whether my presence mattered. In effect, I lost faith in the process. And the Police actions reaffirmed my despondency. 
My view is that democracy in NZ is under attack and this is clear for the following reasons (the list is not exhaustive): 
  • Police engaged in strategies to silence protest; 
  • PM advised the general public and the TPPA negotiators to ignore the protesters because he thinks they are wrong and then revokes permission for NZ’s leading academic on the TPPA to deliver a petition to the TPPA meeting; 
  • Perseverance with state asset sales in the face of widespread opposition and refusing a referendum; and 
  • Secret TPPA negotiations that involve the trade off of freedom, privacy and sovereignty which adversely affects every person who is a citizen of a signatory to that agreement. 
Protest needs to take a new track. It needs to involve more people by removing ties to particular groups. If the Anonymous movement has taught us anything, it is that when we act as one voice on issues we have in common despite our diversity and without compromising our diversity, we can achieve a great deal.
If your interested in watching a short video on the TPPA protest by @OccupyEye see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=oFhFYTz3yeM  

Education: slavery through the illusion of enlightenment?

13 days ago @AlexEdneyBrowne (twitter) asked for my thoughts on Stephen Joyce’s comments regarding engineering enrolments at the University of Auckland (apologies for my belated response). I refrained from writing too soon, because I had a few questions that I didn’t have answers to. I still don’t have those answers, but my views are little more reasoned (but only a little). This post reflects on Joyce’s comments, but not in the way that you might have thought.
According to Stephen Joyce, education is about meeting the demand of the market and the market currently demands that prospective University Students undertake engineering degrees because there is a shortage of engineers in NZ and if an institution does not comply, then the government can go in and force compliance.

“If they want us to be more directive, I’m more than willing,” he said. “I’m watching them really closely to make sure they do respond to what the market wants, and if they don’t, I can go and tell them how many they should enrol for each department.” 

See: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10848413

    Legality aside, the Minister’s comments reflect the state of our education system. This is the system Labour and National have determined for our country. A system where market conditions are emulated within education institutions to privilege a few through the appearance of catering to the many.
    Recently, I was directed to a George Orwell quote:

    “The further society drifts form the truth, the more it will hate those who speak it”

    In my view, this applies to the Minister’s comments. I’m not saying that I agree with what he said, only that what he said reflects the reality of education in our country.Our education system is more about meeting the skills shortages in the job market and less about enlightenment. The rest of this post considers education in general but randomly refers back to the Minister’s views.  
    I watched a snippet of a lecture by Noam Chomsky ‘Education: for whom and for what?’ see: http://keentalks.com/education-for-whom-and-for-what/
    Chomsky distinguished between two groups: those who consider that education is for the privileged, i.e. the intelligent minority who occupy decision-making roles in society and those who consider that education is for everyone. I have no idea how Chomsky concluded his lecture but my argument is this:

    Our governments propagate that education is for everyone but it (the education system) operates to maintain the intelligent minority. Arguably, a public education system indicates education is for everyone; however, requiring a criterion for entrance acts as a restriction on the proposition that education is for everyone.

      Education is for everyone – only in the sense that we have a public education system. It’s an illusion to silence the masses in order to retain minorities in specific areas.
      Education is for the privileged – in the sense that those who perform better receive advantages as a result of their performance.
      An argument against this is the argument from equality. Equality in the sense that everyone has the same access so there is no privilege and those who outperform their peers deserve the benefits for their work. I agree in part with this statement. It takes considerable effort to attain grades of excellence (in the A range). So institutions should reward those who manage to attain those grades accordingly, right? Here I take issue. University grades are awarded through various types of assessment, predominantly examination. Some people are just good at taking exams, while others are not. The system privileges those who are good exam takers.
      I disagree with the argument from equality in the sense that not everyone has the same starting point. I have discussed this in various past posts, but I will briefly discuss it here. A persons ability to attain grades of excellence at University is not just dependent on the work they put in at University. There are pre-existing factors that will affect a students performance. For instance, the school you attend prior to University, the subjects available at that school, relationships with teachers, relationships with family, time available to complete the work required or to understand the material…the list is endless. We have created an education system that does not take into account morally arbitrary differences in a students life.
      Here is what I want to say about grades. There are limits on how many grades of excellence are awarded. You will not find a class where every student achieves an A grade. Our system moderates work so that only a certain number of students achieve A’s. Presumably, the argument is it increases competition and forces students to study harder to reach their full potential. This is not about full potential, for the teacher it may be, but for the institution its about ensuring that only a few students fill the spots of the intelligent minority. You must attain grades that the institution sets in order to complete at a post-graduate level e.g. Honours and Masters degrees. Even the language used to define post-graduate qualifications reflect the truth of the ‘intelligent minority’ thesis.
      The limitation on the number of excellence grades awarded is akin to the way in which money is kept scarce. It controls what people can and cannot do. If you don’t meet the requisite grades for post graduate study, then you are precluded from undertaking those courses, just like if you don’t have the money to pay a debt, you remain indebted. Scarcity forces the status quo to privilege a few. High grades are essentially academic capital. The more academic capital you have, the more academic capital you have access to.*
       Chomsky points to David Hume to make a similar point:

      “NOTHING appears more surprising to those, who consider human affairs with a philosophical eye, than the easiness with which the many are governed by the few; and the implicit submission, with which men resign their own sentiments and passions to those of their rulers” 

        How does all this relate to the Ministers comments? It does so by looking at the influence of the market on education. It is in effect a form of slavery. Let me attempt to qualify this. If the market demands what subjects or courses students take in order to meet those demands (and the government work to enforce those demands) then education is about state commodification of students for use by corporations. It is slavery because we are subject to whatever conditions the market determines for us. Here is the question I am struggling to answer: Do we freely chose our course of study or are we simply conditioned to think that we are freely choosing to pursue that path?

        *This is not a criticism of those whom have achieved high grades. Its a criticism of the system.